Guest Post: Empress Hermine and the Tragic Wedding

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Moniek Bloks to History … The Interesting Bits on the first stop of her book tour. Moniek is the author of a new biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s second wife, Hermine Reuss of Greiz. The book, Hermine; An Empress in Exile will be released in the UK on Friday 11th December.

So, it’s over to Moniek:


Empress Hermine and the tragic wedding

Caroline and her husband

Hermine Reuss of Greiz was one of the five daughters of Heinrich XXII, Prince Reuss of Greiz and his wife Princess Ida of Schaumburg-Lippe. Her childhood was overshadowed by the death of her mother in childbirth and the incurable disability of her only brother.  A 13-year marriage to Prince Johann Georg of Schönaich-Carolath produced five children before her husband’s death of tuberculosis. However determined never to be married again, Hermine ended up meeting the exiled German Emperor Wilhelm II, and soon fate had other plans.

But before Hermine had even married her first husband, she met the Emperor as a 15-year-old girl. In 1903, her elder sister Caroline was destined to marry Wilhelm Ernst, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Hermine and Caroline were especially close, and Caroline was only three years older than her. On 30 April 1903, Caroline married the Grand Duke at Bückeburg Palace, but Caroline was deeply unhappy; she hardly knew the man she was going to marry and abhorred the life that was waiting for her in Weimar.

Though faced with the separation of her much-beloved sister, Hermine’s memories of that day also focused on a man who towered above everyone else, the Emperor. Her uncle and guardian, who was hosting the wedding, promised to introduce her to him and young Hermine dutifully curtseyed to him. It was an unforgettable experience for her, but the Emperor paid little attention. She later said, “How could he have foreseen that this blushing little girl was his future wife? I stood there, frozen on the spot where the Emperor had received my greeting. The Emperor went on and chatted with my uncle.”


It wasn’t just Caroline who had doubts about the wedding. Wilhelm Ernst received a stern talking to from the Emperor, and he said, “Only love can turn a palace into a home. Caroline is like a little bird, fallen out of its nest. She will miss the sisters who loved her. It will take her some time before she learns to be at home on the cold parquet floor of your castle.” He then raised his voice and said, “You have given me an Oath of Allegiance, and I order you to marry tomorrow.” The wedding went ahead as planned.

Caroline remained deeply unhappy, took up smoking and barely ate. The unhappiness of her marriage consumed her body, and she was soon emaciated. On 17 January 1905, Hermine sat by her dying sister’s bedside. On top of everything, Caroline had fallen ill with influenza, and her weakened body simply could not fight the disease. Hermine wrote, “The attack was so violent that there was no hope of her recovery from the first. She received the tenderest care, but all effort was in vain. In her heart of hearts, she did not wish to live.”

Hermine would always remember that she first met her future husband at her sister’s wedding but mostly, she would remember the dear sister she lost.

Many thanks to Moniek for a wonderful post and my very best wishes on her latest release. Please do follow the rest of the blog tour.

The book Hermine: An Empress in Exile will be released on 11 December 2020 (UK) and 1 January 2021 (US).

About the book:

Hermine Reuss of Greiz is perhaps better known as the second wife of the Kaiser (Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany) whom she married shortly after the death of his first wife Auguste Viktoria and while he was in exile in the Netherlands. She was by then a widow herself with young children. She was known to be ambitious about wanting to return to power, and her husband insisted on her being called ‘Empress’. To achieve her goal, she turned to the most powerful man in Germany at the time, Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, her dream was not realised as Hitler refused to restore the monarchy and with the death of Wilhelm in 1941, Hermine was forced to return to her first husband’s lands. She was arrested shortly after the end of the Second World War and would die under mysterious circumstances while under house arrest by the Red Army.


About the author:

Moniek Bloks

Moniek Bloks is the editor of the successful blog History of Royal Women. She lives in the Netherlands and has a background in law.

Her interest in historical royal women and writing began at an early age, and she has been glad to share the stories of often little-known royal women.

When she isn’t writing, she is visiting castles and palaces around Europe with her trusty camera.


My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword, Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Moniek Bloks

Guest Post: Life in Miniature: A History of Dolls’ Houses by Nicola Lisle

It is a pleasure to welcome to History … the Interesting Bits today, Nicola Lisle, author of Life in Miniature: A History of Dolls’ Houses as part of her Blog Tour with Pen & Sword. A history of dolls’ houses is a little different to my usual type of post, but reading Life in Miniature brought back some very happy childhood memories of my sister and I playing with our dolls’ house in our grandparents’ attic. So I was very interested in finding out more of their history and origins. Nicola very kindly answered a few of my most pressing questions.

Dolls’ house at Charles Dickens’ House, Doughty Street, London

Hi Nicola, congratulations on the release of Life in Miniature and thank you for stopping by to chat.

1. When I heard about your book, I immediately thought of the dolls’ house my sister and I had as children – we used to play with it for hours. How long have you had a fascination for dolls’ houses? Did you have one as a child?

I did have a dolls’ house as a child, and my sister and I played with it a lot. It was apparently made for us by a distant relative, who also made wooden furniture for it. It’s all quite basic, but I love it because it’s unique and it was part of my childhood. We used to have some tiny dolls for it, and we also used to decorate it at Christmas. We had a Christmas tree and had to cut away a square of carpet to fit it in! Sadly, the dolls and Christmas decorations have been lost, but the original furniture and other bits and pieces are still there. As we grew up we lost interest in the dolls’ house and it was in my parents’ loft for many years gathering dust! It wasn’t until I started writing that I became interested in dolls’ houses again, and it was quite by chance. I subscribed to Writing Magazine and Writers’ News – and still do! – and in one issue there was a piece about Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine, which was open to submissions from freelance writers. It caught my attention, and I got in touch with some ideas. My first piece for the magazine was about the Museum of Childhood at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, and it was published in 2004. I carried on writing for the magazine for many years, and it ignited a real passion in me for dolls’ houses. Eventually I rescued my childhood dolls’ house from my mum’s house, and I’m hoping at some point to find the time to give it a bit of TLC! It’s not in bad condition, but it could definitely do with a bit of a makeover!

2. The thing with dolls’ houses is that they are not just for children, are they? My mum has one!

Dolls’ house at Tolsey Museum, Burford

Dolls’ houses are definitely not just for children. I think a lot of adults who had them as children still treasure them, and collecting vintage and antique dolls’ houses is also popular. For children, they are great for stimulating the imagination, but for adults I think it’s more about appreciating the sheer delight of miniatures and the craftsmanship that went into creating them.

3. I think the most famous dolls’ house has to be Queen Mary’s in Windsor Castle, isn’t it? What is so special about it?

Reproduction of miniature of Conan Doyle’s ‘How Watson Learned the Trick’, written for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House

Yes, I think Queen Mary’s dolls’ house is probably the most famous. It’s special because it captures a slice of 1920s England in such exquisite detail, from the furniture and soft furnishings right down to the food and drink that were popular at the time. It attracted international interest when it first appeared, and it was a showcase to the world, a display of some of the very finest British talent. I think it also restored some pride and optimism in the country during the immediate post-war years. The house and garden were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, and among its highlights are miniature books, music scores and paintings by popular writers, composers and artists of the day. Many of the books contained original stories written exclusively for the dolls’ house. Two of these, Fougasse’s J. Smith and Conan Doyle’s How Watson Learned the Trick, have been reproduced as miniature replicas with booklets containing the stories in full-size print. Another, Vita Sackville-West’s A Note of Explanation – a story about a mischievous spirit who inhabits the dolls’ house – was also reproduced in full size. I treated myself to all three when I was researching my book, and they are now treasured items on my bookshelves!

4. How long have dolls’ houses been around, Nicola? I always associate them with the Victorians, but were they around earlier? Are dolls’ houses an English creation, or did they come from the continent?

Nicola’s childhood dolls’ house

Dolls’ houses have been around since at least the 16th century and originated in Germany, where they were known as baby houses. The first known dolls’ house was made for the Duke of Bavaria in 1557, and it was a miniature version of his ducal palace. By the 17th century, baby houses had become popular in Germany, particularly in Nuremberg. The idea caught on in Holland towards the end of the 17th century, but instead of baby houses the

Dutch favoured cabinet houses, which were grand, elaborately-carved cabinets containing exquisitely furnished miniature rooms. The earliest dolls’ houses in England appeared in the late 17th century and were similar to the Dutch cabinet houses. By the early 18th century they were beginning to look more like houses than cabinets, and they were often modelled on the great country houses and created by estate carpenters. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that they became regarded as toys for children, and mass production towards the end of the 19th century made them much more widely accessible.

5. And what was their original purpose, were they always aimed at children.

The earliest baby houses, cabinet houses and dolls’ houses were primarily display pieces, and they were very much the preserve of royalty and the aristocracy – each one was a statement of the owner’s wealth and social status. They also had an educational role, often being used to instruct young ladies and servants in efficient household management and domestic skills.

6. I am fascinated by dolls’ houses and have to admit that the first thing I did on getting your book was look at the pictures. The houses are beautiful and the furniture inside is so detailed and intricate, do you have a favourite?

Reproduction of miniature of J. Smith by Fougasse, written for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House

I saw so many gorgeous dolls’ houses while writing and researching my book that it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite. I think all dolls’ houses have their own particular charm, from the grand, ornate ones to the very simplest, and often it’s the stories behind them that make them special. For this reason, I think the dolls’ house at Uppark in West Sussex is one of my favourites, partly because it’s one of the earliest surviving dolls’ houses from the early 18th century, reflecting the Palladian-style architecture that was popular at the time, and partly because it has a connection with H.G. Wells, and I always love literary connections! Wells’s mother was the housekeeper at Uppark during the late 19th century, and he drew on his childhood memories of Uppark in his novel Tono-Bungay, in which he refers to the “great dolls’ house on the nursery landing”.

