Book Corner: Yorkshire: A Story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict

This is a story about Yorkshire and its people, from the earliest period up to recent times. Foremost it is a story about invasion. Archaeological finds have shown that Yorkshire was occupied at a time when early hunters from continental Europe were not supposed to have ventured so far north. Growing populations on the European mainland made Yorkshire s fertile land and receding woodland a prime landscape for these first European farmers, and over time they would be followed by waves of invaders intent on pillage and land grabbing. From the north and west came the Picts and the Scots, while the Romans, Angles and Vikings arrived via the River Humber. The Normans would be the last to invade and seek to dominate everything they saw. Each invasion would leave its stamp on Yorkshire s culture and life, while battles would later be fought on Yorkshire soil during both the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil Wars. More than just a romp through the ages, this book reveals the key places where battles were fought and Yorkshire history was made.

Yorkshire: A Story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict by Paul C. Levitt is a fabulous, fun and entertaining overview of the history of Yorkshire, from the earliest times to the 20th century. As a Yorkshire lass myself, it was a pleasure to sit back and soak up this history of this unique county. The author obviously enjoys his work, and writes about Yorkshire’s history with an enthusiasm that makes the book impossible to put down.

The beauty of Yorkshire: A Story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict is that it tells Yorkshire’s story within the context of England’s wider history. So we see the Norman invasion of 1066 through the very harsh and dramatic effects it had on Yorkshire, with the Harrying of the North. We also Yorkshire’s part in the Anarchy, the almost-20 year civil war between Stephen and Matilda, and in such events as the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War of the seventeenth century.

Paul C. Levitt also brings to the fore events particular to Yorkshire, such as the dreadful massacre of the Jews in York, while also explaining the wider context of anti-semitism in England and the time. The author manages to portray Yorkshire’s unique personality and place in history, both of the county and its people and the relationship of the county with the country as a whole.

Throughout the first millennium, the tribes of Europe were taking part in unprecedented levels of migration. The collapse of the Roman Empire released unbridled waves of Huns, Goths and Vandals who moved across Europe displacing native tribes. On the edge of this disturbance was Scandinavia, from where people would come to British shores from the late eighth century until AD 1100 looking for richer land and more space to live. The question arises, when exactly does a ‘migration’ become and invasion? The Vikings were thought to have left their homelands in Scandinavia initially due to overcrowding and declining resources, but later on their mass migration was equally due to a weakness they perceived in the English. Although they shared similarities and kinship with the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings viewed them as being weak and cowardly…

Yorkshire: A Story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict by Paul C. Levitt is a thoroughly enjoyable read that I’m definitely going to pass on to my dad – as a true Yorkshireman, he will love it! This book will be useful for anyone with an interest in Yorkshire and it history.

Fun and informative, it clearly demonstrates the reason we Yorkshire folk are said to have ‘grit’. I can highly recommend it!

To Buy the Book:

Yorkshire: A Story of Invasion, Uprising and Conflict by Paul C. Levitt is available from Pen & Sword and also from Amazon in the UK and US.

About the author:

Born into a military family in the historic market town of Beverley, East Yorkshire, Paul Levitt has always been intrigued by the past. He developed a keen awareness of Yorkshire’s rich heritage as a schoolboy and developed a particular interest in the medieval period. Yorkshire’s unique landscape and especially the North York Moors made a strong impression on him and to this day remains a magical place. He has written professionally on a wide range of subjects for the past 25 years.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Guest Post: Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part Two

Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire

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

So, without further ado. Here it is:

Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part Two

James Wright, Buildings Archaeologist, Triskele Heritage

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

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

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

  • Ship Timbers
Ship timbers, Tattershall

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

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

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

  • Arrow-sharpening Grooves
Arrow grooves, Lambley

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

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

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

  • Murder Holes
Murder holes, Berry Pomeroy, Devon

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

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

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

  • Templar Graffiti
Templar graffiti, Worksop

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

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

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

  • Devil’s Door
Devil’s door, Warkworth

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

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

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

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

All images courtesy of James Wright.

