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

Robert de Breteuil, the Crusader Earl

Arms of Robert de Breteuil, 4th Earl of Leicester

Robert de Breteuil, also known as Robert de Beaumont, was a remarkable individual whose adventures in the Holy Land would make a wonderful novel. A renowned warrior and a powerful magnate, he was a companion to the Plantagenet princes, both Richard the Lionheart and King John. Robert was the son-in-law of Matilda de Braose, whose horrific persecution by King John led to her death by starvation in one of John’s dungeons – and the inclusion of clause 39 in Magna Carta:

“No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Magna Carta, magnacartaresearch.og

Robert was the second son of Robert de Breteuil, 3rd earl of Leicester, and his wife, Petronilla de Grandmesnil and the great-grandson of Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan and 1st Earl of Leicester, and his wife, Elizabeth de Vermandois. Robert was probably born in the early-1160s and was closely associated with his elder brother William. As they grew up and entered public life they were linked with the household of their cousin, Robert, Count of Meulan, and they regularly appeared on their father’s charters together. Their younger brother, Roger, was bishop of St Andrews. William died in 1189, sometime after the accession of King Richard I. A later legend suggests he suffered from leprosy, though there is no contemporary evidence to corroborate this. William’s death meant Robert therefore became heir to their father’s earldom of Leicester.

Both Robert and his father were at the royal court at Verneiul on 2 January 1190 and joined the Third Crusade of Richard the Loinheart. Robert’s father took an overland route to the Holy Land, while it appears that Robert travelled with the king. Robert was with the king at Messina, Sicily, when news reached him of his father’s death. The 3rd earl had died on 31 August or 1 September 1190 and so Robert was invested as earl by the king on 2 February 1191, in Sicily.

During his time in the Holy Land, Robert was one of the leaders of the assault on Acre on 11 July 1191 and fought in the battle of Arsuf on 7 September. In November he rescued some ambushed Templars at Ibn-Ibrak and then was himself surrounded, with his knights, by a party of Turks outside the camp at Ramlah. Robert was rescued by his cousin Robert de Neubourg; in the process he nearly drowned in a river and had two horses killed under him.

Seal of Robert de Breteuil

Robert and his men were prominent among the forces who stormed Deir al-Bela on 22 May 1192 and on 5 August 1192 he was one of the ten knights who helped to thwart an attempt to kidnap the king from his tent at Jaffa and the king himself rescued Robert when he was thrown from his horse. He probably set out for home in September or October 1192, having distinguished himself and earned the king’s eternal goodwill.1

Following his return from the crusade, Robert was occupied with the defence of Normandy, but was captured by King Philip Augustus’ forces in June 1194, after a skirmish outside Gourany. He was imprisoned at Étampes for more than a year and only freed after surrendering his castle and lordship of Pacy-sur-Eure to King Philip. His freedom was achieved sometime around February 1196 and in the same year he was married to the teenage Loretta de Braose. Loretta de Braose, was probably born in the early-to-mid-1180s,. She was one of the sixteen children of Matilda and William de Braose. Four of her sisters married prominent Welsh Marcher lords, but Loretta was married to Robert de Breteuil, 4th earl of Leicester.

The marriage was an alliance of two of the leading Anglo-Norman families of the Plantagenet world. He was a powerful earl who had made a name for himself on the crusades, whilst she was a daughter of one of the most powerful barons of the Welsh March. As her marriage portion, Loretta was given Tawstock, near Barnstaple in Devon.

Robert de Breteuil was back campaigning in 1197 and 1198 and was with King Richard when he was mortally wounded at Châlus in April 1199. He had had a long association with Richard’s brother since John had been Count of Mortain, and so was a firm supporter of John’s succession, acting as steward at his coronation on 27 May 1199, claiming the office his grandfather had relinquished in 1153. Robert was highly influential in the early years of John’s reign. He also fought for John in Normandy, being one of the major landholders in the duchy, and was rewarded generously for his support; he was granted Richmondshire in Yorkshire in September 1203. The following year he suffered the loss of his Continental estates when Normandy fell and was the biggest loser of the Anglo-Norman barons.

Although he was one of the two barons (the other being William Marshal) who was given a year to decide whether to pay homage to King Philip of France to try to retain his Norman estates, Robert was not punished by John. Indeed, he was given more lands in England, English lands that had belonged to families who had chosen to remain in Normandy, such as the Harcourts. Robert died before King Philip’s deadline, and so never did have to decide where and how to share his allegiances in order to keep all his lands.

The ruins of Leicester Abbey, where Robert de Breteuil is buried

Robert died on 20 or 21 October 1204; the life of St Hugh of Lincoln reported that he died a leper, although this seems highly unlikely.1 He was buried in the choir of the Augustinian Abbey in Leicester. Robert and Loretta had remained childless, so Robert’s lands were divided between his two sisters. The earldom and the town of Leicester went to his eldest sister, Amice, the wife of Simon de Montfort and therefore grandmother of the Simon de Montfort who would marry King John’s daughter, Eleanor, and claim the earldom of Leicester for himself. Half of the old earldom, centred around Brackley in Northamptonshire, went to Robert’s younger sister, Margaret, wife of Saher de Quincy, Earl of Winchester.

It is a sad legacy that Robert’s death before John began the persecution of Loretta’s family meant that she was without her husband’s powerful protection when she needed it most. King John’s pursuit of the family did not end with the deaths of Matilda, who died in custody in 1210, and William de Braose, Lord of Bramber, who died in exile in France in 1211. In November 1207 John extracted a promise from Loretta that she would not remarry without the king’s permission and her lands were taken from her. She probably left for France shortly afterwards and only returned to England in 1214.

Once in England, Loretta was allowed to recover her confiscated estates after again to only marry as the king directed. The restoration of Loretta’s estates were complicated by the king’s desire to keep happy those who had benefited from tehir confiscation, such as the powerful Saher de Quincy, earl of Winchester. Loretta’s experiences in this respect may well have inspired clauses 7 and 8 of Magna Carta, which guaranteed that widows should have their marriage portions without hindrance and that they could remarry at their own pleasure, so long as it was with the king’s consent.

Arms of William de Braose, Loretta’s father

Loretta took her future into her own hands, however, and in early 1221, took a vow of chastity and became an anchorite in Hackington, near Canterbury. An anchorite was a religious recluse who lived in a small cell within a church, allowed on the briefest of contact with others, although she was allowed attendants to help with her daily needs. Loretta’s influence was still in evidence, however, in that she obtained a pardon for a man who had accidentally killed another and helped to establish the Franciscan order in England. She died on 4 March, probably in 1266, and was buried at the church of St Stephen, Hackington.

It is a fact of life that whilst researching one particular person, you come across several others who spark your interest. I stumbled upon the stories of Robert de Breteuil and Loretta de Braose while researching for my new book, Ladies of Magna Carta, which will be out in Spring 2020.

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Footnote: ¹Oxforddnb.com

Sources: sussexcastles.com; genie.com; steyningmuseum.org.uk; berkshirehistory.com; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 by Robert Bartlett; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; The Life and Times of King John by Maurice Ashley; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Oxforddnb.com; magnacartareseearch.org; Magna Carta by David Starkey; King John by Marc Morris; King John, England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant by Stephen Church; 1215, the Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham; Women in Thirteenth Century Lincolnshire by Louise J. Wilkinson.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: 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

Book Corner: The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill

Not all enemies are visible.

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

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

But it’s a fragile peace.

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

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

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

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

To the point of breaking.

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

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

Follow my journey into darkness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….

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

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

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

And impossible to put down!

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

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From the author:

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

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

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

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

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: All Things Georgian by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Take a romp through the long eighteenth-century in this collection of 25 short tales. Marvel at the Queen s Ass, gaze at the celestial heavens through the eyes of the past and be amazed by the equestrian feats of the Norwich Nymph. Journey to the debauched French court at Versailles, travel to Covent Garden and take your seat in a box at the theatre and, afterwards, join the mile-high club in a new-fangled hot air balloon. Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals as we travel through the Georgian era in all its glorious and gruesome glory. In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era, these tales are accompanied by over 100 stunning colour illustrations.

I have to say that All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Crammed full of glossy, colourful paintings and photographs, it is impossible for the reader not to appreciate how aesthetically pleasing this book is. It is a pleasure to browse through, just to appreciate the gorgeous images scattered throughout the book.

Having said that, the images are not all this book has to offer. All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is co-written by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden and is replete with some of the best stories from the eighteenth century; scandals, love stories and mysteries fill the pages. The most amazing characters of the Georgian era complement the colourful photos; from Marie Antoinette to ‘Crazy Sally’, from coffee shop rivalries, to smuggling, female jockeys and intrepid balloon rides.

This book has stories to entertain everyone.

On the evening of 20 June 1791, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France, together with their children and a handful of trusted attendants, made an ill-fated attempt to escape the revolutionary forces who were keeping them closely watched. The plan had taken many weeks to bring to fruition and the French queen, to whom it was inconceivable that she should survive without the everyday luxuries with which she was surrounded, had been engaged in smuggling various items to the safety of her sister in Brussels. AN infamous Scottish courtesan played a key role in one of these transactions, risking her life in Marie Antoinette’s service.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott, tall, willowy and stunningly beautiful, had gained her notoriety following a very public Criminal Conversation trial and divorce from her portly little husband, Dr (later Sir) John Eliot; Grace had been discovered in a Berkeley Row bagnio with her lover, the worthless Viscount Valentia who soon after discarded his mistress. The handsome Earl of Cholmondeley became her protector; tall and athletic, he was the perfect match for Grace, and the two made an attractive if slightly disreputable couple but, when a countess’s coronet was not forthcoming, Grace left for France and the arms of Louis XVI’s cousin, Louis Philippe Joseph, Duke d’ Orléans (later known as Philippe Egalité). A brief interlude back in London followed where grace bagged the affections of the young Prince of Wales and gained a permanent memento of her royal dalliance in the person of her daughter, Georgiana, who the future monarch privately – if not publicly – acknowledged as his child. The Earl of Cholmondeley became the child’s guardian and Grace, with an annuity from the royal purse, returned to her French duke, only to become trapped in Paris during the French Revolution. …

Sarah Murden and Joanne Major have done a wonderful job of recreating the Georgian world. The language is beautiful, the stories both exciting and entertaining; and scattered with just the right amount of famous and infamous people to make the reader go ‘ooh!’. The two authors are so in sync that it is impossible to discern which story is told by one of the writers and which by the other.

I usually read through books as quickly as possible, devouring them, so-to-speak. However, with All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century I have taken my time, read only one or two of the fabulous stories at a time. Reading this book is a truly pleasurable experience, and I wanted to take my time and savour every moment.

All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden is a wonderful little treasure trove of stories and facts, brought to life in beautiful prose and accompanied by glorious images. Well researched and beautifully presented, it would be a stunning addition to any library – it even smells special!

All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is available from Amazon UK and US.

About the authors:

Joanne Major and Sarah Murden are supersleuthing historians who enjoy bringing the Georgian era to life. Their lives were changed forever when they (metaphorically) met an eighteenth-century courtesan, and this is now their fourth book together. Along with their respective families, they live in Lincolnshire.

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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, 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



Book Corner: Odin’s Game by Tim Hodkinson

Orkney, 931: A young woman flees her home to secure a life for her unborn child. Eighteen years later, a witch foretells that she must lose him once more.

The subject of a Viking prophecy, it is Einar’s destiny to leave Iceland and fight his father – of whom only only one will survive.

As the clouds of war gather, he will fight unimaginable foes, forge new friendships, and discover what it truly means to be a warrior.

Not everyone will survive, but who will conquer all?

Odin’s Game by Tim Hodkinson is a wonderful, involved story, weaving a tale from the icy chill of Iceland to the dramatic landscape of Ireland, with a sojourn on the Orkneys in between. It tells the story of a young man’s journey to become a warrior, whilst uncovering the secrets of his parentage. It is not a straight forward journey. Fraught with danger, and the clash of two worlds and two religions, the Christian and the Norse gods, young Einar must fight for survival.

The characters are believable and wholly original. The reader is drawn into their troubles and finds themselves cheering on the ragtag crew that the hero, Einar, has found himself attached to. These are violent times, with war and intrigue being practically the norm. Betrayal is only ever just around the corner and it is a testament to the strength of the story in the the novel that the reader never quite knows from where the betrayal will come – nor from where the hero, Einar, will get his strength and support. Einar has to face a steep learning curve if he is to survive and prosper.

‘My mother’s Irish,’ Einar said. ‘When I was young, she used to tell me stories about it. I suppose ever since then I’ve had this notion of going there. She never talks about it now.’

Asmundarsson stopped his horse. Einar reined his own to a halt to avoid riding into the back of him. They had reached a wider part of the path where a long, flat rock stretched out, overhanging the precipice that dropped down to the icy waters of the tumbling river below.

‘Irish?’ The merchant whipped his head round and fixed Einar with a glare, his eyes narrowed. Einar was taken aback by this sudden change in demeanour. ‘I was told there’s a farm here run by an Irishwoman who works it all by herself.’

‘That’s my mother, Unn Kjartinsdottir,’ Einar said, his feelings of pride mixing with confusion and unease at the intensity with which the merchant was looking at him. ‘I help her, of course.’

To his further surprise, Asmundarsson’s expression changed again. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped open, making his mouth gape amid the grey hairs of his plaited beard.

‘It’s you …’ the merchant breathed.

As if from nowhere, mean appeared all round them. They scrambled up from behind rocks above the path. Several more jumped up on the path ahead. They wore iron helmets and their faces were masked behind helmet visors, they crouched behind the cover of round iron-bound shields. They bore spears.

Einar felt as if he was frozen. Fear and shock locked him to the saddle. His chest was so tight he could not breathe in.

‘It’s trouble, lad!’ Asmundarsson shouted, wheeling his horse to ride back the way they had come. There were other men close behind them and Einar realised they must have been waiting, hidden, for them to pass by then jumped out onto the path to block their escape. Asmundarsson could go nowhere.

The little details demonstrate the extent to which the author has obviously researched the history and customs of the Norsemen. Weapons and fighting techniques are as accurate as any I have read; as are the finer details of clothing, customs and the relationships between the Norwegians, Irish and the Icelanders. The result for the reader is a total immersion into the unfolding story. The landscape is just as absorbing as the characters in the novel. You can practically feel the cold seeping into your bones in Iceland; or the damp, harsh conditions of Ireland.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable story that will draw the reader in from the opening pages. One of the most unpredictable stories I have read in recent times, it will keep you on your toes, wondering what will happen next and whether any will get out alive. The tension is palpable!

If you enjoy a good, original story, full of action and intrigue, and a bag full of tension – this is the book for you!

Odin’s Game is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, twisting and turning in unexpected ways as the story unfolds. And, like all good stories, the ending does not exactly turn out as the reader would guess, leaving you wanting more. I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of a wonderful series of adventures fro Einar and his companions. It was a delight to read every page.

About the Author

Tim Hodkinson grew up in Northern Ireland where the rugged coast and call of the Atlantic ocean led to a lifelong fascination with vikings and a degree in Medieval English and Old Norse Literature. Apart from Old Norse sagas, Tim’s more recent writing heroes include Ben Kane, Giles Kristian, Bernard Cornwell, George RR Martin and Lee Child. After several years New Hampshire, USA, Tim has returned to Northern Ireland, where he lives with his wife and children.

Follow Tim:

Twitter: @TimHodkinson

Pre-order links:

Amazon; iBooks; Kobo; Google Play.

Follow Aria

Website: www.ariafiction.com; Twitter: @aria_fiction; Facebook: @ariafiction; Instagram: @ariafiction

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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, 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.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Historical Writers Forum brings you… An Interview with Lady Nicholaa de Haye

Today Nicholaa de la Haye stopped by Derek Birks’ Dodging Arrows blog to talk about her career, King John and the times she lived in.
There is a giveaway! A signed copy of the paperback of Heroines of the Medieval World will go to one lucky winner. Simply leave a comment on Derek’s original post to get your name in the draw. Good luck!

Dodging Arrows... a (mainly) Medieval Blog

In 1228, the monk, Hereticus, talks to Lady Nicholaa de Haye, one of the staunchest defenders of the king and his kingdom, at her manor at Swaton in Lincolnshire, as he gathers information for his forthcoming blockbuster chronicle: The Last days of King John…

dscn5225 A carving of Nicholaa de Haye in the grounds of Lincoln Castle

Lady Nicholaa, you’ve lived a very long life during a most turbulent period of our history, but when you inherited your father’s estates and became castellan of Lincoln castle in 1169, did you ever imagine what you would be required to do to keep your inheritance?

Well no, of course not. I assumed that I would marry, and the husband would do all the duties of the castellan, with me at the hearth, raising the children – and maybe overseeing the management of our own estates. That’s how it is for most women. I…

View original post 2,029 more words

Interview my Character: Eleanor Elder

Today it is my stop on the Historical Writers’ Character Blog Hop, where we interview historical characters, both real and fictional. Watch out for Nicholaa de la Haye coming later in the tour!

And there’s a giveaway! the author has kindly offered a paperback copy of Echoes of Treason to a UK winner, or an ebook to a winner elsewhere in the world. To enter, simply leave a comment below or on the Facebook page. The draw will be made on 12 June. Good luck! Sorry, competition is now closesd!

I would like to welcome Lady Eleanor Elder to History…the Interesting Bits. Lady Eleanor is one of the principal characters in Derek Birks’ wonderful series of books, The Craft of Kings, the latest instalment of which, Echoes of Treason was released in May. Ever since I first read Feud, about 5 years ago, Lady Eleanor has become something of a heroine of mine. She has overcome many challenges and trials over Derek Birks’ 7 books and – so far – is still standing, if a little battered. She is a fighter, not out of choice, but out of necessity and an impressive survival instinct. She is a lady I am in awe of and so I was quite nervous to finally meet her!

  • Welcome Lady Eleanor, could you please tell our readers a little about yourself?

About myself? The hard ones first, eh? Well, I was born and not long after, my mother died. So she died before I knew her and later, when I was a lass growing up in the dale, those who did know her, never stopped telling me how like her I was. It didn’t sound like a compliment though… but by then I’d grown wild. I must have been about thirteen or so. I was wild and angry with everyone – except my only true friend, Becky Standlake.

  • What would you like to have been in your life, if you have not been caught up in the wars between Lancaster and York? Would you have made a good nun?

A nun? I see you try to provoke me with your questions!

(Sorry, Lady Eleanor, but my tongue was very firmly in my cheek!)

Well, of course, I was destined for marriage – or so my father kept saying – only no man would have me! By the time I was fifteen, my father had given up on me, I think… but by then I’d discovered what boys were really for and I fell in love with Will Coster, my brother Ned’s closest companion. Will was a commoner, but I didn’t care – still, we kept it to ourselves – even kept it from Ned. Then… we all descended into hell. All the rules changed when I was taken by force to a nunnery, aye, a nunnery! I tried to resist but in the end, I just had to bide my time. So, would I be a nun? Well, I’ve tried it and let’s just say, it did not go well…

  • What is your favourite thing to do?

When I was younger, I loved to roam the dales with Becky. There was a pool, fed by the hillside becks and ice cold even in summer. We’d swim naked in that pool and lie, shameless, on the large rocks to dry off in the sun. When war came, I lost that innocence; and it never, ever came back. At first I wanted nothing more than to fight for those I loved, but one by one, those I loved were stripped away… Now, what do I prize above all? I just want some peace…

  • You have become quite a role model for women, always fighting your corner, what is the advice you would give to any woman, in any era, who finds herself in a situation where she feels powerless?

Aye, a woman in the world of men can often feel weak and powerless. The crown, the law, the church, all their rules are made by men. What can a woman do against such odds? Well, she must learn to fight, but it’s not always about a sharp blade – by the Virgin, it’s taken me all my life to understand that! There are many other weapons a woman has, for what are men but boys full-grown? It’s not those full-grown boys that make you weak; it’s your own fear. You must have spirit for it’s what lies in your heart that matters. Spirit is everything…

  • Would you prefer to live in a castle or on a farm, city or country?

I don’t care where I am – though I can’t say I care much for the stench of the town. All that matters to me is who I’m with.

  • If you could live in any historical period, when would it be?

Eleanor Elder always lives in the present…

  • Echoes of Treason opened with you living in exile in Spain, what did you miss most about England while in exile?

My son, my nephew and the rest of my kin… that’s all I missed – though a little more coin would have helped…

  • Who is your favourite king, Richard III or Edward IV?

Edward IV was a charmer, I’m told, though I don’t think I ever met him; my brother Ned knew him well, liked him and served him well. England needed Edward, I think, but what a world of blood he brought down upon us. I met Gloucester when he was about 18 – he was full of himself and I can’t say I liked him much, and now he is the cause of my nephew, John’s troubles, so he is my enemy and I don’t ever forgive my enemies…

  • What achievement are you most proud of?

Proud? I take no pride from anything I’ve done. In a time of blood, I’ve survived and to do so, I’ve taken lives. I will do it again if I must… and let God judge me as he wishes.

  • You have lived a rather adventurous life, do you have any regrets?

Right now, no; but, if I live to be old, I expect to be haunted by countless regrets and when I die, I’ve no doubt that I’ll dwell in purgatory for a very, very long time… Because my passions have always ruled me – for good or ill – and, being swift to act, I’ve made many mistakes in my life: I’ve misjudged some folk and caused their ruin. But, most of all, I regret that many of those who dared to love me and tried to help me, died because of their love. Yet, anything I’ve done – however terrible – if it helped to save my loved ones, I don’t regret that for an instant. I would do it all again.

  • What is your greatest fear?

I fear not being able to protect those I love and keep them safe. But I discovered, only in the past few years, that there is one thing in all Christendom that truly terrifies me – but I’m not telling you that!

Lady Eleanor, it has been a pleasure to finally meet you. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I wish you the best of luck for Book 4.

Follow the Blog Hop

Wednesday 5 June Jen Black  interviews courageous, Byrhtnoth, of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles by Christine Hancock.

About the Author

Derek Birks

Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand where he still has strong family ties. For many years he taught history in a secondary school in Berkshire but took early retirement several years ago to concentrate on his writing. Apart from writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the later Medieval period. He aims to write action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a four-book series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.
The other books of the series are (in order): A Traitor’s Fate, Kingdom of Rebels and The Last Shroud.

The first 3 book of a brand new series, Scars From the Past, are now available in both kindle and paperback and are on Amazon in the UK and US.
You can find Derek at;
Amazon
Blog
Facebook
Twitter 

And look out for Nicholaa de la Haye dropping by Derek Birks’ blog, Dodging Arrows, for to chat on 22 June.

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, 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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Little Princess Gwenllian

Gwenllian was the only child of Llywelyn ab Gruffuddd, also known as Llywelyn the Last, Prince of Wales. Her mother was Eleanor de Montfort, who was the daughter of Eleanor of England, sister of Henry III, and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Llywelyn and Eleanor had married in Worcester Cathedral in October 1278, in a lavish ceremony attended by Edward I, King of England, and Alexander III, King of Scots.

Memorial to Gwenllian, Sempringham, Lincolnshire

Gwenllian, a descendant of both Welsh and English royalty, was born in June 1282 at the palace of Garth Celyn, Abergwyngregyn, near Bangor; her mother died giving birth to her. Shortly after her birth, Edward I concluded his conquest of Wales. Gwenllian’s father, Llywelyn, was killed in an ambush on 11 December 1282 – and just six months after her birth, Gwenllian was an orphan. Her uncle Dafydd, Llywelyn’s younger brother, became the little princess’s legal guardian. After his brother’s death, Dafydd continued the fight for Welsh independence but was betrayed to the English, in June 1283.

Dafydd, his wife, children and little Gwenllian were captured at Bera Mountain in Snowdonia, where they had been in hiding. At just one year old, Gwenllian was taken, by sea, probably to thwart any attempt at rescue, from Wales, the land of her birth. She would never see her homeland again. The baby girl was placed behind the high walls of the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham, in Lincolnshire, just south of the great city of Lincoln. Her female cousins, the seven daughters of Dafydd, were also placed in various nunneries, so it is possible some of her cousins were with her. Dafydd’s legitimate daughter, Gwladus, who was a similar age to Gwenllian, was placed in Sixhills, another Gilbertine priory, in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Statue of Gwenllian’s father, Llywelyn the Last at Cardiff City Hall

Dafydd’s two sons, Llywelyn and Owain, were imprisoned in Bristol Castle; the eldest, Llywelyn, died there in 1287, just four years after his capture. Owain was still living in 1325, every night securely incarcerated in a specially constructed timber cage within Bristol Castle. Dafydd himself suffered the horrendous ‘traitor’s death’; he was hung, drawn and quartered at Shrewsbury.

The Gilbertines were the only wholly-English monastic community. Their founder, St Gilbert, had some form of physical deformity, which prevented him from pursuing a career as a knight. He trained as a clerk in France, studying under Master Anselm at Laon. He eventually entered the household of the Bishop of Lincoln and, in 1129, was appointed Vicar of Sempringham and West Torrington. He established the first priory there in 1131, with seven local women vowing to live a life of chastity, poverty and obedience. Sempringham Priory was a double-house, housing both men and women in segregated quarters.

At its height, the priory housed 200 nuns and forty canons. The order followed strict rules, based on those of the Augustinian and Premonstratensian monasteries. By the time of Gilbert’s death in 1189 there were thirteen priories in England; this number had risen to twenty-five at the time of the Reformation. [1]

Gwenllian was a prisoner at the Gilbertine Priory of St Mary, at Sempringham, for the rest of her life. A prisoner of three English kings, Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, she was a rallying figure for the subjugated Welsh and too valuable to ever be freed. Edward I wrote to the Prior and Prioress of Sempringham of his decision to place Gwenllian in their custody, on 11 November 1283: ‘… Having the Lord before our eyes, pitying also her sex and her age, that the innocent may not seem to atone for the iniquity and ill-doing of the wicked and contemplating especially the life in your Order’. [2]

Memorial plaque to Gwenllian on the memorial at Sempringham

Although Edward wanted Gwenllian to be forgotten, he could not afford to forget about her himself, and four years after she was placed in the convent, Edward ordered Thomas Normanvill to ‘go to the places where the daughters of Llewellyn and of David his brother, who have taken the veil in the Order of Sempringham, are dwelling, and to report upon their state and custody by next Parliament’. [3] The extent of Gwenllian’s knowledge of her own history and homeland is far from certain. Having been taken from Wales at six months old, she is said not to have spoken a word of Welsh and may not have even known how to spell her name; she is referred to as ‘Wencillian’, in a document sent to Edward III at the time of her death, although spelling was far from uniform in the 14th century.

Gwenllian was probably well-cared for. Edward III endowed her with a pension of £20 a year, which was paid to the priory for her food and clothing. Whether Gwenllian was treated according to her rank at the priory is unknown; however, it is highly likely that she was aware of her importance and her family connections, especially when she was older, given the attention paid to her by subsequent kings. She is said to have received gifts from her cousin the king, and may have spent time in Edward III’s company, when he visited the priory at Easter-time in 1328; the young king issued a charter from Sempringham on 2 April of that year. [4]

St Andrew’s Church, Sempringham stands close to the site of the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham

Gwenllian may also have spent time in the company of Joan Mortimer, the daughter of Roger Mortimer, supposed lover of Isabelle of France, Edward III’s mother, and ruler of England after the deposition of her huusband, Edward II. Joan was held at Sempringham following her father’s downfall in 1330. She was only eighteen at the time, however, so may have had little in common, beyond their joint status as prisoners of the crown, with Gwenllian, who was a woman now in her late forties who had spent her entire life in conventual seclusion. The profound difference between Joan and Gwenllian, of course, is that Joan was released after a short time.

Gwenllian only found release in death. The on 7 June 1337, the same month as her fifty-fifth birthday. She was buried at the priory where she had spent all but eighteen months of her life. Her grave was lost at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, in the 16th century. However, a memorial plaque was placed near St Andrew’s Church in Sempringham in 1993, stating:

In memory of Gwenllian, daughter of the last Prince of Wales. Born at Abergwyngregyn 12.06.1282. Died at Sempringham 7.6.1337. Having been held prisoner for 54 years. [5]

Although she left very few physical marks on the world, a child whose very future was stolen by Edward I, Gwenllian’s remarkable story has not been forgotten. In 2009 a mountain in Snowdonia in Wales, formerly known as Carnedd Uchaf, was renamed Carnedd Gwenllian in the lost princess’s honour.

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Footnotes: [1] David Ross, editor, Sempringham Priory, Church and Holy Well, britainexpress.com; [2] englishmonarchs.co.uk; [3] ibid; [4] Calendar of the Charter Rolls. 1-14, Edward III; [5] The Princess Gwenllian Society, Princessgwenllian.co.uk

Sources: castlewales.com; snowdoniaheritage.info; Marc Morris A Great and Terrible King;David Williamson Brewer’s British royalty; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Oxford Companion to British History; The History Today Companion to British History; Derek Wilson The Plantagenets; britainexpress.com; englishmonarchs.co.uk; princessgwenllian.co.uk; Calendar of the Charter Rolls

Images: Photos of Sempringham Church and memorial copyright Sharon Bennett Connolly. Llywelyn the Last courtesy of Wikipedia.

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, 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.

*

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly