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

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

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Northern Britain, Autumn, AD 430

“Get down! Their slingers are attacking!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was her beautiful, sweet daughter?

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

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

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

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

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

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About the author:

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

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

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

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Steven A. McKay

Guest Post: The Battle of Tippermuir by Mark Turnbull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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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 Mark Turnbull

Guest Post: Katharina by Margaret Skea

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katharina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lutherhaus portal commissioned by Luther as a gift for Katharina

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

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

Here is the opening section as a wee taster:

Chapter One

Wittenberg June 1525.

Martin Luther

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

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

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

‘She succeeded admirably then.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lutherhaus

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

About the author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Margaret Skea

Mother’s Day Giveaway

Competition Closed: And the winner is Heather Jackson

Sunday 31st March 2019 is Mother’s Day in the UK this year and what beet way to celebrate the release of the paperback of Heroines of the Medieval World, than a giveaway for everyone’s favourite Heroine – MUM?!?!

“As Connolly ably demonstrates, knowing about these fascinating women is essential to filly understanding medieval Europe.” (Publishers Weekly)

About Heroines of the Medieval World

Heroines come in many different forms, and it is no less true for medieval heroines. They can be found in all areas of medieval life; from the dutiful wife and daughter to religious devotees, warriors and rulers. What makes them different compared to those of today are the limitations placed on them by those who directed their lives – their fathers, husbands, priests and kings. Women have always been an integral part of history, although when reading through the chronicles of the medieval world, you would be forgiven if you did not know it. We find that the vast majority of written references are focussed on men. The chronicles were written by men and, more often than not, written for men. It was men who ruled countries, fought wars, made laws and treaties, dominated religion and guaranteed – or tried to guarantee – the continued survival of their world. It was usually the men, but not all of them, who could read, who were trained to rule and who were expected to fight, to defend their people and their country…

 

And don’t worry, the offer is open worldwide – even if it isn’t Mother’s Day for you just yet.

If you would like to win a signed copy of Heroines of the Medieval World to give to your mum on Mother’s Day, or someone else’s mum – or even as a gift to yourself, simply leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.

The draw will be made on Wednesday 27th March, so you should get the book in time for the big day.

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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, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Margaret of Wessex, Scotland’s Sainted Queen

St Margaret, Queen of Scotland

Margaret of Wessex is a remarkable character to study. Her piety and devotion to the church saw her canonised as St Margaret just 150 years after her death; and named as Patroness of Scotland in the seventeenth century. Margaret had an impeccable Saxon pedigree – she was the daughter of Edward the Exile and his wife, Agatha. Edward was the son of Edmund II, usually known as Ironside, King of England in 1016; Edward’s grandfather was, therefore, Æthelred II (the Unready) and his uncle was Edward the Confessor, England’s king from 1042 until 1066. Such valuable royal blood meant she would never be allowed to pursue a life of seclusion in a convent.

When his father, Edmund II, was murdered in 1016, Edward and his younger brother Edmund were sent into exile on the Continent by England’s new king, Cnut. It is thought that Cnut intended that they would be killed once they had left English soil, but the boys were protected by Olof, King of Sweden, and sent on to safety in Kiev, where his daughter Ingegerd was wife of the ruling prince, Jaroslav the Wise. Edmund died sometime between 1046 and 1054, having married the unnamed daughter of a Hungarian king. Edward was also married, in c.1043, to Agatha, whose origins are uncertain: she may have been a daughter of Jaroslav; however, it is possible she was the daughter of Luidolf, Margrave of West Friesland and therefore a relative of Emperor Heinrich III.

Margaret, the eldest of three children, was born in either 1045 or 1046; her sister, Christina, was born around 1050 and her brother Edgar, the Ætheling, was born sometime between 1052 and 1056. The family might have spent their whole lives in European exile, were it not for Edward the Confessor lacking an heir to the English throne; although Edward was married to Edith Godwinson, the couple remained childless. Sometime in 1054 King Edward sent an embassy to Edward the Exile, to bring him back to England as ætheling, the heir to the throne. The family did not travel immediately, possibly because Agatha was pregnant with Edgar, and it was not until 1057 that they finally arrived in England, having journeyed in a ship  provided by Emperor Heinrich III.

Edmund II Ironside and his descendants

Just days after their return, Edward the Exile was dead, whether by nefarious means or a simple twist of fate is uncertain. The suspicion has been raised that Edward’s rival for the throne, Harold Godwinson – the future King Harold II – may have taken the opportunity to remove his rival; although it was Harold who accompanied Edward back to England, so surely, had he intended murder, he would have done it sooner? Whatever the circumstances, the death of Edward the Exile was a blow for Edward the Confessor’s dynastic hopes. Edward’s little son Edgar, now the ætheling, was much too young to assume a political role. He and his sisters, with their mother, were now under the protection of King Edward. Edgar was given into the custody of Edward’s queen, Edith of Wessex, while the girls were sent to the royal convent at Wilton, to continue their education.

The family continued to live at court and by 5 January 1066, when Edward the Confessor died, Margaret was approaching her twentieth birthday. However, Edgar could have been as young as ten and was probably no older than fourteen; and due to his tender years, the young ætheling was passed over as candidate for the throne in preference for the older and more experienced (both politically and militarily) Harold Godwinson, who was crowned as King Harold II.

Following Harold’s death at the Battle of Hastings in October 1066, Edgar was proclaimed king in London, by some of his supporters, but was incapable of mounting any real challenge to William the Conqueror and his army of Normans; he had no option but to come to terms with the duke. However, Edgar was unsettled under Norman rule and by 1068  he had become involved in the opposition to the new regime, which had been festering in northern England. William’s ruthless response – the Harrying of the North – saw Edgar fleeing for his life; he made his way to Scotland, taking his mother and sisters with him.

Malcolm II Canmore

The family was warmly received at Dunfermline by Scotland’s king, Malcolm III Canmore. In 1057, King Malcolm had defeated King Macbeth in battle, at Lumphanan, to take the throne. By 1069 he was well established as king and married to Ingebiorg; the couple had at least two sons, Duncan and Donald. Ingebiorg seems to have disappeared from the scene before the Saxon royal family’s arrival in Scotland. Whether she died or was put aside seems uncertain, although her death seems most likely, leaving Malcolm free to find another wife. In 1069 Malcolm asked Edgar and his mother for Margaret’s hand in marriage. Margaret was reluctant to agree to the marriage as she was more inclined to a religious life and had hoped to become a nun. Nonetheless, with pressure from Malcolm, her brother and, possibly, her own sense of obligation to the king who was sheltering her family, she eventually accepted his proposal. They were married at Dunfermline sometime in 1069 or 1070 and, by all accounts, it seems to have been a happy and successful marriage and partnership. Margaret’s life as Queen of Scotland did not prevent her pursuing an active religious life; indeed, her position gave her a unique opportunity to influence the practice of Christianity in Scotland.

Margaret strove to bring the Church of Scotland into conformity with the practices of Western Catholicism, and away from the tenets of the Celtic Church, which had a great deal of influence in the country. She encouraged the Scottish clergy, and its people, to receive communion more than once a year at Easter, to refrain from working on a Sunday and to observe the Lenten fast from Ash Wednesday, rather than the following Monday. Queen Margaret also urged the clergy to celebrate Mass with a common ritual and sought to forbid marriage between a man and his stepmother or sister-in-law.

The queen was supported in all her reforms by her husband; indeed, if Malcolm III had not given his support it is doubtful that Margaret’s influence would have achieved much, if anything at all. The king’s role in her attempts at religious reform is vague, although Malcolm did arrange a conference for the clergy to introduce a number of reforms. Margaret was present, and embarrassed some of the clerics by knowing more about the proper procedures of the Church than they did. She even had the papal manuals to quote from.

Dunfermline Abbey

The queen founded a monastic community at Dunfermline, building the first major stone church in Scotland; and arranged with Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, to send monks from the cathedral monastery at Canterbury to become its first community. Although it started as a priory, it was elevated to an independent abbey in 1128, at the instigation of Margaret’s son, David I.

Margaret was a strong figure; she was pious but also worldly-wise. Having grown up on the Continent, she was familiar with many of the courts of Europe and had met some of its leading churchmen. A modernising queen, Margaret brought luxury to the Scottish court and into the lives of the nobles of her new country. A Life of St Margaret was commissioned by her daughter, Matilda, when she became Queen of England. It was written sometime between 1100 and 1107 by Turgot, Margaret’s former chaplain and the prior of Durham.

The biography emphasises the queen’s compassion for children and the poor and stresses her piety, pointing to the severity of her self-denial and her frequent fasting. However, it also tells us that she had a love of etiquette and formality, and had a fondness for fine clothes and jewellery.¹ Margaret enjoyed a high reputation in the Anglo-Norman world, even in her own lifetime; Orderic Vitalis described her as ‘eminent from her high birth, but even more renowned for her virtue and holy life’.²

Malcolm III and St Margaret

Margaret and Malcolm would have a large family, with six sons and two daughters growing to adulthood. Margaret took great care in educating them, ensuring they were given the essentials for their future royal careers. Her second son, Edmund, became king in November 1094, ruling jointly with his uncle – Malcolm’s brother  – Donald III, following the death of his half-brother, Duncan II. Edmund ruled south of the Forth/Clyde boundary, while Donald ruled the north, although there is no indication that he was ever crowned. In 1097, the co-kings were deposed in favour of Edmund’s younger brother, Edgar; Edmund became a monk at Montacute Abbey, Somerset, and died there, having never married. Edgar himself died on 8 January 1107. Unmarried and childless, he was succeeded by his brother, Alexander I, who died in April 1124. David I succeeded Alexander; he reigned until 1153 and was succeeded, in turn, by his grandson, Malcolm IV the Maiden. Another son, Æthelred, styled Earl of Fife, became Lay Abbot at Dunkeld and died around 1097. Malcolm and Margaret also had two daughters: Edith, who changed her name to Matilda on marrying King Henry I of England; and Mary, who married Eustace III, Count of Boulogne, and was the mother of Matilda of Boulogne, wife of Stephen, King of England. Edith (Matilda) and Mary were educated at Romsey Abbey, where Margaret’s sister, Christina was abbess.

As King of Scots, Malcolm also had claims to Cumbria and Northumbria and in 1069/70, he made raids into Northumberland. William I responded by sending an army north and the eventual peace treaty saw Malcolm’s oldest son by Ingebiorg, Duncan, being sent south as a hostage and guarantee of his good faith. Duncan would eventually reign, briefly, as Duncan II but was killed at the Battle of Monthechin in 1094. Malcolm made frequent raids into Northumberland, notably in 1079 and 1091, in attempts to gain control over the county.

When a diplomatic mission in 1092 failed, he attacked again in 1093, taking his eldest son by Margaret, Edward, with him. Malcolm was killed at the Siege of Alnwick, on 13 November 1093; Edward died shortly after, near Jedburgh, from wounds received at the Siege. Margaret died on 16 November 1093, just days after the battle, possibly on receiving the news, brought by her son Edgar, of the deaths of her husband and eldest son. Although the fact her body was weakened by her frequent fasting may have hastened her death. She was buried in the abbey she had founded at Dunfermline. Malcolm was initially buried at Tynemouth, but his remains were later moved to join his wife at Dunfermline.

Margaret’s sons honoured their mother’s memory, encouraging the popular cult of St  Margaret that developed soon after the queen’s death, to foster the idea that she should be made a saint; such an honour would serve to enhance the political and religious status of their family. One of the miracles attributed to her was that in 1199 Scotland’s king, William the Lion, was persuaded against launching an invasion of England after experiencing a vision while holding a vigil at Margaret’s tomb at Dunfermline. Her canonisation came in 1250, and in 1673 Pope Clement X named her Patroness of Scotland. Following the Reformation, the remains of both Margaret and Malcolm were removed to Spain by Philip II and reinterred in a chapel at the Escorial in Madrid.

St Margaret, Queen of Scotland

Margaret was a direct descendant of King Alfred the Great of Wessex. Her Saxon royal blood guaranteed she would not be allowed to enter a convent, she was too valuable on the marriage market. However, through her efforts to reform the Scottish Church, it could be said that she found a better way to worship God. Her legacy was cemented through the work of her son, David I, who continued in her policy of Church reform; while her Saxon blood found its way back into the English royal family through her daughter, Matilda, and her marriage to Henry I. Saint Margaret’s royal lineage ensured that she would not be allowed to devote her entire life to God, but her position as Queen of Scotland gave her the opportunity to direct her devotional tendencies into Church reform, making her a heroine to generations of Scots.

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Footnotes:

¹ Vita B Simonis, col. 1219, quoted by Elizabeth van Houts in oxforddnb.com, May 2008; ² Quoted by epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu.

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Pictures

All pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, except: Dunfermline Abbey courtesy of Angela Bennett; Edmund II Ironside and his descendants courtesy of British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

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Sources:

epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir;The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by JP Kenyon; The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall; Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards by David Hilliam; Heroines of the Medieval World by Sharon Bennett Connolly; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles translated and edited by Michael Swanton; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; Queen Emma and the Vikings by Harriett O’Brien; The Bayeux Tapestry by Carola Hicks; oxforddnb.com.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

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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

Mary and Isabella – the Women in Cages

Isabella Buchan crowning Robert the Bruce at Scone

When watching Outlaw King a couple of weeks ago, I was disappointed to see that they had omitted the stories of Robert the Bruce’s sister, Mary, and the woman who crowned him, Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan. And yet, they managed to keep the punishment Edward I meted out to them, but inflicted it on Robert the Bruce’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, instead. In a great example of dramatic licence, they also insisted on retelling the age-old fallacy that the cage was hung from the castle walls, exposing the poor woman to ridicule and the elements.

While it is necessary to change stories, and limit the number of protagonists in a movie, in order to avoid confusion, produce a fabulous story and, probably, keep down costs, I thought it a shame that the remarkable stories of Mary and Isabella were ignored, or rather circumvented for the dramatic benefit of the movie.

We know very little of Mary Bruce. She was a younger sister of King Robert, probably born around 1282. A younger daughter of Robert de Brus, 6th Earl of Annandale, and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick in her own right. It may be that she took care of her brother’s daughter, Marjorie, after Robert’s first wife, Isabella of Mar, died giving birth to the baby girl.

Her story has long been intertwined with that of her brother.

From that fateful moment  in Greyfriars Church in Dumfries when Robert the Bruce stabbed to death John Comyn, his rival to the Scottish throne, it was a race against time for Robert to establish himself as king. Whether Comyn’s death was accidental or murder, we’ll probably never know. Almost immediately, Robert made the dash for Scone, hoping to achieve his coronation before the Christian world erupted in uproar over his sacrilege. An excommunicate could not be crowned. His sisters Christian and Mary accompanied him to Scone Abbey, as did his wife Elizabeth and daughter Marjorie. The Stone of Scone was the traditional coronation seat of the kings of Scotland and, although the stone had been stolen by the English and spirited away to London, holding the coronation at the Abbey sent a message of defiance to the English king, Edward I.

The killing of Comyn, by Felix Philippoteaux

On 25 March 1306 Mary, Christian, Elizabeth and little Marjorie were all present when Robert the Bruce was crowned King Robert I by Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, who claimed her family’s hereditary right to crown Scotland’s kings (despite her being married to a Comyn). The ceremony was repeated on 27 March, following the late arrival of William Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews. Robert’s coronation was the start of the most desperate period of his life – and that of his supporters. Edward I of England was never one to acquiesce when his will was flouted; he sent his army into Scotland to hunt down the new king and his adherents. After Robert’s defeat by the English at Methven in 1306, he went into hiding in the Highlands.

Robert sent his wife and daughter north to what he hoped would be safety. Mary, her sister Christan and Isabella, Countess of Buchan accompanied them, escorted by the Earl of Atholl and Mary and Christian’s brother, Sir Neil Bruce. It is thought that the Bruce women were heading north to Orkney to take a boat to Norway, where Robert’s sister, Isabel, widow of King Erik II, was still living. Unfortunately, they would never make it. The English caught up with them at Kildrummy Castle and laid siege to it. The defenders were betrayed by someone in their garrison, a blacksmith who set fire to the barns, making the castle indefensible.

The women managed to escape with the Earl of Atholl, but Neil Bruce remained with the garrison to mount a desperate defence, to give the queen, his niece and sisters enough time to escape. Following their capitulation, the entire garrison was executed. Sir Neil Bruce was subjected to a traitor’s death; he was hung, drawn and quartered at Berwick in September 1306 (not in front of the women he had protected, as portrayed in the film). Mary and her companions did not escape for long; they made for Tain, in Easter Ross, probably in the hope of finding a boat to take them onwards. They were hiding in the sanctuary of St Duthac when they were captured by the Earl of Ross (a former adherent of the deposed king John Balliol), who handed them over to the English. They were sent south, to Edward I at Lanercost Priory in Cumbria.

Edward I’s admirer, Sir Maurice Powicke, said Edward treated his captives with a ‘peculiar ferocity’.¹ Mary was treated particularly harshly by Edward I. The English king had a special cage built for her, although within the castle and not, as previously believed, hung from the walls of the keep at Roxburgh Castle, exposed to the elements and the derision of the English garrison and populace. In contrast, her sister Christian was sent into captivity to a Gilbertine convent at Sixhills, an isolated location, deep in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Christian languished at Sixhills for eight years, until shortly after her brother’s remarkable victory over the English at Bannockburn, in 1314. Despite Edward II escaping the carnage, King Robert the Bruce had managed to capture several notable English prisoners, including Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Essex. Suddenly in a strong bargaining position, the Scots king was able to exchange his English captives for his family, held prisoners in England for the last 8 years.

The remains of Berwick Castle

Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, also suffered the harshly under Edward I’s not inconsiderable wrath. Isabella was probably born around 1270; she was the daughter of Colban, Earl of Fife, and his wife, Anna. Isabella was married to John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, and was first mentioned in 1297, when she was in England, managing her husband’s estates while he was in Scotland. Captured after the Scottish defeat at Dunbar in 1296, the Earl of Buchan had been sent north by Edward I, ordered to take action against Andrew Murray; however, he only took cursory action against the loyal Scot and soon changed sides, possibly fighting for the Scots at Falkirk in 1298. The Comyn family were cousins of Scotland’s former king, John Balliol, and constantly fought for his return to the throne, putting them in direct opposition to Robert the Bruce.

Isabella’s story remained unremarkable throughout Scotland’s struggles in the early years of the 1300s; until Robert the Bruce made his move for the throne in 1306. By birth, Isabella was a MacDuff, her father had been Earl of Fife and, in 1306, the current earl was her nephew, Duncan, a teenager who was a loyal devotee of Edward I. The Earls of Fife had, for centuries, claimed the hereditary right to crown Scotland’s kings. Although Duncan had no interest in being involved in the coronation of Robert the Bruce, Isabella was determined to fulfil her family’s role. It cannot have been an easy decision for her. Isabella’s participation was an act of bravery and defiance. She went against not only Edward I but her own husband, the Earl of Buchan. Isabella’s husband and the murdered John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, were not only cousins but had a close relationship. It seems likely that Isabella’s husband was in England at the time of Bruce’s coronation, and she did not have to face him personally; but she would have known that her actions would mean there was no going back. Supporting Robert the Bruce, the man who stood accused of John Comyn’s murder, meant she turned against her husband and his entire family, people she had lived among for her entire married life.

Isabella reached Scone by 25 March 1306, in time to claim her family’s hereditary right to crown the new king, with Isabella placing the crown on the new Robert’s head. There are some rumours of a more intimate relationship between Isabella and Bruce, but these seem to be without foundation and are only to be expected, given that Isabel acted so decisively – and publicly – against her husband.

There was no going back for Isabella – crowning Robert the Bruce meant she was on her own; she couldn’t go back to her family, so she stayed with the royal party, travelling with Elizabeth de Burgh, the new queen, when Bruce sent her, his daughter and sisters, north for their safety. Isabella was with them when they escaped Kildrummy Castle by the skin of their teeth, and when they reached the shrine of St Duthac at Tain and were captured by William, Earl of Ross, in September 1306. As the party were sent south, Isabella must have faced the future with trepidation. Her placing the crown on Robert the Bruce’s head was the clearest challenge to Edward I and guaranteed that she would receive no sympathy from England’s king.

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn

Even knowing that she would receive harsh treatment, it is doubtful that she, or indeed anyone, could have foreseen the punishment that Edward I would mete out. He ordered the construction of wooden cages, for Isabella and Bruce’s sister Mary; the two women were to be imprisoned in these cages close to the Scottish border, Isabella at Berwick Castle and Mary at Roxburgh Castle. Tradition has these cages were suspended from the walls of the castles’ keeps, open to the elements and the harsh Borders weather, the only shelter and privacy being afforded by a small privy. According to the Flores Historiarum, written at the Abbey of St Albans, Edward I said of Isabel’s punishment:

“[o]ne who doesn’t strike with the sword shall not perish by the sword. But because of that illicit coronation which she made, in a little enclosure made of iron and stone in the form of a crown, solidly constructed, let her be suspended at Berwick under the open heavens, so as to provide, in life and after death, a spectacle for passers-by and eternal shame.”²

It is doubtful, however, that the St Albans annalist was present when the order was given. The original royal writ still survives, written in French and reads a little differently;

“It is decreed and ordered by letters under the privy seal sent to the Chamberlain of Scotland, or his Lieutenant at Berwick-uponTweed, that, in one of the turrets within the castle at the same place, in the position which he sees to be most suitable for the purpose, he cause to be made a cage of stout lattice work of timber, barred and strengthened with iron, in which he is to put the Countess of Buchan.”³

This type of cage, within a room in the keep, was also used by Edward I to hold Owain, the son of Daffydd ab Gruffuddd; he had been held at Bristol Castle since 1283 and had been secured in a cage, overnight, since 1305. The construction of the cages was intended to humiliate their occupants and, at the same time, Scotland’s new king. They were also a taunt; placing Isabella and Mary in these cages, in castles on the border with Scotland, it is possible they were intended as a challenge to Robert the Bruce, showing him that he was not powerful enough to protect his women, but also teasing him, hoping he would be drawn into a rescue attempt that would, almost certainly, lead to the destruction of his limited forces.

Despite Edward I’s death in 1307, Isabella, Countess of Buchan was held in her little cage in Berwick Castle for four years in total. Attempts to secure her release were made by Sir Robert Keith and Sir John Mowbray, by appealing to Duncan, Earl of Fife, but the appeals came to nought. It was only in 1310 that Mary and Isabella were released from their cages; Isabella was moved to the more comfortable surroundings of the Carmelite friary at Berwick. In 1313 she was put into the custody of Sir Henry de Beaumont, who was married to Alice, niece and co-heir of Isabella’s husband, John Comyn, Earl of Buchan. This is the last we hear of Isabella, Countess of Buchan, as she slips from the pages of history. It seems likely that Isabella died within the next year, probably due to her health being destroyed by the years of deprivation; she was not among the hostages who were returned to Scotland following the Scots’ victory at Bannockburn.

The ruins of Roxburgh Castle

Mary, on the other hand, survived her ordeal and was returned to Scotland with the prisoner exchange that followed her brother’s victory at Bannockburn. She would be married twice after her release. Mary’s first husband was Sir Neil Campbell, a staunch supporter of her brother; the marriage being Neil’s reward for a lifetime of service to his king. The couple was to have one son, Iain (also John), and received the confiscated lands of David Strathbogie from the king; lands which passed to Iain on Neil’s death in 1316.  In 1320 Iain was created Earl of Atholl as a consequence of his possession of the Strathbogie lands, and despite the rival claims of Strathbogie’s son. After Neil’s death Mary married a second time, to Alexander Fraser of Touchfraser and Cowie, by whom she had 2 sons, John of Touchfraser and William of Cowie and Durris.

Mary died in 1323, she had survived four years imprisoned in a cage at Roxburgh Castle before being transferred to a more comfortable imprisonment in 1310. It wouldn’t be surprising if this inhumane incarceration had contributed to Mary’s death in her early forties, as it had shortened the life of poor Countess Isabella.

The strength and bravery of these  two women should never be underestimated, nor ignored. To survive 4 years imprisoned in a cage within a castle is remarkable. Even though they were not exposed to the elements, their movements, ability to exercise and exposure to fresh air were severely limited. Their courage and tenacity deserves to be remembered and celebrated. Their story deserves to be told.

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Footnotes: ¹Marc Morris, A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain; ²Interim annalist, Flores Historiarum, Volume III; ³Pilling, David, Ladies in Cages (article)

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Ladies in Cages (article) by David Pilling; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandhistory Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; Edward I A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain by Marc Morris; Buchan, Isabel, Countess of Buchan (b. c.1270, d. after 1313) by Fiona Watson, oxforddnb.com thefreelancehistorywriter.comenglishmonarchs.co.uk.

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

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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

Christmas Giveaway!

It’s just over 4 weeks to Christmas and so I thought the time is ideal to do a prize draw for a signed and dedicated copy of Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest.

An ideal Christmas present for yourself or a friend!

About Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest

The momentous events of 1066, the story of invasion, battle and conquest, are well known. But what of the women?

Harold II of England had been with Edith Swanneck for twenty years but in 1066, in order to strengthen his hold on the throne, he married Ealdgyth, sister of two earls. William of Normandy’s Duchess, Matilda of Flanders, had supposedly only agreed to marry the Duke after he’d pulled her pigtails and thrown her in the mud. Harald Hardrada had two wives – apparently at the same time. So, who were these women? What was their real story? And what happened to them after 1066?

These are not peripheral figures. Emma of Normandy was a Norman married to both a Saxon and a Dane ‒ and the mother of a king from each. Wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II, the fact that, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, she had control of the treasury at the end of the reigns of both Cnut and Harthacnut suggests the extent of Emma’s influence over these two kings –and the country itself.

Then there is Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great, and the less well known but still influential Gundrada de Warenne, the wife of one of William the Conqueror’s most loyal knights, and one of the few men who it is known beyond doubt was with the Duke at the Battle of Hastings.

These are lives full of drama, pathos and sometimes mystery: Edith and Gytha searching the battlefield of Hastings for the body of Harold, his lover and mother united in their grief for the fallen king. Who was Ælfgyva, the lady of the Bayeux Tapestry, portrayed with a naked man at her feet?

Silk and the Sword traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play during the Norman Conquest – wives, lovers, sisters, mothers, leaders.

If you would like to win the signed copy of Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest to put under your Christmas tree, or someone else’s Christmas tree, simply leave a comment below or on the giveaway post on my Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.

And don’t worry if you already have a copy – I’ll be happy to send you a signed bookplate to give it as a Christmas present, while you keep your newly signed copy.

The draw will be made on Sunday 2nd December, so you should get the book in time for Christmas Day. Good luck!

***AND THE WINNER IS…..Chloe Amy***
Thank you so much to everyone who entered the Silk and the Sword giveaway – there were 149 entries in all and I am only sorry there can only be 1 winner. Google’s random number generator picked no. 102, which is Chloe Amy. Congratulations, Chloe, if you can drop me a pm with address, I will get your book out to you this week.
To everyone else who entered, thank you so much for taking the time and for leaving such wonderful comments. If you do buy the book, drop me a message, through the ‘contact me’ button, with your address and I will send you out a signed bookplate to pop in the front. Best wishes, Sharon

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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

Book Corner: The King’s Witch by Tracy Borman

As she helps to nurse the dying Queen Elizabeth, Frances Gorges longs for the fields and ancient woods of her parents’ Hampshire estate, where she has learned to use the flowers and herbs to become a much-loved healer.

Frances is happy to stay in her beloved countryside when the new King arrives from Scotland, bringing change, fear and suspicion. His court may be shockingly decadent, but James’s religion is Puritan, intolerant of all the old ways; he has already put to death many men for treason and women for witchcraft.

So when her ambitious uncle forcibly brings Frances to court, she is trapped in a claustrophobic world of intrigue and betrayal – and a ready target for the twisted scheming of Lord Cecil, the King’s first minister. Surrounded by mortal dangers, Frances finds happiness only with the precocious young Princess Elizabeth, and Tom Wintour, the one courtier she can trust.

Or can she?

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Tracy Borman’s first novel, The King’s Witch through NetGalley.

I have often read and enjoyed Tracy Borman’s non-fiction works. Indeed, her book on Matilda of Flanders, queen of William the Conqueror, was very helpful in my research for my own books, Heroines of the Medieval World and Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest. However, there is a great difference in writing non-fiction and fiction and not every author can make the jump. As a result I was unsure what tot expect from The King’s Witch  but discovered that Tracy Borman has managed to create a masterpiece of literary fiction at the first attempt.

Set in the court of James VI and I shortly after his arrival in England, The King’s Witch weaves a wonderful tale of love, intrigue, betrayal and suspense, set against the backdrop of the king’s obsession with eradicating witchcraft within his realm and the persecution of catholics. The officers of the old regime of Elizabeth I are trying to curry favour with the new king by taking on his obsessions and making them their own, so that those out of favour are hunted on every side.

As curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, Tracy Borman uses the wealth of inside  knowledge and information she has acquired to vividly recreate the world of early Stuart Britain in vibrant detail. She breathes life into her characters, both historical and invented, so that it is impossible to tell where the fact ends and the fiction begins. Her expertise is demonstrated not only in court etiquette, dress and manners, but also in the seedier side of Stuart Britain, in the treatment and punishment of prisoners, the oppression of catholic families and priests. The extent of research the author pursued in the writing of the book is demonstrated in the knowledge of herbs and their healing qualities, and how a girl may gain and use the knowledge to help others, if not always successfully.

There was silence for a few moments, then Helena bade her daughter sit with her again, and clasped both of Frances’s hands in her own.

‘My daughter.’ She pronounced the word as ‘dotter’, a rare hint of her native tongue. ‘You are my precious jewel. If only I could keep you as safe as these trifles -‘ she gestured to the coffers surrounding them, each secured with a brightly polished lock, the keys to which were only entrusted to her highest-ranking attendant.

Frances looked up into her mother’s dark brown eyes. She had long since seen her fiftieth year, but with her pale skin, high cheekbones, and small rosebud mouth, she was still beautiful.

‘Lady Mother?’

‘Frances, you must know that the court – the kingdom – is greatly changed,’ Helena began, her voice low. ‘King James has no patience with the traditions upheld by the late queen. Already the court is beset with scandal and vice. It will bring shame upon the kingdom.’ A scornful look crossed her face.  ‘Yet neither does he respect our former mistress’s moderation in matters of religion, but insists upon the strict observance of the Protestant faith. He seems determined to bend his subjects to his will.

Helena looked down at her hands for a moment, and when she raised her eyes to Frances again they were clouded with anxiety.

‘He has declared a war on witches, Frances. He says that they are a canker in our midst, and that God has appointed him to destroy them all. He will not leave a stone unturned in his search for the “whores of Satan”, as he calls them. Already Cecil is drafting a new Act against witchcraft. Any practice that is deemed to be sorcery will be punishable by death.’ She paused, eyeing Frances closely. ‘Even the arts of healing are under suspicion. There is to be no mercy.’

Frances looked doubtful. ‘Surely the king does not mean to hunt down the wise women and cunning folk? His officials would have to scour every village in the kingdom, and to what purpose? Their skills have always been used for good, not evil.’

 

The heroine of the story, Frances Gorges, as lady-in-waiting to King James’ pampered daughter, Elizabeth, has to navigate the Stuart court, despite being suspected as a witch by the king’s chief adviser, Robert Cecil. A skilled healer, Frances’ kind and trusting nature is tested to the extremes. While her skill with herbs and healing leads her into a dark place, her love for one of the men of the court leads her into the heart of a dangerous conspiracy and she doesn’t know who to trust. As the story unfolds, the reader is taken on a journey into the heart of a plot could change the course of history….

Tracy Borman has succeeded wonderfully in attaining that often difficult balance with historical fiction, of keeping to the historical fact while weaving an enchanting story which will keep the reader gripped to the very last page. Her obvious expertise in the era means that she is able to get into the heads of the characters she is depicting, thus relating their thoughts feelings and motivations with an uncanny accuracy which serves to transport the reader back in time, to the court and country of James VI and I. The author accurately depicts the sense of unease and apprehension at the change in regime from Elizabethan to Jacobean, demonstrating the distrust and unfamiliarity that accompanies the Scottish king to his new court; and conflict between those who find favour with the new king and those who hanker after the times and tolerance of the old queen, Elizabeth I.

Tracy Borman’s heroine, Frances Gorges, must traverse this difficult terrain of shifting allegiances and changing favourites, searching for a way to survive the plots and machinations of those who would see her fall. The King’s Witch is an exquisitely crafted novel, recreating the essence of Stuart Britain in wonderful detail.

The King’s Witch is available from Amazon.

About the author

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Tracy Borman is joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces and Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust. She studied and taught history at the University of Hull and was awarded a PhD in 1997.

Tracy is the author of a number of highly acclaimed books, including Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England, Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen and Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction. Tracy is also a regular broadcaster and public speaker, giving talks on her books across the UK and abroad. She lives in Surrey with her daughter.

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

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. 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 UKAmazon USAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

In Search of Ӕlfgifu of York, Ӕthelred II’s First Wife

Æthelread II the Unready

The first wife of Ӕthelred II, Ӕlfgifu of York is a shadowy figure in history, with very little known about her. She was probably born sometime in the 960s. Ӕthelred and Ӕlfgifu were married around 985, when he was in his late teens or early twenties; Ӕlfgifu may have been a little younger.

The monk Ailred of Rievaulx, writing in the 1150s, identified her as the daughter of, Thored. Ailred had served in the household of David I, King of Scotland, a great-great-grandson of Ӕthelred II and Ӕlfgifu through his mother, Queen Margaret and so Ailred was well place to learn the ancestry of King David with some accuracy. Thored was Earl of Northumbria between, about, 975 and 992 and regularly attested charters by King Ӕthelred II during the 980s.

Marriage to the daughter of the leading noble of Northumbria would have been a beneficial move for King Ӕthelred. It would have helped to expand strengthen his influence over the north of England, an area notoriously independent of the royal administration of the south, and bring him powerful friends and allies.

Ӕthelred was the youngest son of King Edgar the Peaceable and his last wife, Ælfthryth. The grandson of Edward the Elder, and great-grandson of Alfred the Great, Edgar was king from 959 until his death in 975. His wife, Ælfthryth, was probably born around 945; she was the daughter of Ealdorman Ordgar of Devon, her mother an unknown woman who is said to have been descended from the royal family. She was first married around the age of eleven to Æthelwold, the son of Æthelstan Half-King, ealdorman of East Anglia. However, Æthelwold died in 962, probably in a hunting accident, although there were rumours of murder on the orders of his wife’s supposed lover, King Edgar. Edgar’s marital history was already chequered. Ælfthryth could be Edgar’s second or third wife; she was certainly the third relationship by which children were born.

Ælfgifu’s son Edmund II Ironside

Ælfthryth and Edgar were married in 964 and were soon the parents of two sons; Edmund and Æthelred. Despite having an older half-brother, Edward, it is Edmund who was treated as Edgar’s acknowledged heir; his name being above that of Edward’s in a charter of 966, witnessed by both boys, which founded the New Minster at Winchester. Poor Ælfthryth must have been distraught when, in 971 and still only a child of about seven, young Edmund died.

When King Edgar died suddenly in 975 it was Edward, at the age of  13, who was proclaimed king, despite Ælfthryth trying to claim the crown for her surviving son, Æthelred, who was aged between 7 and 10 years of age. Edward reigned for just 3 years before he met a violent and untimely death at Corfe Castle in Dorset.

It was on 18th March 978 that 16-year-old King Edward visited his step-mother and half-brother at Ælfthryth estate at Corfe. Whether Edward had been out hunting, or was in the area to specifically visit his Ælfthryth and Æthelred seems to be uncertain. However, he did send a message that he would be calling on them and Ælfthryth’s retainers were awaiting the young king at the gate, when he arrived with a small retinue. Still sitting in the saddle, he was handed a drink; and stabbed. It must have been a horrific sight, as the king’s horse panicked and bolted, racing off with Edward’s foot stuck in the stirrup and the dying king being dragged along behind. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded:

No worse deed than this was ever done by the English nation since they first sought the land of Britain. Men murdered him, but God hath magnified him. He was in life an earthly king. He is now after death a heavenly saint. ¹

With Edward’s death his surviving brother, Æthelred, possibly as young as 10 years old, and certainly no older than 13, was now king of England, with his mother and a council of prominent nobleman to guide him. He would rule over a tumultuous period in English history, when Saxon England was under frequent attacks from the Danes. His tendency to inaction, indecision, his ineffectual handling of the Danish incursions and the fact he lost the throne to Sweyn Forkbeard, have earned him a reputation as one of England’s worst rulers.

Edward the Exile, grandson of Ælfgifu and father of St Margaret, Queen of Scotland

As his mother and adviser – and a force to be reckoned with – it may well have been Ælfthryth who chose Ӕlfgifu of York as a bride for Æthelred. It is also possible, even likely, that Ælfgifu was never crowned because her mother-in-law, the crowned and anointed queen, was still alive. Indeed,  Ælfgifu’s successor as Æthelred’s wife, Emma of Normandy, was given a coronation, but Ælfthryth was dead by then.

In the 15-or-so years of marriage to Ӕlfgifu of York, the couple had a large number of children, including at least 6 boys and 4 girls. It is even likely that Ӕlfgifu’s mother-in-law, Ælfthryth, raised a number of her children, including the royal couple’s first-born son and ætheling, Æthelstan. Ӕthelstan, was born c.986 but would die before his father. He died in June 1014, either killed in battle or from wounds received during the wars against Sweyn Forkbeard and his son Cnut. Their other sons included Ecgberht, Edmund, Eadred, Eadwig and Edgar and all died young.

In April 1016 Edmund succeeded his father as King Edmund II Ironside but died in November of the same year, probably from wounds received in battle after a summer of constant fighting. His sons, Edward and Edmund, escaped Cnut by being sent into eaxile in eastern Europe. King Edmund’s sole-surviving brother Eadwig was murdered in 1017, on the orders of the victorious King Cnut.

Of Ӕthelred and Ӕlfgifu’s daughters, three were married to prominent Saxon noblemen. Edith was married to the traitorous Ealdorman, Eadric Streona, who kept changing sides during the wars against the Danes and eventually met his death on the orders of the triumphant King Cnut. Ӕlfgifu married Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria, an ally of Edmund Ironside who had to submit to Cnut when his earldom was under threat of being overrun by the Danes. He and forty of his supporters were murdered on Cnut’s orders in 1016. A third daughter, Wulfhild, married Ulfcytel, Ealdorman of East Anglia, who was killed in the fighting of 1016. A possible fourth daughter, whose name is unknown, became the abbess at Wherwell, a prominent convent at the time, and died in the 1050s.

Other than the children she bore, however, Ӕlfgifu of York has left very little imprint on history.  She gets barely a mention in the chronicles of the time. Sulcard of Westminster, writing in the second half of the eleventh century, says that she was “of very noble English stock”, but fails to give her name, while William of Malmesbury ignores her altogether. John of Worcester makes mention of Ӕlfgifu, giving her name and listing her sons but states, probably erroneously, that she was the daughter of Ӕthelberht. Ailred of Rievaulx provides us with the details of Ӕlfgifu’s parentage but, again, fails to name her. The poor woman doesn’t even make it into the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

St Margaret, Queen of Scotland

There is no evidence that Ӕlfgifu was a crowned and anointed as queen, unlike her successor, Emma of Normandy. We know nothing of her, not her personality or her actions during her time as Ӕthelred’s wife. We don’t even know the date of her death, though it must have been before April 1002, when Ӕthelred married Emma of Normandy.

Ӕlfgifu of York’s story has been greatly overshadowed by her larger-than-life successor, Emma of Normandy, the twice-crowned Queen of England as the wife of both Ӕthelred II (the Unready) and King Cnut (the Great). However, although she may have had little impact on history during her lifetime, it is the blood of Ӕlfgifu of York that still runs in the veins of the British royal family today, through the descendants of her son, Edmund II Ironside and his granddaughter, St Margaret, Queen of Scotland. Margaret’s daughter, Edith, was married to King Henry I of England. Her name was changed to Matilda on her marriage and it is through this Matilda and her daughter and namesake, Matilda, the Lady of the English, that all English kings and queens are descended.

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Footnotes: ¹ Anglo-Saxon Chronicle edited by Michael Swanton.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir;The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by JP Kenyon; The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall; Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards by David Hilliam; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles translated and edited by Michael Swaton; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; Queen Emma and the Vikings by Harriett O’Brien; The Bayeux Tapestry by Carola Hicks; oxforddnb.com.

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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 still available in hardback in the UK from both 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 from Amberley Publishing  and Amazon.

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ÆYou 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

Mother’s Day Treat

Sunday 11th March 2018 is Mother’s Day in the UK this year

Mum is everyone’s favourite Heroine, in whatever era, and I could not think of a better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than with a giveaway of a hardback copy of Heroines of the Medieval World.

About Heroines of the Medieval World

Heroines come in many different forms, and it is no less true for medieval heroines. They can be found in all areas of medieval life; from the dutiful wife and daughter to religious devotees, warriors and rulers. What makes them different compared to those of today are the limitations placed on them by those who directed their lives – their fathers, husbands, priests and kings. Women have always been an integral part of history, although when reading through the chronicles of the medieval world, you would be forgiven if you did not know it. We find that the vast majority of written references are focussed on men. The chronicles were written by men and, more often than not, written for men. It was men who ruled countries, fought wars, made laws and treaties, dominated religion and guaranteed – or tried to guarantee – the continued survival of their world. It was usually the men, but not all of them, who could read, who were trained to rule and who were expected to fight, to defend their people and their country…

 

If you would like to win a signed copy of Heroines of the Medieval World to give to your mum on Mother’s Day, or someone else’s mum – or even as a gift to yourself, simply leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.

The draw will be made on Wednesday 7th March, so you should get the book in time for the day.

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The winner is ….. Janet Carter.

The draw is now closed and I would like to thank everyone for taking part.

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Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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