Guest Post: A Christmas Truce by Lewis Connolly

An artist's impression from The Illustrated London News
An artist’s impression of the 1914 Christmas Truce from The Illustrated London News

Today it is a pleasure to welcome my son, Lewis Connolly, to the blog. In commemoration of the centenary of the end of the First World War, Lewis has written a beautiful poem inspired by the 1914 Christmas truce.

France, Trenches, Christmas Day 1914

British and German soldiers mingling during the Christmas Truce, 1914

A soldier in the Great War, I am,

A soldier, destined to kill sons and fathers, I am.

A soldier who is one-in-a-million remembered, I am.

A soldier who committed the sin of killing, I am.

God help us all.

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My father once told me what it takes to be a good soldier.

One of the things he said was once a soldier saw his enemy as a human being,

He’s no longer a good soldier.

At Christmas, none of us were good soldiers.

God help us all.

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Soldiers in the Great War, we are.

Soldiers born to kill, we are.

‘Football Remembers’, memorial designed by Spencer Turner, at the National Memorial Arboretum

Soldiers who made a truce, we are.

Soldiers who found peace in war, we are.

God help us all.

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On the day of peace, Christmas 1914,

We found ourselves once more in this madness.

We traded, sported and talked,

Instead of letting the guns sing.

God help us all.

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I owe a great big ‘thank you’ to Lewis for allowing me to publish his poignant poem.

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And I would like to take this opportunity thank all my readers for your wonderful support in 2018, and to wish you all a Merry Christmas; and love, happiness and peace for 2019.

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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.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

©Lewis and Sharon Connolly 2018

Guest Post – Tales of Freya by Sarah Dahl

When Viking research turns personal

Dress

One question every author of historical fiction is asked is “How do you do your research?”, and then we most likely explain it like this: I have the usual array (or let’s say: addiction to) books about the era and specific aspects of the time (in my and surely also Sharon’s case: women’s lives in the era). My all-time favourite is an absolutely rich book I always consult: Hjardar/Vike’s “Vikings at War”. Unprecedented detail in text, maps, and depictions.

Then we add that of course we go online for more research. We collect pictures, maps, articles. I have a Pinterest board (https://www.pinterest.de/sarahdahl13), where I collect my favourite visual inspiration. This, and a lot more, can be done from home, behind the desk. Entire worlds a few clicks away.

The next step would be to put on pants and actually go outside, to do a journey of sorts, because unlike contemporary authors, us histfic folk have to travel a bit to reach a certain place of interest for more hands-on research. I’m talking museums, battlefields, graveyards, ruins, whatever. In my case, all of those make sense: the Viking times were violent and rich in cultural exchange. I can get just as excited over a bump in the grass that contains a grave as I can enjoy looking at a heap of stones that once was an early medieval wall.

The challenge is to really envision life and people behind these artefacts. Sometimes it’s impossible, sometimes quite easy: imagination runs wild, and with it begin stories. My main interest is always the people and possible stories behind these cold, hard (arte)facts. This is how most of my plots start: during outdoor research, inspired by a place.

The magic of Viking Hedeby/Haithabu

axe

A place I’m particularly fond of is Hedeby in northern Germany. Not just because it is actually within reach for me in my Dreiländereck – but because it has it all: a modern, interactive museum with all the beautiful artefacts you could wish for, really bringing the era to life. But most important, there’s an open-air reconstruction of the Viking town in the actual historically correct place. So not only some houses and paths are erected again and ready to experience “live”, but the landscape is pretty much still what it was in those times, too. I can stand high on the protective wall and look down at the small settlement and imagine people walking the streets. I can envision the jetties where once dragonboats and merchants’ ships were moored. I can feel the harsh wind and hear the reeds rustle that still so densly border the Slien fjord. I can walk away from the settlement and into the fields and encounter massive runestones with original inscriptions. I really get a feel for the place and era. And every time, new story ideas form.

So this has become a habit now: every year I take a long weekend off to drive up to Schleswig and revisit my favourite place of inspiration. I just take time to be there, discover more details in the wood of the houses, the frameworks, the landscape. I let more stories unfold just by sitting on a bench, or watching a reenactor stir herbs to dye wool in a big pot. Driving home, I always have to pull over and take more notes.

Here is also where my research took another unexpected turn. Hedeby hosts several markets; and I attended the Viking spring market. It does something to a writer when she suddenly walks among her characters as they come alive with frightening vitality. Yes, I totally stalked some of them. The white-bearded guy with braided hair and tattoos. The incredibly handsome sword figther with the thoughtful face. The storyteller lady who captured an audience with a swipe of her staff.
And the colours, the smells! It’s almost shocking to be standing in the world you so far just imagined. You see the colour of their cheese, the texture of their bread, and the vivid patterns of their dresses. You inhale the scent of baking, cooking, sheepskins, and fires.

I never imagined actually HOW dark it is inside a Viking house once the door closes! But sitting on furs around the fire with other Vikings and a storyteller is mind-blowing. I didn’t want to leave! And when the door opened again, a ray of light hit a bump right behind me – it was so dark, I had overlooked sleeping kids within an arms-length. I suddenly had to acknowledge that I was stretching reality in my stories, in that I had made the houses much brighter to have the stories work. My protagonists need to see their opponent’s expressions and movements much clearer than what was obviously possible. We all have to stretch reality a little at times, especially for today’s readers. But I drove home deep in thought.

Becoming what you write

thumbnail_Dyeing

Another thing the market did was: I had so far only seen myself as an observer, not a participant. I use the knowledge of Viking reenactors to discuss my plots and characters, but I didn’t want to take part in markets, I just visited them, and took notes. Until then, at Hedeby.

I suddenly craved a dress and all that comes with it. But as a Viking dress contains many pieces (including jewellery and tools), and it has to be hand-made in the ancient craft, I found it too expensive an experiment if I didn’t plan to participate in markets. Until my birthday loomed and I thought I want a real feast: a Viking feast in a barn, in a dress of my own!

So that’s when my research became very personal and I commissioned Danish seamstresses to make me a dress. I chose fitting brooches and beads to go with it, crafted after original finds. I chose every single bead according to its correct time period and location: Hedeby, 10th century. It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever put together.

The day of fitting then wasn’t only a transformation, it was a revelation: as layer upon layer of clothing slipped over my head, I turned from an observer into more than a participant – I “became” something new. Suddenly everything I had studied and written about was ON me, became part of me. The rough fabrics, the smooth flow of the dress around my ankles. The glint of the brooches and clinging of the beads. I was a little in shock and a lot in awe when I saw myself in the mirror. It does something to you when you suddenly “become” what you write.

I now know what it feels like to prick yourself in the attempt to fix the beads to the brooches. What they sound like when I walk. How warm but light the linen and wool-combination feels.

And since that amazing birthday feast I also know what it’s like to swing a real Viking axe, made by a Norwegian smith (using ancient craftsmanship)! My “shieldmaiden axe” was the incredible birthday gift my husband had ordered made to my tiny measures. It’s awe-inspiring to hold and touch, let alone cut logs with!