Another with a literary connection is the dolls’ house at Charles Dickens’ House at Doughty Street in London. The house doesn’t actually have a connection with Dickens himself, but it was modelled on the Doughty Street house by dolls’ house maker Christopher Cole for his book Make Your Own Dolls’ House, which was published in 1976. It is a simplified version of the real thing, rather than an exact replica, but it is very similar, especially the outside, and it was one I particularly enjoyed going to see! It’s not on public display, but it can be viewed by appointment.

I also have special fondness for the dolls’ house at Overbeck’s in Devon. It was created during the 1980s by a lady called Mabel Hill, a very talented, self-taught craftswoman who used scraps of leftover material and other household odds and ends to make the furniture and soft furnishings. What’s particularly lovely is that Overbeck’s was used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during the First World War, and one of the activities they were encouraged to do as therapy was to make dolls’ house furniture. Although there’s no direct link between that and Mabel Hill’s house, it does feel as though there is a spiritual connection.

Others closer to home, in Oxfordshire, include the Regency-style dolls’ house at the Tolsey Museum in Burford, which was created during the 1930s by members of the local community and reflects the town’s rural industries (another fascination of mine!), and the Palladian-style house at Greys Court, near Henley, which was created by a local lady, Patricia Mackenzie, during the 1970s. Like Mabel Hill, she used old materials and household objects to create the house and its contents. She was inspired by the Carlisle Collection of Miniature Rooms, which she used to visit when it was displayed at Greys Court during the 1970s. The collection is now housed at Nunnington Hall in Yorkshire, and is another favourite of mine, with a fascinating history – as I said, there are so many favourites!

7. I am guessing that some of these dolls’ houses have fascinating histories – is there one that has a story that particularly caught your attention?

Interior of Dolls’ house at Charles Dickens’ House

Something I became fascinated with while researching the book was finding out about famous collectors, particularly Vivien Greene, wife of novelist Graham Greene. Her collection was once housed in a museum in Oxford, not far from where I live, so there’s a bit of a connection there! Tracking down Vivien Greene’s dolls’ houses almost became a project of its own – sadly, she decided to auction her collection during the late 1990s when her eyesight was deteriorating and most of it finished up in private hands. But one that is on public display is Whiteway at Saltram, a National Trust house in Devon, and its Victorian-style interior is exquisite. I particularly loved the library with its miniature books, all made from wood, and the dining room with its plush red furnishings. The provenance of the house is something of a mystery, and I do love a good mystery! There’s another Vivien Greene house on display at Ilkley Toy Museum in Yorkshire, which dates from the late Victorian era and used to belong to a lady in Abingdon, Oxfordshire – again, not far from where I live. At some point it was converted into an hotel and named The Original Swan after a pub in Cowley, just outside Oxford. It has lost some of its original contents, but it is in good condition and you can still see the mahogany bar and its wooden barrels and glass bottles.

8. What made you want to write a book on dolls’ houses?

The Original Swan at Ilkley Toy Museum

It was writing for Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine for so many years that made me think it would be interesting to write a book on the subject. I had already accumulated a lot of information and pictures that I could use as the basis for a book, and I had a lot of fun building on that, visiting various museums and stately homes that had dolls’ houses on display and gathering up lots more fascinating facts about these wonderful miniatures. I enjoyed researching and writing the book so much – it was a real labour of love!

9. What is your next writing project?

I’ve been working on some possible new book ideas, but at the moment I’m very busy with other writing work. I have several article deadlines coming up, and I am also a tutor on four distance-learning courses with The Writers Bureau, so I’m having to work on my book pitches in between everything else! Hopefully, though, at some point I’ll get them finished and sent off!

10. Where can people find you? Do you have a website or blog? Are you on social media?

I’m on Twitter – you can find me at @NicolaLisle1. I did set up a blog a while ago but haven’t actually done anything with it for some time, so it’s due for a major overhaul – that’s probably going to be a Christmas holiday job!

Thank you, Nicola, for such a lovely chat!

Life in Miniature: A History of Dolls’ Houses is available from Amazon or direct from Pen & Sword and would make a perfect Christmas present.

About the author:

Nicola Lisle is a freelance journalist and author specialising in history and the arts. She has written numerous articles for family history magazines, including Who Do You Think You Are?, Your Family History and Discover Your Ancestors, and was a regular contributor to Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine for many years. She is the author of Tracing Your Family History Made Easy (Which? Books, 2011) and Tracing Your Oxfordshire Ancestors (Pen & Sword, 2018).


My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly & Nicola Lisle

Guest Post: Joan, Lady of Wales by Danna R. Messer

Today it is a distinct pleasure to welcome Danna R. Messer to History … the Interesting Bits to talk about her favourite medieval heroine, Joan, Lady of Wales. I recently review Danna’s new, excellent, biography of Joan and now Danna is here to shine some light on Joan.

Joan, Lady of Wales by Danna R. Messer

When Sharon invited me as a guest she happily told me I could write on ‘any subject relating to Joan’. In theory, given such free range to write about one aspect of my long-lived preoccupation with this true ‘heroine of history’ was a blessing and should have been a cinch. In practice, it stumped me. I have just spent almost three years cobbling together my research to write a book about Joan, never mind the seven years spent using her activities and status as a centrepiece for my PhD research on the wives of native Welsh rulers, or the numerous years before and after exploring as many avenues as I could to find out more about her. What more is there to cover, especially on a woman whose presence only peaks through the evidence and events on what sometimes seems the rarest of occasions? Well, it turns out the answer to that is, there’s plenty. And that is what has stumped me.

By nature, my inclination was to either 1) lean further into her role as a ‘Welsh queen’ and try to continue unpack any of those layers that might still be pliable or 2) think more about her role and expectations as a wife. Old habits are hard to break – especially when these two factors combined have already helped in painting a portrait of her. But, I had to really ask myself, what is missing? What are the things that should be given further, serious consideration when it comes to understanding such a complicated woman as Joan – and by complicated I mean the complications of not only her general life circumstances, but the complications also related to lack of sources.  

After much pondering and reflection, I have decided that the largest part of the answer to ‘what is missing’ is the most obvious and lies in Joan’s experiences and the human emotions that dictated every moment of her life. The study of emotions and their impact on how we react to our own worlds, the world at large and during ‘historical’ events has grown in importance over the past thirty years. The understanding of human emotions and how they make us tick as sentient beings should not, and does not, simply fall under the sole remit of psychologists or neuroscientists. It is also an understanding that should be embraced, or in the least, accepted by historians when writing about the past. As I have often said students taking my medieval history courses, ‘Nothing happens in a vacuum, right?’

Of course, I am aware of the debates surrounding the study of and emphasis on emotions when it comes to constructing a better understanding of history: the argument that emotions are culturally constructed and carry their own specific meanings in context to period and place and are therefore variable over time versus the more universal argument that people in the past felt the same way we do, about their lives, themselves, their relationships, their situations, simply because they, too, were people, human beings just like us. Whether emotions themselves have a history is a mute discussion here. The point is emotions play a role in every situation – for every one of us, in every waking moment of every day. For Joan and the characters that surrounded her, from Llywelyn to John, to Susanna to Dafydd, to her ladies in waiting and her own priest, this was also the case.

Although I do touch on aspects of Joan’s emotions and those of her loved ones, as a trained historian, that is all I felt I could allow myself to do. The human part of me wanted, and still wants to, throw them into the fray and exclaim, ‘Look! Can’t you see? She was [insert] angry/sad/stressed/annoyed/happy/excited/eager. That’s why she did what she did when she did it’. She was human after all. Perhaps this is why historical fiction is such a popular genre. An astute and attentive author like Sharon Penman can give, and has given, a woman such as Joan real depth, a personality, a visceral humanness that by nature is missing from any biography or history written on any individual whose own voice seldomly speaks from the grave.

Having researched Joan for well over twenty years, I often wonder what she thought, how she reacted, how she felt. I envision her as trepidatious – perhaps scared, excited or both — on her initial journey to Wales. I imaging frustration and annoyance at not being able to understand the language of her new home on arrival. The anxiety of ensuring she fulfilled her roles as Llywelyn’s consort and wife; the pressure she felt to learn and adopt the new customs at an accelerated speed. The desire to be accepted, the shame or anger at being rejected as a foreigner. As a bastard. An incomprehensible fear of looming death in 1211 for husband or her father, or even herself and her children. A sense of determination to do right by both her natal and martial families over her long career. A growth in her self-esteem from her younger years as a ‘political princess’ to a deeper sense of empowerment and prerogative as political diplomat, based on knowledge, experience and wisdom as she aged.

What about a sense of freedom? Did she have any, either carrying out her role as a ‘queen’, perhaps on circuit, or managing her own English lands? Or did she simply feel trapped deep down, but made the most of her situation? Undeniably, Joan understood her status and position with both her families and within Anglo-Welsh politics. I suspect moments of real pride in herself and her own achievements could be found in attaining legitimacy (including a sense of spiritual security and, I assume relief), and above all, her witnessing her son’s homage at Westminster, where she was there as a mother, but embracing and imbuing the real power of her status as a ‘queen’. From bastard to ‘queen’, not a bad climb up the social ladder. Perhaps all the more empowering with the thought that such an event essentially placed her publicly on par with a number of her female relatives scattered across Britain and the Continent, who themselves were queens.     

Above all, I often wonder about love, the joys and sorrows it brought her. How long did it take for her and Llywelyn to build a relationship? Was there real love involved? What about William de Braose? Did Joan really experience the anguish of losing someone she loved because of her love? How difficult was it for her to love her father and face his cruelties? What about the worry and love that define motherhood, or parenthood in general? How did she feel watching her daughters leave, one by one, to pastures generally unknown, facing an uncertain future? What about her son, knowing full well that his position, his life, was forever in a precarious balance being Llywelyn’s chosen successor?

Such musings easily occupy the time, but should not be deemed frivolous. They really are important to take into consideration when thinking about Joan, Lady of Wales and her impact on history, evidence or no. Her emotions impacted her and influenced the decisions, actions and outcomes we write about and talk about when it comes to Britain in the early thirteenth century. In the words of one of my favourite writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘Life is a tram of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they proved to be many colored lenses which paint the world in their own hue.’

Thank you so much to Danna for a fascinating article. Danna R. Messer’s book Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter is now available in the UK from Pen & Sword and Amazon.

About the Author:

I am a medieval historian by training and trade. My BA history honours thesis, many moons ago, at the University of Denver was, unsurprisingly, about Joan as a ‘political princess’. Researching her at that time, and over the pond, wasn’t terribly easy. I vividly recall asking a librarian for help when searching the (literal) card catalogue, telling her I was researching medieval Wales to which she responded with utter disbelief, ‘The things that live in the sea?!’ That may have unconsciously propelled my move to Britain after graduation. I earned my MA from the University of York, again using Joan as a centre-piece on the role of illegitimate daughters in England’s royal family. Whilst working full time at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, I taught classes on medieval and women’s history for the Centre for Life Long Learning and studied for my PhD, via long distance, at Bangor University. My doctoral thesis is on the uxorial agency of the wives of native Welsh rulers, yet again, where Joan features as a case study.

Over of the past few years I have worked in publishing as an editor for medieval history. I am Acquisitions Editor at Arc Humanities Press, the academic publishing arm of the medieval network CARMEN. Part of my role with Arc includes being the Executive Editor for the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages, an online encyclopedia run in partnership with Bloomsbury Academic and their Medieval Studies Digital Resource. I am also the Series Editor for both Medieval History and Women’s Studies, with Pen and Sword Books.  

My other publications relating to Joan, Welsh queenship and medieval consorts to date include:

‘Volume 1: Norman to Early Plantagenet Consorts’, English Consorts: Power, Influence, Dynasty, edited by Aidan Norrie, Carolyn Harris, Joanna Laynesmith, Danna Messer and Elena Woodacre, 4 vols. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022)

‘A Model of Welsh Queenship: Joan of England and the Medieval Court of Gwynedd’, Special Edition on Medieval and Early Modern Queenship, edited by Louise Wilkinson, Women’s History Review (2020)

‘Welsh Queenship in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages: Core Case Study (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), Bloomsbury Medieval Studies, Web

‘Joan (d. 1237), princess and diplomat’, Dictionary of Welsh Biography Online (2018, revised article),

‘Impressions of Welsh Queenship in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, in A Companion to Global Queenship, edited by Elena Woodacre (ARC Humanities Press/CARMEN, 2018), pp. 147-58

‘Medieval Monarchs, Female Illegitimacy and Modern Genealogical Matters, Pt. 2: Joan of England, c.1190–1236/7’, Foundations: Newsletter of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, 1:4 (2004), 294-8

Filia Notha or Filia Regis?: Kinship and the Acquiescence of Royal Illegitimate Daughters, c.1090–1440’, Foundations: Newsletter of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, 1:1 (2003), 51-3


My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Danna R. Messesr

Guest Post: Frost Fairs by Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian Toni Mount to History…the Interesting Bits, with an article on the Frost Fairs on the River Thames.

Frost Fairs

Anyone who was in the UK, Ireland or much of Europe in February and March 2018 will probably remember the weather phenomenon of anticyclone Hartmut, better known as ‘The Beast from the East’. The Beast began its onslaught on 22nd February, bringing heavy snowfall and unusually low temperatures which lasted into the first week of March. Across Europe, it caused 95 deaths, seventeen of them in the UK. The deepest snowfall in England was 22 inches [57 cm] in Gloucestershire. The lowest temperature, measured in the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland was -14℃ [7℉] with winds up to 70 mph [110 km/hr]. Two weeks of such intense cold weather is unusual in the UK today, though who knows what may lie ahead in the future with the effects of climate change. However, climate change is nothing new. The lifetime of Isaac Newton, from 1642 to 1727, saw far worse winter weather during ‘The Little Ice-Age’, as it is known, and the period from December 1683 to March 1684 saw an unprecedented cold spell in England.

Engraving of the Frost Fair on the Thames in London, 1683-84 [British Museum Collection]

Thermometers were a recent invention and a universal scale of temperature readings had yet to be established but descriptions of the thickness of ice formed on ponds in a single night suggest the long spell of exceptional freezing weather was worse than any winter before and has still to be surpassed. December 1683 began with a hard frost, followed by a bitter east wind laden with snow. In London, the snow melted on the 7th but a sharp frost on the 12th was succeeded by a week of heavy snowfall and a north-easterly wind. Places other than London suffered similarly. Bristol suffered badly on the 19th; Durham on Christmas Eve and Oxford had its worst snow on Christmas Day, although London only saw snow showers that day.

The previous October 1683 had seen temperatures more than 4°F below the average, so the ground was already colder than normal when the bad weather began in December. Daily thermometer readings – however inaccurate – were recorded by Dr John Downes in London. According to him, the greatest cold occurred on 15th-16th January when ‘the spirit fell within the ball’ of his thermometer so gave no reading. His thermometer probably hung indoors, close to a window was the usual position for such instruments, suggesting a likely reading of 25°F indoors when he took note of it, mid‐morning. This would probably indicate a temperature of below 10°F outdoors. It was almost as cold in the first days of February.

In Durham, farther north in Teesdale, a fellow scientist, Mr Sanderson, made occasional records of the thickness of ice formed ‘where John Aislaby gets his water, on 12th-13th February, ice formed two inches thick overnight’. He then adds ‘it was in my gazette [newspaper] that at the Downs [part of the English Channel off the coast of Kent] the water was frozen a mile into the Sea, which was never known before’. This occurred during the latter part of January. From other sources we learn that, for fourteen days, in the English Channel, packet‐boats with the mail could not leave the Belgian coast and that ‘the sea was frozen for two leagues off Caen [in Normandy, France]’. Near Manchester, Sanderson noted, ‘it did freeze ice more than half a yard thick, and some ice continued till 25th March’.

Undeterred by the cold, the people of Leeds in Yorkshire held a frost fair on the frozen River Aire. According to Ralph Thoresby, an ox-roast was set up there and various sporting activities organised. January saw no improvement and in the south, by the end of the month, the Thames estuary was frozen a mile out to sea and wagons were hauling goods downriver from London as far as Gravesend in Kent.

In London, John Evelyn’s diary provides a wealth of information, noting that brewers and other tradesmen reliant on a water supply were out of work because all the pipes were frozen. He was greatly concerned that:

The fowls, fish and birds and all our plants and greens universally perishing. Many parks of deer are destroyed and all sorts of fuel so dear that there were great contributions to keep the poor alive. … London, by reason of the excessive coldness of the air hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steam of sea-coal that one could hardly see across the streetes… and no one could scarcely breathe.

Evelyn also tells us that ‘every moment was full of disastrous accidents’ and trees were being cracked asunder by the frost as if by a lightning strike. Despite these gloomy realities, Londoners made the best of the weather conditions. A broadsheet of the time calls it ‘Great Britain’s Wonder or London’s Admiration: a prodigious frost which began about the beginning of December and continued till the fourth day of February following’. The Thames had frozen over before but never had the freeze lasted so long. The river ice was more than a foot thick [30cms] enabling it to be crossed by coach, carriage, sledge or on foot. Enterprising boatmen, robbed of their livelihood otherwise, put wheels under their boats to ferry passengers across the river. By 1st January, a fair and marketplace had been set up on the ice.

King Charles II and members of the royal court visited the makeshift town, enjoying eating meat from an ox-roast, taking part in a fox-hunt on ice and having souvenir cards printed in a booth where a printer had set up his press. The cards proved popular, the printer reckoning to make at least £5 per day at sixpence a time. In other words, he was printing around 200 cards every day and making an excellent income from his ingenuity. Food stalls sold everything from pancakes to roast beef and there were numerous taverns, goldsmiths’ shops, a toy shop, coffee-houses, a lottery booth, a music booth and even a brothel: all doing a brisk trade on  ice. A circus was put on by Mr Chipperfield: the first known performance of a family business that still continues today, if in a very different health-and-safety, animal-welfare conscious, twenty-first-century format. No such niceties concerned the entrepreneurs who arranged the bull- and bear-baiting spectacles either.

John Evelyn wrote that:

Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple… to and fro, as in the streets; sleds, sliding with skeetes [skates], a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes [short dramatic sketches], cooks, tippling [drinking] and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or a carnival on water.

Others noted sporting activities, including football and skittles being played. The ice began to thaw a little on 4th-5th February and the booths began to be dismantled but it froze again so that Evelyn could still cross in his coach to Lambeth Palace to dine with the Archbishop of Canterbury. On other occasions, he walked upriver on the ice from his home in Deptford.

In Newton’s long lifetime the Thames would freeze over again in 1709 but the ice did not last so long as to allow another frost fair that year. However, the winter of 1715-16 was sufficiently severe and long-lasting that the river was frozen for almost three months and a fair was set up once more. On this occasion, there was far more snow than in 1683-84, ‘vast quantities fallen at different times in the season’, so that London was described at the time as being ‘almost impassable’.

Below, is an excerpt from a poem written in 1684:

BEHOLD the Wonder of this present Age,

A Famous RIVER now becomes a Stage.

Question not what I now declare to you,

The Thames is now both Fair and Market, too.

And many Thousands dayly do resort,

There to behold the Pastime and the Sport

Early and Late, used by young and old,

And valu’d not the fierceness of the Cold….

Back in history, the Thames had been frozen before. For example, in the reign of King Stephen, in 1150, ‘after a very wet summer there was in December so great a frost that horses and carriages crossed it [the Thames] upon the ice as safely as upon the dry ground, and that the frost lasted till the following month of March’. Again, in 1281, the Thames was frozen over and when the ice broke up at last, it carried away five of the stone arches of London Bridge, causing it to partially collapse and making this entrance into the city impassable until it was repaired. In 1434, ‘the Thames was so strongly frozen over, that merchandise and provisions brought into the mouth of the river were obliged to be unladen, and brought by land to the city’. In 1515, too, carriages passed over on the ice from Lambeth to Westminster and once more, when the ice melted a number of arches of London Bridge were ‘borne downe and carried away with the streame’. On the 21st of December 1564, during a lengthy hard frost, football and ‘shooting at marks’ were played on the Thames. Courtiers came from Whitehall Palace to mix with common citizens and watch the fun. Tradition says that Queen Elizabeth I herself walked upon the ice but all was gone by 5th January. However, Londoners had the chance to play all manner of sports and visit trading stalls on the river again in 1620, in the reign of James I.

The River Thames last iced over completely, enough to hold a Frost Fair on its frozen waters, in 1814 but, since then, the building of the Victoria and Albert Embankments has made it faster-flowing and less likely to ice up. However, it partially froze in the harsh winters of 1947 and 1963.

Who can say whether or not even more extreme weather events may happen in the future as a result of climate change? Only time may tell if another Frost Fair, like those experienced by Isaac Newton and his colleagues, will ever be held again on the Thames.

The World of Isaac Newton by Toni Mount

For nine decades Isaac Newton strode the world of science and discovery, religion and thought – from 17th century Lincolnshire farm-boy to one of the most influential scientists of all time – his discoveries have relevance for us today and for our future.  This fascinating new biography looks at his world, his times, the people he influenced and the breakthroughs in science and thought that would change the world.

About the Author

Toni Mount’s first career was in science, leading to many years in a second profession in teaching. Her love of history led to a third career as a writer with her first book, released by Amberley Publishing in 2014, Everyday Life in Medieval London. She continues to teach history to adults both in person and online and has now written many successful non-fiction and fiction books. This latest study allows her to return to her first love, science, and the chance to bring a fresh look at one of the world’s most famous characters.



My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


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

©2020 Toni Mount

Guest Post: All the Ælfgifus by Annie Whitehead

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Annie Whitehead to History … the Interesting Bits as a stop on her Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England Blog Tour.

Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England examines the lives of individual women in a way that has often been done for the Anglo-Saxon men but not for their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. It tells their stories: those who ruled and schemed, the peace-weavers and the warrior women, the saints and the sinners. It explores, and restores, their reputations.

Over to you Annie….

All the Ælfgifus

I was recently interviewed on BBC Radio Northampton where we chatted about a lady known as Ælfgifu of Northampton. During the pre-recording chat, it became clear that there was some confusion over the name. I told the presenter that I wasn’t the least surprised, as there are no fewer than eight ladies with that name featured in my new book. I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce them. (The name, incidentally, translates as Elf-gift, which I think is rather beautiful.)

Ælfgifu, daughter of Edward the Elder

Edward the Elder

We don’t know a great deal about her but I do feel rather sorry for her. She and her sister, Eadgyth, were, apparently, both sent to Germany so that the future emperor, Otto, could choose one of them as his bride. He married Eadgyth – it was, apparently, ‘love at first sight’ – and Ælfgifu married another prince. What Ælfgifu felt about being rejected by Otto, we can only surmise. Of course, Otto might not have been every young girl’s dream, in which case Ælfgifu might have considered that she’d had a lucky escape. It must have rankled though, being declared less attractive than her sister.

Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury

King Edmund was the son of Edward the Elder and a half-brother of the Ælfgifu mentioned above. He became king at around the age of eighteen and his first wife, Ælfgifu, bore him two sons, both future kings. Her identity is debateable and her background unknown. She wasn’t married for long. Her son Eadwig (I’ll come back to him) was probably born around 940, and his younger brother Edgar around 943. King Edmund himself died in 946 – the victim of a brawl, or perhaps a political assassination – having married again, so his first marriage must have ended not long after Edgar’s birth. Ælfgifu is known as Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, and it would be easy to assume that she retired to Shaftesbury Abbey in the manner of a number of previous queens, but the short-lived nature of her marriage and the young age of her children suggest another scenario. It is plausible that she died in childbirth, either in labour with Edgar or with a subsequent pregnancy in which both mother and child died. If she did indeed die in childbirth then she cannot have been a nun at Shaftesbury, but merely a benefactor.

Ælfgifu the Harlot

Mortimer portrait of Dunstan scolding 
Ælfgifu the Harlot

In 955 Edmund’s brother, who’d succeeded him, died and was in turn succeeded by Edmund’s son, Eadwig (see, I told you I’d come back to him). Life at court got rather interesting when Eadwig, still only a teenager, married a young woman named Ælfgifu. Many of you will know the story of how he was found in bed on his coronation day with his wife, and her mother. Depending on which version one reads, the mother was banished and/or hamstrung in punishment, or she threatened the abbot who found them, and who was himself subsequently banished, that she would have his eyes put out if he ever returned. The young couple’s marriage was annulled two years later, on the grounds that they were too closely related. However, Ælfgifu is presumed to be the same woman who left a will, in which she’s identified as being descended from the brother of Alfred the Great. This being so, she was descended from the branch of the royal family that had risen up in rebellion. Ælfgifu’s marrying the king might have been seen as an attempt to strengthen those claims. It’s not a theory which I whole-heartedly embrace but it does seem that there was a lot of political manoeuvring at court and I suspect Ælfgifu was an innocent caught up in the turmoil. She was certainly welcomed back to court by Eadwig’s brother when he became king.

Ælfgifu of York – Possibly

Aethelred the Unready

That brother of Eadwig’s had a son, known to history as Æthelred the Unready. His first wife’s identity is a bit of a mystery. The chronicler John of Worcester said that she was called Ælfgifu, and that she was the daughter of an ealdorman called Æthelberht. But there is no evidence of this woman’s father; no ealdorman named Æthelberht is recorded elsewhere. Roger of Wendover said that she was a ‘woman of low birth’, while Ailred of Rievaulx, writing in the mid-twelfth century, said that she was the daughter of a man named Thored, but he didn’t name her. It is possible that Æthelred was married first to a woman named Ælfgifu and then to the daughter of Thored, but it is generally accepted that this was one woman and, combining the two versions, that she was Ælfgifu, daughter of Thored.

We don’t hear much from her as she didn’t witness any charters and is otherwise unnamed in the sources. What she did do, though, is have at least nine children, (one of whom was also called Ælfgifu, whose husband was murdered by her sister’s husband, which must have made for awkward family Christmases)! She must have lived until the eleventh century, for her youngest son, Edgar, did not appear on charter witness lists until 1001. We do not know exactly how old the royal children would typically have been when they first appeared on the witness lists, but we do know that they were sometimes still babes in arms. It is not known what happened to Ælfgifu and it is possible that she died at around the same time, for King Æthelred got married again in 1002…

…To a woman named Emma, but who was given the English name of Ælfgifu. As if this wasn’t confusing enough! And after Æthelred the Unready died, Emma married again. Her husband was King Cnut, who already had a wife/concubine:

Ælfgifu of Northampton

Emma – Ælfgifu of Northampton’s rival

This Ælfgifu came from a powerful Mercian family. Her father was ealdorman of Northumbria, her uncle founded Burton Abbey and her grandmother founded Wolverhampton. Ælfgifu’s father was murdered and her brothers were blinded and generally Æthelred the Unready mistrusted the family, as well he might. For at some point, possibly around 1013, Ælfgifu married Cnut, the son of the invader, Swein Forkbeard. She had two sons by Cnut, and they were given Danish names – Swein and Harold – as if recognised as potential heirs, but when Cnut became king, he married Emma and also had a son with her, who was named Harthacnut.

Emma, with her credentials as an English queen, was no doubt important to Cnut, but so too was Ælfgifu of Northampton, and Cnut had a task for her to perform. Cnut had an empire to rule, and Harthacnut was sent to Denmark while in 1030, Ælfgifu and her son Swein were sent to Norway, there to rule for Cnut. The regency in Norway may have been hugely symbolic, and it is telling that the period was remembered in Scandinavian history as ‘Ælfgifu’s time’, but for various reasons it wasn’t hugely successful. Swein died in 1035, but so too did Cnut.

Now a (rather unseemly at times) battle began as Emma and Ælfgifu fought for their sons to succeed. You can read all about these fraught years in my new book but the upshot was that Ælfgifu was successful in the short term and Harold ‘Harefoot’ became king. Sadly though he died in 1040. We don’t know what happened to Ælfgifu after this, but there is a French twelfth-century story which speaks of a woman named Alveva and it’s possible that she lived out her years as an exile in southern France.

By 1066, another Harold was on the throne. He had a wife/concubine who’s known to history as Edith Swanneck, and one of her children was a daughter named Ælfgifu.

Ælfgifu the Unlucky

But the last Ælfgifu I want to talk about is one I’ve nicknamed ‘unlucky’. You’ll recall that Ælfgifu of Northampton’s brothers were blinded. They weren’t the only ones and in 993 a man named Ælfgar suffered the same fate. His wife was another woman named Ælfgifu. When Ælfgifu of Northampton’s father was killed and her brothers blinded, another man was named as being deprived of all his property. With a little bit of detective work I was able to say with some degree of certainty that this man was the second husband of our last Ælfgifu, which means that her first husband was blinded and the second was deprived of all his property. Given that it’s clear the name Ælfgifu seems to have been given only to noblewomen, I think this one must have expected a slightly more comfortable and uneventful life!

Follow the Blog Tour!

Annie’s book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, was published by Pen & Sword Books in June 2020. It can be purchased from Pen & Sword and online.

About the Author:

Annie is an author and historian and an elected member of the Royal Historical Society and has won awards and prizes for her fiction and nonfiction.

Published works include Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom (Amberley Books) and novels and stories set in Anglo-Saxon England, including To Be A Queen, the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, longlisted for HNS Book of the Year 2016. She was the inaugural winner of the Dorothy Dunnett/HWA Short Story Competition in 2017. You can connect with Annie through her Website, on Facebook, Twitter and on her Blog and Amazon Author Page.

All images are in the public domain.


My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Whores and Winchester Geese – Prostitution in Medieval London

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Toni Mount to History … the Interesting Bits as a stop on her ‘The Colour of Shadows’ Blog Tour. The Colour of Shadows is the latest instalment in Toni’s Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mysteries series.

So it’s over to Toni

Whores and Winchester Geese – Prostitution in Medieval London

by Toni Mount

In my new Sebastian Foxley murder-mystery novel The Colour of Shadows, set in medieval London, some of the action takes place on the south side of London Bridge, in a seedy brothel known as ‘The Mermaid’. Mermaids were believed by medieval folk to seduce mariners, luring them to their deaths at sea. This nasty trait made ‘The Mermaid’ a most suitable name for a house of ill-repute in medieval Southwark but what was life really like for the unfortunate women, forced to earn their living in such places?

Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. If you’re wondering, the second oldest is spying – both are mentioned in the Bible. Throughout history, prostitution has been seen as a necessary fact of life, for the most part tolerated by civic authorities, if rarely approved. In medieval London, the city tried to regulate the work of ‘common women’, confining them to particular areas, such as Cock Lane, in the north-west, near Newgate. But better yet was to keep them outside the city, out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind, across the Thames in Southwark, where they wouldn’t sully the city’s precious reputation. The Liberty of the Clink was an area in Southwark that, although actually in Surrey, was exempt from the jurisdiction of the county’s sheriff and came under the authority of the Bishop of Winchester. The bishop’s London residence, Winchester House, was built in the liberty, originally surrounded by parkland. Because the liberty lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and that of the county authorities of Surrey, some activities forbidden in those areas were permitted here.

In 1161 the bishop was granted the power to license prostitutes and brothels in the liberty and the women became known as ‘Winchester Geese’. To be ‘bitten by a Winchester goose’ meant to contract a venereal disease and ‘goose bumps’ was slang for the symptoms of the disease. Medieval attitudes to prostitution were mixed. Sex was only for procreation but, if it couldn’t be helped, at least the geese prevented good Christian men falling into even worse practices – like sodomy or masturbation – seen as mortal crimes by the church – so prostitution was a kind of safety valve for wicked desires and had the added benefit of filling the bishop’s coffers. When the poor Geese died, they had the final indignity of being buried in unconsecrated ground. The Cross Bones graveyard in Southwark has been preserved by local residents and a little memorial set up to commemorate the Winchester Geese.

Clients would come by boat from a jetty at Stew Lane in the city across the river to avoid being questioned if they went through the gates at London Bridge and, of course, the gates were closed after dusk. As clients approached the south bank, they’d see signs with the brothels’ names, painted on the white walls of detached houses surrounded by gardens. In early Tudor times, there were the Bear’s Head, the Cross Keys, the Gun, the Castle, the Crane, the Cardinal’s Hat, the Bell and the Swan. Under the direction of the Bishop of Winchester there were some restrictions: the brothels were not permitted to open on Sundays or religious days. There was also some attempt to stop prostitution getting out of hand, with a fine of twenty shillings should any ‘woman of the bordello… draw any man by his gown or by his hood or any other thing’. And the ordinances were meant to protect the prostitutes as well, requiring that women were not held against their will. Whether that actually happened is up for debate. We have some fascinating poll tax records documenting the extent of the ‘trade’, including those from 1381, recording seven local ‘stew-mongers’ each keeping between two and six ‘servants’, the latter probably a mix of both servants and prostitutes. Others are said to have worked on a ‘freelance’ basis, operating out of the likes of Paris Garden, the manor next to the Clink, or St Thomas’ Hospital.

By the time Henry VI came to the throne in 1422, the Southwark stews were at the peak of their profitability and the money flooding in allowed many stew-holders to buy themselves freehold property elsewhere in Southwark. Some used these additional properties to open inns or taverns which doubled as illegal brothels in Borough High Street, but that was only the beginning of the trouble their new riches brought. In order to serve on a fifteenth-century jury, you had to be a property-owner, which was taken as evidence you had a stake in society and could be trusted to take your responsibilities in court seriously. This gave the newly propertied stew-holders another opportunity for corruption. By hiring out their services to the highest bidder, stew-holders on the jury could deliver whatever verdict their paymasters required.

In 1473, Elizabeth Butler was visiting a friend’s London house when she met Thomas Boyd for the first time. Boyd offered her a job as a domestic servant at what he said was a Bankside inn, promising good pay and excellent working conditions. She accepted and went with him to the inn, where she quickly realised the place was actually a brothel and Boyd was its manager. Far from the light housekeeping duties his original offer implied, Boyd’s real plan was for Elizabeth to join his stable of whores. ‘He would have compelled me to do such things and service as other his servants done there’, she later testified. When Elizabeth refused to sell herself, Boyd claimed she owed him rent and took her to the Bishop of Winchester’s court, demanding a cash sum so large he knew she could never hope to pay it. The court found Elizabeth Butler guilty and gaoled her when she admitted she had no money. That was exactly what Boyd had hoped would happen. He’d be happy to get her out of gaol by cancelling her debt, he said – but only if she did what he wanted on Bankside. Elizabeth was stubborn and still refused. After three weeks in the Bishop’s Clink prison, she somehow managed to get a petition to the Bishop of Durham, pleading with him to get her case heard in the higher court of Chancery. She got as far as a hearing before London’s City Chamberlain, but frustratingly that’s where the records run out.

We have a couple of other fragments of court cases from the fifteenth century which also shed a little light on crime and punishment in the stews. In April 1439, for example, a known bawd named Margaret Hathewyck was charged with procuring a young girl called Isabel Lane for a group of men from Lombardy. ‘Isabel was deflowered against her will for money paid to the said Margaret’, the City Chamberlain’s court rolls say. After the Lombards had finished with Isabel, Hathewycke delivered her to a Bankside brothel ‘for immoral purposes with a certain gentlemen on four occasions against her will’. Hathewyck’s name appears at about this time among the list of prisoners sent to the Clink, where she seems to have served a long twenty-year sentence – such sentences were unusual, except for debt. Either that, or Hathewyck may have been a repeat offender who happened to be ‘inside’ each time the inmates were listed.

Another Bankside stewholder got what was coming to him in 1494 – and for a very similar offence to Boyd’s crime above. ‘Upon the second day of July, was set upon the pillory a bawd of the stews named Thomas Toogood’, Fabyan’s Great Chronicle reports. ‘The which before the mayor was proved guilty that he enticed two women dwelling at Queenhythe to become his servants and to have men in common within his house’.

Health issues

John of Gaddesden, an English doctor writing in the early 14th century, had some advice for women on how to protect themselves against venereal disease. Immediately after sex with any suspect man, he said, the woman should jump up and down, run backwards down the stairs and inhale some pepper to make herself sneeze. Next, she should tickle her vagina with a feather dipped in vinegar to flush infected sperm out of her body, then wash her genitals thoroughly in a concoction of roses and herbs boiled in vinegar. It’s hard to imagine anyone actually following this advice – let alone one of the girls in Southwark’s stews. It would have puzzled the customer she’d just serviced for one thing, and running backwards downstairs sounds an excellent way to break your neck. Other doctors writing at about the same time as Gaddesden had equally eccentric remedies of their own, but at least everyone now recognised that diseases such as gonorrhoea were spread by sexual intercourse and that in itself was a big step forward.

In 1321, King Edward II had founded the Lock Hospital in Southwark as a treatment centre for ‘lepers’, the name then used for anyone with sores and skin lesions. It was located less than a mile from the stews of Bankside and, unsurprisingly, it soon started to specialise in VD cases. ‘Lock Hospital’ can still be found in slang dictionaries today as a generic term for any VD clinic. Southwark’s lucrative trade gave it such place names as Codpiece Lane, Cuckold Court and Sluts’ Hole.

During the Plague, in 1349, Edward III suspended Parliament to let MPs escape London for the relative safety of the countryside. Anyone else rich enough to flee the capital got out too. But Southwark’s brothels remained open throughout the plague years, despite official warnings that casual copulation with multiple partners increased the risk of infection. Henry Knighton, a fourteenth-century chronicler who lived through the Black Death, says the stews were actually busier than ever during the plague years.


In 1351, the City of London passed an ordinance that ‘lewd or common women’ must wear a striped hood to identify themselves and refrain from beautifying their clothes with any fur trim or fancy lining. At that time, any woman not of noble birth could be described as ‘common’ so the ordinance seemed to cover almost every female in the city. London’s proud womenfolk weren’t going to have men dictating what they could wear, so most ignored the ordinance and challenged any constable to arrest them, if he dared. When Edward III added his own authority to this law three years later, he was careful to specify it applied only to

London’s ‘common whores’. The striped hoods and lack of decorative trim, his proclamation declared, would ‘set a deformed mark on foulness to make it appear more odious’.

Some working girls continued to live inside the city walls but commuted to Cock Lane near Newgate or over the bridge to Southwark to earn their daily crust – perhaps finding somewhere to change on the way. But it wasn’t long before they were banned from even lodging in the city and subject to very heavy penalties for doing so. A 1383 ordinance required whores caught in London to have their heads shaved and then be carted through the streets in a special wagon while minstrels played all around them to attract a crowd. The girl herself would have to wear that trademark hood as the cart carried her through town to the nearest prison, where she’d be placed in a pillory and publicly whipped. In 1393, these rules were tightened further, saying no prostitute must go about or lodge’ in London or its suburbs, but ‘keep themselves in the places thereto assigned, that is to say, the stews on the other side of the Thames and in Cock Lane’. Offenders could face all the penalties I’ve mentioned and have their identifying hood confiscated too.

Henry V’s contribution was to ban London’s City aldermen and other respectable citizens from letting out any building they owned to tenants ‘charged or indicted of an evil and vicious life’. This was clearly aimed at the many churchmen, noblemen, City officials and wealthy merchants who happily rented out their property to known stewholders. There were only so many houses to be had in the Bankside’s licensed area, so anyone lucky enough to own a building there could command premium rents if he let it be turned into a brothel so there was a powerful financial incentive to accept stewholders as tenants and that’s what the king’s ordinance was up against. It must have been simple enough to arrange your affairs to circumvent the new law – perhaps by renting your building out through a middleman – whatever the case, the ban had little effect.

In 1436, Parliament heard an urgent petition from a group of Southwark citizens complaining that illegal brothels were still operating along the length of Borough High Street. ‘Many women have been ravished and brought to evil living’, the petition said, ‘Neighbours and strangers are oft-time robbed and murdered’. Parliament responded by declaring once again that stewhouses must be restricted to the licensed area provided – but gave no clue as to how this might be achieved. In 1460, Henry VI set up a commission of twenty respectable citizens from both Southwark and London to consider the problem. They recommended that the City of London send men into Southwark to remove any prostitutes or stewholders found operating away from Bankside and if necessary imprison them, but the War of the Roses deposed him just a few months after the commission’s report, so he had little chance to act. The new king, Edward IV, took a more relaxed view of the Winchester Geese – perhaps because his own habits left him little room to criticise what went on in Southwark. The only significant measure he took to regulate them was a 1479 royal proclamation that all the licensed Bankside stews should clearly identify themselves by painting their riverside walls entirely white. Each house had its own symbol painted like a pub sign on the same wall and – as often as not – a couple of enticing whores shouting from a riverside window to attract boat-bound customers. There are also references to Edward IV banning whores from wearing aprons – an ordinary woman’s badge of respectability – so they couldn’t pretend to be decent townsfolk. But another source says the apron ban was a twelfth-century ordinance.

Another matter

In London, on 11th December 1395, John Rykener was arrested in a stable in Sopers Lane, just off Cheapside, caught in an ‘unmentionable act’ with John Britby. Rykener was dressed as a woman, calling himself ‘Eleanor’, an embroideress. When he appeared before the mayor, still in women’s clothing, he admitted to similar offences with one Carmelite friar, two Franciscans, three Oxford scholars, three chaplains and six foreign men, charging them for the pleasure. However, he’d also given his services – as a man – to numerous women, including nuns, for free. It seems the authorities were mystified by such behaviour and, rather than punishing him for his ‘unmentionable acts’, which could have resulted in Rykener burning at the stake, they prosecuted him for misrepresenting himself as a woman and, therefore, ‘confusing’ his male customers and failing to provide them with the ‘womanly services’ they’d paid for. In other words, he’d broken the ‘trades’ descriptions act’, medieval style.

About the Author: Toni Mount

I’m an author, a history teacher, an experienced speaker – and an enthusiastic life-long-learner. I’m a member of the Research Committee of the Richard III Society and a library volunteer where I lead a Creative Writing group. I regularly give talks to groups and societies and attend history events as a costumed interpreter. I write for a variety of history magazines and have created seven online courses for

I earned my Masters Degree by Research from the University of Kent in 2009 through study of a medieval medical manuscript held at the Wellcome Library in London. My BA (with First-class Honours), my Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and my Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. My Cert. Ed (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich.

I have a strong online following with my various social media and web pages:

My works to date include:


2007 The Medieval Housewife and Women of the Middle-ages; 2009 (updated 2015) Richard III King of Controversy; 2013 Dare they be Doctors.

Amberley Publishing:

2014 (Hb) Everyday Life in Medieval London; 2015 (Hb) Dragon’s Blood and Willow Bark: the mysteries of medieval medicine; 2015 (Pb) The Medieval Housewife: & Other Women of the Middle Ages; 2015 (Pb) Everyday Life in Medieval London; 2016 (Pb) Medieval Medicine: Its Mysteries and Science (the renamed paperback version of Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark); 2016 (Hb) A Year in the Life of Medieval England; 2019 (Pb) A Year in the Life of Medieval England; 2020 (Hb) The World of Isaac Newton

Pen & Sword:

2021 (Pb) How to survive in Medieval England; 2021 (Pb) An affectionate look at sex in medieval England

MadeGlobal Publishing:

The Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mysteries series: 2016 The Colour of Poison; 2016 The Colour of Gold; 2017 The Colour of Cold Blood; 2017 The Colour of Betrayal; 2018 The Colour of Murder; 2018 The Colour of Death; 2019 The Colour of Lies; 2020 The Colour of Shadows

2018 The Death Collector (A Victorian Melodrama)

2015 Everyday Life of Medieval Folk 2015 Heroes and Villains 2016 Richard III and the Wars of the Roses 2016 Warrior Kings of England: The Story of the Plantagenet Dynasty; 2017 Crime and Punishment; 2017 The English Reformation: A Religious Revolution 2018 The Roles of Medieval and Tudor Women


My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with Tony Riches

Guest Interview with Tudor Historical Fiction Author Tony Riches

Carrying on with my series of author interviews, today it is a great pleasure, at History … the Interesting Bits, to welcome author Tony Riches, best-selling author of many historical novels, including The Tudor Trilogy and The Brandon Trilogy. Tony’s latest book, Drake – Tudor Corsair has just hit the shops.

I last interviewed Tony in 2016, so we had some catching up to do!

Hi Tony, thanks so much for agreeing to do an interview, and congratulations on the release of Drake – Tudor Corsair.

So, first question, have you always wanted to be a writer?

I used to write regularly for a range of magazines, and was amazed when my first book (on project management) became a best seller in the US. I wrote my first historical fiction novel ten years ago. Since then, I’ve written at least one book a year, and have been able to write full-time.

Who are your writing influences?

Hilary Mantel and C.J. Sansom are my favourite historical fiction authors, and I’ve just finished reading Alison Weir’s Kathryn Howard – The Tainted Queen, which I highly recommend. I read widely across all genres, and have a huge collection of non-fiction books.

What do you love about writing?

Writing historical fiction is like travelling in time, as I enjoy immersing myself in every detail of the period, from the food they eat to the clothes they wear. In my new Elizabethan series, I had to understand what it was like to wear a ruff. (Francis Drake found his fashionable ruffs uncomfortable, and couldn’t wait to take them off.)

Grimsthorpe Castle

I also look forward to visiting the actual locations used in my books, to have a sense of the local area. When I was researching my book about Katherine Willoughby, I was able to visit the actual rooms at Grimsthorpe Castle where she spent her last years, as well as her amazing tomb at Spilsby. 

Social media – do you love it or hate it?

I was an early adopter of Twitter (in July 2009) and over the years have built up a great following, so I use it most days. I never really took to Facebook, but I try to post to my author page once a day, and I’ve recently been participating in some useful and interesting groups, so it has its place. I’m still trying to work out how to make effective use of Instagram…

What advice would you give to someone starting on their writing career?

Write something every day, until writing becomes a habit – and remember that a page a day us a book a year! I try to write at least five-hundred words a day, even when I’m away on research visits.

Many of your stories are set in the Tudor era, what attracted you to setting your stories in the Tudor, what attracted you to writing about this time?

I was born in Pembroke, birthplace of Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII and began the Tudor Dynasty, but I only began to study its history when I returned to the area as a full-time author.

I found several accounts of Henry’s life, but no novels which brought the truth of his story to life. The idea for the Tudor Trilogy occurred to me when I realised Henry Tudor could be born in book one, ‘come of age’ in book two, and rule England as king in book three, so there would be plenty of scope to explore his life and times.

I’m pleased to say all three books of the Tudor trilogy became best-sellers in the US and UK, and I decided to write a ‘sequel’ about the life of Henry VII’s daughter, Mary Tudor, who became Queen of France. This developed into the Brandon trilogy, as I was intrigued by the life of Mary’s second husband, Charles Brandon, the best friend of Henry VIII. The final book of the Brandon trilogy, about his last wife, Katherine Willoughby, has also become an international best-seller.

Katherine saw Elizabeth Ist become queen, and I began planning an Elizabethan series, so that my books tell the continuous stories of the Tudors from Owen Tudor’s first meeting with Queen Catherine of Valois through to the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

What particularly interested you in writing the story of Francis Drake?

I decided to show the fascinating world of the Elizabethan court through the eyes of the queen’s favourite courtiers. Francis Drake’s story is one of the great adventures of Tudor history. He intrigued me because he was a self-made man, who built his fortune by discovering the routes used by the Spanish to transport vast quantities of gold and silver. He had a special relationship with Queen Elizabeth, and they spent long hours in private meetings, yet he was looked down on by the nobility – even after he was knighted.

I’ve enjoyed tracking down primary sources to uncover the truth of Drake’s story – and discovering the complex man behind the myths. I’ve also learnt that most of what I thought I knew about Drake was wrong, so I’m hoping my new book will help to set the record straight.

What comes first, the research or the story?

I spend about a year researching each book, making notes, looking for important details, and thinking about my approach. I decided to write Drake in the first person, and can imagine him as a unreliable narrator, keen to impress his queen with his stories of stolen gold, dangerous islanders and long-necked sheep (llamas).

How do you decide whose story to write next?

Although it’s important for each book to stand alone, there is a thread which connects them all, and some readers have noticed how there is some mention of the next subject, in each book. There are so many fascinating characters in the Elizabethan court I decided not to limit myself to a trilogy and to make it a series.

You have written about several fascinating people, from Eleanor Cobham to Francis Drake, who was your favourite subject and why?

Whoever I’m writing about at any point in time becomes my new favourite subject, but if I have to choose one, Owen Tudor has a special place as the one who started it all. I’d written the first three chapters when I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and decided to rewrite Owen in first person present tense. It was a gamble, but I’ve just checked and at the time of writing he has 676 reviews on Amazon US – and has been #1 in the US, UK and Australia, so he’s served me well. 

Tony Riches

Fabulous talking to you Tony! Thank you!

About the author:

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.


Amazon UK:

Amazon US:


Writing blog:






My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with Paul Fraser Collard

One of the best things about being an author with a blog is that I get to chat with some of the best writers out there, about their books, writing, social media and anything else they are happy to talk about. It is a distinct pleasure, here at History … the Interesting Bits, to welcome Paul Fraser Collard, best-selling author of the Jack Lark books. Paul’s latest book, Fugitive, hits the shops today and it is awesome!

I last chatted to Paul about his writing 4 years ago, after the release of The Last Legionnaire, book no. 5 in the series. And time has moved on, Fugitive is the 9th book! In that time, an awful lot has happened. So, without further ado, it’s over to Paul…

Hi Paul, thanks so much for agreeing to do an interview. And congratulations on the release of Fugitive.

1. So, first question, have you always wanted to be a writer?

The short and simple answer is no! I never even contemplated writing anything at all until I was in my thirties. I was commuting into London at the time, and I was devouring books at a tremendous rate. I began to think about what it would be like to write something of my own. I made a start, but it took years to get anything finished. That first project died a death, but I had caught the writing bug and I was enjoying using my commuting time to try to write. So, I persevered and a few years later, THE SCARLET THIEF, was done.

2. Who are your writing influences?

It should be no surprise that I was inspired by the great Bernard Cornwell. I first read a Sharpe novel when I was 11 or 12 (Sharpe’s Honour) and I was hooked. My parents got me the rest of the series that year for Christmas and I worked my way through them all. I have read pretty much everything Mr Cornwell has written since. My other great inspiration was George MacDonald Fraser’s peerless Flashman books. I discovered the books quite late, I think in my twenties, and I tore through the whole series utterly mesmerised by the writing. I cannot think of another writer who writes with the same sheer panache. I would never try to mimic such a bold style, but it was the Flashman series that first gave me the idea of setting each book in a new location and against a new campaign or period.

3. What do you love about writing?

For me, it’s the planning and the research. I love learning about the period, and by moving Jack around the globe I’ve been able to learn so much about the different events that he experiences. I also find coming up with the plot and then planning it out a huge amount of fun. Maybe it’s the power, or just the thrill of constructing the story and imagining the trials Jack will have to endure, but I enjoy it immensely.

4. What do you hate about writing?

That first draft! When I have finished researching and plotting, I have a good outline of the whole story that runs to about 20,000 to 30,000 words. All the fun stuff is done and I have to plough through that long first draft that always takes me months. I do enjoy the feeling of getting it done though, and generally I love the next stage of going over and over the story trying to add the magic and make it as good as I can.

5. Social media – do you love it or hate it?

To be honest, its somewhere in between the two. I don’t find it easy to promote my books and I worry a lot about how I come across and what people must think of me. But at the same time, I have met some absolutely wonderful people through social media. I know that’s become something of a cliché, but I don’t care as its absolutely true. I am constantly gobsmacked at the help and the support I receive from a wide range of people all around the world. It is both humbling and delightful at the same time.

6. What advice would you give to someone starting on their writing career?

Just sit down and do it. I get this question a lot and I always say the same thing. Just start writing. It doesn’t matter if its good or if it’s absolutely bloody awful. Just get words down, build the story, get the characters going then write and write and write. You can always go back and make it better, but you can do nothing with a blank page.

7. What attracted you to setting your stories in the 19th century?

I have to blame Sharpe and Zulu. Both captivated me at an impressionable age. The choice of the Crimea for the first book in the series was more pragmatic. At the time, few writers had tackled the Battle of the Alma or the Crimean War and I had a feeling I had to start with something a little different. It was also the perfect jumping off point for the next adventures.

8. Did you ever expect to be still writing about Jack Lark 9 books later?

Honestly, no. It seems pretty incredible to me, especially as there must be over 1 million printed words that I have written now. I always think back to an English exam I took when I was about 14 or 15. I got some awfully low mark, and for a while it quite put me off reading and writing. Yet now here I am, with nine novels and four short stories to my name. It just shows, you really never know what you can do.

9. Jack Lark has become one of my favourite literary characters, how did you create such a complex character development?

That is very kind of you! I think my aim all along was to create a character that was both believable and relatable. When I started writing Jack’s stories, it seemed to me that a lot of other heroes in historical fiction were really rather good chaps, who generally did the right thing and although they had a tough time, their experiences never really seemed to linger with them. I have always read as many first-hand accounts as I can, covering any period of warfare, and I want to convey something of that universal experience of war through Jack. If I have done a half-decent job of that then I am truly happy.

10. Jack Lark is a bit of a globetrotter, how do you research the various societies and lands he has visited?

Thankfully, most of the campaigns and battles in the Jack Lark books are well-covered (sometimes too well covered!) I always start by reaching for the relevant Osprey books first and there is no better way to begin a new project. From there, I search for as many first-hand accounts as I can find, so that I can get the view of the ordinary soldier on the field of battle. That is what I find fascinating. Grand strategy and the calculated movement of troops are certainly interesting, but I want to know what it was like to stand on the front line and trade vollies with the enemy, or how men felt as they were ordered to charge directly into the fire of a well dug in defender.

11. What comes first, the research or the story?

Research for sure. It is only when I have a pretty good idea of the event or battle that I plan to cover, that I can start to work out how to weave Jack’s story into that timeline. More often than not, the research inspires me, and for quite a few of the books, the half-baked notions I had for the story before I started, get completely forgotten when I learn what really happened and how it happened.

12. How do you decide where Jack goes next?

This is the tricky bit. A lot was happening in the world in the mid to late 19th century, and it has often been really difficult to decide where Jack goes, especially as I can look globally. Usually something jumps out at me, and I definitely prefer something less well known to a famous battle or campaign.

13. With Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series, we’ve known, almost from the beginning, that the books will end at the famous Battle of Brunanburh, does Jack Lark similarly have a final battle that will be his swansong?

To be honest, I have no idea where or how the Jack Lark series will end. I think that’s rather exciting. If I have no idea, then neither will a reader!

14. Will Jack ever find love and settle down, or will he always be a drifter?

Never say never. I think Jack may well find someone he wants to settle down with. I just don’t know if I will let him! There is something of The Littlest Hobo in Jack (if you remember that kid’s TV programme!). It’s his lot to always be moving on to where he is needed next. I certainly don’t see Jack settling down to become a farmer or something equally innocuous.

15. What will come after Jack Lark, do you have other projects on the horizon?

I have so many ideas! I have two outlines for books set in London in WW2, as well as a fully completed manuscript that tells the story of an SOE agent in the middle of the war. I also have some half-formed thoughts for a serial killer book and another for a story set in a dystopian future. The recent events have also given me a terrific idea for a pandemic novel (well, I think it’s terrific). The problem is how to fit everything in, as I still work full-time. I don’t know when I will get to some of these ideas, but perhaps at least I will have an interesting and busy retirement when I eventually get there!

Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. Such wonderful answers. And now I can’t get the theme tune to The Littlest Hobo out of my head! I wish you every success with Fugitive. Jack Lark is such a wonderful character and I urge everyone to take a look at his latest adventures. Look out for my review of Fugitive sometime next week!

About the Author:

Paul Fraser Collard’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. This fascination led to a desire to write and his series of novels featuring the brutally courageous Victorian rogue and imposter Jack Lark burst into life in 2013. Since then Paul has continued to write, developing the Jack Lark series to great acclaim. To find out more about Paul and his novels visit or find him on twitter @pfcollard.

To buy the book: Amazon UK; Amazon US.


My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Prince John’s Gambit: The Throne at any Cost

Prince John’s Gambit: The Throne at any Cost

John, Count of Mortain, Lord of Ireland, and youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine knew that the stars were finally aligning in his favor, and the impossible dreams of his youth were now within his grasp. Bold action was required, and he was confident in his ability to seize this auspicious opportunity.

It was early January 1193 when John received a letter from King Philip II of France informing him that his brother, King Richard the Lionheart, was being held captive by the Duke of Austria and his liege lord, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI.

John immediately traveled to the nearest port and secretly crossed the Channel into Normandy. He might have already been imagining his future as King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and ruler over the Angevin lands lying between those valuable duchies. No one would ever call him “Lackland” again.

It’s likely that John’s ambitions were buoyed by his knowledge of family history. His great-grandfather, Henry I, was the youngest son of William the Conqueror. Upon William’s death, his lands were divided between his two oldest surviving sons: William Rufus, who became King of England and Robert Curthose, who became Duke of Normandy. Henry Beauclerc, as Henry I was known before his ascension, was the original “Lackland” as the only inheritance he received was money.

Yet, only 13 years after William the Conqueror’s death, this youngest son had seized the throne of England after the sudden death of William Rufus in 1100. Six years later, Henry defeated

Robert Curthose at the Battle of Tinchebray and became Duke of Normandy. Robert Curthose would spend the rest of his life in captivity.

Did visions of Richard, his formidable older brother, imprisoned for the rest of his natural life inspire John as he rode across Normandy that cold January?

John’s story during Richard’s captivity stretches from January 1193 to the brothers’ reconciliation in May 1194. It’s a tale of persistence, audacious risk-taking, and a single-minded resolve to achieve power at any cost.

If John had succeeded, perhaps we would admire him just as Henry I is admired for his unexpected rise to power. But John’s failures and reckless schemes during these 17 months would not only determine the course of Richard’s remaining years as king, they would also play an important role in establishing John’s reputation as a deceitful, untrustworthy, and avaricious man.

When John met with the Norman barons at Alençon in January 1193, he announced that Richard would not return, and that he was likely dead. John proclaimed that he was ready to assume control of Normandy and help the barons defend against potential attacks from King Philip. These loyal liegemen of Richard flatly refused to accept John as their new lord. As long as Richard lived, they would honor their oaths of fealty to him. Undeterred, John left them and went to Paris.

King Philip had spent his reign cleverly pitting one Plantagenet against another, and he was delighted to receive John at his court. In return for Philip’s support, John vowed to annul his marriage and marry Philip’s sister. He then paid homage to Philip for Normandy and the Angevin lands, and he promised to give Philip the strategic fortress of Gisors and the Norman Vexin.

This was a stunning betrayal of his brother, and as news of John’s actions in Paris made its way back to England, many of those who might have otherwise supported John as heir were outraged.

In February, John returned to England where he captured and garrisoned the castles of Windsor and Wallingford. He then entered London and declared that Richard would never return; he even insisted that Richard was dead. John demanded the Great Council recognize him as king.

His mother, the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the Great Council were now ruling England. They had not yet received word of Richard’s location or condition, and it was a precarious time. Since Richard had no legitimate children, only John and a nephew, Arthur of Brittany, were potential successors. Arthur’s father, Geoffrey, had been born before John, but Arthur’s youth and Breton upbringing worked against him. Eleanor preferred that John ascend to the throne should Richard die.

By early March, John’s castles at Windsor and Tickhill were under siege. It was an awkward moment for the men leading these sieges. If they pursued victory too vigorously, they might make an enemy of the future king.

On April 20, Eleanor and the Great Council began receiving dispatches from Richard, who outlined the terms of his release and offered recommendations for raising the staggering king’s ransom required for his freedom. The government could not simultaneously conduct sieges against John’s castles and raise the ransom.

Even though Windsor and Tickhill were on the verge of surrender, a six-month truce was negotiated. Eleanor took control of Windsor and Wallingford, while John kept Tickhill and Nottingham. Along with other stipulations, John was expected to help raise the ransom, and he was required to stay in England.

After this setback, John spent May and June in Dorset, pouting and plotting his next move. Historians differ on how much effort he put into raising the ransom.

In early July, news reached both England and France that the terms of Richard’s release had been renegotiated and finalized. Although Richard knew that his release was still months away, Philip believed the Lionheart could be freed at any time.

In response, a frantic King Philip sent his famous message to John: “Look to yourself, the Devil is loosed!”

Despite his pledge to remain in England, a terrified John fled across the Channel to Paris. Because he had broken the truce, John’s estates were confiscated.

John was at Philip’s side when emissaries from the Lionheart arrived, proposing a treaty with the French king. The Treaty of Mantes was signed on July 9, 1193, and it was a generous settlement intended to stop Philip from further incursions into Normandy and to avoid a possible French invasion of England.

Richard’s secondary goal was to separate Philip and John. If John renewed his oath of loyalty to his brother, his titles and lands on both sides of the Channel would be restored, and a series of castles in Normandy would be awarded to him. John promptly pledged his allegiance to Richard and set off to claim his castles. However, he was so distrusted that the castellans refused to relinquish control to John. A furious John returned to Paris, and Richard’s scheme to remove John from Philip’s influence failed.

The emperor’s December announcement that Richard would be released in January resulted in another panicked response from Philip and John. They sent a letter to Henry offering either monthly payments to keep Richard imprisoned until autumn or a lump sum matching the ransom raised by Eleanor, as long as Henry transferred custody of his prisoner to Philip.

By January 1194, John was desperate, but he was not ready to admit defeat. He made one last treaty with Philip, and its extraordinary terms must have astounded the French king. John surrendered the whole of Normandy east of the Seine except for the city of Rouen. He gave key castles in Maine, Anjou, Touraine, and Aquitaine to Philip. And perhaps the most shocking concession was his agreement to hold the remaining continental lands as a baron of the French court. This would end the long-standing tradition of the Duke of Normandy meeting the King of France as an equal.

The January treaty was so astonishing that it only raised Philip’s suspicions. Although Philip signed the treaty, the shrewd French king probably doubted that John would abide by it.

Philip and John’s offer tempted Henry VI, and he showed their letter to Richard. Although he could not renege on his promises, Henry delayed Richard’s release until February 4, 1194.

Eleanor and Richard immediately left the German court, and they landed in England on March 13. Richard soon subdued John’s remaining supporters, and John’s titles and lands were again confiscated.

On May 13, Richard and Eleanor disembarked in Normandy. By May 19, they were in Lisieux at the home of John of Alençon. It is here that a shaken and contrite John arrived, falling at his brother’s feet, shedding the required tears, and begging for mercy. Richard forgave him, but his words were casual and full of contempt. He called the 27-year-old John a “child” who had been led astray by evil advisors.

Eleanor and Richard had already determined that it was more important to separate John from Philip and bring him back into the family fold than to impose the punishment he deserved for his treason.

The following day, John returned to Evreux, a strategic castle he had been holding for Philip since January. He then demonstrated why he could not be trusted. He invited the town’s French officials to meet with him, perhaps for dinner, and he announced to them that he now held the town for Richard before ordering their slaughter.

Twelve months later, in May 1195, Richard restored the counties of Mortain and Gloucester to John, although not the castles. In September 1197, Richard formally named John as his heir. John did not return to England until after Richard’s death in 1199.

The story of John’s 17 month quest for power during Richard’s captivity shows a man willing to promise anything and risk everything, regardless of whether he could deliver. Yet, he never suffered the consequences he deserved for his actions, mostly because he was the favored choice to succeed Richard, as long as the Lionheart remained childless.

Consider these examples:

· During his initial bid to take the crown, when his castles were on the verge of surrender, he was offered a generous truce.

· He lost his titles and lands when he fled to Paris in July 1193, but the Treaty of Mantes restored them to him.

· He ceded valuable strategic castles to Philip, and Richard would spend the remainder of his life fighting to recover them. John’s penalty was to lose his lands and titles for a time, but they were eventually returned to him.

This raises the question of whether John learned any lessons from his disastrous attempt to take the throne from Richard, and how that lack of meaningful consequences for his reckless and risky gambles might have impacted his reign, particularly when dealing with a cunning foe like King Philip and aggrieved barons looking for a measure of justice.

About the authors:

J. C. Plummer graduated Summa Cum Laude from Washburn University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Anthropology. She later earned a Master of Science degree in Computer Information Science from Dartmouth College.

As an author and historian, J.C.’s goal is to provide thoughtful and entertaining storytelling that honors the past, is mindful of the present, and is optimistic for the future.

She has joined with author Olivia Longueville to co-author The Robin Hood Trilogy.

About Olivia Longueville: Olivia has always loved literature and fiction, and she is passionate about historical research, genealogy, and the arts. She has several degrees in finance & general management from London Business School (LBS) and other universities. At present, she helps her father run the family business.

Olivia’s first book was Between Two Kings, a novel set in Tudor England, which will be re-published by Penmore Press later this year.

J.C.’s social media profiles:


Twitter: @JC_Plummer Facebook:

Olivia’s social media profiles:


Twitter: @O_Longueville


The Robin Hood Trilogy:

Set in late 12th century England, France, and Outremer, this re-imagining of the Robin Hood story closely follows history while incorporating popular aspects of the Robin Hood legends.

From the mists of an ancient woodland, to lavish royal courts teeming with intrigue, to the exotic shores of the Holy Land—Robin Hood leads the fight in a battle between good and evil, justice and tyranny, the future and the past.

Historical figures such as King Philip II of France, Richard the Lionheart, Prince John, and Eleanor of Aquitaine are featured in the trilogy.

Book 1: Robin Hood’s Dawn Amazon buy links.

Book 2: Robin Hood’s Widow NOW AVAILABLE! Amazon buy links.

Book 3: Robin Hood’s Return Coming soon!


My Books

Out Now!

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly, Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer

Guest Post: Luminous by Samantha Wilcoxson

It is a pleasure to welcome Samantha Wilcoxson to the blog as part of her Luminous Blog Tour.

Worker Exploitation at Radium Dial

By Samantha Wilcoxson

Radium Dial opened in Ottawa, Illinois in 1918 in response to the demand during World War I for luminous watches and instrument dials. The location was an old, brick school building with large rooms and big windows perfect for the fine painting required. The popularity of new glow-in-the-dark wristwatches kept the company in business after the war ended and provided many working class women with higher paying jobs than they could obtain elsewhere.

Catherine Donohue was one of the women who worked at Radium Dial, beginning in 1922. She and several of her coworkers suffered the effects of radium poisoning and fought for years to have their conditions recognized and covered by workers’ compensation legislation. Radium Dial continued operating and denying that they owed anything to the women they had slowly poisoned over their years of employment.

In 1936, Radium Dial closed their operations in the old high school and moved into a new building just a few blocks away. This new company was called Luminous Processes. It utilized much of Radium Dial’s assets and hired the same employees. The move had been a strategy to protect corporate assets from the lawsuits of former employees. When Catherine’s case was heard before the Illinois Industrial Commission, only $10,000 was available to be paid out to the several families suffering from radium poisoning.

Until 1978, Radium Dial continued operating under the name of Luminous Processes, their millions of dollars in profits protected from those employed before 1937, but that isn’t the worst of it. Radium Dial sold the old school to a meat packaging company, which experienced an exceptionally high rate of cancer in its employees and customers. When the building was demolished in 1968, the rubble was used as fill all around Ottawa, poisoning residents for decades.

At the new Luminous Processes building, employees continued to use radium without proper caution, also adding to the town’s high rates of cancer and other diseases. Sick workers were offered $100 each in severance pay to keep them from seeking legal action that they could ill-afford anyway. Luminous Processes wasn’t shut down until 1978. The company paid only $62,000 toward the millions of dollars of cleanup that is ongoing to this day by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Worker exploitation by Radium Dial is the subject of my newest novel, Luminous, which tells the story of Catherine Donohue, one of hundreds of young women who worked as dial painters in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Her struggle to have her illness recognized as radium poisoning and to have Radium Dial held responsible will stir up the emotions of any reader. The battle she fought helped to change workers’ compensation laws so that others would not suffer her fate. Although Catherine never dreamed of being a heroine, she changed the course of history.

About the Author:

Samantha Wilcoxson is a history enthusiast and avid traveler. Her published works include the Plantagenet Embers series with novels and novellas that explore the Wars of the Roses and early Tudor era. Luminous is her first foray into 20th century American history, but she suspects that it will not be her last. Samantha enjoys exploring the personal side of historic events and creating emotive, inspiring stories.

Important Links:

Universal Amazon Link for Luminous:

Samantha’s Blog:

Samantha on Social Media:





I would like ot say a huge ‘thank you’ to Samantha for a fabulous article, and wish her every success with Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl.


My Books

Out Now!

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.


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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Samantha Wilcoxson