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

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and James Wright

Book Corner: Song of the Centurion by Steven A. McKay

Autumn, AD 430. After the Princess Catia’s disappearance, and Bellicus’s adventures trailing her Saxon abductors south to the fabled Hanging Stones, the giant warrior-druid is finally returning home. 

Battle-scarred, and mourning the loss of a loved one, Bellicus has learned from bitter experience that the gods rarely make things easy. Even if he can evade Horsa’s vengeful pursuit and get back to the North safely, his troubles may be far from over. In a land beset by the rivalries of petty warlords, Dun Breatann has stood solid and secure for untold generations. Trouble brews though as King Coroticus has cracked under the pressure of his daughter’s abduction. When the king’s rage finally boils over during a winter feast, Bellicus finds himself with two choices: accept exile, or complete another seemingly impossible undertaking. So much for the returning hero…

Accompanied by his massive war-dog, Cai, and the former centurion, Duro – who has his own painful issues to contend with – Bellicus must somehow survive a journey east into enemy-held lands. Folklore, superstition, the healing power of song, and even a wondrous white stag will all play a part in the companions’ continuing adventures, but armies are gathering and, when spring returns, the people of Dun Breatann will surely find themselves under siege once again. Will their legendary warrior-druid be there to help defend them this time, or will the new ways sweep away the old, once and for all? Find out in Song of the Centurion, the action-packed sequel to 2018’s The Druid!

Tracing the story of Bellicus’ mission to rescue the Princess Catia, The Druid was one of my Top 5 books of 2019 and so I have been eagerly awaiting the sequel with some trepidation; could author Steven A. McKay improve on this great story and the character who drives it?

But … Wow! What a book!

Song of the Centurion not only builds on the story started in The Druid, but takes it in a wholly unexpected direction. Sequels can often suffer by being ‘much of the same’. Not this time. Bellicus returns to his king as the hero rescuer of the princess, but comes home to petty jealousy and court intrigues which see the druid’s life take several unexpected turns.

Song of the Centurion works not only as a sequel, but as a standalone novel. Steven A. McKays’ skillful summary of the first book, interwoven into the story of Bellicus retracing his steps north with the rescued princess, serves to remind the reader of preceding events or act as a backstory if you haven’t read The Druid.

Set in a time of great turmoil in Britain, where the Romans have left and the Saxons are pushing further west and north, Bellicus’ ultimate task is to end the bitter infighting between the clans in Alt Clota and to unite them to fight against the Saxon invaders. Not an easy task.

“Duro isn’t to blame for what happened here today,” Bellicus said, voice low but powerful enough thanks to his years of specialist training that it penetrated even the grief-ravaged minds of the angry townsmen. “We all are.”

“What does that mean?” the blacksmith demanded, eyes fixed on the sobbing man in the centurion uniform. “It’s not my fault the Saxons came here looking for revenge.”

“Aye,” one of his companions agreed. “We just wanted to be left alone.”

“And that’s the problem,” the druid nodded, looking down at the ground sadly. “We all just want to be left alone.” He waited until there were murmurs of surprise agreement from the angry blacksmith and his friends then his head came up and his eyes blazed. “Left alone? That is why your town was targeted by the sea-wolves. They knew you people were an easy target after their last visit here, when only your fat baker was willing to stand against them.”

“Why would we stop them?” the blacksmith demanded. “That lass was nothing to us -“

“That lass was a Briton, and you knew that!” Bellicus roared, the rage in his voice making more than one of the men facing him step back warily as a crowd of soot-blackened locals began to form around them.” “If more of you were as brave as Duro there, the Saxons might have been cut down like the animals they have shown themselves to be here today. If you -” he pointed directly at the blacksmith whose eyes narrowed “- had used that hammer to help a little girl, well …” He trailed off shaking his head, looking around at the scattered bodies sorrowfully. “None of this would have happened.”