So if these days someone asks me “How do you do your research?” I skip the boring books and online part. I hold up the beads I often wear around my wrist, and I might take the shiny axe off the wall and hold it out to the enquirer.

It always, always silences both parties for a long while: to weigh the ancient stuff in your hand and “feel” history is more than inspiring: it’s awe-inspiring. And then to imagine the people who might have lived and died in the times …

It’s so much stronger than my words.

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“Tales of Freya – Sensual Short Stories”

(the complete collection, just out in ebook and paperback)

About Tales of Freya collection of sensual short stories set in the Viking age:

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In this collection of adult bedtime stories, Sarah Dahl pulls back the curtain of history to depict the erotic lives of Viking men and women. Amid the stark landscapes of fjords, forests and snowcapped mountain peaks, her characters search for love and passion. Dahl authentically illuminates the sensual side of a world of battle and plunder in an alluring collection perfect for every lover of gritty Viking romance.

A warrior recovering by a river is drawn into an unforeseen skirmish with a beautiful shield maiden. An enslaved Christian monk is entranced by his captors’ pagan allure. A dissatisfied housewife finds that her home holds an unexpected and liberating secret. An injured farmer is captivated by the magic of his irresistible healer …

In a world of crackling fires and rough landscapes, long winters and bloody raids, the immediacy of life and death ignites undeniable passions. Warriors and monks, healers and housewives – all follow the call of their hearts and bodies to indulge in pleasures that may forever change their lives.

Buy links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

About the author:

Sarah Dahl lives on the edge of the rural German Eifel and writes historical fiction (novels and short stories) primarily set in the Viking age. She also works as an editor, translates, and coaches new writers in German and English. She is interested in everyday life in bygone centuries and the human stories that may have occurred behind the hard, historical facts.

Author homepage

Facebook

Twitter: @sarahdahl13

Pinterest

Goodreads

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Out Now!

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

 

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Sarah Dahl

Guest Post by Tony Riches – Charles Brandon’s Marriage to Catherine Willoughby

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Tony Riches to the blog, with an article about the protagonist of his most recent novel, Charles Brandon.

Charles Brandon’s Marriage to Catherine Willoughby

 Charles Brandon, Tudor knight and best friend of King Henry VIII, is best known for secretly marrying Mary Tudor, the king’s sister – without Henry’s permission! Less well known is his last marriage, to Lady Catherine Willoughby.

Thumbnail of Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Catherine was the only surviving daughter of Baron William Willoughby of Eresby, by his second wife Maria De Salinas, who was a Spanish Maid of Honour who came to England with Catherine of Aragon. Maria seems to have been the unfortunate queen’s closest companion and it is thought she named her daughter after Queen Catherine.

Records of the time suggest that Catherine Willoughby was an attractive, well-educated girl, who became a baroness in her own right after her father died in 1526. Charles Brandon would have been well aware that she was also the heiress to a substantial income of fifteen-thousand ducats a year.

It was little surprise to anyone when Brandon persuaded King Henry to let him buy the wardship of young Catherine Willoughby in 1528, (even though it seems he was, as usual, heavily in debt). Brandon’s plan was to secure her as a wife for his son, the eleven-year-old Henry, Earl of Lincoln (named after the king), once he came of age.

Catherine moved in to Brandon’s manor house at Westhorpe in the Suffolk countryside. She seems to have been happy to have Brandon’s daughters, Frances and Eleanor, as well as young Henry, for company, with Charles and Mary acting as her foster parents.

Mary Tudor was a friend and neighbour of Catherine’s mother, Maria, who probably saw this arrangement as likely to provide the most secure future for her daughter. Mary had been suffering from a long illness and died at Westhorpe (possibly of Tuberculosis) on the 25 June 1533.

Brandon, who was then aged forty-eight, decided it would be best if he married young Catherine (then aged fourteen) himself, and did so barely two months after Mary’s death. We must take care, of course, not to judge Charles Brandon by modern standards, although I’m sure Brandon enjoyed a few knowing winks from King Henry and his courtiers.

Importantly, it seems Catherine was happy to become Duchess of Suffolk, particularly when Brandon’s son, Henry, died the following year. Brandon’s marriage to Catherine secured him the rights to her lands in many parts of Lincolnshire, and by 1538 he became the greatest landowner in the county.

You can find out more about Charles Brandon and Catherine Willoughby in my new novel, Brandon – Tudor Knight, and I recommend a wonderful book by Evelyn Read, Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, which became one of my main sources. After Brandon’s death, there was talk that the king might marry Catherine himself – but what actually became of her is proof that the truth really is stranger than fiction.

Tony Riches

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About the author:

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony was a finalist in the 2017 Amazon Storyteller Awards with his book on Henry VII and is listed in the 2018 Top 200 list of the Most Influential Authors.

For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

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Out Now!

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

 

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Tony Riches

Guest Post: King Cenwulf by Annie Whitehead

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Annie Whitehead to the blog. Annie’s book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom was released by Amberley on 15th September and traces the fortunes of the Anglo-Saxon Midlands kingdom of Mercia, from its origins in the 6th century to its absorption into Norman England in the 11th century. The book is a fabulous, enjoyable read and I can highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Anglo-Saxon England.

A huge thank you to Annie for this fabulous article.

King Who?

King Cenwulf, that’s who. He may not be all that well known, but he was one of the most successful Anglo-Saxon kings and was king for twenty-five years (796-821) during a period when most kings were lucky if they survived a year in the job.

So why don’t we know more about him? Probably because his reign was sandwiched between a lot of kings with odd names, and he was overshadowed by his more famous predecessor, Offa.

Cenwulf was supposedly descended from a brother of the infamous pagan king, Penda, but no one is entirely sure of the precise link (although my new book provides an intriguing theory…).

Statue/carving of King Cenwulf in St Peter’s Winchcomb

One thing is for sure, and that is that he had no direct connection with his immediate predecessor, Ecgfrith, who was Offa’s son. Offa had gone to great lengths to secure the succession of his son, even going so far as to have him anointed as his heir. But all his plans were for naught, because Ecgfrith survived only five months after being crowned.

Foul play? Maybe. There was no suggestion of it in the chronicles and many believed that he died for the sins of his father. It looks as if Cenwulf wasn’t around at court much during Offa’s reign, and may have been in exile. Perhaps he was the victim of the purges of which Offa had been accused, and for which the punishment was supposedly the untimely death of his son. No accusations of murder were ever levelled against Cenwulf.

Cenwulf’s reign was an impressive one of overlordship and conquest. We don’t know much about his marital history but it is possible that he was married twice, firstly to a lady named Cynegyth, although it’s by no means certain, as a charter naming her as queen has been declared unreliable. His – possibly second – wife was Ælfthryth.

Offa had controlled East Anglia (famously doing away with their king, whom he’d had beheaded) but after his death East Anglia seems to have regained its independence. That was short-lived, however, for while they had been minting their own coins, very soon after he came to power, the East Anglian moneyers were striking coins for Cenwulf.

