Book Corner: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

Showcasing his renowned storyteller’s skill, Bernard Cornwell has created an Elizabethan world incredibly rich in its portrayal: you walk the London streets, stand in the palaces and are on stage in the playhouses, as he weaves a remarkable story in which performances, rivalries and ambition combine to form a tangled web of intrigue.

I have been a fan of Bernard Cornwell since reading my first Sharpe book as a teenager. I have read everything, eagerly awaiting each new book and devouring it within days of its release. So when I was offered the chance of an advance copy of Fools and Mortals – well – I jumped at it.

Fools and Mortals is a major departure for Bernard Cornwell. There are no world-changing battles as in the Sharpe and Last Kingdom books, no ancient legends such as in the King Arthur and Thomas of Hookton series; in fact, this book is all about pretend, following the antics of William Shakespeare’s younger brother as he tries to make his way as a player in Elizabethan England. And it is fascinating.

‘Show me the nightgown!’ the twin whose sword was still scabbarded demanded, and the Percy tossed down the rochet. ‘Oh pretty,’ the twin said. ‘Is this what papists wear to vomit their filth?’

‘Give it back,’ Alan Rust demanded, slightly raising his borrowed sword.

‘Are you threatening me?’ the twin with the drawn blade asked.

‘Yes,’ Rust said.

‘Maybe we should arrest him,’ the twin said, and lunged his blade at Alan.

And that was a mistake.

It was a mistake because one of the first skills any actor learns is how to use a sword. The audience love combats. They see enough fights, God knows, but those fights are almost always between enraged oafs who hack and slash until, usually within seconds, one of them has a broken pate or a pierced belly and is flat on his back. What the groundlings admire is a man who can fight skillfully, and some of our loudest applause happens when Richard Burbage and Henry Condell are clashing blades. The audience gasp at their grace, at the speed of their blades, and even though they know the fight is not real, they know the skill is very real. My brother had insisted I take fencing lessons, which I did, because if I had any hope of assuming a man’s part in a play I needed to be able to fight. Alan Rust had learned long before, he had been an attraction with Lord Pembroke’s men, and though what he had learned was how to pretend a fight, he could only do that because he really could fight, and the twins were about to receive a lesson.

I know that not every Bernard Cornwell fan will be impressed by this new story; if they  are only reading Cornwell for the blood-curdling action, they will be disappointed in this book. But if they read Cornwell because he is THE greatest storyteller, because he can transport you through time and space to a world that is recreated from history and his imagination, they will love this book.

William Shakespeare

I admit I was a little dubious at first, but once you start reading, it is – as usual with a Bernard Cornwell book – impossible to put down. It may be because this is not a war story, is not a crime thriller, and is a totally new departure for the author, that this story works so well. It proves just what an excellent wordsmith he is.

As has come to be expected with one of our greatest authors, the research is impeccable and interwoven in the story are many of the political concerns of the time, the opposition to theatres, the hunt for Catholics and their sympathisers, and even the constant need to impress the aging queen, Elizabeth I. However, Fools and Mortals is not a simple melodrama. There are many threads to the story, the development of professional theatre, love, intrigue, betrayal and sibling rivalry being just a few.

Everything about this book proves why Bernard Cornwell is one of the greatest storytellers of our generation. The writing is of his usual high standard, and keeps you engaged to the very end. The hero, if a complete contrast to Sharpe and Uhtred, is an engaging and entertaining protagonist, with whom the reader can readily invest their hopes and expectations of a great story. Richard Shakespeare is a young man, trying to find his role in life, whilst trying to survive medieval London and negotiate that age-old problem – a superstar older brother!

Any fan of Bernard Cornwell knows that he loves the theatre and the bestselling writer has put all his knowledge and passion into creating this amazing novel. It more than lives up to the high standards we have come to expect in all his work.

Fools and Mortals is released on 19th October in the UK.

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My book, 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.

Sharons book cover

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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Digging up Folklore – King Arthur by Mary Anne Yarde

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Mary Anne Yarde, author of The Du Lac Chronicles, to History…the Interesting Bits with an article about her fascination with King Arthur.

Digging up Folklore ~ King Arthur

I have been fascinated with the life and times of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table since I was a child — I guess growing up a stone’s throw from Glastonbury (The Ancient Isle of Avalon) may have had something to do with that.

My book series, The Du Lac Chronicles, tells the story of what happened after the death of Arthur, and continues the story of his Knights and their sons. But to write about the end of Arthur’s reign, I needed to know about the beginning. A not so easy task, it turned out.

The history of a historical Arthur is not written in stone but is, instead, engraved in folklore and that brings its own set of challenges.

Firstly, where did Arthur come from? Well, that is an easy question to answer…

King Arthur was English. No, he was Welsh. Arthur was Scottish. He was from Brittany. Oh, for goodness’ sake, he was a Roman General!

Which is right? Arthur is so famous that everyone wants to claim him and, over the years, there have been many names thrown out there as to who he really was. But we mustn’t forget that when we are dealing with Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We can make Arthur fit wherever we want him to, and that is where the problem lies. It is very easy to make mistakes, and I have read many books that claim to have found the real Arthur, only they haven’t, it is just a theory, sometimes a very shaky one.

The same can be said for Arthur’s famous castle, Camelot. There have been many possible locations for one of the most famous castles in history. Tintagel, Cadbury Hill, Caerlaverock Castle, have all been put forward, and recently it has been suggested that a small Roman fort at Slack is where the real Camelot once stood. However, during all this excitement and discoveries we have overlooked a fundamental issue — there was no Camelot. It was an invention of a French poet in 1180! How can you look for something that was never there to begin with?

The Dark Ages, in which my books are set, are equally challenging to research because there is a lack of reliable primary resources. What was written down was written down for a purpose and that purpose was usually politically motivated, which in itself is fascinating, although not so helpful. Now, in these early texts when Arthur is mentioned, there is nothing about him being a king. Nennuis describes him as a warrior on par with Ironman, but no mention of a crown.

It isn’t until the 12th Century when Geoffrey of Monmouth writes his great work that the Arthur we know is born. The History of The Kings of Briton was meant to be a historically accurate account of British History and for many, many, years what Monmouth wrote was considered factually correct. Of course, we now know it was anything but. However, that does not mean that Monmouth’s work is of no particular value. Monmouth borrowed heavily from folklore and it is his story that drives the legend of Arthur and his Knights forward. I think Monmouth’s book is incredibly important as it tells us a great deal about, not only the era, but also about the people who were listening to his stories. And if we dig a little further, we can discover that it wasn’t only the populous who loved listening to Arthurian tales. Those pragmatic monks at Glastonbury Abbey did as well.

Let’s take a journey back to 12th Century England…

A terrible fire had spread through Glastonbury Abbey, and unfortunately for the monks, they did not have the coffers to pay for the repairs. If only they could encourage more pilgrims to come to the Abbey. What could they do? Pray to God and hope all would be well…?

Thanks to Monmouth’s book Arthur was the hot topic of the day and people would pay to go on a pilgrimage to Arthur’s final resting place so they could pay their respects to this once great King. All that was needed was a good story and a grave. The monks of Glastonbury announced to the world that they had discovered Arthur’s final resting place. That brought in the crowds — much like Tintagel does for English Heritage today! Glastonbury Abbey soon had the coffers to make the repairs and then some. There was as much truth in the story of Glastonbury Abbey and King Arthur’s grave as there was in The History of the Kings of Briton. But for hundreds of years, both the Abbey and Monmouth were believed.

My books are not just set in Britain, but France as well, so I needed to have a good understanding of what was happening in both of these countries in the 5th / 6th Century in order to keep the history real in the telling. Before we look at any of these countries we need to look at the powerhouse of the world at this time, and that was the Roman Empire. However, the golden age of the Roman Empire was almost over; she was politically unstable and was withdrawing her forces from far-flung provinces such as Briton, to defend her borders.

But this dawning new era brings some of the most fascinating historical figures that ever lived. These were the days of men such as Clovis. Clovis won a decisive victory against Rome, at the Battle of Soissons in AD 486. But, Clovis’ ambition didn’t stop there. Roman Gaul and parts of Western Germany fell to him as well. He forged a new empire through blood, war, and marriage. He made Paris the capital of his new kingdom, and he was the first King of a united Frank (France).

The Saxons and the Angles crossed the South Sea (The English Channel) to take advantage of vulnerable Britain who, since the Romans had left, had split back into various smaller kingdoms. There was much infighting and unrest, it was the perfect opportunity for the Saxon’s to come over and stake their claim.

Brittany, like Britain, wasn’t one united country, but many, and they were a race of warriors. While they were busy fighting each other, they missed the real threat to the kingdom, which eventually would be their undoing and they would find themselves at the mercy of Frank.

While all this is going on, the Church is creeping into the crevices, and spreading the word of God and, what could be considered of equal value, one language — Latin. It could be argued that it was the Church that united Britain in the end.

This was a time of great unrest and change, but one thing remained constant for the general populous and that was storytelling. Arthur may well have been a general but folklore made him a Christian King and gave him a castle full of noble knights. Arthur and his Knights (most of them anyway) cared about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. But he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, The Once and Future King.

I have tried to show what life was like in the 5th /6th Century in my books, but I have been heavily influenced by folklore, because when you are dealing with this period in history you cannot dismiss it. Brittany, for example, is terribly difficult to research historically during this era, but when it comes to folklore, she is rich and if that is all she is going to give us, then so be it. Folklore is its own special brand of history, and it is often overlooked by historians, which I think is a shame. You can tell a lot about a people by the stories they tell, and people are still fascinated by this larger-than-life King, which I think says it all. Arthur may well have been a general, or a knight, he may have been English, he may not, but it doesn’t matter because his story is timeless, it will never grow old.

Blurb:

The multi award-winning series, The Du Lac Chronicles, continues…

War is coming…

The ink has dried on Amandine’s death warrant. Her crime? She is a du Lac.

All that stands in the way of a grisly death on a pyre is the King of Brittany. However, King Philippe is a fickle friend, and if her death is profitable to him, then she has no doubt that he would light the pyre himself.

Alan, the only man Amandine trusts, has a secret and must make an impossible choice, which could have far-reaching consequences — not only for Amandine, but for the whole of Briton.

Links for Purchase:

Amazon US Amazon UK  Amazon CA

Bio: Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Best Selling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Set a generation after the fall of King Arthur, The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Briton and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, the Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed.

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury–the fabled Isle of Avalon–was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

Useful Links

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I would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Mary Anne for such a fascinating post and wish her every success with her latest novel.

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My book, 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.

Sharons book cover

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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Countess who Chastised a King

The arms of Hugh d’Aubigny, 5th Earl of Arundel

I recently came across the wonderful story of Isabel d’Aubigny, countess of Arundel, a woman who wouldn’t be cheated – even if it was by the king himself.

Isabel was born sometime in the late 1220s, the daughter of William de Warenne, 4th earl of Surrey and Warenne, and Matilda (or Maud) Marshal, daughter and co-heir of the Greatest Knight, William Marshal, earl of Pembroke. Through her grandfather, Hamelin Plantagenet, illegitimate half-brother of King Henry II, Isabel was a cousin of the king, Henry III.

With such impeccable parentage and family connections, it is no surprise that Isabel made a prestigious marriage. At no older than 8 years of age Isabel was married, in 1234, to 20-year-old Hugh d’Aubigny, 5th earl of Arundel. Hugh’s father, William, 3rd Earl of Arundel, had died in 1221, on his way home from the Fifth Crusade. William had been succeeded as 4th Earl by his oldest son and namesake, who died just 3 years after his father, aged just 21, leaving the earldom to his brother Hugh.

On their marriage, Isabel’s father granted the couple a manor at Marham in Norfolk, worth £40 a year in rent. The charter for this grant offers the only details available for the marriage. In 1242 Hugh accompanied the king on his expedition to Aquitaine. However, after just 9 years, on 7 May 1243, Hugh died; leaving Isabel, at 17 years of age, a childless widow, with a rather large dower.

Within weeks of her husband’s death, on 29th May, Isabel’s marriage was granted to Pierre de Genevre, a Savoyard favourite of the king, Henry III. However, the patent rolls show that provision was made for Isabel to remain unmarried should she so wish; although she would have to pay Pierre for the privilege. Given that she never remarried, she must have been more than happy to pay.

The de Warenne coat of arms

The Arundel inhheritance was divided between Hugh’s 4 sisters; Mabel, Isabel, Nicholaa ad Cecily. The earldom itself went to Hugh’s nephew, his sister Isabel’s son, John FitzAlan. Isabel was well provided for, however, with her dower including the hundred and manor of Bourne in Lincolnshire, the manors of Wymondham and Kenninghall in Norfolk, Stansted in Essex and several properties in Norfolk and Buckinghamshire. Suffice to say, she was a very wealthy widow and would continue to be styled Countess of Arundel until her death.

In 1249, the same year as her mother died, Isabel founded the only English convent that was part of the Cistercian order. Established at Marham, 2 Cistercian abbots had inspected it in its first year. Isabel’s brother, John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, the Bishop of Norwich and Henry III himself all issued charters confirming the abbeys foundation. Along with other endowments, Isabel herself made 11 grants to the abbey in its early years, giving it a strong economic foundation. In 1252 Isabel was granted papal permission to visit the Cistercian house at Waverley to consult with him about her convent; Waverley’s annals record that she granted 4 marks and a cask of wine to the monks there.

Isabel was very protective of her property rights and went on the offensive when they were threatened, even if that meant going against the king. In 1252 Isabel did just that. One of her tenants, Thomas of Ingoldisthorpe, held a ¼ knight’s fee from Isabel at Fring and Snettisham; he also had property in the honour of Haughley, as an escheat from the crown. On his death in 1252 Henry III took all of Thomas’s lands in wardship until Thomas’s heir was of age, including Isabel’s ¼ knight’s fee. In March of 1252 Henry granted the wardship of the lands and marriage of the heir to his former treasurer and keeper of the king’s wardrobe, Peter Chaceporc. Had Thomas held his lands in chief from the king, Henry would have been within his rights to take prerogative wardship, however his land at Haughley was  held from the honour of Haughley, which only in the king’s hands as an escheat and Isabel had therefore been treated unjustly in being denied the wardship of his heirs.

Isabel took her grievances direct to the king, supposedly berating him for trampling on the rights laid out in Magna Carta. She is said to have asked

‘Where are the liberties of England, so often recorded, so often granted, and so often ransomed?’¹

According to Matthew Paris, the chronicler and a personal friend of Isabel’s (though no particular fan of Henry), Henry scorned Isabel’s argument, ‘derisively and curling his nostrils’ and asked if the nobles of the realm had given her permission to speak on their behalf. Isabel argued that the king had given her the right to speak thus, in the articles granted in Magna Carta and accused the king of being a ‘shameless transgressor’ of the liberties laid down in the Great Charter, breaking his sworn oath to uphold its principles. At the end of the audience, Henry refused to be moved, ‘After listening to her [civilly] reproachful speech, the king was silent, and the countess, without obtaining or even asking for permission, returned home.’²

Arundel Castle

Isabel was one of the great nobles of England, the daughter of one earl and wife of another, and was obviously undaunted by an audience with the king. And although the king did not react to her reprimand immediately he did, eventually, admit that he may have been in the wrong, issuing a letter to her on 23 May 1253 saying:

‘Since the king has learnt that Thomas of Ingoldisthorpe, whose son and heir is in the custody of Ptere Chaceporc by concession of the king, did not hold from the crown of the king in chief but from the honour of Haughley, which is in the hand of the king as his escheat, and that the same Thomas held from Hugh de Aubigny, once earl of Arundel, a quarter part of the fee of one knight with appurtenances in Fring and Snettisham and the service of which was assigned to Isabella, countess of Arundel, the widow of the foresaid earl, in dower, he has returned to the same countess custody of the foresaid quarter part of a fee with appurtenances; and the foresaid Peter is ordered to give the countess full seizin of the foresaid custody.’²

However, Isabel’s victory was incomplete, as in late 1253, while the king was overseas in Aquitaine, she instigated legal proceedings against Peter Chaceporc ‘for custody of Ingoldisthorpe’. Whether Chaceporc had not relinquished the land, or she believed she was entitled to more land than was returned to her, Isabel in fact lost the suit and was amerced £20 (30 marks) for a false claim. The writ was witnessed by Henry III’s queen, Eleanor of Provence, and his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall.

As persistent as ever, and although he was overseas, Isabel appealed directly to the king, who responded with a pardon, although it seems he still smarted from the upbraiding she had given him earlier in the year:

‘3 April. Meilham. Henry, by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and count of Anjou sends greeting to his beloved consort E, by the same grace queen of England, lady of Ireland, duchess of Normandy and Aquitaine and countess of Anjou and to his beloved and faithful brother, R. earl of Cornwall. Know that we have pardoned our beloved and faithful Isabella countess of Arundel the 30m. at which she was amerced before our justices against our beloved and faithful … Peter Chaceporc, our Treasurer, for custody of Ingoldisthorpe. We, therefore, order you to cause the same countess to be quit of the aforesaid 30m. by our seal of England provided she says nothing opprobrious to us as she did when we were at Westminster and as we have signified to her by letter. Witness myself.’

Holy Trinity Church, Marham

Isabel obviously had an eye for business, given that she could so concern herself with a ¼ knight’s fee out of the 60 that she held. A wealthy widow with impressive family connections, she was renowned not only for her religious endowment of the Cistercian convent at Marham, but also as a patron of religious texts, having commissioned at least 2 saints’ lives, including the life of St Richard of Wyche by Ralph Bocking. Isabel could count among her friends Richard Wych himself, the bishop of Chichester who was later canonised, and Matthew Paris. Paris translated  a life of Saint Edmund of Abingdon in to Anglo-Norman verse for Isabel’s personal use.

Isabel died shortly before 23 November 1282 and was laid to rest at her own foundation at Marham; her dower properties passed to her husband’s great-great nephew, Richard FitzAlan, 8th Earl of Arundel. Having spent almost 40 years as a childless widow, Isabel never remarried, her remarkable life dedicated to the patronage of her convent at Markham and religious writers, such as Paris and Bocking. This incredible woman stands out as the countess who reprimanded and humbled her king for his injustices.

 

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Footnotes: ¹quoted by John A. Nichols in Oxforddnb.com; ² quoted by Susanna Annesley in finerollshenry3.org.uk

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: John A. Nichols Oxforddnb.com; Susanna Annesley finerollshenry3.org.uk; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Dan Jones The Plantagenets;David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; british-history.ac.uk; Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay.

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My book, 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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Heroines of the Medieval World

The day has finally arrived!

Heroines of the Medieval World is available from today.

These are the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. The lives and actions of medieval women were restricted by the men who ruled the homes, countries and world they lived in. It was men who fought wars, made laws and dictated religious doctrine. It was men who were taught to read, trained to rule and expected to fight. Today, it is easy to think that all women from this era were downtrodden, retiring and obedient housewives, whose sole purpose was to give birth to children (preferably boys) and serve their husbands. Heroines of the Medieval World looks at the lives of the women who broke the mould: those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history.

Some of the women are famous, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a duchess in her own right but also Queen Consort of France through her first marriage and Queen Consort of England through her second, in addition to being a crusader and a rebel. Then there are the more obscure but no less remarkable figures such as Nicholaa de la Haye, who defended Lincoln Castle in the name of King John, and Maud de Braose, who spoke out against the same king’s excesses and whose death (or murder) was the inspiration for a clause in Magna Carta.

Women had to walk a fine line in the Middle Ages, but many learned to survive – even flourish – in this male-dominated world. Some led armies, while others made their influence felt in more subtle ways, but all made a contribution to their era and should be remembered for daring to defy and lead in a world that demanded they obey and follow.

Writing Heroines of the Medieval World has been a wonderful experience. I learned as much about myself as I did about these amazing women from history. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to bring them out of the shadows and tell their stories.

Reviews

And the first reviews are already in. Thanks to the Review blog for being quick off the mark with this fabulous, wonderful, amazing review.

Sharon has a wonderful way of writing, it appears effortless, easy and utterly fascinating.” Karrie Stone

And another wonderful review has just gone live:

“The book is written in a friendly, easily readable style that belies the impact and interest of the words, each of which has been carefully considered to ensure that the meaning is clear to any reader of any level and maintain its academic importance and integrity.” Diana Milne.

And from Caroline Angus Baker: “Heroines of the Medieval World is a book that caught my interest the moment I laid eyes on it…this book is a great addition to any library. The author has done a wonderful job and this is a surprisingly easy read…”

Thank Yous

I also owe a huge thank you to author Tony Riches for his wonderful blog post today, highlighting the release of Heroines. What an incredible surprise!

And grateful thanks to Mary Anne Yarde and Louise Wyatt for their wonderful posts celebrating the release of Heroines of the Medieval World.

Guest blog posts

Annie Whitehead’s Blog: The Indomitable Nicholaa de la Haye 

Female First: Top 10 Heroines of the Medieval World

Interviews

Some great questions from the Medieval Archives – I loved doing this one.

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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.

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: The Siege of Rouen by Nathen Amin

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Nathen Amin to the blog. Nathen has stopped by on the last day of his blog tour with an extract from his wonderful new book, House of Beaufort, focusing on the Siege of Rouen which took place between July 1418 and January 1419 as part of Henry V’s attempt to conquer Normandy, and ultimately claim the French throne.

The Siege of Rouen (Extract from House of Beaufort by Nathen Amin)

By the summer of 1418, the king’s army was camped outside the gates of Rouen, the final obstacle in reconquering the duchy. Although the city was the second largest in France, it had suffered from the intermittent civil war between the Armagnac and Burgundian factions and had been brutally occupied by both forces. Now, it was to be harassed once more, this time by the English.

In mid-July, King Henry dispatched his uncle Thomas Beaufort to seek the city’s surrender, accompanied by ‘a fayre manye of men of arms and archers’. The duke of Exeter had spent the first few months of the year in England but on 3 March received a summons from his nephew requesting his services once again in France. By May, the duke was back on Norman soil, attended by a force of 500 men-at-arms and 1,500 archers, and on 1 July was appointed Count of Harcourt after capturing the town’s castle. He was also given custody of Lillebonne Castle, situated halfway between Harfleur and Rouen and timely motivation for the exhausting task that lay ahead.

According to the Brut Chronicle, upon arriving outside Rouen, Exeter set up camp and ‘displayed his banner’ before sending ‘herodes into the toun, and bade them to yeld it’. If they chose not to submit, then the duke promised they would ‘deie an harde and sharped deth, and withoute eny mercy or grace’. A small skirmish occurred when ‘a grete meny of men at arms, both on horsbak and eke on foot’ emerged from the town, although Exeter’s resilient force managed to ‘ovirthew an hep of them’, capturing thirty prisoners in the process . It was clear the Rouennais were not going to yield to the duke, who promptly departed south to Pont-de-l’Arche to inform his king. An unimpressed Henry V swiftly mobilised the remainder of his troops and returned to Rouen alongside his uncle.

The siege began in earnest on 29 July 1418, with the city well defended by large numbers of crossbowmen and artillery weaponry. English siege equipment, which had proved effective throughout the campaign, was rendered useless as Henry’s soldiers could not get within range of the city walls to create any discernible damage. Since brute force was not an option, the king resolved to starve the citizens into surrender. Henry spread his commanders around the city to block any attempts by French relief forces bringing supplies, with himself based in the east and his brother Clarence in the west. Exeter was positioned ‘on the north syde, before the Port Denys’, and the three chief commanders were capably supported by John Mowbray, earl of Norfolk, James Butler, earl of Ormond, the lords Harrington, Talbot, Roos, Willoughby and Fitzhugh, and Sir John Cornwallis.

King Henry V

The English expected the Rouennais to surrender after a token resistance, whilst those within the walls stubbornly awaited the arrival of a French army to come to their rescue. Neither occurred. Although outbreaks of dysentery and disease afflicted both Rouen and the English camp, commanders of both sides refused to back down. At one stage, an Englishman known as Sir John le Blanc, Governor of Harfleur and a member of Exeter’s retinue, challenged a French captain named Langnon, the bastard of D’Arly, to a jousting duel. Langnon agreed to the contest and emerged from the beyond the walls with around thirty companions. Although the intention of both men was to run the joust three times, Langnon ferociously unhorsed his adversary at the first attempt, who was then dragged into the city where he succumbed to his injuries. The Frenchman was urged by the English to return le Blanc’s lifeless body, for which he was begrudgingly paid four hundred nobles, possibly from the purse of a presumably demoralised Exeter himself.

By December, the citizens of Rouen were feeling the effect of the siege, having consumed most of their provisions. By Christmas they had ‘nothir bred, ale, nor wyne’ and were forced to survive on horsemeat and the flesh of dogs, mice, rats and cats. The city’s despairing commanders ordered all women and children, along with any old or sick men, to be evicted from Rouen at once as they were deemed to be of no military value. Considering many of those expelled were related to soldiers left behind, it seems likely the commanders intended for them to be honourably received into English hands as prisoners of war, to be fed and watered until the siege was over. They had not counted on the ruthless disposition of the English king.

Although several of King Henry’s soldiers initially endeavoured to feed the evictees from their own rations, he dispatched orders that no assistance was to be provided to the pleading masses. His command was adhered to, and the beleaguered citizens were left to starve in ditches halfway between the English and the city walls, slowly perishing in full view of both camps. It was an utterly brutal decision and intended to demotivate the watching garrison of Rouen, who could only look on shamefacedly as those they had expelled screamed for help that was not forthcoming.

A chilling insight into the horrors of the siege is found in a lengthy poem written by John Page, an English soldier present during the sustained attack. Page’s compassionate poem barely conceals the anguish he experienced during the winter of 1418, or the significant pity he felt for the innocent women and children of Rouen. In one resonating couplet, Page records how he witnessed a starving, orphaned ‘chylde of two yere or three, go a boute to begge hyt brede, fadyr and modyr bothe were dede’, whilst he also came across ‘women holdyn in hyr armys, dede chyldryn in hyr barmys (bosoms)’. After the citizens were expelled, a despondent Page noted how ‘women with their children in their arms’ were begging the soldiers to ‘have marcy uppon us, ye Englysche men’.

Arms of Thomas Beaufort, 1st Duke of Exeter

There could be no mercy until the English king was placated, and as Rouen could not withstand the tenacious monarch indefinitely, dialogue was finally opened between the two parties after Christmas. The city accepted terms of surrender on 19 January 1419 when, after six months of ‘toilsome siege and many assaults’, Thomas Beaufort was handed the keys to Rouen. The duke galloped into the city, ‘a valiant captain mounted on a goodly courser’, to formally seek the submission of the council. Trumpets, clarions and pipes heralded the duke’s arrival, with his English soldiers, perhaps charged with adrenaline, provocatively shouting ‘St George! St George!’ as they passed through the gates. Page reported the inhabitants were but ‘bonys and skyn’ and beheld their conquerors with great fear, prompting some of the residents to nervously ransom their lives ‘for fifty thousand pounds in gold’. Money was not enough to save a commander named Alain Blanchard; he was promptly executed for having hanged English prisoners from the walls in preceding months.

One can only wonder at the horror which greeted the duke as he rode through the disease-plagued, death-infested streets. Rotting corpses littered the roads, with Page confirming ‘in everyche strete lay dede’ whilst those who had only just survived the ordeal, ‘dyde faster than cartys myght cary away’. The stench alone must have overwhelmed Exeter and his men, forced to navigate their way through grim pandemonium. Even so, Thomas had a duty to perform, and so the duke ‘to the castelle fyrste he roode’ and ‘ryche baners up he set’, including those of St George and the arms of France and England. As the flags fluttered in the wind, their presence above the city represented not only a hard-fought English victory over Rouen, but also the duchy of Normandy.

With Exeter having secured the city, the king followed his uncle into Rouen the following afternoon, and whilst ‘the bells of all the churches were rung’, the surviving ecclesiastical figures emerged to greet the intimidating figure that had reduced their places of worship to rubble. Alongside his commanders, Henry offered thanksgiving in the cathedral before settling into his new lodgings within the castle. His nobles dispersed into the city to find accommodation in any buildings English cannons had failed to destroy.

Exeter finally had the opportunity to rest his weary body, and to reflect on events of previous months, particularly the waste of life that had occurred on both sides of Rouen’s walls. Tragic losses had not been limited to the Normans, for death had also struck at the heart of the Beaufort family. Accompanying his stepfather Clarence on the campaign had been the seventeen-year-old Henry Beaufort, 2nd Earl of Somerset, heir of John Beaufort, and Exeter’s nephew. Information about the youngster’s life is scarce, although his upbringing was overseen by Clarence and partly funded by his namesake uncle, the bishop of Winchester.

Likewise, young Henry’s death is also poorly documented, although later inquisitions in the summer of 1425 place the date of his demise to 25 November 1418, just as the siege of Rouen reached its climax. It’s unclear whether the cause was warfare or disease, or if his uncle Exeter was present at the time having been posted near to the Clarence forces in which the teenage earl served. There is no record of what happened to Henry’s body, whilst his earldom passed to his brother John who became the third Beaufort to hold the Somerset title within a decade. At what point Bishop Beaufort, or the boy’s mother Margaret Holland, became aware of his demise is also uncertain, as is his final resting place. This Henry Beaufort remains an enigma, something of a lost Beaufort, and his death was a sad consequence of the fall of Rouen.

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Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire and has long had an interest in history. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and runs the Henry Tudor Society. He has an active social media presence promoting historical sites in Wales. He now lives in York.

The House of Beaufort is available now from both Amazon and Amberley Publishing.

And here’s the links to catch up with the rest of Nathen’s blog tour.

Day 1: The Medievalist.net; Day2: On the Tudor Trail; Day 3: Lila’s Vintage World; Day 4: kristiedean.com

 

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My book, 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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: Kingdom Come by Toby Clements

The recent tensions between King Edward and his great ally the Earl of Warwick lie forgotten these past months, but even as winter tightens her grip on the land, the peace is shattered by a vicious attack on one of the King’s allies.

Long buried secrets are brought to the surface, and Thomas and Katherine must finally decide where their loyalties lie and to choose between fight or flight, knowing either choice will incur a terrible price.

From Lincoln to Bruges, from Barnet to the great battle at Tewkesbury, both must play their part in one of the most savage wars in history.

The wars of the roses.

Kingdom Come is the fourth and final instalment of Toby Clements’ Kingmaker series. And what a thrilling finale. The book keeps you on the edge of your seat from the first page to the last. Fast-paced and full of action, it leaves you desperate to get to the end – and yet it is so enjoyable you never want the story to finish.

throughout the series we have followed Katherine (who used to be Kit) and Thomas from their first meeting at the Gilbertine Priory of Haverhurst, in their adventures through the most violent and tumultuous years of the Wars of the Roses, carrying a secret that could bring down the Yorkist cause in a heartbeat. They have leaned towards each side in the conflict, as the winds and fates changed, but Kingdom Come sees their fate firmly tied to that of Edward IV.

The story opens with the Welles raid on Thomas Burgh’s house at Gainsborough – now called Gainsborough Old Hall, but then, of course, it was new. It was a pleasure to read about Thomas and Katherine’s life in Lincolnshire, their travels from Marton to Gainsborough and Lincoln, especially seeing as I did the journey myself the next day. Living just over the river from Gainsborough, I can attest that Toby Clements’ research was impeccable and he describes the Lincolnshire landscape beautifully.

Further on they meet the carrier, coming warily towards them through a long straight stretch of tree-lined road. He will know what is afoot, she thinks, since he travels from Lincoln to Gainsborough and back three or four times a week. He sits in his cart, rather than walks alongside, and behind him, unusually, come three men in helmets, thick jacks, two armed with bills, the other a bow. Up close they look unsure of their own military might, and Katherine supposes they might be recruited from the Watch on one of the city gates, and are more used to leering at nuns and warming their hands over a brazier than fighting off bands of robbers.

‘God give you good speed,’ the carrier greets them when he recognises them, and they return the blessing, and the carrier draws up his mule. Despite his life on the move, he’s a fat man, awkward in his seat, under layers of filthy russet, like a shuffling, shaggy bear that you see in poor fairs. He speaks with a strained three dun-coloured puppies in a wicker cage and a fierce-looking cockerel that hangs by his spurs from the back of the cart. He tells them business is bad, as he always does when you meet him, but that is to be expected at this time of year.

Gainsborough Old Hall

‘Have you heard anything further of the attack on Thomas Burgh’s house?’ Katherine asks.

The man sucks his teeth.

‘A bad business, mistress. A bad business. Though no one killed, praise the Lord, save a servant boy thrown from a window.’

‘Is it known who did it?’

‘It is well known , mistress,’ he says, tipping his head. ‘For the perpetrator never sought to hide his sin, unlike Eve when first she tempted Adam.’

He is that sort of man. He licks his lips and speculates on the costrel of ale on Thomas’s saddle. Thomas sighs and hands it to the man, who takes it with thanks and drinks long. A strong smell emanates from the yeasty folds of his cloth.

‘It was Lord Welles,’ he tells them when he has wiped his lips with the back of his hand. ‘Lord Welles and another gentle who goes by the name of Sir Thomas Dimmock.’

 

Toby Clements has created wonderful, believable characters who are caught up in some of the most momentous events of English history. Thomas and Katherine are entirely human, a couple who have grown to depend on each other and a close circle of friends, and who have learned the hard way that they can rely on nobody else – particularly the rich and powerful. One theme that has run through all the books, is that the participants of the Wars of the Roses changed sides as often as the wind changes direction, and it is interesting to see yet more divided loyalties raise their heads.

The other participants, from the powerful Edward IV and Lord Hastings, to the lowly companions of Katherine and Thomas, are interesting, colourful characters, each with their own story. A wonderful quirk of the novel is some of the names by which these characters go by, from John-who-was-stabbed-by-his-Priest, Robert-from-the-plague-village and the skinny boy. These characters have their own life experiences, secrets and passions, their own stories interwoven within the great panorama of the larger story.

The different threads of the lives of not only Katherine and Thomas but also the nobles and kings – and the war itself – come together in Kingdom Come, in a thrilling conclusion that sees them again forced to take sides and fighting for survival.

Kingdom Come and the Kingmaker series as one of the best retellings of the Wars of the Roses that I have ever read. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, it draws the reader in from the first page and takes you on a marvellous journey through the most turbulent era of English history. Full of suspense, action and danger it grips you from the first moment, leaving you desperate to read to the end – and yet not wanting this magnificent story to finish.

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Kingdom Come and the other 3 books in Toby ClementsKingmaker series; Winter Pilgrims, Broken Faith and Divided Souls can all be found on Amazon.

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My book, 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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Heroines of the Medieval World – the Book Cover

In just 6 weeks’ time Heroines of the Medieval World will be released.  Writing the book has been a remarkable experience. It has also been a steep learning curve – there’s a big difference between writing blog posts and writing an entire book! And there have been moments of ‘What am I doing?!’ aplenty. However, I would not have been able to do it without the help and encouragement of everyone who reads my blog posts, who gives feedback and critique. Thank you!

Writing Heroines of the Medieval World has been a wonderful adventure. From organising chapters, decided who to include and who should be left out, proof reading and choosing what pictures to include; every step of the journey has brought new challenges and experiences. From the moment I came up with the title, I knew exactly what kind of book I wanted to write. And, thanks to the fabulous people at Amberley publishing, I will soon be holding it in my hands. Heroines of the Medieval World will tell the stories of about 50 of the most incredible women of the Middle Ages, looking at how they made their mark on the world, whether it was from being a king, such as Jadwiga of Poland, a fighter like Joan of Arc, or a survivor, as with Eleanor of Aquitaine. The book looks at the women who fought, suffered, lived and loved; women who made a difference through religion, writing, ruling – be it a country or their family estates – or through their royal blood and family ties.

And every single one of them made a difference to the world around them.

Coming up with the right book cover was not easy, and I owe a huge ‘thank you’ to the cover designer at Amberley who came up with this beautiful jacket. I was so happy with it that it brought tears to my eyes. It is stunning!

And here it is:

The front cover is an Anonymous painting from c.1465, Geertruy Haeck Kneeling in Adoration Before St Agnes from the Rijksmuseum’s collection. On the back is a photograph of Roche Abbey, South Yorkshire, the final resting place of Maud Clifford, Countess of Cambridge. The photo was taken by me during a visit this Spring.

About Heroines of the Medieval World

The lives and actions of medieval women were carefully controlled and restricted by the men who ruled the homes, countries and world they lived in. It was men who fought wars, made laws and dictated religious doctrine. It was men who were taught to read, trained to rule and who were expected to fight to defend their people and country. Today, it is easy to think that all women from this era were down-beaten, retiring and obedient housewives, whose sole purpose was to give birth to children (preferably boys) and serve their husbands. Heroines of the Medieval World looks at the lives of the women – some well-known and some almost forgotten to history – who broke the mould; those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history.

Some of the women featured you will have heard of, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a duchess in her own right but also Queen Consort of France through her first marriage and Queen Consort of England through her second, in addition to being a crusader, a rebel and regent of England. Then there are those who have been all but forgotten, including Nicholaa de la Haye, the remarkable woman who defended Lincoln Castle in the name of King John, and Maud de Braose, who spoke out against the same king’s excesses and whose death (or murder) was the inspiration for a clause in the Magna Carta.

Women had to walk a fine line in the Middle Ages, but many learned to survive – even flourish – in this male-dominated world. Some led armies, while others made their influence felt in more subtle ways, but all made a contribution to the medieval era and should be remembered for daring to defy and lead in a world that demanded they obey and follow.

My book, 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.

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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.

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath

Today over at The Review, you can read my thoughts on Carol McGrath’s latest novel – out this week – The Woman in the Shadows, a fabulous look into the Tudor world of Thomas Cromwell’s wife Elizabeth.

And there’s a fabulous giveaway –  a paperback copy of this new release.

Here’s a taster:

What a treat!

Carol McGrath’s latest book, The Woman in the Shadows is a fabulous fictional account of the life and times of Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII’s famous – some would say notorious – adviser.  It is an enjoyable, thoughtful story which gives the reader an insight into life in Tudor London, in general, and in a Tudor household in particular. Following Elizabeth from the funeral of her first husband, through her widowhood and new love and marriage with Thomas Cromwell, this is not the story of Henry VIII and the Tudor court, but of the ‘ordinary’ people without whom the Tudors would not have been able to sustain their glamorous court.

Written in colourful, vivid language that draws you in from the first page, The Woman in the Shadows is a wonderful novel, full of life and imagery. …

 

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance in this fantastic giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment.

Good luck!

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My book, 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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Scribe’s Daughter by Stephanie Churchill

Today over at The Review, you can read my thoughts on Stephanie Churchill’s fantastic new debut novel, The Scribe’s Daughter, a fabulous adventure story that will leave you wanting more.

And there’s a fabulous giveaway –  two Kindle copies available to 2 lucky winners.

Here’s a taster:

My first thought after finishing The Scribe’s Daughter was ‘Wow!’ It is hard to believe this is a debut novel. It is so polished and intelligently written, having none of the naivety that can be found in, even, the best debut novels. I found myself picking up the book at any opportunity – every spare five minutes were spent in the world Stephanie Churchill has created. I was often reading late into the night, just to devour that little bit more of the story.
The author draws you into her world, building cities, towns, palaces and swamps from her imagination and setting them down in a medieval atmosphere from which it is impossible for the reader to escape. The language, descriptive expertise, attention to detail and wonderful use of imagery helps to create a world that surrounds and embraces the reader.

 

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance in this fantastic giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment.

Good luck!

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My book, 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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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Half Sick of Shadows by Richard Abbott

Today over at The Review, you can read my thoughts on Richard Abbott’s fantastic new historical fantasy novel, Half Sick of Shadows, a fabulous re-imagining of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Lady of Sahlott.

And there’s a fabulous giveaway! With one signed paperback copy going to a winner in the UK, or and ebook to anywhere else in the world.

Here’s a taster:

There is one great advantage to being a book reviewer; every now and then you get to read a gem of a book, one that you may never have discovered had you relied on Amazon’s reading recommendations. Half Sick of Shadows is one such treasure. This novel, inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epic poem The Lady of Shalott, is unique and engrossing from the very first page.

When trying to think of a single word that could be used to describe this novel, the only one that seemed to fit was ‘mesmerising‘.

The reader is instantly drawn into the world of the Lady, who can watch the lives and interactions of the people in the world only through the guide of a mirror. She can see the world, but is apart from it, safe in her own keep…..

 

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance in this fantastic giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment.

Good luck!

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My book, 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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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2017