Guest Post: Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part Two

Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire

I think after the wonderful insights of last week’s Guest Post: Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part One, we have all been eagerly awaiting Part Two of James Wright‘s brilliant article – I know I have!

So, without further ado. Here it is:

Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part Two

James Wright, Buildings Archaeologist, Triskele Heritage

In my last guest blog for History the Interesting Bits, we discussed five common myths about mediaeval buildings. These tall tales included stories of secret passages, yarns about the twist of spiral staircases relating to right-handed defenders and anecdotes that lepers were provided special windows in churches to watch the mass through.

As a buildings archaeologist I often meet folk who are eager to tell me all about their properties and their enthusiasm is genuinely infectious. I’m a great lover of historic architecture and believe that we can learn so much of value about a society by what it builds. However, romanticised and elaborated stories often grow up around certain mysterious features in mediaeval buildings – and it is surprising how often these get repeated all across the country in so many different structures.

In the second part of this series, I will discuss five more common misconceptions, attempt to explain how they come about and what the underlying truth behind each myth is. Hopefully this will help to give a broader and deeper understanding of historic buildings that will bring us that little bit closer to their former occupants.

  • Ship Timbers
Ship timbers, Tattershall

Perhaps the most tenacious and persistent mediaeval building myth is that lots of timber-framed buildings were constructed from salvaged ship timbers. There is even a house in Hertfordshire that is actually called Ships Timbers! Given that traditional British boozers have a reputation as hotbeds of rumour and intrigue, it will come as no shock that many pubs have the reused ship timbers story associated with them – often linked to a famous battle such as Trafalgar. Is there any truth in these tales?

On extremely rare occasions, it can be demonstrated that specific pieces of timber may have genuinely originated from a ship. I cannot stress just how rare this is and that documentary evidence is often lacking. My former colleague, Damian Goodburn, Historic Timber Specialist at MOLA, has pointed out that ship timbers rarely lend themselves to reuse in terrestrial buildings due to extreme weathering, their shaping designed for aquatic settings and the overall unworkability of seasoned oak. Instead, timbers from ship-breaking yards tend to be reused in marine or inter-tidal architecture, such as the Bermondsey foreshore of the River Thames in London. Alternatively, ship timbers may occasionally be found in the foundations of structures located very close to waterways, such as the three pieces recorded in the foundations of the Rose Playhouse, Bankside, London.

The vast majority of timber-framed buildings were constructed from newly felled trees and/or reused terrestrial structures such as barns, granaries and houses. The reuse of buildings is widely documented – for example the building accounts for Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire, refer to the removal of timber from nearby Revesby Abbey in 1434-5. Reused timber will often be placed in a different part of the new building to the original structure leaving rectangular holes, known as mortises, visible and it is probably this which gives us the origin of the romantic story of timbers salvaged from wrecked ships.

  • Arrow-sharpening Grooves
Arrow grooves, Lambley

Worn into the hard stonework of the interior of many a church porch can be found clusters of strange vertical grooves which visitors are commonly told were created by archers sharpening their arrows, such as those at Holy Trinity, Lambley, Nottinghamshire. Given Edward III’s law of 1363, that all able-bodied men aged between 16 and 60 must practice their archery on Sundays and holy days, plus the location of many archery butts close to the parish church, the arrow-sharpening story has become received wisdom wherever the grooves are found.

There is neither any documentary evidence to suggest that archers sharpened their arrows on the stones of church porches, neither would this be a practical solution to the problem of dulled arrowheads. As churchyards were consecrated ground, archery butts were located elsewhere in the manor, creating a laborious trek to the porch. Instead, the sixteenth century archery expert, Roger Ascham tells us that bowmen would sharpen their arrows using hand-held files and whetstones. Equally, the majority of the grooves are orientated vertically and are located relatively low-down in the porches which render them as impractical for drawing a metre long arrow shaft across. Finally, these grooves are often found on soft limestones entirely useless for honing an edge.

The swashbuckling tales of English victories at Crécy and Azincourt have led to nationalistic myths of an epic proportion. Not only have accounts of the battles become rather knotted, but the desire to connect local history to the heroic archers has led to a misreading of the evidence. Folk traditions from pre-modern Germany and France, collected in the nineteenth century by Charles Rau, refer to parishioners scraping powder from church stonework to use in rituals. The stone was seen as a powerful holy material which was ingested as cures for fever or impotence. It is likely that similar ritualistic practises associated with holy buildings were also once common in Britain and the grooves in church porches relates to this folk ritual.

  • Murder Holes
Murder holes, Berry Pomeroy, Devon

Look up whilst you are visiting castles and you will often see voids in the overhead masonry associated with the defence of the building. These can take the form of slots overhanging the walls, known as machicolations (for example at Berry Pomeroy, Devon), or holes in the gate passage, known as murder holes (such as those at Caernarfon, Gwynedd). The popular story is that they were built so that the defenders could pour boiling oil down upon attackers.

Although it is not a myth that these holes were created to potentially hurl items into the spaces below them, including projectiles, stones and caustic lime, their uses were even more complicated. They could act as safe observation points from which the wall foot or passageway could be seen. If fires were started, either accidentally or deliberately, during a siege the slots could also be used to douse the flames with cold water.

Boiling oil was rarely used – it was prohibitively expensive, not often available in large enough quantities to be effective, would have been difficult to heat (it has a boiling point at 2040C), problematic to transport around the parapets and could have been a fire risk in itself. There are a very small number of scattered references to the use of hot oil, including at the siege of Orléans in 1428. For the most part, castles were rarely laid siege to and murder holes were mostly left untested. In fact many of them were intended to be nothing more than symbols of architectural prestige: the machicolations at Tattershall would have directly overlooked the roofs of the castle’s Inner Ward – not the best place to drop offensive weapons or scalding materials!

  • Templar Graffiti
Templar graffiti, Worksop

Type “Templar graffiti” into a search engine and you will find a mind-boggling number of links to hundreds of castles and churches, from the dungeons of Warwick Castle to the porch of Worksop Priory, Nottinghamshire. The websites invariably refer to cross-shaped graffiti left behind by the enigmatic Order of the Knights Templar (founded 1199 and dissolved 1312) and their crusading brethren. The legend that he Templars harboured the Holy Grail is all-consuming and many believe that the location of the cup of Christ can be found by decoding intriguing symbols and carvings at sites such as Royston Cave, Hertfordshire.

One of the principle problems with these romanticised notions is that they have more akin to conspiracy theories and Dan Brown novels than to historical research. In particular, it can be demonstrated that the “dungeon” at Warwick Castle was actually the storage basement of Caesar’s Tower, built over 30 years after the Templars were dissolved. Similarly, the carvings at Royston Cave, have been identified, by archaeologist Matthew Champion, as dating to the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Again, this falls outside of the Templar period and the religious character of the carvings is entirely consistent with those in a wide variety of other sites of the period.

Ultimately, crosses are a very common discovery in mediaeval graffiti surveys. They may be related to devotional activities such as prayer, but, as large numbers – around 80% – are found in church porches (as at Worksop) it is also likely that they relate to more secular behaviour. In particular, there is good evidence for mediaeval porches being used as sheltered meeting rooms, places where manorial courts were held, locations for reading wills and a site for parish notices to be read or fixed. As such the graffiti crosses may have been left as contractual memorials akin to swearing on the Bible or signing a document.

  • Devil’s Door
Devil’s door, Warkworth

Many churches, such as St Lawrence, Warkworth, Northumberland, have their north aisle doors blocked up – a phenomena which has been increasingly referred to as the Devil’s Door. Tradition states that this door, nearest to the font, was left open during baptisms so that demons could escape from the new-born child upon command of the priest. The north side of the church was thought of as being connected with the devil and after the Reformation these doors were blocked up as they were considered to relate to superstitions incompatible with the Protestant faith.

Francis Young has written eloquently on the subject of baptismal folklore and suggests that the sacrament was never considered to be a true exorcism, thus we might not be expecting demons to come flying out of the north door. Furthermore, Nicholas Groves has pointed out that the part of the baptism when the devil was commanded to leave the body of the infant, actually took place outside of the south porch in the churchyard. Equally, the belief that the north side of the church was particularly feared also does not stand up. Many churches have their principle entrance to the north, including Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire, they face the principle access route from the settlement. It is also the case that large numbers of churches retained both their north and south porches, as at Kelham, Nottinghamshire.

Although it is acknowledged that north aisle doors may have been left open during baptisms, this was never part of the established liturgy. However, a number of formal church processions, including that on Palm Sunday, required the north porch as an exit point prior to walking, clockwise, around the east end of the church and back in through the south porch. Following the Reformation, these processions no longer took place making the door and porch essentially redundant. Churchwardens eventually decommissioned many of them as an expensive maintenance liability.

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I hope that you enjoyed this blog and that it will prove useful in trying to fully understand mediaeval buildings on your own visits. Should you wish for more information on this subject, please feel free to tweet me on @jpwarchaeology or email on james@triskeleheritage.com

All images courtesy of James Wright.

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I would like to say a HUGE THANK YOU to James Wright for taking the time to write two incredibly fascinating post. I owe you one, James.

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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 James Wright

Guest Post: Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part One

Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a talk given by buildings archaeologist James Wright, of Triskele Heritage, on Medieval Graffitti. It was a fascinating lecture and thoroughly enjoyable – if you ever get the chance to go and hear James talk, I highly recommend you do. Anyway, chatting to James afterwards we got on to the topic of the many myths surrounding medieval buildings and James very kindly agreed to write a blog post for me. It is, in fact, a rather large topic – especially after James’ Twitter followers got involved – and so has turned into 2 posts. Part Two will be along next week, but here’s Part One for your delectation.

Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part One

James Wright, Buildings Archaeologist, Triskele Heritage

As a buildings archaeologist, I am very fortunate to have access to all manner of mediaeval structures, many of which are not open to the public. I feel a great affinity with these buildings, be they timber-framed houses, stunning parish churches or the castles of great lords, and sense a responsibility to let folk know about new discoveries using a wide range of media. There is simply no point doing archaeology unless you tell others what you have done!

Recently I met my friend, the author Sharon Bennett Connolly, after giving a talk on the mediaeval period. Whilst we were having a catch-up, the subject of popular myths about mediaeval buildings cropped up and Sharon asked if I would be interested in submitting a guest blog for this website.

During my visits to mediaeval buildings, the information relayed on websites, leaflets and guidebooks or by property owners, custodians and stewards is not always wholly precise. I want to use this blog to gently bust a few of the more common myths. There is rarely any malicious intent in such stories – they are usually the result of the misidentification of a structure by an early antiquarian, amateur or even professional historian. If something has been repeated enough times or put into print it becomes “real”. Once it becomes “received wisdom” the myth is widely taken as factual and repeated often.

So here are the first five of ten myths, associated with mediaeval buildings, and the (often more interesting) realities hiding behind them…

  • Secret Passages
Secret Passages, Ashby

Tales of underground secret passages are so common that almost every village and town have their own version. Usually the tunnel connects two rather contrasting, and faintly scandalous, locations such as the manor house and the nunnery or the priest’s house and the local pub! In my own home town of Stone, Staffordshire, there is a persistent rumour that a passageway linked the site of the twelfth century priory to Aston Hall.

The fact that the two buildings are over one and half miles apart, and that the intervening land is on the flood plain of the River Trent, never seemed to raise any scepticism when the locals of various pubs were discussing this! How would the presence of the passage be kept secret? Who paid for it? Why was it constructed? Where was the spoil put? How was it kept drained? The practicalities all seem rather insurmountable.

Although some sites do feature genuine tunnels, such as Strelley Hall in Nottinghamshire or Ashby Castle in Leicestershire, they tend to be both post-mediaeval in date and are relatively short in length. In both cases they offer access for goods and connect different buildings within a single complex. The vast majority of tunnel myths turn out to be simple drains when investigated. The origin of the story at Stone is probably related to the survival of a small section of a storage undercroft, from the priory, which is now the cellars of a much later house.

  • Spiral Staircases
Spiral Stair, Newark

Go and visit any castle in the land and you will inevitably find a guidebook, audio-tour, interpretation panel or tour guide stating that all spiral staircases twist clockwise to provide a swordsman’s advantage for the right-handed defenders, who were able to easily wield their weapons, whilst attackers would be at a disadvantage. I’ve spotted this being presented to visitors recently at both Arundel, Sussex and Colchester, Essex.

A brilliant survey of castle staircases, by Neil Guy of the Castle Studies Group, has demonstrated that, contrary to the myth, anti-clockwise spiral staircases were incredibly common. We can find them in the eleventh century at the Tower of London; twelfth century at Newark, Nottinghamshire; thirteenth century at Conwy, Gwynedd; fourteenth century at Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight and fifteenth century at Kirby Muxloe, Leicestershire. Many of these castles were built during periods of military activity such as the Norman Conquest or Edwardian invasion of Wales – yet they still feature anti-clockwise stairs.

Some castle gatehouses (for example, Tonbridge, Kent) feature two staircase turrets, one clockwise and one anti-clockwise. They seem to relate to a similar pattern of access in monastery and cathedral towers (such as St Alphage Tower, London) which may be “up” and “down” routes to avoid collisions and jams. Many castles, such as Richmond, North Yorkshire, even feature straight stair passages. Finally, sieges rarely ended with fighting in the interiors of castles, let alone on the staircases – if the enemy was on your stair the battle was probably already lost!

  • Burn Marks
Burn marks, Gainsborough Old Hall

Huge numbers of timber-framed buildings are littered with curious tear-shaped burn marks which are often over-looked by custodians and visitors alike. However, when attention is drawn to them, as in the kitchens at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire or on an upper floor at Tudor House, Southampton, Hampshire, they are usually interpreted as being scorch marks left by unattended candles, rushlights, tapers or lamps. Many buildings, such as Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire, are so riddled with burn marks that their occupants must have been so careless that it is astonishing they are still standing!

Instead, a great piece of experimental archaeology, undertaken by John Dean and Nick Hill and published by the Vernacular Architecture Group, showed that these marks were deliberately created. A tear-shaped burn mark is almost impossible to replicate by leaving a light unattended. They found that the only way to leave such a mark was to hold a taper at a 45 degree angle, a few millimetres away from the timber, for between 5 and 15 minutes. Many marks are also found in locations unsuitable for supporting lights – the backs of doors and window shutters – and few had associated evidence of how lights would have been supported.

Once it was realised that the marks were created deliberately, archaeologists mapped their locations and found that the vast majority were on timbers near doors, windows and chimneys. In the mediaeval period, these areas were widely believed to be vulnerable to malicious fires and invasion by evil spirits. Therefore many of the marks were possibly created as part of a tradition of magical house protection. By burning the timber a little bit it would drive away the threat of more significant damage. Equally, there may be other ritual purposes associated with burn marks that may be connected to prayer, devotion, healing or purification.

  • Leper Squints
Leper squints, Lewes

Many parish churches feature curious holes penetrating their walls which are sometimes identified as windows through which sufferers of leprosy (now known as Hansen’s Disease) could observe services. Considered to be contagious and deformed, lepers were literally suffering purgatory on earth, and were therefore discouraged from mixing with the congregation.

Although lepers were considered to be outcasts, they were regularly provided for in charitable hospitals (such as St Nicholas, Harbledown, Kent) which were located on the edge of towns or at crossroads.  Ultimately, they were not encouraged to enter regular communities and the provision of squints at parish churches is unlikely.

Location and form is key here. A number features identified as leper squints (for example at St Cuthbert’s, Aldingham, Cumbria) are very small square holes, on the exterior of the church, capped by a thin lintel stone. These are relict putlog holes – left behind by builders whose mediaeval timber scaffolding was physically bonded into the masonry of the wall during construction. At the end of the work, carpenters would saw off the timber flush with the wall and over time the wood would rot away to leave a hole. Alternatively, small, low down windows like the one at St Leonard’s, Wollaton, Nottinghamshire (which usually have evidence for shutters) were probably built to allow ventilation rather than cater to lepers.

Holes found internally, such as that at St Thomas Becket, Lewes, East Sussex, are usually at an oblique angle through the wall separating the aisle from the chancel. These are formally designed, sometimes elaborately decorated, hagioscopes. This feature enabled priests officiating at side aisle altars to be able to simultaneously engage with the main celebrant, at the high altar in the chancel, during the Elevation of the Host – indicating that the ritual bread was now the body of Christ.

  • Mason’s Marks
Masons marks, Warkworth Castle

Stone buildings were constructed by masons – often considered to be a secretive bunch given to various arcane practises. One tradition states that masons had their own individual symbol (such as the illustrated example from Warkworth Castle, Northumberland) which they would chisel onto a piece of stone, once it was finished, so that they could be paid for it. By finding these marks we may be able to trace the career of a mason as he travelled from site to site.

Although there are definitely marks on the walls of mediaeval buildings which can be attributed to stonemasons, the reasons for their presence has become a little scrambled. Firstly, masons were very rarely paid per stone (i.e. piecework). Mediaeval building accounts (such as those for Caister Castle, Norfolk) indicate that masons were paid weekly wages. Secondly, the simplicity of masons marks means that they get widely repeated. Identical examples to those recorded in the early sixteenth century Hospital of the Savoy, London, were also found in fourteenth century Strasbourg Cathedral, France; seventeenth century Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire and nineteenth century Canton Viaduct, America.

The marks left behind by masons were not necessarily specific to an individual. There was no register of such things and it is likely that they were assigned to either individuals or entire work-gangs just for the lifespan of the building project. When they moved on to a new site, new marks were distributed. On a particular project the marks would be used by foremen to account for productivity, ensuring that the required number of stones were cut during set time periods.

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I hope that you enjoyed this blog and that it will prove useful in trying to fully understand mediaeval buildings on your own visits. Part two of this series will discuss subjects including crusader graffiti and ship’s timbers in mediaeval buildings.

Should you wish for more information on this subject, please feel free to tweet me on @jpwarchaeology or email on james@triskeleheritage.com

I have to extend a huge ‘thank you‘ to James for such a fabulous article. Can’t wait for Part Two!

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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: Song of the Centurion by Steven A. McKay

One of my favourite books of 2018 was The Druid by Steven A. McKay. Having completed his Robin Hood series, Steven had turned his hand to the Dark Ages with a new story set in the time of King Arthur and Merlin, but with characters of his own creation. Bellicus, the eponymous druid, journeyed the length of Britain to rescue a young princess from the clutches of her kidnappers, and return her to her desperate parents. This month, Steven is back with a much-anticipated second instalment in Bellicus’ story

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Northern Britain, Autumn, AD 430

“Get down! Their slingers are attacking!”

There was a horrific rattling as dozens of stones battered against the walls and the defending Damnonii soldiers crouched low to avoid being struck. A slinger’s missile could do severe damage if it hit someone in the right place, as a few of the men had discovered to their cost during the previous days.

“Now!” Gavo roared as the attack ended without injuring any of the defenders. “Give them some back!”

Instantly, his men stood up and launched a volley of their own fist-sized rocks down onto the enemy below. The captain grinned as cries of anger and pain filtered up to him. It was much easier to hit people when they were beneath you, especially when they didn’t have walls to hide behind.

Not all the enemy slingers were crouching under their shields though, and a sharp-edged, flat rock careered past Gavo, hammering into the neck of a young soldier at his side. The warrior reeled back, a terrible gurgling sound coming from his ruined, bloody throat as he dropped onto the wooden platform they were standing on and Gavo knew the lad would be dead within moments.

Thank the gods though, the enemy were taking casualties of their own beneath the hail of Damnonii missiles, and the besieging army pulled back now, out of range, heralding another in a long line of stand-offs.

“That’s it,” Gavo shouted in fury. “Run, you bastards!”

Dun Breatann, ancient capital of Alt Clota, was under siege, and had been for almost a week, the Picts from the far north led by King Drest having finally grown tired of the attacks on their raiding parties by King Coroticus’s soldiers.

For generations, livestock theft from neighbouring tribes was an accepted part of life – part of a young warrior’s coming-of-age. Unwritten rules made it clear that any captured during such an action could be beaten, but then sent on their way home, to try again another day.

Now, though, Coroticus, outraged by his daughter Catia’s recent abduction, was slaughtering every such raider he could find in his lands and displaying their severed heads as ghoulish trophies – warnings – on the towering rock of Dun Breatann. It wasn’t just Pictish thieves suffering such violence either – Dalriadans, Selgovae and Votadini tribesmen had all been killed by the Damnonii king’s forces. In response, Drest had formed an alliance with the other kings and led them here for vengeance.

To Queen Narina it was a ludicrous situation to be in – a war started over the execution of a few cattle thieves. Yet her husband had broken with tradition, despite her protestations, and now Alt Clota was paying the price. Standing high on the eastern peak of the fortress, she looked away from the guard captain, Gavo, commanding the defending warriors on the walls, and turned her attention to the tents, cooking-fires and massed, undisciplined, ranks of the enemy camping at the foot of her home.

Standing two hundred and forty feet high, and surrounded on three sides by the river Clota, Dun Breatann had never been taken by a besieging army. The queen shook her head sadly and turned to her maidservant, Enica, whose downcast expression mirrored her own.

“They’re wasting their time,” Enica muttered, shifting her gaze back to the tiny figures on the ground so far below them. “King Drest must have known that when he embarked on this foolish course.”

Narina didn’t answer for a while. She could see Drest’s tent, grander and more colourful than the others surrounding it, and she wondered what was going through his mind at that moment.

“I don’t think their siege is so foolish,” the queen finally said. “Coroticus pushed them all too far and they’re within their rights to strike back. Besides, they might say they’re here to avenge their dead warriors, but there’s more to it than that. Drest, and Loarn in particular, would like to make our lands their own. This is merely their first move towards that end.”

“They’ll never take this place though, my lady,” Enica said and her voice was full of conviction. “We have fresh water from the spring that comes up between the two peaks and enough men to rebuff any attempts to scale the gatehouses. Food is plentiful too, since your husband stockpiled it when he heard of the approaching army.”

Enica was correct in her assessment and Narina wondered if the woman surreptitiously listened at Coroticus’s door when he met with his advisors. It wouldn’t surprise her. Enica was a canny servant, which was why Narina liked her.

“They’ll need to leave soon enough,” the maid went on as if she’d spent many hours thinking this over.

“Their men will be needed at home to bring in the harvests and so on, yes, I know that,” Narina nodded. “But what of our people whose homes Drest’s soldiers destroyed? The people he killed on his way here, and those he’ll no doubt kill on his way back north again?”

“At least he didn’t destroy our crops,” Enica said and Narina peered at her thoughtfully. There was no way the servant could have known that unless she had truly spent a long time listening to Coroticus’s private councils or…Narina took in the woman’s unlined, pretty face, full lips, and firm, shapely figure and resolved to find out if Enica had taken a lover amongst the king’s advisors. That kind of information could come in very handy.

“No, he hasn’t destroyed our crops,” said the queen with a wave of her hand. “Yet. Probably because he hoped they would belong to him once he defeated us.” The queen turned away from the depressing sight on the ground far below and walked slowly back towards the royal chambers. They were located within the building in the very centre of the rock, flanked by birch trees and the rising twin peaks, one of which was gently rounded while the other, the higher one, was narrow and so steep that it was a challenge for many people to climb. Indeed, it was so narrow no proper buildings could be erected upon it and, other than a single sentry watching the Clota for invading ships, only a giant raven could be seen there most days, its strange cry—almost like the bark of some weird dog—heard pealing out across the ancient rock.

The thought of that majestic bird, black with a white tuft on its neck, brought Bellicus to mind. The druid had somehow trained the raven to speak—it could say ‘hello’ and cough like a person thanks to Bel’s tutelage—and she felt an ache in her heart just as she always did when the druid came to mind. Was he dead?

Was her beautiful, sweet daughter?

A feeling of anxiety swept through her and she almost stumbled like one of the many people who grew dizzy when looking down from the lofty summit of Dun Breatann. What if Bel returned today, with Catia? They would walk straight into Drest’s besieging army and be torn to pieces!

Enica noticed her lady’s discomfort and placed a steadying hand on her upper arm as Narina pulled herself together. Bellicus was no fool, and besides, he knew Drest well; there would be no danger there.

If only the giant warrior-druid would return. It had been such a long time since he left to hunt the princess’s kidnappers, with no word coming to them from any who had seen him on the road, and it was hard not to give up hope.

Or go mad, rather like Coroticus seemed to have done in starting this insane war that no-one could ever truly win.

Song of the Centurion comes out as an ebook on Thursday 12 September 2019 and is available from Amazon UK.

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About the author:

Steven McKay was born in 1977 near Glasgow in Scotland. He live in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children. After obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree with the Open University he decided to follow his life-long ambition and write a historical novel.

He plays guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.

You can check out his website here. Steven also has an Amazon Author page and can be found on Twitter and Facebook

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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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 Steven A. McKay

Guest Post: The Battle of Tippermuir by Mark Turnbull

Today marks the 375th anniversary of the Battle of Tippermuir and it is a pleasure to welcome author Mark Turnbull to History…the Interesting Bits with an article of the English Civil War battle. Over to Mark….

British Civil War cavalry (The English Civil War Society) 
Montrose only had three horses at the Battle of Tippermuir

Three hundred and seventy-five years ago a son of Scotland secured his first victory in the name of King Charles I. The Battle of Tippermuir produced the famous ‘highland charge’ as well as the legend of the Earl of Montrose, but a matter of days prior, it seemed like none of this could be borne from a few seeds of resistance.

When three Scotsmen crossed the border in August 1644, they did not look back. Carlisle Castle was barely visible; nothing more than a red-stoned pimple on the top of a hill in the distance. William Rollo was a horseman par-excellence, honed through being entirely lame. Colonel William Sibbald rode alongside Rollo, both ignoring the groom trailing behind and leading a spare horse.

The trio left an England riven apart by civil war. King Charles I and his Parliament had been battling it out for two years, but eight months ago, Scotland had stepped from the side-lines and thrown their bonnets into the ring with Parliament. Scotland’s army of covenanters had marched into England and just won a stunning victory outside of York. Sibbald and Rollo intended to assist the King by beginning a guerrilla war in their homeland to draw back the covenanter army.

British Civil War Pikemen. Montrose’s men were poorly armed and he suggested they take stones from the earth and bash the enemies’ brains out.

Sewn into the saddle of the riderless horse was King Charles’s commission and his royal standard; two instruments essential to the plan. The man entrusted with securing the nation and restoring their Scottish-born King’s authority, was none other than the pretended groom himself; James Graham, Earl of Montrose. One fact remained in keeping with his disguise – Montrose only had one measly horse to lead and just Sibbald and Rollo to assist him. However, Montrose was banking on the Earl of Antrim’s promise to assemble an army of twelve thousand Irishmen to serve the King. But this readymade army was delivered with missing components – it turned out to number only sixteen-hundred. Led by Alasdair MacColla, they landed on the west coast and headed east to Aberdeen, but finding no royalist support there, turned south, meeting Montrose, Sibbald and Rollo in Blair Athol.

The English Civil War Society. Montrose unfurled the King’s Royal Standard in August 1644 which saw many clans join him.

On 28 August 1644 Montrose unfurled the King’s standard. In answer, the Scottish Parliament conscripted local Stewarts, Robertsons and Grahams to put the insurgents down. Having discarded his groom’s garb, Montrose emerged from his chrysalis, donned highland dress and broadsword, and encouraged his men to insert strands of oats into their bonnets as a means of signifying their allegiance. Much success was harvested when the clans sent against Montrose actually joined him and boosted his numbers to two thousand. Yet his troops remained untrained, armed only with dirks and swords and with just three horses between them.

Montrose was well aware that their impetus could be scattered by even so much as a biting highland wind. He had to strike now, before his men melted away, and as such, he marched them to Perth, gathering a few hundred more recruits on the way. On 1 September 1644 at Tippermuir, Montrose met a covenanter army hastily sent by the Scottish Parliament under the command of Lord Elcho.

The two sides were relatively equal in numbers, but the covenanters possessed cavalry. Montrose placed McColla and his Irishmen in the centre, and promptly took his own position on the right wing, opposite the only experienced officer in the enemy army. Each of his men had ammunition for only a single gunshot, therefore it was imperative that every last one found their marks. Devastating it was then, when the covenanters sent skirmishers forward with the cry ‘Jesus and no quarter,’ to draw and expend royalist firepower. Nevertheless, the covenanter skirmishers were sent packing and pushed back to their own front lines. Montrose had thinned the troops on his army’s left and right to three-deep, and as a result these longer lines prevented any attempts to outflank him.

Montrose crossed into Scotland in August 1644 disguised as a groom, with only two other men. At one point it’s said that a man bid the groom, “Good Morning, my lord.”

To his troops, Montrose was characteristically honest, suggesting a novel way to counter their shortage of arms and ammunition; pick stones out of the ground, bash the enemy’s brains out and then seize theirs. Without his charisma, these words would have rung hollow, but his men heeded them like the gospels and he led them against the enemy cavalry throwing missiles, roaring and rampaging down the slope. This tirade of aggression and fervour sent the enemy horsemen fleeing from the field. Not used to such unbridled determination, the covenanters clattered through their own infantry and a rot began which ate through their entire resolve.

The furious highland charge proved its efficiency long before the days of Culloden, still one hundred years off. Tippermuir was Montrose’s first battle of many. The start of an immense cat and mouse chase with superior covenanter forces that would make him, in the words of The Montrose Society, one of Scotland’s most noble and militarily gifted leaders. Against all odds, this lifelong admirer of Alexander the Great would come tantalisingly close to securing the whole of Scotland for the King.

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More about Mark: I became hooked on the English Civil War at the age of 10. We’d visited Helmsley Castle and my parents bought me a pack of ‘top trump’ cards featuring the monarchs of England. The minute I saw Van Dyck’s portrait of King Charles I at the hunt, I wanted to know more. The painting, costumes and the King’s image were fascinating and then turning over, I read how he was executed. I’d started trying to write stories at a young age (earliest was my own plot for a children’s television show called Thomas the Tank Engine!) so as my interest grew in the English Civil War, my interest in writing automatically seemed to go hand in hand. 

The first civil war book I bought was Christopher Hibbert’s ‘Cavaliers and Roundheads’ and I decided that I also wanted to keep the history and its characters alive in writing, so eventually I began creating my own historical novel. I’ve made sure I have kept true to historical events and characters and ‘Allegiance of Blood’ is due out later this year. 

It opens at Edgehill and follows a fictional character, Sir Francis Berkeley, whose life and family are turned upside down by the twists and turns of this momentous period. The story also features many historical characters along the way, allowing the reader a fly-on-the-wall view of the deadly allegiances that threaten Francis.

I’m also writing articles at the moment about various civil war battles, seeing as there are many 375th anniversaries coming up. 

I have re-enacted before and would love to again, but at the minute writing takes up my spare time.
To buy Mark’s books: www.allegianceofblood.com
Join Mark on his Facebook page: ttps://m.facebook.com/markturnbullauthor

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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 and Mark Turnbull

Guest Post: Katharina by Margaret Skea

It is with great pleasure that I welcome author Margaret Skea to the blog today, talking about her latest book, Katharina: Fortitude, the history behind it and giving you a little teaser from the book itself.

As crazy ideas go, thinking of writing what could best be described as a fictionalized biography of Katharina von Bora, the escaped nun who married the reformer Martin Luther, ranked highly.  It had popped into my head, seemingly from nowhere, but once there, as crazy ideas so often do, it burrowed its way in so far no amount of rational thinking would dislodge it.

There were plenty of good reasons not to write her story.

Reason 1. I knew almost nothing about her, and it seemed that nobody else knew much about her either.

I did find a slim volume, of some 89 pages, written by a native German within the Luther Foundation, Martin Treu, well placed to have found any information there was to find. But the opening words were hardly encouraging.

It is impossible to write a biography of Katharina von Bora. The scanty and often enough fragmentary nature of the evidence allows for only a biographical sketch…’ Hmm.

Katharina

Reason 2.  I didn’t speak or read German, so whatever ‘fragmentary evidence’ existed, I couldn’t even read it for myself. Not the best start.

Reason 3. I was in the middle of writing my third Scottish novel, and there was a publisher waiting for it to be delivered, so the timing wasn’t exactly ideal. However, the Luther 500 anniversary was only just over one year away, so I knew if I was going to write about her it had to be immediately.

And there she was, hovering at my shoulder, shadowy and insubstantial, but refusing to go away. So the Scottish book set aside, I began to plan how I could make this crazy idea a reality. I read and re-read the 89 pages of the little book until I knew them almost by heart and scoured every other source I could find (in English) that made any reference to her at all.  Treu had also set me a challenge – he wrote: 

The lacunae in the sources have tempted authors and authoresses to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.’

Well, yes, that is, after all,  what historical fiction writers do. But he went on:

The result is frequently a picture that says more about the writer and their time than about the person and journey through life of Katharina von Bora.’

Ah, that was different – I didn’t want to write about my time, or me, I wanted to write about her time and about her.

The Lutherhaus portal commissioned by Luther as a gift for Katharina

But pessimistic as he was about anyone’s chances, I did find some wee nuggets in his book, and in others, that gave me a starting point, despite that there is dispute over her parentage, her birthplace, the circumstances surrounding her admission to two different convents, and little direct evidence of her character.  Retracing her steps  in Saxony, which involved driving over 1000 miles, gave me a real sense of her environment, including the terrain she travelled, the architecture, and artefacts, and many aspects of her life and times.  There were some surprises, too, particularly in relation to Martin Luther and his almost modern attitude towards her, as well as the discovery of many myths that needed to be dispelled. But perhaps the biggest challenge was finding a ‘voice’ for her and so I began to write snippets in 1st person present tense. And what started as a preliminary experiment continued throughout both books and the story truly became Katharina’s.

I hope I have done her justice and that readers will get as much enjoyment in reading as I found in writing it. 

Here is the opening section as a wee taster:

Chapter One

Wittenberg June 1525.

Martin Luther

The music stops, the sound of the fiddle dying away, the piper trailing a fraction behind, as he has done all evening. I cannot help but smile as I curtsy to Justus Jonas, his answering twinkle suggesting he shares my amusement.

‘Thank you, Frau Luther,’ and then, his smile wider, so that even before he continues I suspicion it isn’t the piping amuses him, ‘For a renegade nun, you dance well.’

It is on the tip of my tongue to respond with ‘ For a cleric, so do you,’ but I stop myself, aware that should I be overheard it would likely be considered inappropriate for any woman, far less a newly married one, to speak so to an older man, however good a friend he has been. And on this day of all days, I do not wish to invite censure. Instead I say, ‘I have been well taught. Barbara saw to that. She did not wish me to disgrace myself or her, and there is a pair of slippers with the soles worn through to testify to the hours of practice she insisted upon.’

‘She succeeded admirably then.’

All around us there is the buzz of laughter and chatter, an air of goodwill evident in every flushed face. Martin is waiting at the foot of the dais, and as we turn towards him, his smile of thanks to Justus is evidence he too is grateful for the seal of approval, of me and of the marriage, our shared dance a tangible sign to the whole town that Justus Jonas at least has no reservations regarding our union. Over his shoulder I catch Barbara’s eye and she nods also. I nod back, but am unable to suppress altogether the inner voice, tonight there is drink taken, tomorrow some may feel differently.

As if he can read my mind, Justus says, a new seriousness in his tone, ‘You have not made a mistake, either of you.’ He waves his hand at the folk clustered in groups along the length of the room. ‘Look around. When the difficult times come, as no doubt they will, remember tonight and the number of those who came to wish you well.’

                             *                            *                       *

The first challenge is not long in coming. We stroll home in the moonlight, accompanied by those guests who will spend the night in the cloister with us, adding their acceptance to our union.  Among them are Martin’s parents, and three councillors from Mansfeld, snatches of their conversation penetrating my thoughts.

Hans Luder’s tone, though gruff, cannot mask his satisfaction. ‘It is a good day’s work, and glad I am to see it, however long the wait.’

Martin’s mother’s voice is sweet and low, but bubbles with amusement, like a sparkling wine as it is poured into a glass. ‘Old you may be, but I trust your end is not yet nigh.’

There is an answering chuckle from one of the councillors,  ‘Indeed,’ Frau Luder, ‘So do we all.’

Lutherhaus

Hearing him, I tuck my arm into Martin’s, the momentary disagreement regarding Cardinal Albert’s gift forgotten, and look up at the myriad stars: pin-pricks of light in an ink-flooded sky, and my heart swells.  Frau Luther – the spelling may be different, but the status is the same and a title to be proud of, and though our marriage is already two weeks old, it is the first time I have felt it truly mine. The music still rings in my ears, memory of the dancing, the coin in the chest: all symbols of the regard in which the doctor is held and in which I now share, spreading a warmth through me from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. Jusuts is right. This is not a mistake, or not on my part at least. And, pray God, he is right about Martin also. We part from the company at the door of our chamber, and the light from the oil lamp flickers on the bedspread Barbara Cranach gifted to us. It is the last thing I see before sleep, the first when I wake, a talisman-harbinger of good things to come.

About the author

Margaret Skea is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. Short story credits include Neil GunnFish, the Historical Novel Society and Mslexia.

Growing up during the ‘Troubles in Northern Ireland it is perhaps inevitable that her writing often focuses on the pressures of living within conflict. Her debut novel Turn of the Tide, was the Historical Fiction winner in an Harper Collins-sponsored competition. It also gained her the Beryl Bainbridge Award for ‘Best First-Time Novelist 2014’.

Katharina: Deliverance, a fictionalised biography based on the early life of the reformer Martin Luther’s wife, was placed 2nd in the Historical Novel Society New Novel Award 2018.

The newly released, Katharina: Fortitude, is the powerful conclusion to Katharina’s story, but both books can easily be read as a stand-alone.

In an attempt to embrace the digital age she now has her own website at www.margaretskea.com and you can also follow her on Twitter at @margaretskea1 or on FB https://www.facebook.com/MargaretSkeaAuthor.Novels/

Book link: https://books2read.com/u/4j11BX

I would like to say a HUGE thank you to Margaret for such a fabulous post and wish her every success with Kathariana: Fortitude .

Kathariana: Fortitude came out 2 weeks ago and has been entered into the Kindle Storyteller Award. The competition opened in May, and yet Katharina is already at #65 out of over 5,000 entries. To be in with a chance of winning it needs to get into top 10. The book is currently on sale at 99p, so why not give it a go? I have! Just follow the link: https://books2read.com/u/4j11BX

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Margaret Skea

Interview my Character: Eleanor Elder

Today it is my stop on the Historical Writers’ Character Blog Hop, where we interview historical characters, both real and fictional. Watch out for Nicholaa de la Haye coming later in the tour!

And there’s a giveaway! the author has kindly offered a paperback copy of Echoes of Treason to a UK winner, or an ebook to a winner elsewhere in the world. To enter, simply leave a comment below or on the Facebook page. The draw will be made on 12 June. Good luck! Sorry, competition is now closesd!

I would like to welcome Lady Eleanor Elder to History…the Interesting Bits. Lady Eleanor is one of the principal characters in Derek Birks’ wonderful series of books, The Craft of Kings, the latest instalment of which, Echoes of Treason was released in May. Ever since I first read Feud, about 5 years ago, Lady Eleanor has become something of a heroine of mine. She has overcome many challenges and trials over Derek Birks’ 7 books and – so far – is still standing, if a little battered. She is a fighter, not out of choice, but out of necessity and an impressive survival instinct. She is a lady I am in awe of and so I was quite nervous to finally meet her!

  • Welcome Lady Eleanor, could you please tell our readers a little about yourself?

About myself? The hard ones first, eh? Well, I was born and not long after, my mother died. So she died before I knew her and later, when I was a lass growing up in the dale, those who did know her, never stopped telling me how like her I was. It didn’t sound like a compliment though… but by then I’d grown wild. I must have been about thirteen or so. I was wild and angry with everyone – except my only true friend, Becky Standlake.

  • What would you like to have been in your life, if you have not been caught up in the wars between Lancaster and York? Would you have made a good nun?

A nun? I see you try to provoke me with your questions!

(Sorry, Lady Eleanor, but my tongue was very firmly in my cheek!)

Well, of course, I was destined for marriage – or so my father kept saying – only no man would have me! By the time I was fifteen, my father had given up on me, I think… but by then I’d discovered what boys were really for and I fell in love with Will Coster, my brother Ned’s closest companion. Will was a commoner, but I didn’t care – still, we kept it to ourselves – even kept it from Ned. Then… we all descended into hell. All the rules changed when I was taken by force to a nunnery, aye, a nunnery! I tried to resist but in the end, I just had to bide my time. So, would I be a nun? Well, I’ve tried it and let’s just say, it did not go well…

  • What is your favourite thing to do?

When I was younger, I loved to roam the dales with Becky. There was a pool, fed by the hillside becks and ice cold even in summer. We’d swim naked in that pool and lie, shameless, on the large rocks to dry off in the sun. When war came, I lost that innocence; and it never, ever came back. At first I wanted nothing more than to fight for those I loved, but one by one, those I loved were stripped away… Now, what do I prize above all? I just want some peace…

  • You have become quite a role model for women, always fighting your corner, what is the advice you would give to any woman, in any era, who finds herself in a situation where she feels powerless?

Aye, a woman in the world of men can often feel weak and powerless. The crown, the law, the church, all their rules are made by men. What can a woman do against such odds? Well, she must learn to fight, but it’s not always about a sharp blade – by the Virgin, it’s taken me all my life to understand that! There are many other weapons a woman has, for what are men but boys full-grown? It’s not those full-grown boys that make you weak; it’s your own fear. You must have spirit for it’s what lies in your heart that matters. Spirit is everything…

  • Would you prefer to live in a castle or on a farm, city or country?

I don’t care where I am – though I can’t say I care much for the stench of the town. All that matters to me is who I’m with.

  • If you could live in any historical period, when would it be?

Eleanor Elder always lives in the present…

  • Echoes of Treason opened with you living in exile in Spain, what did you miss most about England while in exile?

My son, my nephew and the rest of my kin… that’s all I missed – though a little more coin would have helped…

  • Who is your favourite king, Richard III or Edward IV?

Edward IV was a charmer, I’m told, though I don’t think I ever met him; my brother Ned knew him well, liked him and served him well. England needed Edward, I think, but what a world of blood he brought down upon us. I met Gloucester when he was about 18 – he was full of himself and I can’t say I liked him much, and now he is the cause of my nephew, John’s troubles, so he is my enemy and I don’t ever forgive my enemies…

  • What achievement are you most proud of?

Proud? I take no pride from anything I’ve done. In a time of blood, I’ve survived and to do so, I’ve taken lives. I will do it again if I must… and let God judge me as he wishes.

  • You have lived a rather adventurous life, do you have any regrets?

Right now, no; but, if I live to be old, I expect to be haunted by countless regrets and when I die, I’ve no doubt that I’ll dwell in purgatory for a very, very long time… Because my passions have always ruled me – for good or ill – and, being swift to act, I’ve made many mistakes in my life: I’ve misjudged some folk and caused their ruin. But, most of all, I regret that many of those who dared to love me and tried to help me, died because of their love. Yet, anything I’ve done – however terrible – if it helped to save my loved ones, I don’t regret that for an instant. I would do it all again.

  • What is your greatest fear?

I fear not being able to protect those I love and keep them safe. But I discovered, only in the past few years, that there is one thing in all Christendom that truly terrifies me – but I’m not telling you that!

Lady Eleanor, it has been a pleasure to finally meet you. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I wish you the best of luck for Book 4.

Follow the Blog Hop

Wednesday 5 June Jen Black  interviews courageous, Byrhtnoth, of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles by Christine Hancock.

About the Author

Derek Birks

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

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

The first 3 book of a brand new series, Scars From the Past, are now available in both kindle and paperback and are on Amazon in the UK and US.
You can find Derek at;
Amazon
Blog
Facebook
Twitter 

And look out for Nicholaa de la Haye dropping by Derek Birks’ blog, Dodging Arrows, for to chat on 22 June.

My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Toni Mount

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

Silk-women, femmes soles and Ellen Langwith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Toni Mount MA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Toni Mount

Guest Post: Killer of Kings by Matthew Harffy

kJeeRIA8Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.

When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.

In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill?

It is a pleasure to welcome Matthew Harffy  to the blog today. Matthew’s Bernicia Chronicles are some of the best stories of the Dark Ages that you will ever read. To celebrate the paperback release of  Killer of Kings, Matthew has stopped by History … the Interesting Bits with a taster of this fabulous story….

PROLOGUE

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FRANKIA, AD 635

“Be careful there, you two!”

The cry came from old Halig. He worried like a maid.

Wuscfrea ignored him, leaping up to the next branch of the gnarled oak. The bark was damp and cold, but the sun was warm on his face as he looked for the next handhold. They had been enclosed in the hall for endless days of storms. Great gusts of wind had made the hall creak and moan as if it would collapse and when they had peered through the windows, the world had been hidden beneath the sheeting rain.

After so long inside it felt wonderful to be able to run free in the open air.

A crow cawed angrily at Wuscfrea from a perch high in the canopy of the trees. The boy laughed, echoing the bird’s call.

“Away with you,” Wuscfrea shouted at the creature. “You have wings, so use them. The sun is shining and the world is warm.” The crow gazed at him with its beady eyes, but did not leave its branch. Wuscfrea looked down. Fair-haired Yffi was some way below, but was grinning up at him.

“Wait for me,” Yffi shouted, his voice high and excited.

“Wait for me, uncle,” Wuscfrea corrected him, smiling. He knew how it angered Yffi to be reminded that Wuscfrea was the son of Edwin, the king, while he was only the son of the atheling, Osfrid. The son of the king’s son.

“I’ll get you,” yelled Yffi and renewed his exertions, reaching for a thick branch and pulling himself up.

Wuscfrea saw a perfect path between the next few branches that would take him to the uppermost limbs of the oak. Beyond that he was not sure the branches would hold his weight. He scrambled up, his seven-year-old muscles strong and his body lithe.

The crow croaked again and lazily flapped into the sky. It seemed to observe him with a cold fury at being disturbed, but Wuscfrea merely spat at the bird. Today was a day to enjoy the fresh air and the warmth of the sun, not to worry about silly birds. For a moment, he frowned. He hoped Yffi had not seen the crow. Crows were the birds of war. Whenever he saw them Yffi recalled the tales of the battle of Elmet, and how the corpse-strewn bog had been covered by great clouds of the birds. The boys had frightened themselves by imagining how the birds had eaten so much man-flesh that they could barely fly. It was a black thought. As black as the wings of the crows. To think of the death of their fathers brought them nothing but grief. Wuscfrea shook the thoughts away. He would not allow himself to be made sad on such a bright day.

Glancing down, he saw that Yffi was struggling to reach a branch. He was a year younger than Wuscfrea, and shorter.

“Come on, nephew,” Wuscfrea goaded him. “Are you too small to join me up here? The views are fit for a king.” Wuscfrea laughed at the frustrated roar that came from Yffi. Yet there was no malice in his words. Despite being uncle and nephew, the two boys were more like brothers, and the best of friends. Still, it was good to be the superior climber. Yffi, even though younger, was better at most things. The long storm-riven days had seen the younger boy beat Wuscfrea ceaselessly at tafl and Yffi had joked that someone with turnips for brains would only be good to rule over pigs. The words had stung and Wuscfrea had sulked for a while until Yffi had brought him some of Berit’s cheese as an offering of truce. Wuscfrea loved the salty tang of the cheese and the insult was quickly put aside.

Now, as he pulled his head and shoulders above the thick leaves of the oak, Wuscfrea wondered whether he would ever be king of anything. Certainly not of this land, rich and lush as it was. This was Uncle Dagobert’s kingdom. Far to the south of Bernicia and Deira, the kingdoms his father had forged into the single realm of Northumbria. Far away and over the sea. A safe distance from the new king.

Wuscfrea breathed in deeply of the cool, crisp air. The treetops on the rolling hills all around swayed in the gentle breeze. The leaves sparkled and glistened in the sunlight. High in the sky to the north, wisps of white clouds floated like half-remembered dreams.

One day, he would travel north with a great warband, with Yffi at his side. They would have ships built from the wood of this great forest and they would ride the Whale Road to Northumbria. They would avenge their fathers’ slaying and take back the kingdom that should have been theirs. Wuscfrea’s chest swelled at the thought.

“Vengeance is a potent brew,” Halig had said to him when they had spoken of the battle of Elmet one night over a year before. “Drink of it and let it ferment in your belly. And one day you will wreak your revenge on the usurper, Oswald,” the old warrior had touched the iron cross at his neck. Wuscfrea had thought of how Jesu told his followers to turn the other cheek when struck and wondered what the Christ would think of the lust for revenge that burnt and bubbled inside him. But then Wuscfrea was the son of a great king, descended from the old gods themselves so they said, so why should he care what one god thought?

Glancing to the south, a smear of smoke told of the cooking fires of the great hall. They had walked far and would need to return soon. Suddenly hungry, Wuscfrea’s stomach grumbled. Several woodpigeons flew into the bright sunshine. Where was Yffi?

Wuscfrea peered down into the dappled darkness beneath him, but there was no sign of his younger nephew now. Had he gone too far with the jibes? He sighed. He would ask for Yffi’s pardon and let him beat him at a running race. He did not want the day spoilt by Yffi’s pouting.

“Yffi!” he called. “Come on. I’ll help you up so that you too can see the kingly view.” He couldn’t help himself from continuing the jest. “Yffi!”

No answer came. The crow flew close and cawed. The pigeons circled in the air above the wood, but did not settle.

“Yffi!” he shouted again. Silence.

Letting out a long sigh, Wuscfrea began to climb down. It seemed Yffi was not in a forgiving mood. Perhaps they should return to the hall and find something to eat. When hungry, Yffi was impossible.

Carefully picking his way back down from branch to branch, Wuscfrea shivered at the shift in temperature. It was much cooler in the shade of the trees and he would have liked to have spent a while longer basking in the warm sun-glow.

Dropping down to the leaf mould of the forest floor, Wuscfrea scanned around for signs of Yffi. Surely he had not run back to the hall without him. Halig would not have allowed him even if he had wanted to. The grizzled warrior was as protective of them as a she-wolf of her cubs. But where was Halig? All Wuscfrea could see were the boles of oak and elm.

“Come on, Yffi,” he said in a loud voice that he hoped veiled the beginning whispers of unease he felt. “I’m sorry. Let’s go back and get some of Berit’s honey-cakes.”

No answer came and Wuscfrea strained to hear any indication of movement. But there was no sound save for the wind-rustle of the trees.

Cold fingers of dread clawed at his back.

“Yffi! Halig!” He didn’t care now if they heard the fear in his voice.

What was that noise? Relief rushed through him. He had heard a stifled sound, choked off as one of them tried to remain silent. Perhaps Yffi suppressed his giggles from where he hid with Halig to teach Wuscfrea a lesson in humility.

He had them now.

Wuscfrea ran in the direction of the sound. Did they seek to make a fool of him? He would show them. His soft leather shoes slipped in the loamy soil as he skidded around the gnarly oak trunk. His face was flushed with excitement.

He passed the massive tree, laughter ready to burst forth from his lips. But the laughter never came. Instead, a whimpering moan issued from him. He skidded to a halt, his feet throwing up leaves and twigs. He lost his footing and landed on his behind. Hard.

Yffi and Halig were both there, but there were others behind the tree too. Strangers. Wuscfrea’s gaze first fell on a giant of a man, with a great, flame-red beard and hard eyes. In the man’s meaty grip was a huge axe, the head dripping with fresh blood. The corpse of old Halig lay propped against the tree, sword un-blooded in his hand, a great gash in his chest. The old warrior’s lifeless eyes stared up at the light shining down from the warm sun above the trees.

Some movement pulled his attention to another man. He was broad-shouldered, dark and scowling, his black hair in stark contrast to his fine blue warrior-jacket with its rich woven hem of yellow and red. In his left hand, this second stranger held the small figure of Yffi by the hair. Wuscfrea’s eyes met those of his nephew. He saw his own terror reflected there a hundredfold. The stranger’s right hand was moving. There was a knife in his hand. With a hideous sucking sound the knife sawed across Yffi’s throat and bit deeply. Yffi’s eyes widened and a gurgled scream keened from him. Hot blood spouted in the forest gloom. The knife cut through flesh and arteries and with each beat of the boy’s heart, his lifeblood gushed out and over Wuscfrea in a crimson arc.

Wuscfrea felt the hot wetness of the slaughter-dew soak him. His nephew’s blood covered his face, his chest, his outstretched legs. Wuscfrea could not move. He wanted to scream. He knew he should bellow his defiance of this dark-haired warrior and the red-bearded giant who had given him more deaths to avenge. A king would leap up from the cold leaf-strewn ground and launch himself at these strangers. He would scoop up the sword from his fallen gesith and slay the man’s murderers.

But Wuscfrea just stared. His breath came in short panting gasps as he watched the dark-haired man casually throw Yffi’s twitching body onto Halig’s corpse. Halig slid to one side, his dead hand finally losing its grip on the sword.

Wuscfrea knew he should do something. Anything. To die lying here was not the death of a great man. Not the death of a king for scops to sing of in mead halls.

Hot tears streamed down his face, smearing and mingling with Yffi’s blood. But he was yet a boy. He was no man. No king.

And, as the death-bringing stranger stepped towards him, an almost apologetic smile on his face and the gore-slick knife held tight in his grip, Wuscfrea knew he would never rule Northumbria.

From the fungus-encrusted trunk of a fallen elm the crow looked on with its cold black eyes as the bloody knife blade fell again and again.

About the author

ofkWAAIA

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.

 Follow Matthew Harffy:    

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

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Website: http://www.matthewharffy.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, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Anna Duchess of Cleves by Heather R. Darsie

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian Heather R. Darsie to History… the Interesting Bits with an article about Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife. Heather’s new book, Anna Duchess of Cleves; the king’s Beloved Sister is out now.

The First Hint of Trouble: An Early Spat Between the Johann II of Cleves and Elector Frederick of Saxony

By Heather R. Darsie

Throughout the late 15th and early 16th century, various disputes over territory sprung up across the German-speaking portions of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1517, a new facet of rebellion against the Empire was introduced in Saxony when Martin Luther’s 95 Theses became known. Maximilian I was still the Holy Roman Emperor in 1517. He could not know what the changing attitudes toward the Catholic church would do to the fabric of the Empire. Maximilian passed away on 12 January 1519, making his grandson Charles the next Holy Roman Emperor. Charles’ first coronation, in Germany, took place in 1520.

Twenty-year-old Charles V was crowned in October 1520 as the King of the Romans-Germans at a grand ceremony in Aachen. By being crowned King of the Romans-Germans, Charles V was the Holy Roman Emperor Elect. Pope Leo X gave Charles V permission to style himself as the Holy Roman Emperor until Charles’ 1530 coronation at Bologna by Pope Clement VII.

In 1520 when Charles V’s massive train of at least two thousand horse. The various electors, including Elector Fredrick of Saxony, made up part of Charles V’s company. Though the details are unclear, it is recorded in an account of Charles V’s coronation printed circa 1520 that the Elector of Saxony and “Duke of Gülch” – an archaic spelling of “Jülich” – squabbled for a long time over who took which precedence during the procession to Aachen Cathedral.

Frederick of Saxony believed that Johann III of Cleves should have been included with the Saxon contingent rather than Johann being independent of Saxony. Saxony was ruled by an Elector, with only eleven electors in all of the Germanic areas. By comparison, Johann III was only a duke, and there were hundreds of duchies in all of the Germanic areas. In the end, Anna’s father Johann III entered the city before Elector Frederick of Saxony. Elector Frederick likely took exception to this snub.

Elector Frederick, famous for having sheltered Martin Luther from Charles V, passed away. Because Frederick was childless, his younger brother John became Elector of Saxony in 1525. Frederick was Catholic throughout his life. There is some debate over whether Frederick converted to Lutheranism on his deathbed. In February 1527, Elector John’s son Johann Friedrich married Johann III’s eldest daughter, Sybylla of Cleves.  The debate over Lutheran reforms was in full swing, and Charles V tried his best to quell the rising tides of religious change.

The marital alliance between Anna of Cleves’ elder sister Sybylla and Johann Friedrich did not have the immediate benefits for which Elector John hoped. Elector John was a Lutheran even before he became the Elector of Saxony. Sybylla and Johann Friedrich welcomed their first son, also named Johann Friedrich, in January 1529. The next year, the first Diet of Augsburg took place. It was at this Diet that Emperor Charles V tried to soothe tensions over Protestantism, and also when he introduced his comprehensive criminal code. The Augsburg Confession was produced because of this Diet, too. After the Diet of Augsburg, the issue of religion and thus, allegiance to the Emperor became more divided.

Anna’s and Sybylla’s parents were Catholic, their mother Maria particularly so. Jülich-Cleves-Berg was understood to be predominantly Catholic under the reign of Johann III, but tolerant of Lutheranism. By the late 1520s, two political and religious ideas dominated Germany: pro-Imperial and pro-Catholic, or anti-Imperial and pro-Lutheran. This put Jülich-Cleves-Berg and Saxony on different ends of the political spectrum.

Sybylla herself converted to Lutheranism, as did Anna’s and Sybylla’s little sister Amalia. At the begin of his reign in 1539 as Duke Wilhelm V, Johann Friedrich sent Philipus Melanchthon to learn whether Wilhelm was pro-Lutheran or pro-Catholic. Johann Friedrich became Elector of Saxony in 1532 after the death of his father, and needed to know which way Wilhelm leaned.

If you’re curious to know more about religion in Cleves during Anna of Cleves’ lifetime, check out my new biography, “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister.’

Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Römischer Künigklicher Maiestat Krönung zü Ach Geschehen. Author unknown. Circa Held by the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.
  2. Rosenthal, Earl E. “The Invention of the Columnar Device of Emperor Charles V at the Court of Burgundy in Flanders in 1516.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes36 (1973): 198-230.
  3. Darsie, Heather. Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister.’ Stroud: Amberley (2019).

Anna Duchess of Cleves; the king’s Beloved Sister

Anna was the ‘last woman standing’ of Henry VIII’s wives – and the only one buried in Westminster Abbey. How did she manage it?

Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ looks at Anna from a new perspective, as a woman from the Holy Roman Empire and not as a woman living almost by accident in England. Starting with what Anna’s life as a child and young woman was like, the author describes the climate of the Cleves court, and the achievements of Anna’s siblings. It looks at the political issues on the Continent that transformed Anna’s native land of Cleves – notably the court of Anna’s brother-in-law, and its influence on Lutheranism – and Anna’s blighted marriage. Finally, Heather Darsie explores ways in which Anna influenced her step-daughters Elizabeth and Mary, and the evidence of their good relationships with her.

Was the Duchess Anna in fact a political refugee, supported by Henry VIII? Was she a role model for Elizabeth I? Why was the marriage doomed from the outset? By returning to the primary sources and visiting archives and museums all over Europe (the author is fluent in German, and proficient in French and Spanish) a very different figure emerges to the ‘Flanders Mare’.

Anna Duchess of Cleves; the king’s Beloved Sister is available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon in the UK and from Book Depository worldwide.

About the author:

Heather Darsie works as an attorney in the US. Along with her Juris Doctorate she has a BA in German, which was of great value in her research in the archives of Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands for this book. She is currently studying for her Master’s in Early Modern History through Northern Illinois University. She runs the website MaidensAndManuscripts.com and regularly contributes to QueenAnneBoleyn.com and TudorsDynasty.com. She has been researching this work for several years.

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My books

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, Book Depository and 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 Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Heather R. Darsie

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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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

©Lewis and Sharon Connolly 2018