Coffin believed by some to be that of Kenelm, Cwoenthryth’s murdered brother, but it actually dates from a later period.

East Saxon independence also appears to have been short-lived, with its last ever recorded king, Sigered, being reduced to the status of first sub-king, and then dux.

In 801, Cenwulf was attacked by King Eardwulf of the Northumbrians, ‘because of his harbouring of his enemies.’ A letter from Pope Leo III to Charlemagne in 808 mentions the nobleman, Wada, and seems to confirm the accusation that Cenwulf had indeed been harbouring Eardwulf’s enemies, because Wada was involved in a battle of 798 where he had fought against King Eardwulf. Eventually the two kings agreed to a truce.

Things were a little more violent when it came to Cenwulf’s dealings with Kent, however, and it was perhaps not Cenwulf’s finest hour.

In 798, the same year as the battle involving Wada, Cenwulf was busy ravaging Kent, and he captured the Kentish king, known as Eadberht Præn.

When Offa, who had been overlord of Kent, died, Kent had risen up in revolt against Mercia. Eadberht Præn had been in exile at the court of Charlemagne, and he returned after Offa’s death, forcing the archbishop of Canterbury – who was known to have Mercian sympathies – to flee.

Kenelm’s Well, supposedly where his funeral procession rested on its journey

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cenwulf ‘seized Præn and brought him in fetters into Mercia’ where his eyes were put out and his hands cut off. But while one later chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon, refers to the capture, he makes no mention of the mutilations and another twelfth-century writer, William of Malmesbury, called Cenwulf a ‘truly great man’ who ‘surpassed his fame by his virtues, doing nothing that malice could justly find fault with.’ His praise seems motivated by the latter’s having restored Canterbury, and he goes on to say that Cenwulf released Eadberht Præn out of pity.

For a short while, Cenwulf put his brother into Kent to rule there as a puppet king, but after his brother died, he took direct control.

For all William of Malmesbury praised Cenwulf for restoring order at Canterbury (Offa had fought to have the archbishopric moved to London and when that failed, established one at Lichfield. Cenwulf reversed this decision), Cenwulf had a fractious relationship with the Church.

He became embroiled in an argument with the new archbishop of Canterbury, Wulfred. The dispute concerned the Kentish minsters and whether it was right that the state should have control over ecclesiastical lands. The argument raged from 816 and was not resolved when Cenwulf died in 821.

Drawing of Coenwulf Coin

The kings who followed him make up a list which looks a little like a cat has walked over the keyboard and show that the kingdom was troubled by a series of dynastic disputes between rival families. In amongst this, Cenwulf reigned successfully for a quarter of a century, and it seems as though he was on campaign against the Welsh when he died, but his reign is overshadowed by what (allegedly) happened to his children.

His daughter, Cwoenthryth, inherited not only her father’s lands but his dispute with the Church. Wulfred was accused of forging documents to support his case, but the Church Council found in his favour and whilst Cwoenthryth was allowed to keep the possession of Winchcombe she was forced to hand over the rights to the Kentish minsters. Winchcombe, where her father was buried and where she was abbess, became the centre of a scandal when she was accused of arranging for her little brother, Kenelm, to be murdered. Some of the stories say that her eyeballs dropped out as divine punishment, some that she was struck down dead. Reality was probably somewhat different, since it’s hard to prove that the young brother in question was even a small boy at the time of the alleged murder, and Cwoenthryth lived on as abbess of Winchcombe; some historians think she survived until the 840s.

Photo of the Cenwulf coin is a replica from my own collection

When the history of this period includes Offa the Great, a murder of a little boy, and dynastic struggle which also ended in murder, it’s hardly surprising that poor Cenwulf gets forgotten. But as one historian pointed out, his achievement was ‘scarcely less impressive’ than Offa’s.

He controlled the whole of the south east, and while his influence was not felt over Wessex, he at least kept the Northumbrians at bay, and he increased pressure on the Welsh, to the extent that his eventual successor, his brother, was able virtually to overrun Powys. Old-fashioned warlord he may have been, but he was the only English king before the tenth century to be styled ‘emperor’. If only he’d lived at another time, or gone up against more famous adversaries, perhaps he’d be better remembered today.

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Picture credits: ©Annie Whitehead except drawing of Cenwulf (public domain).

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About the Author:

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

Her first full-length nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley and available from Amazon UK.

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My books

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

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

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Annie Whitehead

 

Guest Post: The Quest for The Holy Grail by Mary Anne Yarde.

Today it is a pleasure to welcome back Arthurian novelist Mary Anne Yarde to the blog. Mary Anne’s latest book, The Du Lac Prophecy, book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles, is released today. Mary Anne has joined us to share some of the research behind the book, with an article about that most elusive of historical relics, the Holy Grail.

 

The Quest for The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail, by Évrard d’Espinques c. 1475

By Mary Anne Yarde.

King Arthur’s Britain is a utopian world filled with chivalry, glory, and just a touch of glamour. Imagine Camelot as she rises out of the Fata Morgana — the mist. Picture the Knights as they mount their beautiful horses and ride through the portcullis as they embark on another noble quest. Is there anything more romantic?

The most famous quest of all was, of course, the quest for The Holy Grail. It is this quest that I am going to take a closer look at today. I am going to talk about where the idea came from, and how it became associated with King Arthur and his Knights.

To start with, we need to look at a passage from the Bible.

Chrétien de Troyes

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 26:17-30 New International Version (NIV)

This was to be the last supper before Jesus’ arrest and horrific crucifixion. It is said that the cup that Jesus used on that fateful night was also used to catch his blood as he hung on the cross. So, because of this, The Holy Grail was / is a very precious Christian artefact.

Joseph of Arimathea and The Holy Grail.

The Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury

But then a miracle happened, and Jesus rose from the dead. The tomb was again empty, but Joseph’s heart was full of wonder. Joseph spent the rest of his life wandering the world and passing on the teachings of Jesus.

It came to pass that Joseph and a group of friends sailed to a distant land called Albion. They followed the River Severn as they travelled inland and finally they found themselves in The Summer Lands. Joseph brought with him the sacred Chalice of Christ, for it was his to protect.

Joseph settled in a place known locally as The Island of Glass (Glastonbury), and it is said that it was here that Joseph hid the Holy Grail down a sacred well. The water of the well, so the story goes, instantly turned red and tasted of blood.

The Grail’s hiding place remained a secret for many years, and over time it became the stuff of legends. The stuff of folklore.

So how did Arthur and his Knights become associated with this story?

The Last Supper, ca. 1520, Andrea Solari, after Leonardo da Vinci

Well, to answer that question we need to look at one man — Chrétien de Troyes. At the end of the 12th Century, Chrétien de Troyes, a French poet, took up the story of the Grail. He wove the story of the Grail into the story of King Arthur and his Knights. It was an instant hit.

The importance of de Troyes influence on Arthurian Legend cannot be overlooked. It is de Troyes that introduced us to Lancelot and the love triangle. It is de Troyes that first introduced the idea of the Knights Quest for the Holy Grail. He also introduced us to the knight that would discover the Grail’s hiding place — Sir Percival.

If nothing else, de Troyes certainly sparked the imagination of the populace, for what could be more romantic than these chivalrous, heroic knights, searching for the sacred cup of their religion?

The Chalice Well

Robert de Boron (a late 12th Century French Poet) went into even more detail when he took up the story. But it was the Vulgate Cycle (Lancelot-Grail), which was written in the 13th Century by an unknown author that really cemented the Grail Quest with Arthur and his Knights.

The central character of the story is Lancelot. However, instead of Percival being the ultimate Grail hunting knight, it is Lancelot’s son, Galahad.

What did the Church think of this story? It is, after all, about a sacred relic.

The idea of a magic cup – cauldron – was a prevalent theme in Celtic myths, not so much the Bible. It was, in short, a pagan tale that was rewritten by a French poet with a socially acceptable Christian theme.

As with almost all things King Arthur, excavating the truth is near on impossible. Arthur resides in the shadowy world of folklore, and that is where the Grail can be found as well. However, the story of the Knights and the Holy Grail captured the imagination of the country and it has been associated with Arthurian Legends ever since.

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Picture courtesy of Wikipedia, except the Chalice Well and Gardens, which are courtesy of Mary Anne Yarde.

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The Du Lac Prophecy (Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles) by Mary Anne Yarde

Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

About the Author

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

To buy the latest book in Mary Anne’s fabulous Du Lac Chronicles: Amazon US; Amazon UK; Amazon CA.

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My books

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

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Mary Anne Yarde

Guest Post: A Gap in History by Gordon Doherty

Today it is with great pleasure that I welcome novelist Gordon Doherty to the blog. Gordon’s latest instalment in his Legionary series, Legionary: The Blood Road, has just been released and is a cracking read (look out for my review later this week). Gordon joins us to talk about the background behind this magnificent Legionary series, set in ancient Rome.

So, without further ado, it is over to Gordon….

A Gap in History

A gap in history – an impossible void?

Writing historical fiction is, for me, like climbing into a time machine and going there, being in the moment. In penning the Legionary series, I feel like I have marched with the legions of the Roman Empire, across the green hills of Thracia, through the sweltering Persian desert, and over the snowy Balkan Mountains. I have fought in countless battles, sliced across the turquoise waters of the Aegean in an imperial galley, climbed the Great Aqueduct in Constantinople with cutthroats in close pursuit. It’s the ultimate escapism. This time machine of mine needs just a little fuel – a solid account of the history to spark the imagination, factual bones to which I can add the fictional flesh. But what if there is no fuel? When a gap appears in the history? Well here’s my experience…

The Gothic War: so turbulent it blew a hole in history!

The 4th century AD Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus serves as, as Edward Gibbon said, “an accurate and faithful guide” thanks to his famous work Res Gestae (literally ‘things done’), in which he charts the events of the empire from the accession of Emperor Nerva in 96 AD all the way through to 378 AD. It was the tail end of this chronicle – the Gothic War – that really intrigued me, and Res Getae served as a perfect historical spine for the Legionary series and a constant supply of fuel for the time machine.

The Roman Empire during the Gothic War.

The late 4th Century AD was a tumultuous time for the Roman Empire. The ground shook and a distant thunder sounded as a new threat poured across the eastern horizon. The Huns swept towards Europe from the Eurasian steppe in an event we call the Great Migration. These skilled and fearsome horsemen trampled over every tribe they found – none of whom had an answer to the Hunnic mode of fighting – roving in packs, whirling lassos and loosing clouds of arrows on their stunned quarry. Tribe after tribe fell – butchered or subjugated. Next in the Huns’ line of sight were the Goths, a Germanic people who inhabited the land north of the River Danube (roughly modern Romania).

The war-torn Diocese of Thracia.

The Goths were hardy and fierce warriors, but even with the many warriors they could muster, they too simply could not resist the Huns. So they turned and fled south, and in 376 AD they begged to be allowed to cross the Danube and take sanctuary in the Eastern Roman Empire (the empire had existed in two halves for some time by this point). Eastern Emperor Valens permitted their entry, hoping the alliance could be mutually beneficial – the Goths gaining a safer new home and the empire acquiring many thousands of new recruits for the legions. The Romans settled the Goths in a temporary camp somewhere in northern Thracia (modern Bulgaria)… then proceeded to make an absolute mess of matters. The odious Count Lupicinus oversaw severe maltreatment of the refugee population. His soldiers offered the starving Goths only rotting dog meat in exchange for their children to sell as slaves. Inevitably, the refugees broke out in revolt, and the Gothic War began. All Thracia became a war zone, and even the mighty city of Constantinople – the Eastern capital – came under threat.

The last stand at the Battle of Adrianople – one of the Roman Empire’s darkest days.

Ammianus Marcellinus described the bitter struggle wonderfully (see my timeline here), right up to and including the day that would go down in history as one of the empire’s darkest: when the forces of Emperor Valens lined up to face the Gothic horde a short way north of the city of Adrianople on a sweltering August afternoon with the best regiments the empire had – the crack cavalry and palace legions. That day, in the baking heat, they were routed by the Goths. Two-thirds of the eastern legions were slaughtered. Valens was killed amongst his men, and the Eastern Empire was left staring into oblivion as the Goths roared in triumph, masters of Thracia.

“What happened next?” I hear you cry. Well, Ammianus signs off with the infuriatingly calm and valedictory line:

Zosimus’ Historia Nova – a muddled but still useful account.

Thus have I, a Greek by birth, and formerly a soldier, related all the events from the accession of Nerva to the death of Valens, to the best of my abilities; professing above all things to tell the truth, which, as I believe, I have never knowingly perverted, either by silence or by falsehood. Let better men in the flower of their age, and of eminent accomplishments, relate the subsequent events.

 

His parting call for a successor to take up the mantle was never adequately answered. The years after 378 AD are something of a historical void. Not surprising, given that the people of the Roman Empire had at that time more pressing matters to attend to than recording events.

 

Like the empire itself, I too found myself staring into oblivion. Legionary: Gods & Emperors ended after the Battle of Adrianople, but the story of Pavo and the XI Claudia legion was far from over. Yet how could I write about the aftermath of the Battle of Adrianople when my faithful guide had no more to say?

Another guide, perhaps? Well, there was Zosimus, the 6th century AD writer who composed the Historia Nova (the ‘New History’), a work charting affairs after 378 AD and all the way up to 410. Perfect! Well, not quite. Zosimus relied heavily on secondary research, basing his history directly on the earlier histories of Dexippus, Eunapius and Olympiodorus. This, presumably, is why the Historia Nova is riddled with contradictions and inaccuracies. In some places where he has leveraged Eunapius, he speaks negatively about the Roman-Vandal general Stilicho, and later when he has clearly used Olympiodorus, he speaks glowingly of the same man. Likewise, he describes the post-Adrianople movements of the Goths in a way that demonstrate that he clearly didn’t understand the lay of the land at the time – more than once telling how, after raiding imperial territory, they went back across the Danube  (the Goths were firmly planted in fallen Thracia by this point – they never again returned to their old, Hun-ridden home north of the river). Still, Zosimus’ account was by no means a dead loss. Even his muddled version of events served as a starting point, and I attempted to detangle the descriptions and put a plausible timeline to it all.

Legionary: The Blood Road

To add a little more structure to this still-nebulous picture, I charted the attestations of the whereabouts of the Eastern and Western Emperors. Accounts of Theodosius I (Valens’ eastern successor) indicate that he made the city of Thessalonica his base of operations as he set about rejuvenating the Eastern Army. From there he roved north to tackle the Gothic horde… only to suffer defeat somewhere near Scupi in modern Macedonia. After that, it seems he remained in Constantinople for many years. Likewise, it seems Gratian, Emperor of the West, travelled to the war-torn eastern lands at least once per year during the period 378-382 AD. This ties in with the efforts of his Western Army to strike back the Gothic horde, so I could confidently assume that he was directly involved in this initiative.

Then I came to the bombastic orations of Themistius, the rhetorician and philosopher who served as a spokesperson and something of a spin doctor for Emperor Valens’ successor, Theodosius I. Now even the most prosaic of histories are subjective to a degree, but Themistius’ speeches are anything but prosaic and certainly not objective, in they are almost burlesque in their predispositions. Crucially, however, the orations he delivered in the years between 378 AD and 382 AD serve as key indicators of how the Gothic War developed after the disaster at Adrianople, and make it clear that there was a drastic shift in imperial stance. In 379 AD, not long after Theodosius’ coronation, Themistius booms:

The Goths will quake. Our mighty soldier-emperor will draw every able man together, our miners will bring iron for them and we will slaughter the barbarian!

Fighting talk! So although the Eastern Empire was grievously wounded, it is clear they did not intend to lie down and die. Yet just a few years later, Themistius proclaimed, with respect to the Gothic War:

It is an emperor’s job to govern, not to fight. And he has such a love of mankind…

This was clearly a case of managing expectations and an indicator that the aggressive earlier announcement had not played out as predicted. Sure enough, peace was agreed with the Goths the very next year, in 382 AD. The Gothic War ended not with bloody victory and vengeance, but after a series of brutal and inconclusive battles, leaving two exhausted sides realising neither could win.

So it was from this jigsaw of patchy chronicles, minor mentions of the emperors’ movements and blustery monologues from the era’s most famous orator, that I managed to piece together a picture of the post-Adrianople Roman Empire. There are places where I had to speculate and employ the imagination at full thrust – and I can’t describe how much fun that was. Most importantly, the ‘time machine’ was up and running again, and Legionary: The Blood Road was born!

You can find out about the rest of the series here (linked pics below)

Read my review of Legionary: The Blood Road . To buy Legionary: The Blood Road just click on the link.

From the author: 

I’m a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction.

Gordon Doherty

My love of history was first kindled by the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, and travelling around the ancient world has kept the fire burning brightly ever since. The later Roman Empire and Byzantium hold a particular fascination for me. There is something quite special about the metamorphosis from late antiquity into the ‘dark ages’ and the medieval period.

While historical fiction is my passion, I enjoy writing comedy and sci-fi too. Perhaps one day I’ll find a way to combine all three!

Gordon’s website: www.gordondoherty.co.uk

Gordon on Twitter: @GordonDoherty

Gordon on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GordonDohertyAuthor

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My books

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


From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with novelist Prue Batten

It is with great pleasure that I welcome Prue Batten to the blog today, on the very day of the release of her latest novel, Michael. Hi Prue, thanks so much for agreeing to an interview on History… the Interesting Bits. Welcome.

Thanks so much Sharon for inviting me.

What made you become a writer?

I don’t think I have ever really consciously thought about ‘being’ a writer. Writing has been an art-form I have loved from Grade Three, rather like painting or sketching. I used to write little prose pieces to describe scenes or events, be they imaginary or real. Even from such a young age, the use of words would make me contented and it was something at which I excelled at school. As I grew older, nothing changed. I learned other art-forms of course, but writing stayed with me. The chance to place novels before readers was mere serendipity but that’s a whole other story…

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

In the case of my fantasies, inanimate things like embroideries, paperweights, a Japanese cloth made of paper and silk called shifu. And most lately, as I begin another fantasy – maps and cabinets of curiosity.

Tell us a little about the book you have written so far.

The book I have just finished writing and which will be released this July, is the final in an historical fiction trilogy entitled The Triptych Chronicle. The book is called Michael. The trilogy is about the insidious rivalries of trade in the twelfth century and essentially, each novel is a standalone, but they fit together like fingers in gloves to make a series. Tobias, Book One, is about the theft of the infamous Tyrian purple dye from the Byzantine empire and is set in Constantinople. The second, Guillaume, involves the same trading house, but a different location, Lyon, and is about the discovery of the Waldensian Bible. Michael is set back in Constantinople where byssus, an enigmatic silk woven from mollusc tendrils, arouses jealousies. The underlying thread in the three books is revenge and each of the three men are good friends and employees of the trading house, Gisborne-ben Simon…

Please, tell me about your new book, Michael.

The blurb reads thus but like all blurbs, seems to change on a daily basis as one tries to tweak it!

Michael Sarapion, merchant and thief, returns to Byzantine Constantinople from which he fled the year before in fear of his life. In his company is Tobias, the dwarf brother of an icon thief and Ahmed, an Arab galleymaster with secrets.

Michael is filled with grief and fury, intending vengeance for a treasure lost to him twelve years before. He must trust in priests, defy the empire and guard those dearest to him as he searches, because he understands that to restore what is rightfully his, he must kill… or be killed.

In this final standalone to The Triptych Chronicle trilogy, Michael, Tobias and the stalwarts of the House of Gisborne-ben Simon will slice a swathe through the Byzantine city, with those who challenge them hard on their heels.

How do you organise you writing day – do you write every day?

I try with minimal success. Some days, I’m lucky if I write 150 words. Some days I’ve written up to 2000. But if I have a ‘writing day’, I begin with business. I clear my emails and social media and then I sit and read the previous chapter to the point where I must continue. I write with a pen and A4 paper, so the pages are filled with cross-hatching and bold black lines. When I have about 10-12 pages written, and having edited it (many times), I will then transcribe to the computer which is another edit in itself.

What is your favourite thing about being a writer?

Seclusion, placing myself elsewhere, concentration of the mind, being mindful. Also, I am one of the few writers that seems to love working with the editor. It’s akin to working with a swimming coach. Writing is so solitary and once the editor steps in, there’s a chance to lay out ideas and styles. I always visualise my editor striding up and down the pool beside me, shouting out instructions as I swim laps. I have a good relationship with my editor!

What is your least favourite thing about being a writer?

Finishing the first draft! And once the book is as polished as it can be, and is published, watching my dashboards to see if anybody buys it.

How do you see social media (such as Facebook and Twitter), is it a blessing, a hindrance, or a necessary evil?

A blessing. I love social media for two reasons. One is that solitude issue. Social media enables one to break out of the bubble and communicate with kindred spirits everywhere – be they writers or readers. The other is that living as far south of the globe as one can go without falling off the end of the world, I get to meet and make friends with people I might never meet otherwise. I think to take those friendships through the years, even if I cease being a writer, is the most wonderful gift.

What is your favourite period in history, and why?

It’s the late Medieval period. In my case, the late twelfth century. To me, it’s as close as one can get to the Renaissance without being surrounded by the flamboyance of that timeframe. There was so much beautiful religious art in the period, the strengthening of trade with the east, religious excitement (as with the Waldensians – almost a Reformation!) and exploration. As spices and other exotic goods moved into Europe from the east, food styles changed, clothing styles changed. And I still haven’t mentioned politics… 

What story would you really like to tell, but haven’t written yet?

A fictional version of my ancestor’s story. I am descended from a convict who was tried and sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land from England in the 1800’s. His sentence for stealing two sheep was fourteen years, essentially a death sentence, and yet he took his carpentry skills with him and managed to survive to become a free man. And here I am…

Who is your favourite historical character and why?

Prue Batten

Nicholas de Fleury from the House of Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett. He is a brilliantly Macchiavellian character who Dorothy set in the Renaissance, and it was his merchant intrigue that set me researching what trade may have been like three hundred years earlier. Effectively my medieval merchants laid the groundwork for Renaissance merchants like Niccolo. How I would love to converse with DD about that…

Who are your favourite authors who inspire you?

So many, through the years, beginning with Rosemary Sutcliffe as a teenager.

Others are Dorothy Dunnett, Mary Stewart, Simon Turney, Matthew Harffy, Michael Jecks, and Christian Cameron, Kathryn Gauci and Elisabeth Storrs in the hist.fict genre.  In fantasy? Tolkein, Juliet Marillier and Cecilia Dart Thornton. In contemporary fiction? Jan Ruth,  GS Johnston, Jilly Cooper. And they are all just a few of many exceptional names.

What is your favourite all-time book , the one that you cannot do without?

May I have two?

Niccolo Rising. Who cannot fail to be drawn in by three drunk men sailing downriver in the Duke of Burgundy’s bath tub!

Anne of Green Gables by LM. Montgomery because there’s always ‘scope for the imagination’.

What is the one piece of advice that you would give an aspiring writer?

Write because you love words. Read more words. And take your time. It’s worth the wait…

Thanks you so much, Sharon, for taking an interest in my work and my life. My books may be purchased by following this link: http://author.to/pruebatten

Thank you Prue, for taking the time to respond with such in-depth, thoughtful answers. I can’t wait to read Michael!

About Prue Batten:

Prue Batten has been an indie writer since 2008 when her first novel, a fantasy entitled The Stumpwork Robe, was published in a POD exercise funded by the UK Arts Council.

Since then, she has indie published three further books of the fantasy quartet which won awards, six historical fiction novels, some of which have also won awards, and an illustrated childrens’ book, through her own imprint, Darlington Press. She has also worked with writers of excellence to publish anthologies to raise money for cancer research and has a long-term collaboration with an American miniature press for whom she writes short stories.

For more information, go to:  http://www.pruebatten.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Prue.Batten.writer
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/pruebatten

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My books

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

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Warrior of Woden

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Matthew Harffy to History … the Interesting Bits as the latest stop on his Warrior of Woden Blog Tour.

Matthew has kindly given us an extract from this latest, fabulous book in his Bernicia Chronicles series, which follow the adventures and experiences of Beobrand HAlf-hand. Ocer to Matthew:

“The weather has been fine these past weeks, has it not?”

“Aye,” Acennan smiled, “better than riding through rain and mud, shivering without a fire at night.” They both recalled the misery of the year before when it had rained almost every day of their month of riding along this southern border of Northumbria. All of them had been ill by the end of it, and their clothes had rotted on their backs from being constantly sodden.

“You are not wrong there, my friend,” said Beobrand. “But do you remember last year, even when the sky was filled with rain and storms raged in the heavens day after day, even then, we caught some of the Mercian brigands raiding into the lands of our king? Remember, there was that fool we caught when he tried to ride Theomund’s stud stallion?”

Attor and Cynan, who were near to Beobrand and Acennan, laughed at the memory.

“We were hardly needed then,” said Acennan. “That Mercian boy was made to regret stealing a proud Northumbrian horse!”

More men laughed at the memory. One of the few moments of that rain-drenched month that they were happy to remember. The huge stallion had not been pleased to be ridden out of its warm stable and it had thrown the Mercian youth from its back and then, when the boy sought to drag him away by pulling on the horse’s reins, the beast had attacked him. The horse had trotted back to its master’s stable. The stallion had reminded him of Sceadugenga. Beobrand and his warband had found the Mercian lad trampled and bleeding in the mud.

The boy had still been dazed when they had hanged him.

“There was not much need of us then, you are right,” said Beobrand. “That horse was well able to look after itself, it seems. But even then, with the constant rain, men raided from Mercia, seeking to steal what they could. How many men have we seen raiding this past fortnight?”

“We have seen none,” replied Acennan, “but I for one am happy of the peace and the good weather. Perhaps I am getting old.”

“Perhaps you are at that,” laughed Beobrand. “Eadgyth has tamed you when you are at your hall, of that there is no doubt.”

Acennan blushed.

“Well, she has her ways of keeping me quiet.”

Beobrand smiled.

“I am sure she does.”

Acennan was happier than ever. His land prospered, as did his family. Eadgyth had borne him two fine children and Acennan doted on them all. But there was little that could be described as old or tame about him when he rode with Beobrand’s warband.

Beobrand stared at the smear of smoke in the pale sky over the southern hills.

“But does it not strike you as strange that this year, when the weather has been fair, and there has been a full moon and clear skies, we have neither seen nor heard of any bands of Mercians striking into Deira?”

Acennan frowned.

“Perhaps you are right, lord,” he said. “But what do you think is the cause of the calm over the land?”

“I do not know, my friend,” Beobrand answered, smiling to himself at Acennan’s use of the term “lord”. He only called him thus when he was angry or nervous. “But something is not right and south of here I would wager a hall is burning.”

He straightened his back and stretched his shoulders and arms in preparation for a hard ride.

“Attor and Cynan, you are to ride ahead as scouts. Gallop back to warn us if you smell a trap. This could be bait for an ambush.” Beobrand raised his voice so that all could hear. “The rest of you, prepare to ride. We will seek out what is the cause of this smoke and mayhap we will find what has kept the Mercians so quiet these past weeks.”

Cynan and Attor nodded and kicked their steeds into a canter that took them down the slope of the hill and quickly into the shade of a stand of elm.

Acennan frowned at Beobrand, but touched his spurs to his horse’s flanks, trotting forward with the remainder of Beobrand’s gesithas.

Beobrand understood his friend’s concern and he acknowledged that he was probably right in his appraisal of the situation. Surely no good could come of this.

For Beobrand led his warband into Mercia.

To read my review of Warrior of Woden click here.

Author bio

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

 Book description

AD 642. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fifth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Oswald has reigned over Northumbria for eight years and Beobrand has led the king to ever greater victories. Rewarded for his fealty and prowess in battle, Beobrand is now a wealthy warlord, with a sizable warband. Tales of Beobrand’s fearsome black-shielded warriors and the great treasure he has amassed are told throughout the halls of the land.

Many are the kings who bow to Oswald. And yet there are those who look upon his realm with a covetous eye. And there is one ruler who will never kneel before him.

When Penda of Mercia, the great killer of kings, invades Northumbria, Beobrand is once more called upon to stand in an epic battle where the blood of many will be shed in defence of the kingdom.

But in this climactic clash between the pagan Penda and the Christian Oswald there is much more at stake than sovereignty. This is a battle for the very souls of the people of Albion.

Links to buy

 Amazon: https://amzn.to/2I4PeTA

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2Gf2V1P

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2umk5ZO

iBooks: https://apple.co/2G7vhyW

Follow Matthew Harffy

 Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Facebook: @Matthew Harffy

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NetGalley: http://bit.ly/2lkKB0e

Sign up to the Aria newsletter: http://bit.ly/2jQxVtV

My book

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: George, Duke of Clarence and the infamous ‘butt of Malmsey wine’ by Toni Mount

It is a pleasure to welcome Toni Mount to the blog, for Day 5 of her Blog Tour for the launch of The Colour of Murder this month.

The Colour of Murder is the latest whodunit in the popular ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval murder mysteries by author and historian Toni Mount.

George, Duke of Clarence and the infamous ‘butt of Malmsey wine’.

540 years ago, on the 18th February 1478 the Duke of Clarence was, famously, drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he jump or was he pushed? The question has never been answered, so this was an opportunity for the intrepid investigator Seb Foxley – to finally solve the mystery.

On this day, 18th February 1478, news was leaked that the brother of King Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence, had somehow managed to drown in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he fall or was he pushed? A contemporary chronicler, who otherwise seems very well informed, could only write: ‘… a few days after the execution, whatever its nature may have been, took place … in the Tower of London…’

From the Croyland Chronicle, c. 1486, pp.479-80:

George of Clarence had never been very reliable nor faithful to King Edward, his elder brother. When his beloved wife, Isabella Neville, died soon after giving birth, probably of childbed fever, George was convinced that a lady-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho, had poisoned her. He tried Ankarette in a rigged court and arranged her execution. King Edward decided George had gone too far this time, taking the law into his own hands. Then George became involved in a further plot to dethrone Edward. Matters deteriorated when he accused the Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, of witchcraft, saying she was behind the death of his wife. Finally, the king lost patience and George was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the summer of 1477.

Brought to trial before Parliament, only the king gave evidence against George, listing all his earlier mercies to him, how he had pardoned him for previous acts of treachery and showered titles and riches on him, only to receive ingratitude and further treachery in return. Meanwhile George had spread rumours that the king was a bastard with no right to wear the crown, practising necromancy and poisoning those who displeased him.

Parliament sat in embarrassed silence as the king and his brother accused each other, shouting and arguing in a most unseemly and vulgar display. But the eventual outcome was never going to be in doubt: Parliament found in the king’s favour, George was guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. He was returned to the Tower of London while the king wrestled with his conscience over signing his brother’s death warrant until the Speaker of the House intervened, demanding that sentence be carried out. George, Duke of Clarence, was executed privately in the Tower of London, spared the ignominy of a public beheading.

However, an execution behind closed doors soon caused rumours to spread that Clarence had been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. A butt is a large barrel and an imperial measure of one hundred gallons – more than enough to drown in, but the story is almost certainly a later invention. Perhaps George was partial to the sweet white wine, so the tale was an ironic joke. It has been suggested, perhaps not seriously, that George was allowed to choose his manner of death, or even that a ‘well-wisher’, wanting to spare the king the grief of committing fratricide, sent Clarence a gift of wine, laced with poison. We will probably never know the truth.

About  the author

Toni Mount is a popular writer and historian; she is the author of Everyday Life in Medieval London and A Year in the Life of Medieval England (pub Amberley Publishing) and several of the online courses for http://www.medievalCourses.com

Her successful ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval whodunits is published by MadeGlobal.com and the latest book in this series The Colour of Murder is now available as a paperback or on Kindle. http://getbook.at/colour_of_murder

If you would like to follow the rest of Toni’s blog tour, just click on the links below:

26/1/18 – Digitalis & Other Plant Poisons in Medieval Times – www.thewarsoftherosescatalogue.com/  c/o Debra Bayani

3/2/18 Author Interview – The Review – www.thereview2014.blogspot.com c/o Diana Milne

10/2/18 Royal Witchcraft – www.onthetudortrail.com c/o Natalie Grueninger –

17/2/18 George Duke of Clarence – www.historytheinterestingbits.com  c/o Sharon Bennett Connolly

24/2/18 Bedlam Hospital www.theanneboleynfiles.com c/o Claire Ridgeway

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My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: The Siege of Rouen by Nathen Amin

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Nathen Amin to the blog. Nathen has stopped by on the last day of his blog tour with an extract from his wonderful new book, House of Beaufort, focusing on the Siege of Rouen which took place between July 1418 and January 1419 as part of Henry V’s attempt to conquer Normandy, and ultimately claim the French throne.

The Siege of Rouen (Extract from House of Beaufort by Nathen Amin)

By the summer of 1418, the king’s army was camped outside the gates of Rouen, the final obstacle in reconquering the duchy. Although the city was the second largest in France, it had suffered from the intermittent civil war between the Armagnac and Burgundian factions and had been brutally occupied by both forces. Now, it was to be harassed once more, this time by the English.

In mid-July, King Henry dispatched his uncle Thomas Beaufort to seek the city’s surrender, accompanied by ‘a fayre manye of men of arms and archers’. The duke of Exeter had spent the first few months of the year in England but on 3 March received a summons from his nephew requesting his services once again in France. By May, the duke was back on Norman soil, attended by a force of 500 men-at-arms and 1,500 archers, and on 1 July was appointed Count of Harcourt after capturing the town’s castle. He was also given custody of Lillebonne Castle, situated halfway between Harfleur and Rouen and timely motivation for the exhausting task that lay ahead.

According to the Brut Chronicle, upon arriving outside Rouen, Exeter set up camp and ‘displayed his banner’ before sending ‘herodes into the toun, and bade them to yeld it’. If they chose not to submit, then the duke promised they would ‘deie an harde and sharped deth, and withoute eny mercy or grace’. A small skirmish occurred when ‘a grete meny of men at arms, both on horsbak and eke on foot’ emerged from the town, although Exeter’s resilient force managed to ‘ovirthew an hep of them’, capturing thirty prisoners in the process . It was clear the Rouennais were not going to yield to the duke, who promptly departed south to Pont-de-l’Arche to inform his king. An unimpressed Henry V swiftly mobilised the remainder of his troops and returned to Rouen alongside his uncle.

The siege began in earnest on 29 July 1418, with the city well defended by large numbers of crossbowmen and artillery weaponry. English siege equipment, which had proved effective throughout the campaign, was rendered useless as Henry’s soldiers could not get within range of the city walls to create any discernible damage. Since brute force was not an option, the king resolved to starve the citizens into surrender. Henry spread his commanders around the city to block any attempts by French relief forces bringing supplies, with himself based in the east and his brother Clarence in the west. Exeter was positioned ‘on the north syde, before the Port Denys’, and the three chief commanders were capably supported by John Mowbray, earl of Norfolk, James Butler, earl of Ormond, the lords Harrington, Talbot, Roos, Willoughby and Fitzhugh, and Sir John Cornwallis.

King Henry V

The English expected the Rouennais to surrender after a token resistance, whilst those within the walls stubbornly awaited the arrival of a French army to come to their rescue. Neither occurred. Although outbreaks of dysentery and disease afflicted both Rouen and the English camp, commanders of both sides refused to back down. At one stage, an Englishman known as Sir John le Blanc, Governor of Harfleur and a member of Exeter’s retinue, challenged a French captain named Langnon, the bastard of D’Arly, to a jousting duel. Langnon agreed to the contest and emerged from the beyond the walls with around thirty companions. Although the intention of both men was to run the joust three times, Langnon ferociously unhorsed his adversary at the first attempt, who was then dragged into the city where he succumbed to his injuries. The Frenchman was urged by the English to return le Blanc’s lifeless body, for which he was begrudgingly paid four hundred nobles, possibly from the purse of a presumably demoralised Exeter himself.

By December, the citizens of Rouen were feeling the effect of the siege, having consumed most of their provisions. By Christmas they had ‘nothir bred, ale, nor wyne’ and were forced to survive on horsemeat and the flesh of dogs, mice, rats and cats. The city’s despairing commanders ordered all women and children, along with any old or sick men, to be evicted from Rouen at once as they were deemed to be of no military value. Considering many of those expelled were related to soldiers left behind, it seems likely the commanders intended for them to be honourably received into English hands as prisoners of war, to be fed and watered until the siege was over. They had not counted on the ruthless disposition of the English king.

Although several of King Henry’s soldiers initially endeavoured to feed the evictees from their own rations, he dispatched orders that no assistance was to be provided to the pleading masses. His command was adhered to, and the beleaguered citizens were left to starve in ditches halfway between the English and the city walls, slowly perishing in full view of both camps. It was an utterly brutal decision and intended to demotivate the watching garrison of Rouen, who could only look on shamefacedly as those they had expelled screamed for help that was not forthcoming.

A chilling insight into the horrors of the siege is found in a lengthy poem written by John Page, an English soldier present during the sustained attack. Page’s compassionate poem barely conceals the anguish he experienced during the winter of 1418, or the significant pity he felt for the innocent women and children of Rouen. In one resonating couplet, Page records how he witnessed a starving, orphaned ‘chylde of two yere or three, go a boute to begge hyt brede, fadyr and modyr bothe were dede’, whilst he also came across ‘women holdyn in hyr armys, dede chyldryn in hyr barmys (bosoms)’. After the citizens were expelled, a despondent Page noted how ‘women with their children in their arms’ were begging the soldiers to ‘have marcy uppon us, ye Englysche men’.

Arms of Thomas Beaufort, 1st Duke of Exeter

There could be no mercy until the English king was placated, and as Rouen could not withstand the tenacious monarch indefinitely, dialogue was finally opened between the two parties after Christmas. The city accepted terms of surrender on 19 January 1419 when, after six months of ‘toilsome siege and many assaults’, Thomas Beaufort was handed the keys to Rouen. The duke galloped into the city, ‘a valiant captain mounted on a goodly courser’, to formally seek the submission of the council. Trumpets, clarions and pipes heralded the duke’s arrival, with his English soldiers, perhaps charged with adrenaline, provocatively shouting ‘St George! St George!’ as they passed through the gates. Page reported the inhabitants were but ‘bonys and skyn’ and beheld their conquerors with great fear, prompting some of the residents to nervously ransom their lives ‘for fifty thousand pounds in gold’. Money was not enough to save a commander named Alain Blanchard; he was promptly executed for having hanged English prisoners from the walls in preceding months.

One can only wonder at the horror which greeted the duke as he rode through the disease-plagued, death-infested streets. Rotting corpses littered the roads, with Page confirming ‘in everyche strete lay dede’ whilst those who had only just survived the ordeal, ‘dyde faster than cartys myght cary away’. The stench alone must have overwhelmed Exeter and his men, forced to navigate their way through grim pandemonium. Even so, Thomas had a duty to perform, and so the duke ‘to the castelle fyrste he roode’ and ‘ryche baners up he set’, including those of St George and the arms of France and England. As the flags fluttered in the wind, their presence above the city represented not only a hard-fought English victory over Rouen, but also the duchy of Normandy.

With Exeter having secured the city, the king followed his uncle into Rouen the following afternoon, and whilst ‘the bells of all the churches were rung’, the surviving ecclesiastical figures emerged to greet the intimidating figure that had reduced their places of worship to rubble. Alongside his commanders, Henry offered thanksgiving in the cathedral before settling into his new lodgings within the castle. His nobles dispersed into the city to find accommodation in any buildings English cannons had failed to destroy.

Exeter finally had the opportunity to rest his weary body, and to reflect on events of previous months, particularly the waste of life that had occurred on both sides of Rouen’s walls. Tragic losses had not been limited to the Normans, for death had also struck at the heart of the Beaufort family. Accompanying his stepfather Clarence on the campaign had been the seventeen-year-old Henry Beaufort, 2nd Earl of Somerset, heir of John Beaufort, and Exeter’s nephew. Information about the youngster’s life is scarce, although his upbringing was overseen by Clarence and partly funded by his namesake uncle, the bishop of Winchester.

Likewise, young Henry’s death is also poorly documented, although later inquisitions in the summer of 1425 place the date of his demise to 25 November 1418, just as the siege of Rouen reached its climax. It’s unclear whether the cause was warfare or disease, or if his uncle Exeter was present at the time having been posted near to the Clarence forces in which the teenage earl served. There is no record of what happened to Henry’s body, whilst his earldom passed to his brother John who became the third Beaufort to hold the Somerset title within a decade. At what point Bishop Beaufort, or the boy’s mother Margaret Holland, became aware of his demise is also uncertain, as is his final resting place. This Henry Beaufort remains an enigma, something of a lost Beaufort, and his death was a sad consequence of the fall of Rouen.

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Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire and has long had an interest in history. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and runs the Henry Tudor Society. He has an active social media presence promoting historical sites in Wales. He now lives in York.

The House of Beaufort is available now from both Amazon and Amberley Publishing.

And here’s the links to catch up with the rest of Nathen’s blog tour.

Day 1: The Medievalist.net; Day2: On the Tudor Trail; Day 3: Lila’s Vintage World; Day 4: kristiedean.com

 

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly