Guest Post: Introducing Michael Saxon

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Kevin Heads to the blog, to introduce us to Michael Saxon, his new hero for children aged 10 and above.

Kevin Heads is a writer and poet who has a love of Historical Fiction. He classes himself more as a storyteller than a writer, and likes his stories to reflect that approach.

Born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1962, he grew up in Cramlington Northumberland, and after leaving school with no idea what he wanted to do, ended up as an apprentice box maker in a carton-manufacturing firm.

Kevin met his wife Sue at High School and after they married they had two children Sam and Stephanie. This is where Kevins’ love of storytelling began. Tired of reading the same books to his children, he started inventing characters and stories to entertain his children at bedtime. His children loved them and still remember them fondly. He never wrote these stories down as they were only for his children and he never took them seriously.

After moving around the country several times throughout his career Kevin ended up in Selby North Yorkshire. Surrounded by history he often spends time in Selby Abbey, York and walking the local battlefields, Towton being a particular favourite. However it was on a trip back from Devon that Kevin had the idea of a series of historical fiction books aimed at the younger generation.

Michael Saxon was born and by the time Kevin had driven home the first few chapters were already formulated in his mind.

Kevin is an avid reader and Bernard Cornwell is one of his favourite authors. He has read all the books apart from the Sharpe series citing Shaun Beans’ portrayal in the T.V adaptation as the reason. He loved the series and watched them all with his son and that is a memory he doesn’t want to change by reading the books.

It is Sharpe that made him decide that Waterloo would be the first setting for his Michael Saxon series specifically The Chateau d’Hougoumont.

Where it goes from there we will have to wait and see, although it is possible that a great naval battle may be next in line.

Kevin has also written an adult book set in Norway around 870AD and this is currently being edited. He plans to make Helga a series also.

He has several other ideas moving forward, he would like to visit 1066 and also has plans for a story based around the battle of Towton.

Although history plays a big part in these stories, it is the characters that Kevin wants people to engage with. Without them there is no story.

Michael Saxon Waterloo

After Michael’s grandfather goes missing presumed dead, his family moves from the city into the country home that was left to his mother in his grandfathers’ will. Michael struggles to fit in and hates the country life. He is failing at school and has no friends; spending most of his time playing video games in his bedroom. Then, after his Great Aunt visits from Whitby, things dramatically change.

She tells him of the library in the attic that is full of historical books, and gives him the key to look for himself. This is no ordinary attic and when Michael takes a book about Waterloo from the dust-covered shelves and attempts to leave, he is immediately transported through time and history to the Chateau d’Hougoumont.

Now dressed, as a soldier in the Coldstream Guards, Michael has to find a way to navigate the battlefield and find his way home. With no experience of real warfare he must depend on others to help him fight and survive in one of the biggest battles in British History.

This is the debut book by author Kevin Heads and the first in a series.

Aimed at 10 years plus it is a gentle introduction into the world of Historical fiction

It is available to purchase on Amazon now in both Paperback and Kindle format.

You can also find Kevin and his books on his website. http://www.kevinheads.co.uk, where he blogs about his stories and his poetry.

The characters, fact or fiction:

The best part of writing a book is learning new things, and intertwining the story around actual facts and characters.

In Michael Saxon there is a fair amount of creative invention, yet the facts surrounding the battle at Hougoumont remain accurate as far as I can ascertain from historical sources.

Most of the main characters are fictional as we enter the gates of the Chateau. Angus, Jimmy, Alec and Helena all created and liberties were taken with Helena as there is no evidence that Major Hunter, the surgeon in Hougoumont, actually had a daughter at all, and even if he did then she was definitely not at the battle.

Cartwright is my invention and was the most fun to write, a wicked man who was only interested in self-preservation. Although fictional I imagine there was a few like him in the army at that time.

Other characters were real.

Sergeant Graham for one was instrumental in the closing of the north gate during the battle.

Lt – Colonel Charles Dashwood was also a real person also and in charge of the third guards that defended the orchard.

Lieutenant Colonel James MacDonnell was in charge of the whole garrison, although his speech in this story is purely fictional.

Major Hunter also real and indeed a surgeon in Hougoumont.

Corporal Brewster was also a fact, although he may well have been a Private at the time. His intervention during the battle was said to have helped save the day and he was decorated for his actions and bravery.

The one that interests me the most was the French drummer boy that was rumoured to be the only survivor of the French troops that managed to get through the north gate before it was closed.

Although I could find no official proof that this actually happened, the fact it is rumoured was enough for me to include it in my book.

I named him Philip as the name transcends both the French and English language.

I hope this gives you some incite into the history and characters written about in my book and urges you to read more about the people and places from our historical past. History is such a great subject and our past should never be forgotten.

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My Books

Coming soon! 

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

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

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Peasants' Revolting Crimes by Terry Deary

By Lewis Connolly

Popular history writer Terry Deary takes us on a light-hearted and often humorous romp through the centuries with Mr & Mrs Peasant, recounting foul and dastardly deeds committed by the underclasses, as well as the punishments meted out by those on the right side’ of the law.

Discover tales of arsonists and axe-wielders, grave robbers and garroters, poisoners and prostitutes. Delve into the dark histories of beggars, swindlers, forgers, sheep rustlers and a whole host of other felons from the lower ranks of society who have veered off the straight and narrow. There are stories of highwaymen and hooligans, violent gangs, clashing clans and the witch trials that shocked a nation. Learn too about the impoverished workers who raised a riot opposing crippling taxes and draconian laws, as well as the strikers and machine-smashers who thumped out their grievances against new technologies that threatened their livelihoods.

Britain has never been short of those who have been prepared to flout the law of the land for the common good, or for their own despicable purposes. The upper classes have lorded and hoarded their wealth for centuries of British history, often to the disadvantage of the impoverished. Frustration in the face of this has resulted in revolt. Read all about it here!

This entertaining book is packed full of revolting acts and acts of revolt, revealing how ordinary folk – from nasty Normans to present-day lawbreakers – have left an extraordinary trail of criminality behind them. The often gruesome penalties exacted in retribution reveal a great deal about some of the most fascinating eras of British history.

It has been a strange week for us all, I’m sure. And on Tuesday evening we got a message from my son’s school saying it was closed until further notice, so Wednesday morning was my first day of home schooling. School have been amazing and set tons of work to keep the child occupied. However, on Wednesday, there was no English so I had to set some myself; which was basically for said child to write a review of Terry Deary’s The Peasants’ Revolting CRIMES. I received this book as a review copy from the publishers, Pen & Sword, but the child got to read it first, and loved it. He’s a die-hard fan of Horrible Histories, so this book was right up his street.

So, it’s over to Lewis:

I liked, no I LOVED Terry Deary’s The Peasants’ Revolting CRIMES. I would recommend it for people who are age 13+ (due to minor swearing content) and you will not need to know your history because this book educates you in the revolting and hard life of the peasant.

Opening with ‘Norman Nastiness’, the book gives you a vivid taste of peasant crimes right up until the ‘Georgian Jokers and Victorian Villains’ and beyond.

The last witch

After seeing a smiling ‘medium’ at a psychic fair, a friend of mine punched her. When I asked him why he would do such a thing, he replied, ‘My father always taught me to strike a happy medium’,

In 1944, Helen Duncan was a Scottish spiritual medium, working in Portsmouth. She began broadcasting information from the port’s gullible sailors wjhho came ot consult her. D-Day was approaching and she was a security risk. She had to be stopped.

Duncan was originally charged under the Vagrancy Act 1824, relating to fortune telling, astrology and spiritualism. Then there was a change of plan. The paranoid government’s legal experts sent her to be tried by jury at the Old Bailey for contravening section 4 of the Witchcraft Act 1735, which carried the heavier penalty of a prison sentence.

Winston Churchill even described the whole episode as ‘obsolete tomfoolery’ but Helen went to prison for nine months.

The 1753 Act was later repealed and replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951.

So, no more witch trials.

You could call it hex-it

In this book, you will explore various ages of history, from the Middle Ages to the Stuarts, to the vicious, unforgiving Victorian era and the modern era. You will hear various quotes from all sorts of people, from William Shakespeare, to Martin Luther King and many, many others as you explore the book.

I particularly like the funny jokes like “Bring a man a fire and he will be warm for a day. Give a man a fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life” and “Will Shakespeare. Great writer, dodgy historian”. There are various other jokes, which are scattered throughout the book.

There was nothing to dislike about this book, despite its gory and bloody moments. It will tickle your funny bone for hours on end, so much so you will never put it down!

In conclusion, this is a great book for children and adults alike. It is not only comedy but it also used 100% historically accurate. You should order it now. What are you waiting for?

Huge thanks to Lewis for a fabulous, entertaining review!

The Peasants’ Revolting CRIMES by Terry Deary is available from Pen & Sword and Amazon.

About the author:

Terry Deary is the esteemed author of the immensely popular Horrible Histories series. This is his first title for Pen and Sword Books, to be followed next year by The Peasants’ Revolting Lives.

My Books

Coming soon! 

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

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

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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.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

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

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

The First Lady and the Queen

Mary Lincoln in widow’s weeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First page of the letter from Queen Victoria to Mary Lincoln

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

                                                                                      Osborne.

                                                                                      April 29, 1865.

Dear Madam,

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

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

With the renewed expression of true sympathy,

I remain,

dear Madam,

Your sincere friend

Victoria

Mary responded with her own black-bordered letter:

Mary Lincoln’s letter to Queen Victoria

                                                                        Washington

                                                                        May 21st, 1865

Madam:

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

Mary Lincoln

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

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

CDV of Victoria in mourning

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

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

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

Mary Lincoln would have been quite pleased. 

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

About the Author:

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

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

A Union’s First Lady 

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

A Confederate Rebel’s Wife 

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

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

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | CHAPTERS | INDIEBOUND 

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Susan Higginbotham