Book Corner: Fugitive by Paul Fraser Collard

Roguish hero Jack Lark – soldier, leader, imposter – crosses borders once more as he pursues a brand-new adventure in Africa.

London, 1868. Jack has traded the battlefield for business, running a thriving club in the backstreets of Whitechapel. But this underworld has rules and when Jack refuses to comply, he finds himself up against the East End’s most formidable criminal – with devastating consequences.

A wanted man, Jack turns to his friend Macgregor, an ex-officer, treasure hunter and his ticket out of England. Together they join the British army on campaign across the tablelands of Abyssinia to the fortress of Magdala, a high-stakes mission to free British prisoners captured by the notorious Emperor Tewodros.

But life on the run can turn dangerous, especially in a land ravaged by war . . .

Stupendous!

That is the first word that came to my mind when I was asked what I thought of Fugitive by Paul Fraser Collard. Fugitive is book no. 9 in the adventures of Victorian rogue, Jack Lark. Over the last few years, the release of the latest of Jack Lark’s adventures has become one of the highlights of my summer. Last year’s holiday reading was The Lost Outlaw, and the year before that it was The Rebel Killer. And after such amazing books in recent years, Fugitive had a lot to live up to.

In many of the previous books, Jack has taken on the persona of others, officers and soldiers all. He has travelled the globe, fighting in hotspots from the Crimea to America, more often than not concealing his own identity. In Fugitive, Jack Lark is finally himself, though whether that it a good thing or not is open to discussion.

Jack Lark is a bit of a rascal, taking opportunities where he finds them and running with it. He has fought on both sides of the American Civil War, had a stint in the French Foreign Legion and is now going in search of a fortune – and adventure – in Africa as the British Empire’s inexorable expansion opens more opportunities for those willing to take the risk. And, of course, as with any Jack Lark adventure, things get complicated and he is followed by the trouble he hoped to leave behind in London…

‘Do you think -‘ Bertie started.

‘Hush now.’ Cooper was quick to interrupt. ‘He’s coming.’

The three men looked down the alley as one. Sure enough, a figure was approaching. The fog wrapped around him like a ghostly shawl, so that he was little more than an apparition, a dark shadow shrouded in mist.

‘Is that him?’ Bertie whispered.

‘That’s the captain all right,’ Cooper answered softly, the words barely audible.

The figure came closer. It did not hurry. It did not swagger or strut. It simply moved with purpose.

‘Have you got the rhino?’ There was no greeting. Just five short words, delivered staccato. Little could be seen of the captain’s face beneath a dark-coloured pork pie hat pulled down low. He was tall, just a shade under six foot, and was wearing a tightly buttoned overcoat.

‘Are you truly the captain?’ Oddly, it was Bertie who spoke for the three. He stared at the man, his eyes as wide as those of a child seeing a bear for the first time.

‘I’m the captain.’ The words were spoken softly, but every man heard them. ‘Now have you got the rhino?’

He lifted his chin as he repeated the question. For the first time, the three gentlemen got a good glimpse of his face. A scar ran down the left-hand side, the lower half disappearing into a heavy beard. But it was not that that drew their attention; it was the hard grey eyes that stared back at them as if the captain could see right down to their very souls.

The confirmation of identity was enough. Charles fished into his overcoat and pulled out a thick wedge of banknotes, which he held out in front of him.

The captain took the bundle swiftly. He did not check it. Instead, he carefully unbuttoned his coat and tucked the notes deep into an inside pocket. It was artfully done, every gesture sharp and controlled, the coat pulled open just long enough to give the three men a glimpse of the stout oak cudgel hooked into the captain’s belt.

‘Follow me.’ The captain turned on his heel and walked back down the alley, setting a rapid pace. He did not bother to see if they followed.

Just as his character is an expert at impersonation, Paul Fraser Collard has become a master at drawing out the drama and raising the tension to the very last pages of the book. His writing draws the reader in from the very first page and forces you to stay up late and get up early, just to get one more chapter in before work!

The research is, as always, impeccable, and the author takes the reader from the seedier areas of nighttime London to the fortress of Magdala, in the heart of Abyssinia, on a journey across seas, through the stifling heat of the desert and into the fortress itself, with danger and action following every step of the way. From fights in the backstreets of London to the pitched battles of the Victorian Imperial army against the poorly armed Abyssinian massed army, the reader is drawn into a world full of excitement, danger … and possibilities.

I love that Jack Lark is not a man who goes looking for trouble – he tends to fall into it. However, once trouble finds him, he doesn’t shirk from the challenge and faces whatever is set before him. The character development of Jack Lark himself, throughout all 9 books, is fascinating, and probably the best I’ve ever read. He grows and learns from each adventure and is more self-aware in Fugitive of his own abilities – and his failings. He finds out exactly who he is, discovering himself just as the reader does; accepting his flaws.

As the books are set half a century after the Peninsular War, Jack Lark’s adventure are often compare to those of Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe; with the comparison extending to the two authors. I am not sure Lark and Sharpe are too much alike, beyond the fact they each have a scar on their faces and are ferocious fighters. Sharpe fights within the British army system, whereas Lark is very much an outsider. However, they bot come from similar backgrounds and I can’t help but think that, had they met, they would have got on like a house on fire – or killed each other.

With that in mind, any fan of Bernard Cornwell would not be disappointed if they picked up a Jack Lark book to try. The wonderfully vivid and lively characters Paul Fraser Collard has created – and the very unlikely hero – are a treat for any lover of action and adventure in their historical fiction

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About the author:

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

To buy the book: Amazon UKAmazon US.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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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

Book Corner: Interview with Paul Fraser Collard

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

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

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

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

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

2. Who are your writing influences?

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

3. What do you love about writing?

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

4. What do you hate about writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. How do you decide where Jack goes next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author:

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

To buy the book: Amazon UK; Amazon US.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: 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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