The men were either mollified by the druid’s words, or perhaps embarrassed. Shamed by his accusations maybe. Whatever it was, most of them just stood there, looking dumbly at the druid. One stepped forward threateningly, clealy hoping his companions would follow his lead, but none did and, when Cai bared his teeth and barked at him, he stopped instantly in his tracks.

As has come to be expected with books written by Steven A. McKay, from the earliest novels in his Forest Lord series, the story is fast-paced and energetic, leaving the reader little time to stop for breath. The frantic battle scenes contrast remarkably well with the political and personal actions of the characters, recreating the life-or-death existence of Britons in the post-Roman era.

The author has a knack of drawing the reader in, so that they are totally invested in Bellicus’s story and desperate for the druid to succeed. As Bellicus inspires loyalty in Song of the Centurion, so too does he inspire it in his readers! He is a wonderful, noble character, made wise for his years by his druidic training. That his training extended to the martial arts – his proficiency with both sword and staff a testament to this – make for a story that melds both war and diplomacy into the character of the hero.

Song of the Centurion is a unique story, melding the mystical world of the druids with the legends and history of post-Roman Britain. The story drives the hero, the book and the reader to a riveting climax. And the promise of more to come…

Song of the Centurion is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon UK.

About the author:

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

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

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

All images are courtesy of Steven A. McKay.

My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part One

Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire

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

Busting Mediaeval Building Myths: Part One

James Wright, Buildings Archaeologist, Triskele Heritage

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

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

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

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

  • Secret Passages
Secret Passages, Ashby

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

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

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

  • Spiral Staircases
Spiral Stair, Newark

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

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

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

  • Burn Marks
Burn marks, Gainsborough Old Hall

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

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

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

  • Leper Squints
Leper squints, Lewes

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

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

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

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

  • Mason’s Marks
Masons marks, Warkworth Castle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Song of the Centurion by Steven A. McKay

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

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Northern Britain, Autumn, AD 430

“Get down! Their slingers are attacking!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was her beautiful, sweet daughter?

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

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

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

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

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

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About the author:

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

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

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

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Steven A. McKay

Book Corner: The Last of the Romans by Derek Birks

Northern Italy.

Dux Ambrosius Aurelianus has served the Roman Empire with distinction.

His bucellarii, a small band of irregular soldiers, have helped to bring a fragile peace to the beleaguered empire in the west. But, with the empire now at peace, his master, Flavius Aetius, decides to chain up his dogs of war.

Ambrosius and his men are left to idle away their days in a rural backwater, but Ambrosius’ boredom is brutally swept aside when old rivals seize the opportunity to destroy him.

Pursued as a traitor by the imperial guard, Ambrosius takes his loyal band, along with other dissident soldiers and a Saxon girl, Inga, into the mountains.

Since nowhere is safe, Ambrosius travels north, across the crumbling ruins of the empire, to his estranged family in Gaul. But there too, he finds nothing but conflict, for his home town is now besieged by a small army of rebellious Franks.

Freedom and peace seem a world away. 

Whatever course the soldier takes, Ambrosius and his bucellarii will need to muster all their strength and skill to survive.

At the twilight of the empire, they may be the Last of the Romans…

I have to admit that I loved Derek Birks‘ books on the Wars of the Roses, but was a little dubious about this excursion into the late Roman era. I enjoy reading some Roman novelists, such as SJA Turney and Gordon Doherty, but I do prefer the medieval and I was concerned that I might not enjoy The Last of the Romans as much as other Roman stories or, indeed, Derek’s Wars of the Roses series. I needn’t have worried.

The Last of the Romans opens as the Roman Empire is falling apart and follows one man, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and his small band of soldiers as they try to escape the clutches of vengeful assassins. We follow the small cohort of soldiers as the escape northern Italy across France, with the constant threat of attack nagging their every step. The reader is drawn into their desperate fight to survive and escape, the bucellarii’s loyalty to their dux tested to the limit.

Ambrosius Aurelianus has always been a personal favourite of mine – he has links to my ‘local’ – Conisbrough Castle – and is a contender for the legendary King Arthur. The Last of the Romans tells the story of Ambrosius’ career in the Roman army, before his arrival in Britain. The book draws a portrait of the man as a great warrior and leader, driven by a need to survive and protect those who follow him and trust him.

For the past three years Rome’s supreme military commander, the Magister Utriusque Militiae, Flavius Aetius, had sent Ambrosius wherever trouble erupted across the failing empire. Wherever an army was too many, or an assassin too few, he and his band of disparate bucellarii were despatched – and death went along for the ride. They slew every zealot, every ambitious politician, every fool and murderer, across the empire from the west coast of Galicia to eastern Thrace. In truth, Ambrosius and his comrades did little else but send men to an early grave.

Since he was recruited in Gallia, he reflected that his own fortunes had become inextricably harnessed to those of Magister Aetius. He could not resist a grim smile of admiration for the man who, against all the odds, still held the fate of the western empire in his firm grip. Without him, Ambrosius would still be a renegade bandit living among the Franks in north-western Gallia. Instead he was the commander of an elite band of mounted warmongers and carried the rank of dux. He was both feared and despised by his enemies – and very likely by some of the imperial guard as well.

Thus, Ambrosius slept alone; yet, there she lay… half-covered by the coarse blanket. So, yes, he was getting soft. But then, after the sudden demise of the Hun king, Attila, everything had changed. Peace had come to Rome – albeit a fragile peace brokered by exhausted combatants, but a peace all the same. And, in the wake of peace, it seemed that the wolf must remain caged. So, Ambrosius found himself marooned in this shabby caupona on the shores of a lake far from the imperial court. While he preferred to remain at the inn, most of his bucellarii made frequent visits to nearby Verona where they were no doubt even now exhausting whatever coin they had left.

“Even you need to stop killing eventually,” Aetius had told him. “Believe me, you need a rest from it; I know that better than anyone: killing eats into your soul…”

The Last of the Romans is a departure from Derek Birks’ usual era, the Wars of the Roses. And as a consequence, he has moved away from a period of history that is constantly discussed and analysed, to one where the sources are few and far between. He has had to reconstruct a world that has not existed for 1,500 years. the landscape and architecture of late-Roman era France is described in fabulous detail, transporting the reader to the time and place where Roman law was breaking down, and native leaders were battling – against each other and the Roman regional commanders – to fill the void.

As you would expect from Derek Birks, the action is never-ending. The story moves at a fantastic pace, leaving the reader little time to catch their breath. The battles are meticulously choreographed, while appearing totally chaotic; the battle to survive only rivaled by the relentless pursuit of their enemies. The Last of the Romans brings the fall of the Roman Empire into vivid, colourful perspective.

What makes this book impossible to put down are the characters, the heroic Aurelius Ambrosius, loyal Marcellus and Inga, the freed slave whose bravery earns her a special place in the heart of the bucellarii. There is love, loss, confusion, courage and hatred. Through Ambrosius Aurelianus and his small band of men, we see the individual struggle to survive amidst the greater catastrophe and upheaval that always accompanies the end of a civilisation.

The Last of the Romans is a gripping adventure. Exciting, enthralling and fast-paced it is an amazing novel for the author’s first excursion into the era. It works perfectly as a standalone novel, but I truly hope Derek Birks decides to continue the story – I am desperate to know where Ambrosius and his bucellarii go next!

The Last of the Romans is now available on Kindle from Amazon and will be released in paperback shortly.

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About the author:

Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. 

On his return to England, he read history at Reading University and for many years he taught history in a secondary school. Whilst he enjoyed his teaching career and it paid the bills, he found a creative outlet in theatrical activities, stage-managing many plays and outdoor Shakespeare performances.
Derek always wanted to write and began, aged 17, writing stories, songs and poetry – in fact virtually anything. Inevitably, work and family life took precedence for a long period of time but in 2010 Derek took early retirement to indulge his passion for history and concentrate on his writing. He is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. 

Derek writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. He also produces podcasts on the Wars of the Roses for those interested in the real historical background to his books. Check them out on his website at: https://www.derekbirks.com/history-podcasts/

His historical fiction works include: 
Rebels & Brothers – a 4-book series set during the fifteenth century, which follows a fictional family, the Elders, through their struggle to survive the Wars of the Roses up to 1471.  The Craft of Kings – a sequel series which finds the Elder family ten years later in 1481. The latest book in this series is book 3, Echoes of Treason, which is set during the short and turbulent reign of Richard III.

He has recently embarked upon a new Post-Roman series and the first book is out now: The Last of the Romans

Apart from his writing, he enjoys travelling – sometimes, but not always, to carry out research for his books. He also spends his time walking, swimming and taking part in archaeological digs.

He was a regular presence at the Harrogate History Festival, is an active member of the Historical Novel Society and you will also find him each summer signing books – and selling them – at the Chalke Valley History Festival outside Salisbury in Wiltshire.

His books are available on Amazon in the UK and US.
You can find Derek at;
Amazon
Blog
Facebook
Twitter 

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Book Corner: The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill

Not all enemies are visible.

Sometimes the most defiant ones exist only in the heart and mind.

The Defiler of Prilleand his hound are dead. With my marriage to the daughter of Bedic Sajen, our houses are united. After the birth of our daughter and heir to the throne, peace settles over Agrius once more.

But it’s a fragile peace.

As I work to restore the former glory of my inheritance, rumors of betrayal and treachery reach the throne, threatening to shatter everything I have worked hard to achieve.

When old enemies surface, the rumors become real. Disaster strikes, plunging me into a darkness I fear I cannot escape.

Many advisors step forward to help, but it’s never easy to determine friend from foe when it comes to the powers swirling around the throne.

Faced with the decision to stay true to my honor or to become like my father, a man I despised, the bonds of unity with forged with family and friends are tested. 

To the point of breaking.

What compromises will I make to secure the future of my family and my kingdom?

Will I lose both myself and the ones I love in the process?

Follow my journey into darkness.

The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill is the third book in her wonderful historical fantasy series, Crowns of Destiny. Stephanie Churchill weaves a wonderful fantasy tale in an atmospheric, historic setting that beautifully draws the two genres together. The first two books in the series, The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter told the stories of Kassia and Irisa. The Scribe’s Daughter, the first book in the series, was one of my Top Ten novels of 2017.

The premise of the whole series, as a historical fantasy, is innovative, to say the least. It draws on the greatest stories in medieval history to build a world and a storyline that is refreshingly new and gripping from the very first word to the very last. The characters are wonderfully vivid, brought to life by an author who has an obvious knack for drawing on the deepest emotions to recreate unique and fascinating characters.

I tightened my hold on his tunic and twisted. His eyes widened in fear, his youth showing in the whites of them.

“Was it your job to get me away from the palace so I would not be here to protect her?” I felt a fleck of spittle land on my chin. Wimarc swallowed, shook his head then opened his mouth as if to speak, but I shouted, “Don’t even think about lying to me!”

“No! I knew nothing of what happened, I swear to you on my inheritance, may it rot in my father’s coffers if I do not tell the truth!”

I was about to respond when a shadow fell over us, and a hand pressed my shoulder. I gave a violent shrug, swinging around on the newcomer who jumped back, holding up his hands.

“Whoa! stay your hand! Casimir, it’s me, Wolf.”

A dim light of clarity broke through the mist of fury fogging my vision, and I hissed a breath between my teeth before bringing up a hand to rub my eyes. I kept my other hand twisted in Wimarc’s tunic.

“Just now, yes. And none too soon, it seems.” Wolf eyed Wimarc briefly before returning his attention to me. “How has this man displeased his king so that it requires summary judgement and execution?”

Wolf offered a mischievous smile, and I could not help but return my own, even if it lacked force.

Wimarc sensed the shift in the mood and jumped in. “Your Grace, I swear again that I knew nothing of the plan to take your daughter. I only wanted you to meet Jachamin. There was nothing sinister in my mind.”

….

With The King’s Furies Stephanie Churchill has brought the story in a full circle; while the first book concentrated on Kassia’s story and the second on Irisia’s, this book draws the two sisters back together to continue the story. This is an unparalleled adventure! The two sisters and their families have to face treachery and intrigue in order to find Irisa and Casimir’s missing daughter.

Stephanie Churchill masterfully recreates a medieval world in which kings and lords rule lands and their people. Betrayal is always just round the corner; as is death and destruction if the heroes fail. The lands recreated are described in vivid detail, from the landscapes to the people who occupy them, with their own peculiarities. The sights, sounds and smells draw the reader into the story as much as the characters and the plot lines.

The suspense is palpable as the lead protagonists come up with challenges few could overcome. The tension keeps the reader intrigued to the very end. The King’s Furies has all the elements of a gripping story; a great plot, sympathetic heroes and dastardly bad guys. And it is all beautifully executed to bring you a novel which is truly a pleasure to read.

And impossible to put down!

The King’s Furies is available on Amazon in the UK and the US from today.

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From the author:

I grew up in the American Midwest, and after attending college in Iowa, moved to Washington, D.C. to work as an antitrust paralegal. When my husband and I got married, I moved to the Minneapolis metro area and found work as a corporate paralegal. While I enjoyed reading, writing was never anything that even crossed my mind. I enjoyed reading, but writing? That’s what authors did, and I wasn’t an author.

One day while on my lunch break, I visited the neighboring Barnes & Noble and happened upon a book by author Sharon Kay Penman. I’d never heard of her before, but it looked interested, and I bought the book. Immediately I become a rabid fan of her work.

In 2007, when Facebook was very quickly becoming “a thing”, I discovered that Ms. Penman had fan club and that she happened to interact there frequently. As a result of a casual comment she made about how writers generally don’t get detailed feedback from readers, I wrote her an embarrassingly long review of her latest book, Lionheart. As a result of that review, she asked me what would become the most life-changing question: “Have you ever thought about writing?” And The Scribe’s Daughter was born.

When I’m not writing or taxiing my two children to school or other activities, I’m likely walking Cozmo, our dog, or reading. The rest of my time is spent trying to survive the murderous intentions of Minnesota’s weather.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post – Tales of Freya by Sarah Dahl

When Viking research turns personal

Dress

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

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

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

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

The magic of Viking Hedeby/Haithabu

axe

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

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

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

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

Becoming what you write

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s so much stronger than my words.

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“Tales of Freya – Sensual Short Stories”

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

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

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

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

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

Buy links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

About the author:

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

Author homepage

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Twitter: @sarahdahl13

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Out Now!

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

 

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Sarah Dahl

Book Corner: The Last Emir by SJA Turney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I’m sorry.’

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

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

‘What now?’ gasped Arnau.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for Book 3 is already proving a challenge…

 

About the Author:

Sja

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

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

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

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

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Out Now!

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

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Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Is he…? Did he…?’

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

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

‘How did I get here?’ I ask.

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

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

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

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

‘You’re welcome, O Prince of Ithaca.’

‘You know who I am?’

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

‘If you say so.’

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

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

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

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

 

 

To Buy the Book:

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

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About the authors:

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

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

 

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Coming November 2018

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

 

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly