Guest Post: Six Misunderstandings About the Vikings by Grace Tierney

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Grace Tierney to the blog, with a fascinating article on what we know – and what we get wrong – about the Vikings. Over to Grace:

Horned helmet

The Vikings were the people of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden and from 750-1100 they changed everywhere they landed in their longships. They settled from America to Russia and travelled from the Arctic to Africa, not bad for a bunch of lawless raiders. By 1000 A.D. Old Norse (or the Danish tongue as it was called) was the most widely spoken language in Europe and modern English retains many of their words – several of which you use in almost every sentence. We have Vikings to thank for them, they, thing, get, take, time and sky, for example.

1. Vikings Word Horned Helmets, or Did They?

Every Viking you’ve ever seen in a cartoon had horns on his helmet but this stereotype is simply not true. Also, many of those warriors were female.

No horned helmets have been discovered in Viking digs. They wore simple skullcap helmets. How did this misconception arise?

In 1874, Richard Wagner composed “The Ring Cycle”. It’s a group of four operas which he loosely based on the Norse sagas and they’re still popular. The costume designer for the original production, Carl Emil Doepler, designed horned helmets for the Viking characters. His designs have influenced artists, filmmakers, and cartoonists ever since.

Vikings loved horns though. They were astute traders who sold spiral narwhal tusks as unicorn horns. Traders from the rest of Europe hadn’t seen the horned whale themselves as only the Vikings had reached the Arctic at that point. Medieval Europeans believed such a horn had magical properties, especially against poisons and melancholy. “Unicorn horns” were literally worth their weight in gold and the Vikings, who originally bought them from the Inuit and later hunted for them, were happy to bolster the stories.

In the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth I of England received a carved and jewel-encrusted narwhal tusk as a gift which would be worth about £5 million sterling today. It was claimed as being from a sea unicorn and was named the Horn of Windsor.

2. Columbus Discovered North America in 1492

Recent discoveries show the Vikings got there first.

The Viking Sagas tell us that a famous Viking explorer called Leif Erickson sailed to a land west of Greenland (settled by the Vikings) and created a colony called Vinland around the year 1000, almost five centuries before Columbus reached the New World. Historians believe Vinland was in modern-day Canada in the Newfoundland, Gulf of St. Lawrence, and New Brunswick areas. It wasn’t a single location, but a series of settlements along the same coast, many of which had wild grapevines, hence the name.

In 1960 this idea moved from historical theory to reality with the excavation of L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland. The area didn’t have vines, but definitely showed the idea of a Vinland Viking colony was feasible and gave us clear proof that Vikings landed in North America.

The site was explored during the 1960s and 1970s and carbon-dating of timbers confirmed the date (990-1050) of what appears to be a Norse base probably used for timber gathering (wood was in very short supply in Greenland despite the name) and ship repair. Some items founds in the camp came from other areas of North America and show the Vikings had landed there too. Significant levels of Viking artefacts have also been found on Baffin Island and Labrador, Canada.

3. Vikings Traded on the Silk Roads

Vikings were skilled traders. Their trade network, including centres at Hedeby, Birka, and Kiev, helped the European economy recover after the demise of the Roman Empire. They traded Arab coins, Chinese silks, and Indian gems. They used silver, and sometimes gold, as a weighed trading currency. Viking coins, for example, are a common find in digs in Dublin and elsewhere. At a time when trade via bartering was common, the Vikings introduced the idea of coins for use as payment to Northern Europe.

The Viking settlements around the Baltic Sea used that waterway for trade but they also traded along the Rivers Volga and Dnieper in Russia to connect with Constantinople, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and the Caspian Sea. Even the name Russia comes from Old Norse. The waterways linked them to the Silk Roads (a selection of trade routes connecting Europe to Asian silk supplies, only named silk roads quite recently).

4. Vikings Didn’t Leave a Lasting Legacy

This one can be disputed on many levels but I dare you to mention it to a Dane. King Gorm the Old was a Viking who ruled Denmark from 936 to his death in 958. Before King Gorm’s reign, according to the sagas, the land was ruled by the Norse Gods and semi-legendary figures like Ragnar Lothbrok and Ivarr the Boneless (whose stories are told in the TV series “Vikings”). Ragnar did exist, but the sagas about him may refer to more than one person.

Gorm is perhaps best known for fathering three sons – Toke, Knut, and Harald. His son Harald, who ruled after him as King Harald Bluetooth, moved Vikings toward Christianity.

Harald Bluetooth Gormsson was King of Denmark and parts of Norway from 958 until 987 when he was murdered on the orders of his son. He is most famous for bringing together various Danish tribes into a united nation with Norwegian neighbours. It was this ability to bring people together that inspired the naming of bluetooth technology in his honour when it was developed by the Swedish company Ericsson in 1994. The bluetooth symbol is a monogram of the two runes of King Harald’s initials.

Historians are not certain how King Harald got his nickname but most guess he had a prominent blackened tooth. The word used in the old texts to describe his tooth as blue has over-tones of black as well as blue.

King Gorm is officially claimed as an ancestor to the current Danish royal family. The Danish monarchy is one of the oldest in the world and the current queen can trace her line back more than a thousand years, so technically Denmark is still ruled by Vikings.

5. Romans Ruled Britain, the Vikings Just Raided

The Scottish will point at Hadrian’s Wall and proudly explain the Romans never subdued them. The Irish (part of Britain in Roman times) will explain the Romans didn’t bother to invade. It’s more accurate to say the Romans conquered part of Britain (England and Wales) and ruled there for nearly four centuries from 43 to 410 A.D.

Viking ship prow, Wexford

The Vikings settled larger swathes of the British Isles (during the Dane Law years) than the Romans, as they also settled Ireland and Scotland. They didn’t create roads and villas, but as discussed in my book “Words the Vikings Gave Us” they helped form the English language.

Perhaps the most startling example of prolonged Viking rule in the British Isles comes from the Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland.

The Orkney islands, held a central position in the Viking world for centuries. 60% of modern Orkney islanders are genetically linked to Norway but that’s not surprising as Vikings ruled Orkney and Shetland for nearly 700 years – three centuries longer than Roman Britain.

Vikings settled Orkney in the late 700s as a base to raid into Scotland, England, and Ireland. The islands were finally returned to Scotland in 1468 when they formed part of the dowry of the daughter of King Christian I of Denmark upon her marriage to King James III of Scotland.

The first written accounts of the Shetlands are in the Norse sagas. They were conquered by the Vikings around 800. Again being traded away for a princess’s dowry many centuries later. On Norwegian National Day the island is draped in Norwegian flags despite being an oil-rich part of Great Britain. If you visit on the last Tuesday of January to celebrate Up Helly Aa, watch them burn a longship in costume, led by a Jarl, and wonder if the Vikings ever left Britain.

6. Vikings were Lawless

Despite having a reputation for being lawless raiders, Vikings gave the English language words like bylaw, ombudsman, and law. In fact they also gave us parliaments. Iceland’s national assembly is called the Althing. Its the oldest parliament in the world, having been founded in 930, and it originally met in the Thing Fields outside Reykjavik. This is where the English language gets the word thing. The first English representative parliament was established in 1265, in case you’re wondering.

Give the Vikings a second look, they might surprise you. Just don’t wear a horned helmet.

Many thanks to Grace for such a wonderful post. Words the Vikings Gave Us is available now in ebook and paperback.

About the author:

Grace Tierney is a columnist, author, and blogger writing on Ireland’s coast. Since 2009, she explores unusual English words every Monday at http://wordfoolery.wordpress.com, and on Irish radio. Her latest book, “Words the Vikings Gave Us”, launches this month and is a light-hearted look at the horde of words the English dictionary stole from the Vikings. From akimbo to yule Old Norse merged with Anglo-Saxon to form the start of the English language. The book unearths the history of words like kiss, ombudsman, bluetooth, frisbee, thing, and hustings. More than 300 words and phrases are featured – drawn from ship life, Viking food, farming, Norse romance, myths, politics, modern Vikings, anatomy, place names, daily life, and of course how to fight like a Viking.

Her earlier books about words include “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (the extraordinary lives of those who gave their names as eponyms to English) and “Words The Sea Gave Us” (nautical nouns and phrases from fishermen, pirates, and explorers).

Her favourite Viking words are hug (so unexpected from a gang of plunderers) and attercop because it’s from her favourite childhood book.

Social Media Links

Blog: http://wordfoolery.wordpress.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Wordfoolery
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/gracetierneywriter
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/wordfoolery/

Buy Links

Paperback and ebook editions are available on Amazon, Kindle, Kobo with signed copies available directly. All the links are at https://wordfoolery.wordpress.com/my-books/

“Words The Sea Gave Us” and “How To Get Your Name In the Dictionary” out now on AmazonKindleApple BooksKobo and signed copies

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Grace Tierney

Book Corner: The Serpent King by Tim Hodkinson

The fight for vengeance has no victors…

AD 936

The great warrior, Einar Unnsson, wants revenge. His mother’s assassin has stolen her severed head and Einar is hungry for his blood. Only one thing holds him back. He is a newly sworn in Wolf Coat, and must accompany them on their latest quest.

The Wolf Coats are a band of fearsome bloodthirsty warriors, who roam the seas, killing any enemies who get in their way. Now they’re determined to destroy their biggest enemy, King Eirik, as he attempts to take the throne of Norway.

Yet, for Einar, the urge to return to Iceland is growing every day. Only there, in his homeland, can he avenge his mother and salve his grief. But what Einar doesn’t know is that this is where an old enemy lurks, and his thirst for vengeance equals Einar’s…

I have followed Einar’s adventures since the very first book, Odin’s Game, two years ago; and each book gets better and better. The Serpent King is the fourth and latest book in the Whale Road Chronicles and, most definitely, the best story in the series so far. We follow the adventures of Einar and his friends, the Wolf Coats, from Norway to Orkney, with a few stops in between, on a dual mission of rescue and revenge.

The Serpent King is set in the mid-10th century, when Aethelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, is attempting to unite England and extend his borders north into Scotland. He has made allies with the Norwegian Christian, Hakon, formerly king of York and now questing to dethrone his brother, King Eirik Bloody Axe of Norway. Einar and the band of Wolf Coats are drawn into the political in-fighting and rivalries, despite their attempts to stay aloof from the machinations of the ambitious rulers around them. Einar has his own quest, for revenge against his father for the murder of his mother. The hatred between father and son is visceral and the backbone behind this series of books. Einar and his father, Thorfinn, Jarl of Orkney, are on a collision course to a day of reckoning.

The Serpent King is a fast-paced, wonderfully visual adventure, set in a time when a man could make or break his fortune simply by the decision of who to back in the constant power struggle between England, Norway and Ireland. Tim Hodkinson weaves a tale that will have you hooked from the beginning, its many twists and turns leaving you mesmerised and reading ‘just one more chapter’ until the early hours.

As Einar watched, another man came out the door. He too was swathed in a heavy cloak. The metal of a helmet visor was visible under the cloak’s hood and he bore a spear in his right hand.

‘Thor blast Halfdan with Mjolnir,’ the second warrior said. ‘I don’t see him taking his turn to stand guard on the palisade on a filthy night like this.’

‘Well I don’t want to be the one missing if he shows up to check the guard tonight,’ the first man said. ‘Which he’s bound to do. Get a move on.’

A crash of thunder rocked the sky. As if in response the already lashing rain got even heavier. It hissed down all around into the already sodden muddy ground.

‘Look at this storm.’ Thorleif said, ducking his head as the rain pounded down on him. ‘No one will attack us on a night like this!’

Einar, watching from the shadows, could not help but smile.

The two warriors began splashing their way through the mud towards him. Einar tried to make himself as flat as possible against the wall. Wrapped up in their cloaks and hurrying through the rain, there was every chance they would not see him and go right past him without realising he was there.

What then, though? When they arrived at the gate they would find Surt and Wulfhelm have the time and luck to silence them first?

Then Einar heard the sound of another pair of sloshing footsteps approaching, this time from the direction he had come.

Tim Hodkinson is fabulous at building the tension in a story and keeping it going to the very end of the book. There are so many twists and turns that the reader is kept on their toes. Just when you think Einar and his companions are going to come out on top, another spanner is thrown in the works! So to speak. The tension is palpable – to the very end.

The characters, both the heroes and their enemies, are wonderfully colourful and have developed over the past two years. Einar and his companions have become a fighting team that relies on each other, not just in battle, but in the friendships and trust that has developed through their adventures. Where they were once a disparate group of individuals, they are now a coherent fighting team, able to rely on each others’ skills and judgements to get them through the various battle and plots they are faced with.

The Serpent King is full of clashes – of swords, personalities and even the gods. The battle scenes are wonderfully frenetic, with the reader feeling every sword thrust or the impact of axe on shield. If you have a love of Viking adventures, the clash of cultures and political machinations that accompanied the changing alliances as England, Norway, Ireland and Scotland were developing their identities during the 10th century, this is definitely a series for you to sink your teeth into.

This is a fabulous adventure, from the first page to the last, and not to be missed!

You can follow Einar’s adventures through The Serpent King blog tour, over the next 9 days:

About the author

Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After spending several happy years living in New Hampshire, USA, he has now returned to life in Northern Ireland with his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters in a village called Moira.

Tim is currently working on a series of viking novels for Ares Fiction, an imprint of Head of Zeus.

Buy links:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3oNubLI; Kobo: https://bit.ly/3wKzs9Z; Google Play: https://bit.ly/34edsYu; iBooks: https://apple.co/3ukCyzy

Follow Tim:

Twitter: @TimHodkinson

Follow Aries:

Twitter: @AriesFiction; Facebook: @AriesFiction; Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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My Books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Last Berserker by Angus Donald

The greatest warriors are forged in the flames

Two pagan fighters

771AD, Northern Europe. Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir are journeying south into Saxony. Their destination is the Irminsul, the One Tree that links the Nine Worlds of the Middle-Realm. In this most holy place, they hope to learn how to summon their animal spirits so they can enter the ranks of the legendary berserkir: the elite frenzied fighters of the North.

One Christian king

Karolus, newly crowned King of the Franks, has a thorn in his side: the warlike Saxon tribes on his northern borders who shun the teachings of the Church, blasphemously continuing to worship their pagan gods.

An epic battle for the soul of the North

The West’s greatest warlord vows to stamp out his neighbours’ superstitions and bring the light of the True Faith to the Northmen – at the point of a sword. It will fall to Bjarki, Tor and the men and women of Saxony to resist him in a struggle for the fate of all Europe.

I have read Angus Donald’s books since the first of his Robin Hood series, Outlaw, came out many moons ago. And I absolutely adored his series set around the 1688 Glorious Revolution with unlikely hero Holcroft Blood. But there is always a risk when an author starts a new series; will it live up to previous stories?

Well, with The Last Berserker there is no need to worry. From the first few lines you are reassured that Angus Donald starts as he means to go on; with an action-filled storyline that will take the reader on a breathtaking journey through the turbulent years of the 8th century. It is quite the adventure!

The story derives from the many tales of the berserkers, men who went wild in battle, killing dozens at a time. Angus Donald has created a world in which the berserkers were not just mad men, but legendary fighters who honed their skills through belief, training and discipline. They were heroes who used their unique talents to lead men into battle and deliver victory after victory. Set in the time when the great Charlemagne was waging his campaign of conquest against the German tribes, The Last Berserker tells the story of Bjarki Bloodhand, who joins the fight to defend his homelands.

‘How about you, son? You look like a strapping fellow. Care to try your strength? Bjarki realised the tall blond man was speaking to him.

He shook his head.

‘No need to be afraid. I’ll tell Black Svein to go easy on you.’

‘I’m not afraid,’ Bjarki said.

‘Then come inside the hazel square and prove it.’

Bjarki shook his head. He smiled.

The straw-haired man turned away. ‘There must be one or two here today who are not snivelling cowards,’ he said, his back turned to Bjarki.

Bjarki stopped smiling. He felt suddenly cold. He took a step forward.

‘He’s not a coward,’ said a voice at his elbow, a cool hand there, too, restraining him. ‘He just doesn’t want to fight your friend today. And calling him one won’t change his mind.’

The straw-haired man turned back and looked at Bjarki – and Tor, who was now standing beside him.

‘You his girl then?’ he said. Then to Bjarki: ‘Aren’t you a one – getting your little girlie to speak for you. I see now why you won’t fight.’

‘He won’t fight your friend,’ said Tor, ‘but I will. You said you had quarterstaffs? Yes? All right then, I accept your challenge.’

The straw-haired man was nonplussed. This scrawny young woman, with arms like kindling sticks, was about half of the weight of Black Svein – and a head shorter than him too. It was a ridiculous match.

‘You can’t fight him,’ he said.

‘Oh yes? Why is that? Is he afraid of me?’

That started a howl of laughter from the crowd, which had thickened considerably by now. The straw-haired man flushed pink with irritation.

‘You cannot fight him, girlie. It would not be a fair contest.’

‘What if I go really easy on him?’ said Tor. ‘I promise I won’t hurt him all that much – hardly at all. I’ll be as gentle as a lamb with the poor idiot.’

Angus Donald weaves together, myth, legend and history to recreate a world where the berserker not only flourished, but was revered as a great warrior.

As an author, Donald is very adept at creating unique, interesting protagonists. Holcroft Blood was an autistic officer who had a knack for uncovering spies and a skill in artillery that was unrivalled. Robin Hood was a vicious killer, not the cuddly Robin Hood from legend. And with Bjarki Bloodhand, we have another individual who is not, at first sight, your typical hero. He is a rather dull, awkward boy; quite unassuming in fact. He comes across as naive, a little too trusting and not overly ambitious. He is, however, loyal to ahis friends, a good fighter and as brave as they come. He doesn’t shirk from a fight, but doesn’t necessarily seek it out. And he is incredibly likeable.

Bjarki’s sidekick, for want of a better word, is Tor, a slip of a girl with an attitude that belies her size. A born fighter, she is always looking to prove herself. Tor is a fascinating character who has secrets of her own to hide and ‘issues’ to work through. The two make an unlikely pairing but a firm friendship that helps them through their many trials.

Angus Donald wonderfully recreates the world of 8th century central Europe, from the landscape and the natural borders that separate the various nations, to the contrasting religious beliefs – both Christian and pagan – that lie at the centre of the conflict. A natural storyteller when it comes to warfare, Donald vividly evokes the song of battle, with seax, sword, axe and shield. The frenetic energy of the battle scenes leave the reader breathless and eager for more. The intricacies of the story, with its various twists and turns, some rather surprising, keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

The Last Berserker is a truly enthralling story, not easy to put down – and a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. It is one book that is not to be missed!

The Last Berserker by Angus Donald is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.

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About the Author:

Angus Donald is the author of the bestselling Outlaw Chronicles, a series of ten novels set in the 12th/13th centuries and featuring a gangster-ish Robin Hood. Angus has also published the Holcroft Blood trilogy about a mildly autistic 17th-century English artillery officer, son of notorious Crown Jewels thief Colonel Thomas Blood. Before becoming an author, Angus worked as a fruit-picker in Greece, a waiter in New York City and as an anthropologist studying magic and witchcraft in Indonesia. For fifteen years he was a journalist working in Hong Kong, India, Afghanistan and London. He now writes full time from a medieval farmhouse in Kent.

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My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: Reading Round-up 1

I am well behind on the list of book reviews I still have to write up, so I though I would do a couple of articles that include mini-reviews of several books that I have read and enjoyed over the last few months, to clear the backlog and give you some fabulous ideas if you’re looking for that next read.

A Hidden History of the Tower of London by John Paul Davis

Famed as the ultimate penalty for traitors, heretics and royalty alike, being sent to the Tower is known to have been experienced by no less than 8,000 unfortunate souls. Many of those who were imprisoned in the Tower never returned to civilisation and those who did, often did so without their head! It is hardly surprising that the Tower has earned itself a reputation among the most infamous buildings on the planet. There have, of course, been other towers. Practically every castle ever built has consisted of at least one; indeed, even by the late 14th century, the Tower proudly boasted no less than 21. Yet even as early as the 1100s, the effect that the first Tower had on the psyche of the local population was considerable. The sight of the dark four-pointed citadel – at the time the largest building in London – as it appeared against the backdrop of the expanding city gave rise to many legends, ranging from the exact circumstances of its creation to what went on within its strong walls. In ten centuries what once consisted of a solitary keep has developed into a complex castle around which the history of England has continuously evolved. So revered has it become that legend has it that should the Tower fall, so would the kingdom. Beginning with the early tales surrounding its creation, this book investigates the private life of an English icon. Concentrating on the Tower’s developing role throughout the centuries, not in terms of its physical expansion into a site of unique architectural majesty or many purposes but through the eyes of those who experienced its darker side, it pieces together the, often seldom-told, human story and how the fates of many of those who stayed within its walls contributed to its lasting effect on England’s – and later the UK’s – destiny. From ruthless traitors to unjustly killed Jesuits, vanished treasures to disappeared princes and jaded wives to star-crossed lovers, this book provides a raw and at times unsettling insight into its unsolved mysteries and the lot of its unfortunate victims, thus explaining how this once typical castle came to be the place we will always remember as THE TOWER.

What a wonderful read!

Packed to the brim with the best stories from the Tower, and almost 1,000 years of history – some you will know and some you won’t. John Paul Davis tells the remarkable story of the Tower of London through the lives of the people who have resided under its roofs – some of them most unfortunate indeed! We hear the stories of those fortunate people who escaped – and the not-so-fortunate who died in the attempt. John Paul Davis examines every aspect of the Tower of London, its role as a royal fortress, prison and place of execution; and the national events in which it played apart, such as the Peasants’ Revolt and the executions of 2 of Henry VIII’s queens. Written in 23 chapters, the story of the Tower as a prison is told from its foundation in 1066 to the present day.

With these incredible and often heart breaking stories, John Paul Davis clearly demonstrates how the fortress acquired its sinister reputation.

A Hidden History of the Tower of London is a thoroughly enjoyable read, and impossible to put down.

Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown by J.F. Andrews

When William the Conqueror died in 1087 he left the throne of England to William Rufus … his second son. The result was an immediate war as Rufus’s elder brother Robert fought to gain the crown he saw as rightfully his; this conflict marked the start of 400 years of bloody disputes as the English monarchy’s line of hereditary succession was bent, twisted and finally broken when the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, fell at Bosworth in 1485.

The Anglo-Norman and Plantagenet dynasties were renowned for their internecine strife, and in Lost Heirs we will unearth the hidden stories of fratricidal brothers, usurping cousins and murderous uncles; the many kings – and the occasional queen – who should have been but never were. History is written by the winners, but every game of thrones has its losers too, and their fascinating stories bring richness and depth to what is a colourful period of history. King John would not have gained the crown had he not murdered his young nephew, who was in line to become England’s first King Arthur; Henry V would never have been at Agincourt had his father not seized the throne by usurping and killing his cousin; and as the rival houses of York and Lancaster fought bloodily over the crown during the Wars of the Roses, life suddenly became very dangerous indeed for a young boy named Edmund.

With Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown, author JF Andrews provides a fascinating study of the also-rans and almost-made-its of medieval history; those children of the kings of England who died before they could claim their birth-right, or were passed over due to the dynastic squabbles of the Norman and Plantagenet dynasties that ruled England from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the advent of the Tudor age.

From the battles of Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror, to the tragic lives of the Yorkist heirs, Edward V, Edward of Middleham and Edward Earl of Warwick, Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown is a thoroughly engaging read, examining the lives of the heirs who were unable to claim their birthright, imprisoned for their royal blood, died before their time, or died in the attempt to claim the throne. Each individual story is brought into one volume, and demonstrates the struggle for power and supremacy in medieval England.

Beautifully written and well researched, it is an engaging read.

Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry by Arthur C. Wright

For the first time, a scholar reveals the meaning of the marginal images on the Bayeux Tapestry, unlocking a completely new meaning of the work.
 
The story of the Norman Conquest and the Battle of Hastings as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry is arguably the most widely-known in the panoply of English history, and over the last 200 years there have been hundreds of books on the Tapestry seeking to analyze its meanings. Yet, there is one aspect of the embroidery that has been virtually ignored or dismissed as unimportant by historians—the details in the margins.
 
The fables shown in the margins are neither just part of a decorative ribbon, nor are they discontinuous. They follow on in sequence. When this is understood, it becomes clear that they must relate to the action shown on the body of the Tapestry. After careful examination, the purpose of these images is to amplify, elaborate, or explain the main story.
 
In this groundbreaking study, Arthur Wright reveals the significance of the images in the margins. Now it is possible to see the “whole” story as never before, enabling a more complete picture of the Bayeux Tapestry to be constructed. Wright reexamines many of the scenes in the main body of the work, showing that a number of the basic assumptions, so often taught as facts, have been based on nothing more than reasoned conjecture.
 
It might be thought that after so much has been written about the Bayeux Tapestry there was nothing more to be said, but Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry shows how much there is still to be learned.

Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry: The Secrets of History’s Most Famous Embroidery Hidden in Plain Sight by Arthur C. Wright is a wonderful, engaging study of this most famous of embroideries, retelling the Norman Invasion in stunning, colourful needlework. Arthur C. Wright studies every aspect of the Tapestry, from the beasts in the margins to the story being played out in dramatic detail in the main part of the Tapestry. The author demonstrates how the images in the tapestry, even the animals and mystical creatures in the margin, serve to tell the story of the tapestry and the Norman Conquest.

An entertaining read and thoughtful study of the most famous of tapestries Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry is an illuminating work, beautifully illustrated along the way with images from the famous needlework.

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich

Peek beneath the bedsheets of Stuart Britain in this frank, informative, and captivating look at the sexual lives of the peoples of the British Isles between 1603 and 1714. Popular Stuart historian Andrea Zuvich, The Seventeenth Century Lady , explores our ancestors’ ingenious, surprising, bizarre, and often entertaining beliefs and solutions to the challenges associated with maintaining a healthy sex life, along with the prevailing attitudes towards male and female sexual behaviour. The author sheds light not only on the saucy love lives of the Royal Stuarts, but also on the dark underbelly of the Stuart era with histories of prostitution, sexual violence, infanticide, and sexual deviance. What was considered sexually attractive in Stuart Britain? At which ages would people be old enough for marriage? What were the penalties for adultery, incest, and fornication? How did Stuart-era peoples deal with infertility, sexually-transmitted illnesses, and child mortality? Find out the answers to these questions – and more – as fashion, food, science, art, medicine, magic, literature, love, politics, faith and superstition of the day are all examined, leaving the reader with a new regard for the ingenuity and character of our seventeenth and early eighteenth-century ancestors.

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich is a wonderful study of the bedroom exploits of the Stuart dynasty of the seventeenth century. Andrea Zuvich examines all aspects of Stuart sexual life, from attitudes to rape and pornography, to the notions of love and marriage. Zuvich also looks at the lives of the Stuart monarchs, examining the rumours around them, the various mistress and lovers and the perceptions they gave to their people and to history. This is a truly fascinating study of a part of life that is important to all of us – and necessary for our continued existence – but so rarely talked about. Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain is so much more than a study of sexual practices in Stuart Britain, it also analyses the effects of child mortality, the dangers of childbirth. It also looks at the seedier side of society, such as infanticide and sexually transmitted diseases.

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain is fascinating! It is a book that needed to be written and provides a wonderful contrast to the usual books on Stuart Britain, which concentrate on the Civil Wars, rather than the lives, loves and desires of the people. Andrea Zuvich has written a marvelous study of Stuart attitudes towards sex and sexuality, leaving no stone unturned to give the reader a comprehensive view of Stuart life, including the legal, social and personal aspects and implications.

The Peasants Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

Today we are aware of how the rich and privileged have lived in the past because historians write about them endlessly. The poor have largely been ignored and, as a result, their contributions to our modern world are harder to unearth. Skilled raconteur TERRY DEARY takes us back through the centuries with a poignant but humorous look at how life treated the common folk who scratched out a living at the very bottom of society. Their world was one of foul food, terrible toilets, danger, disease and death the last, usually premature. Discover the stories of the teacher turned child-catcher who rounded up local waifs and strays and put them to work, and the thousands of children who descended into the hazardous depths to dig for coal. Read all about the agricultural workers who escaped the Black Death only to be thwarted by greedy landowners. And would you believe the one about the man who betrothed his 7-year-old daughter to a Holy Roman Emperor, or even the brothel that was run by a bishop? On the flip side, learn how cash-strapped citizens used animal droppings for house building and as a cure for baldness; how sparrow s brains were incorporated into aphrodisiacal brews; and how mixing tea with dried elder leaves could turn an extra profit. And of the milestones that brought some meaning to ordinary lives, here are the trials and tribulations of courtship and marriage; the ruthless terrors of the sporting arena; and the harsh disciplines of education all helping to alleviate the daily grind. The Peasants Revolting Lives celebrates those who have endured against the odds. From medieval miseries to the idiosyncrasies of being a twenty-first-century peasant, tragedy and comedy sit side by side in these tales of survival and endurance in the face of hardship.

Terry Deary’s The Peasants’ Revolting Lives is a fun and fascinating read for all the family. Whenever a Terry Deary book arrives on the doorstep, there is an inevitable squabble between myself and my son as to who should read it first – I tend to lose!

With stories that are often amusing, sometimes gruesome and all true, Terry Deary examines every aspect of the life of the peasant – throughout history – from work and religion, to sport, entertainment and education. The book is packed full of facts, each story or anecdote intended to inform and entertain – and they do!

The Peasants’ Revolting Lives is a wonderful reading experience for adult and child alike. The stories are so engaging and interesting that you don’t even realise you are learning about the trials and hardships of life as a peasant down the centuries. It is a must-read for any history lover.

All these books are available from Pen & Sword, with 30% off throughout December.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with Annie Whitehead

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Annie Whitehead to the blog. Annie’s latest book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, was also released yesterday.

Our books are twins!

Both books were commissioned, written and submitted at within days of each other. It has been a bit of a roller coaster experience, with the advent of the Corona virus. In order to get the books published on time, it was decided that they would be released in paperback first. But at the last minute, Pen & Sword changed their minds and went for the hardback release. As a result, the books look fabulous!

For me, it has been that bit more special, having Annie and her book taking the journey with us – having someone to talk to, who was going through the same experience – has made all the difference.

Annie and I have done an interview swap where we each answer the same questions, just to give you an idea of who we are and what we write.

You can find my interview over on Annie’s blog.

What motivated you to write the book?

I’d already written about a few of these women both in fiction and nonfiction. My first novel, To Be A Queen, tells the life story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians and my second, Alvar the Kingmaker, features Queen Ælfthryth, said to be the first crowned consort of an English king, and Queen Ælfgifu, who was accused of getting into bed, quite literally, with her husband and her mother. My third novel, Cometh the Hour, also has some strong, influential women in it, from King Penda’s wife, who was left in charge of a kingdom, to various queens and abbesses who made important policy decisions and had direct influence on the men in charge; women like St Hild, for example, founder of Whitby Abbey. My first nonfiction book, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, featured some equally powerful and notorious women, so I suppose this new book was inevitable.

The idea was to tell the stories of these women, with minimal reference to the men, and discover all I could about them. There are over 130 named women in the book, most of them royal wives, sisters and daughters, and some of them women who are familiar to us – Lady Godiva, for example – who weren’t royal but still left their mark on history.

What were the research challenges?

Tracking them down! The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle sometimes mentions them but, up to the arrival on the shores of Emma of Normandy in the 11th Century, there are fewer than 20 instances in that chronicle where the women are named. However, a lot can sometimes be deduced: Wulfrun is named as a hostage taken by the ‘Vikings’ and from this it’s clear that she was high status. Luckily we don’t have to rely on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and through other sources we discover that she was the lady after whom Wolverhampton was named and that her son was known as Wulfrun’s son, rather than his father’s. So there’s a whole other story; was his father somehow disgraced? Of lesser status than Wulfrun? When doing this kind of research it’s as well to be prepared to drop down plenty of ‘rabbit holes’!

The other challenge is keeping pace with the archaeological discoveries, of which there were more than a few while I was writing the book. Often I had to add details to footnotes, because the editing process was too far advanced to allow me to alter the main text. All were truly exciting discoveries, including the siting of the original Anglo-Saxon abbeys at Coldingham, and at Lyminge in Kent, the possible identification of Queen Emma’s bones in Winchester and the fascinating tale of the blue-toothed nun, who, it’s believed, stained her teeth by licking her paintbrush whilst working on illuminated manuscripts. Here was yet more evidence that women worked as scribes.

Do you have a particular favourite amongst the women you’ve written about?

Too many to choose, really. Because I’ve written so much about her already, I suppose most people might expect me to say Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, but there are some others whom I grew to like and/or admire. Among them would be Eanflæd, Queen of Northumbria, for sheer determination and overcoming personal loss. She travelled north from Kent, no small undertaking, to marry a man who murdered one of her kinsman. She demanded, and received, recompense for that. She outlived most of her children, which must have been heart-breaking (although mercifully she had died by the time her adult daughter was murdered) and most likely had to tolerate her husband’s infidelity and fathering of at least one illegitimate child. She sponsored the career of St Wilfrid and it’s clear that she ran her own, separate, and highly influential household.

Other women brought a wry smile to my face, such as Queen Æthelburh who arranged for her servants deliberately to trash the royal residence while she and the king were out one day, so that she could demonstrate to him the transience of earthly pleasures. She gets the briefest of mentions in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but what a mention – she razed a town to the ground. We’re not told the circumstances, but I think it’s fair to assume she was a woman with a lot of personality and fortitude!

Another lady who intrigued me was Siflæd. We know about some noblewomen because their wills are extant. Siflæd is unusual because she left not one, but two wills. It seems as if one was made before she went off on her travels ‘across the sea’. I’d love to know where she went, and what sort of adventures she had. I think of her as the original ‘merry widow’, setting her affairs in order at home before going off gallivanting.

Can you tell us briefly about your other books?

As well as the novels and the nonfiction book I mentioned earlier, I contributed to 1066 Turned Upside Down, in which nine authors re-imagined the events of 1066. Lady Godiva featured in my story, as the elderly matriarch of a powerful Mercian family. She’s often thought of as a young woman – erroneously in my view – riding naked through Coventry but she lived to a ripe old age and was a witness to many extraordinary events.

What’s next?

I’ve just finished a collection of short stories about women in history, and am part of the Historical Fictioneers Co-operative who will be producing an anthology of stories centred on the theme of betrayal, for which I’m contributing a tale of scandal from the tenth century. I’ll also be writing the follow-up to Cometh the Hour, which will feature the sons and daughters of King Penda of Mercia and his nemesis, King Oswiu of Northumbria.

Finally, where can people find you on Social Media and where can they buy your books?

Book http://mybook.to/WomeninPower

Amazon http://viewauthor.at/Annie-Whitehead

Blog https://anniewhitehead2.blogspot.com/ 

Twitter https://twitter.com/AnnieWHistory

Website https://anniewhiteheadauthor.co.uk/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/anniewhiteheadauthor/

I would like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Annie for taking the time to give such wonderful answers and wish her every success with Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England. Look for my review of this wonderful book, coming in the next few days.

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My Books

Out Now!

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Annie Whitehead

Mother’s Day Giveaway

Competition Closed: And the winner is Carolyn Hester

Sunday 22nd March 2020 is Mother’s Day in the UK this year and what better way to celebrate the 1st birthday of the paperback of Heroines of the Medieval World, than a giveaway for everyone’s favourite Heroine – MUM?!?!

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

About Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

It’s easy to enter!

To win a signed copy of Heroines of the Medieval World dedicated to a heroine of your choice – your mum, aunt, sister, grandmother, daughter or yourself (I won’t judge!), or someone else’s mum – for Mother’s Day, simply leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.

The draw will be made on Wednesday 18th March, so you should get the book in time for the big day.

Good luck!

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My Books

Coming soon! 

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Medieval She-Wolves: Part Two

As promised, here’s Part Two of Medieval She-Wolves. Charting the stories of 3 more remarkable women who have been labelled ‘she-wolves’ due to their strength and determination – and a ruthlessness born out of an impressive survival instinct.

Zoe, Empress of Constantinople

Mosaic of Empress Zoe, Hagia Sophia

Zoe Porphyrogenita lived much of her life in relative obscurity. At the age of 50, in 1028, she was married to her father’s designated successor, Emperor Romanos III, and became empress consort when he succeeded to the throne in the same year. Zoe was described by a palace courtier, Michael Psellos, as ‘a woman of great beauty, most imposing in her manner and commanding respect … a woman of passionate interests.’

As empress consort, Zoe asserted herself. Her younger sister, Theordora, was sent to a monastery. Neglected by her husband, who had taken a mistress and refused his wife access to the treasury, Zoe took a much younger, teenage lover, Michael. Together the lovers conspired to dispose of Romanos and he was drowned in his bath in 1034.

Zoe promptly married her lover and made him Emperor Michael IV. Their marriage, however, was full of distrust and Zoe was allowed no power or say in government.  Michael IV then banished Zoe to a monastery. Not to be forgotten, Zoe began scheming to reclaim her throne. After she was allowed back to court, and unable to bare her own children, Zoe adopted Michael IV’s nephew, another Michael, and made him her heir. Michael IV’s life would have probably ended in the same way as his predecessor, Romanos III, drowned in the bath or with a knife in his back, had he not died of natural causes in 1041.

Michael’s nephew, Zoe’s adopted son, ascended the throne as Michael V. When Michael V was crowned, Zoe was again banished to a monastery, an act which caused an uprising in Constantinople. Michael V was deposed after only four months of disastrous rule. He was exiled to a monastery, but complaints about such lenient treatment meant that Zoe issued orders for his mutilation and he was blinded, an act symbolically rendering him incapable of ruling.

Zoe and Theodora

Now 64-years-old, Zoe was empress, once again. Her sister, Theordora, was retrieved from her monastery to rule beside her, though Zoe’s throne being placed slightly further forward, at the joint coronation ceremony, was an obvious indication of which of the sisters was in charge. In the same year, 1042, Zoe took a third husband, Emperor Constantine IX, who co-ruled the empire, with the two sisters. Constantine outlived his wife; Zoe died in 1050, aged about 72. A ruthless empress who knew what she wanted, Zoe was not afraid to dispose of her rivals – whether they be a husband or an adopted son.

Isabella of Angouleme, Queen of England

At first sight, it is easy to have sympathy for Isabella of Angouleme. When I started researching her for my forthcoming book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, I was expecting to be able to go some way to redeeming her reputation. She was married at a very young age – she was no more than 12 and may have been as young as 10 – to ‘Bad’ King John, the man who left women to starve in his dungeons and murdered his own nephew. Isabella and John were married in 1200 and, after 16 years together, they had 5 children; the youngest, Eleanor, was born in 1215.

Seal of Isabella of Angouleme

When John died in October 1216, however, Isabella didn’t spend much time seeking to comfort and protect her children. As soon as her oldest son, Henry III, was crowned with her own ‘chaplet’, Isabella started making arrangements to go home, to her own lands in Angouleme, France. In 1217 she left England, supposedly to arrange the wedding of her daughter, Joan, but she never returned. Joan had been betrothed, at the age of 4, to Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche and the son of Hugh IX de Lusignan (the man who had been betrothed to Isabella before John married her).

In 1220, however, in a scandalous about-face Hugh IX repudiated Joan and married her mother, his father’s former betrothed. And poor 9-year-old Joan’s erstwhile betrothed was now her step-father!

But worse was to come…

Instead of being sent back to England, as you would expect, Joan went from being Hugh’s betrothed – to being his prisoner. She was held hostage to ensure Hugh’s continued control of her dower lands, and as a guarantee to the transfer of his new wife’s dower. England, on the other hand, was withholding Queen Isabella’s dower against the return of Joan’s dower lands.

Isabella wrote to her son, Henry III, to explain and justify why she had supplanted her own daughter as Hugh’s bride, claiming that his ‘friends’ were worried about Joan’s youth and forcing Hugh to repudiate the English princess in favour of a French bride who was old enough to bear him a son. Isabella had married Hugh to stop him going over to the French and to guarantee his allegiance to her son.

Ironically, the proposed union of Hugh IX and Isabella, and of their lands, was the reason John had married Isabella in the first place – to prevent the lands of La Marche and Angouleme combining and challenging Plantagenet superiority in the region. Little Joan was returned to England towards the end of 1220, but the arguments over Isabella’s English lands continued and they were confiscated, for a short time, in 1221.

Isabella would not retire in peace, however, and in 1224 she and Hugh betrayed Henry by allying themselves with the King of France. In exchange for a substantial pension, they supported a French invasion of Poitou (the lands in France belonging to the King of England, her son). Although she reconciled with Henry in 1230, Isabella and Hugh continued to play the kings of France and England against each other, always looking for the advantage. In 1242, for example, when Henry III invaded Poitou, Hugh X initially gave support to his English stepson, only to change sides once more. Isabella herself was implicated in a plot to poison King Louis IX of France and his brother, only to be foiled at the last minute.

As contemporaries described her as ‘more Jezebel than Isabel’, accused her of ‘sorcery and witchcraft’, Isabella of Angouleme’s reputation as a heartless mother and habitual schemer seems set to remain. With little to recommend her, she stands out as a She-wolf with an impressive ruthless streak, even against her own son.

Isabella of France, Queen of England

Isabella of France, Queen of England

Isabella of France was the wife and queen of Edward II of England. In 1325, Isabella went on a diplomatic mission to France to negotiate terms with her brother, the French king Charles IV, who had seized Edward’s lands in France. Isabella saw an opportunity to take a stand against the unfairness of her situation. Ignored, spied on and persecuted by her husband’s favourite, the hated Hugh Despencer, and after 17 years of marriage, Isabella refused to return home. Isabella took to wearing widow’s weeds and claimed:

‘I feel that marriage is a joining together of man and woman, maintaining the undivided habit of life. Someone has come between my husband and myself, trying to break this bond. I protest that I will not return until this intruder has been removed but, discarding my marriage garment, I shall assume the robes of widowhood and mourning until I am avenged of this Pharisee.’

Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II by Paul Doherty

With her son Edward, the heir to the throne, in her in France, and with the help of her close friend and adviser – and, quite possibly, her lover – Roger Mortimer, Isabella started attracting support from the disappointed and disillusioned of Edward’s subjects. In 1326, she launched the invasion of England that would see her husband fleeing for his life in the face of her advancing army. Edward and Hugh were captured near Llantrisant in Wales. Edward was sent to imprisonment in Berkeley Castle.

Hugh Despencer was taken before a military tribunal in Hereford, blamed for the collapse of the queen’s marriage and humiliating Isabella, and seizing her wealth and estates, he was given no right to reply. His guilt was a foregone conclusion. Paraded through the city of Hereford, with a crown of nettles on his head and all manner of things thrown at him, before being dragged on a sled to the town square, where Despencer suffered the full horror of a traitor’s death. He was hanged from a specially-erected gallows, fifty feet high; cut down whilst still alive, his intestines were cut out and burned before his eyes, before his head was cut off to end his agony.

Despencer’s death demonstrated the anger Isabella felt towards her husband and his favourite. Edward’s death may well have been just as gruesome – or not at all. Historians are divided about what happened to Edward II. Some claim he escaped to the continent, dying years later in Italy, while others are convinced that he was killed in Berkeley Castle, although probably not by a red-hot poker up his bum. Whatever happened to Edward, Isabella’s revenge was complete; Despencer had been utterly destroyed and Edward was deposed and replaced with his son, the 14-year-old Edward III.

Isabella (3rd from the left), with her father King Philip IV, brothers and uncle

For 3 years Isabella and Mortimer ruled England, only to be themselves deposed by Edward III when he turned eighteen; their own arrogance and mismanagement of England causing their downfall. Mortimer was hanged at Tyburn and Isabella spent her remaining years in comfortable house arrest, the She-Wolf who had launched an invasion of England and deposed – and possibly murdered – her husband, only to be deposed herself.

Zoe, Isabella of Angouleme and Isabella of France have been much maligned throughout history. Their stories have concentrated on the ruthlessness of their actions, rather than how they themselves had been treated by the men around them. If we turn it around, it is far easier to sympathise with women who were used as pawns in an Empire, or child brides or endured troubled marriages. Just as with Æthelflæd, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Isabeau of Bavaria (see Medieval She-Wolves from Part One), they fought for what they wanted, often against impossible odds, and achieved much. At a time when the perceived main purpose of a wife was to produce and raise children, these women made a remarkable imprint on history that has ensured their stories are still being told today.

Selected Sources:

The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; http://www.britannica.com; oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles by Michael Swanton; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by James Ingram; Chronicles of the Kings of England, From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen, c. 1090–1143 by William of Malmesbury; The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon by Thomas Forester; Alfred the Great by David Sturdy; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by JP Kenyon; The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall; Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards by David Hilliam; Mercia; the Rise and Fall of a Kingdom by Annie Whitehead.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia

A version of both parts of Medieval She-Wolves first appeared in the 2019 edition of All About History magazine. Isabella of Angouleme’s story is discussed in greater detail in my forthcoming book, Ladies of Magna Carta.

My Books

Coming soon! 

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Harald Hardrada and Elisiv of Kiev

Elisiv of Kiev

One of my favourite characters of the 1066 story is the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada. Harald led a fascinating life, even before his ill-fated attempt on the English throne; exiled in Kiev at 15, while seeking his fortune in the east he became captain of the famous Varangian Guard before returning to his native Norway to become king.

When I started writing Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest I discovered that there were several Kievan links to the story of 1066. The baby sons of England’s short-lived king, Edmund II Ironside, who reigned and died in 1016, were given sanctuary and protection in Kiev, saving them from the clutches of Edmund’s successor, King Cnut. And after the Conquest, Harold II Godwinson’s own daughter, Gytha, would make her life in Kiev as the wife of Vladimir II Monomakh; she was the mother of Mstislav the Great, the last ruler of a united Kievan Rus. Vladimir was the nephew of Harald Hardrada’s first wife, the Russian princess, Elisiv.

Harald Hardrada’s story had been one of almost-constant conflict since he was a teenager. At the age of 15 he had fought alongside his half-brother, King Óláf, at the Battle of Stiklestad, in an unsuccessful attempt by Óláf to regain the throne. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded: ‘This year returned King Óláf into Norway; but the people gathered together against him, and fought against him; and he was there slain, in Norway, by his own people, and was afterwards canonized.’ [1]

Following Olaf’s death, Harald Hardrada first fled to Sweden before moving on to Kievan Rus. Harald spent 3 or 4 years at the court of Yaroslav I (the Wise), Prince of Kiev. Yaroslav was the husband of Óláf’s sister-in-law, Ingergerd (sister of Óláf’s wife, Queen Astrid). At only 15, Harald’s military skills were already impressive and Yaroslav made him a captain in his army; the young Norwegian fought alongside the Kievan prince on his campaigns against the Poles in 1031.

Coin of Harald

Having gained a reputation that spread throughout eastern Europe, in 1034 or 1035, Harald and his force of 500 men moved on to Constantinople, where he joined the ranks of the Varangian Guard, in the service of the Byzantine emperor, Michael IV (reigned 1034–1041). A formidable warrior and commander, Harald eventually became leader of the whole Varangian guard, seeing action against Arab pirates, and the towns of Asia Minor that supported them. Throughout his adventures in Byzantium, Harald sent his plunder back to Prince Yaroslav in Kiev; treasure which, given the number of towns he had taken, must have been quite considerable.

On the death of Michael IV Constantinople proved a less friendly place for the Scandinavian and after a brief imprisonment and daring escape from his cell, Hardrada decided that it was time to return home. It is said that the new empress, Zoe, refused him permission to leave, but the Norwegian managed to escape Constantinople with two ships and his most loyal supporters. One of the ships was destroyed by the iron chains which blocked the seagoing entrance and exit to Constantinople, but the other made it through by shifting the weight in the ship so acted like a seesaw and it effectively jumped over the chain.

Harald returned to his friend Yaroslav I in Kiev, to whom he had sent his vast amounts of plunder. In 1044, whilst still at Yaroslav’s court, Harald married the Kievan prince’s daughter, Elisiv (also known as Elisiff, Elizabeth or Elizaveta). Elisiv was born around 1025 and would probably have met Harald when he first appeared at her father’s court, in 1034-5; when she was 9 or 10 years old and he a 15-year-old fugitive from Cnut’s conquest of Norway. Elisiv was probably the oldest daughter of Yaroslav’s eleven children with his wife, Ingegerd. Through her mother, Elisiv was the granddaughter of Sweden’s king, Olof Skötkonung. Her father, Grand Prince Yaroslav, was responsible for the rise in power and influence of Russia in the 11th century; his court was considered modern and cultured.

Yaroslav’s children were well-educated and able to read and write, including the girls; Elisiv’s sister, Anna, who married King Henry I of France, demonstrated her superior level of education when she signed her marriage contract with her full name, in her own hand; King Henry, her new husband, could only manage to write a cross. Although we have no description of Elisiv, we know that Anna was renowned for her ‘exquisite beauty, literacy and wisdom’ and we can assume that Elisiv, having shared in her sister’s upbringing, was no less accomplished. [2]

It is possible that marriage between Harald and Elisiv had been discussed during the Norwegian’s first visit to Kiev in 1035. However, given that she would have only been nine or ten years of age when Harald left for Constantinople, it seems hard to believe the claims that Elisiv had refused him on the grounds that he was not wealthy enough to marry her; her father, on the other hand, may well have done so. This may also explain Harald sending his plunder back to Kiev for safekeeping, as proof of his increasing wealth and eligibility as a husband for Elisiv, even if he still held no princely title and was exiled from his homeland. In 1044, therefore, there was no financial objection to Harald and Elisiv marrying and there is evidence that Harald was genuinely in love with his Russian bride. Harald wrote poetry to his Russian princess:

Past Sicily’s wide plains we flew,
A dauntless, never-wearied crew;
Our Viking steed rushed through the sea,
As Viking-like fast, fast sailed we.
Never, I think, along this shore
Did Norsemen ever sail before;
Yet to the Russian queen, I fear,
My gold-adorned, I am not dear. [3]

Contemporary image of Yaroslav the Wise, from his seal

With the treasure Harald amassed during his sojourn in Constantinople and Elisiv’s dowry, Harald now had the means to return home. He initially made for Sweden, arriving there in 1046. By the end of the year, he was co-king in Norway, under Magnus the Good, who left Harald to rule Norway while he concentrated on Denmark; the two kings had kept separate courts. Harald’s court in Norway was presided over by his queen, Elisiv. Within a few of years of arriving in Norway, the couple had two daughters, Ingegerd and Maria Haraldsdóttir. Ingergerd was probably born in 1046, with Maria arriving a year of two after.

Married life, however, was about to get more complicated, when Harald took a second wife, without setting aside Elisiv. According to Snorri Sturluson, in the ‘winter after King Magnus the Good died, King Harald took Thora, daughter of Thorberg Arnason, and they had two sons; the oldest called Magnus, and the other Olaf.’ [4] 

It has been suggested that the marriage may have come following the death of Elisiv, or that Elisiv never even left Russia, but given that her daughters are believed to have been born once Harald was back in Scandinavia, this seems improbable. Harald’s daughters are not likely to have been the daughters of Thora, as Maria was engaged to Eystein Orre, who would have been her uncle had she been Thora’s daughter. Harald having two wives, simultaneously, seems the most likely explanation. As demonstrated by King Cnut and King Harold II of England, two wives and, therefore, two families, were not uncommon in Scandinavian culture; although in these two other cases an earlier wife was put aside for the sake of a more prestigious marriage, whereas Harald Hardrada’s first marriage was the most prestigious, while the second was politically expedient. And it was this second marriage which gave Harald his sons; Magnus and Olaf, both later kings of Norway.

Battle of Fulford, 1066, taken from ‘The Life of Edward the Confessor’

At the beginning of September, 1066, Harald sailed his fleet of over 200 ships to Shetland and then to Orkney, where he gathered reinforcements and left his wife and daughters to await news of events. There is some confusion as to which wife was left on Orkney, some sources say it was Elisiv, who, as Harald’s wife and queen would have expected to become queen of England, had he been successful. Some historians argue that as Thora was a relative of the Earl of Orkney she would have been more likely to travel with Harald than Elisiv.

We know from Thora’s joining one of Harald’s expeditions to Denmark, that he was not averse to taking his wives with him to war. However, given that young Magnus was left behind to rule Norway, aged only sixteen, it seems likely that his mother was also left behind, to advise him. According to Snorri; ‘Thora, the daughter of Thorberg, also remained behind; but he took with him Queen Ellisif [Elisiv] and her two daughters, Maria and Ingegerd. Olaf, King Harald’s son, also accompanied his father abroad.’ [5]

Battle of Stamford Bridge, 1066, taken from ‘The Life of Edward the Confessor’

Harald and Elisiv’s daughter, Maria, is said to have died suddenly on 25 September 1066, the same day as the Battle of Stamford Bridge, on hearing of her father’s death. Though this does not make sense, unless Maria had travelled to Riccal, where Harald moored his ships before marching to York, with the army and awaited the outcome of the battle with the ships; or the timing of her death has been altered for dramatic effect. Maria had been betrothed to Eystein Orre, the brother of Harald’s second wife, Thora; Eystein was also among the dead at Stamford Bridge. Maria’s sister, Ingegerd, returned to Norway with her mother and half-brother. She was first married to Olaf I, King of Denmark who died in 1095, with whom she had a daughter, Ulvhild. Following Olaf’s death, Ingegerd married Philip, King of Sweden. She was widowed again in 1118 and died around 1120, having been consecutively queen of Denmark and Sweden.

Of Harald’s queen, Elisiv, little is known after King Harald’s death, not even the year of her own death. This Russian princess, who captured the heart of one of the greatest Viking warriors of all time, just disappears into the mists of history.

Footnotes:

[1] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; [2] Prominent Russians: Anna Yaroslavna (article), russiapedia.rt.com; [3] Quoted in Fulford: The Forgotten Battle of 1066 by Charles Jones; [4] Heimskringla. The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, by Snorre Sturluson; [5] ibid.

Pictures:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources:

The English and the Norman Conquest by Dr Ann Williams; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by JP Kenyon; The Norman Conquestby Marc Morris; Harold, the King Who Fell at Hastings by Peter Rex; The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts by Martin Wall; The Anglo-Saxon Age by Martin Wall; Kings, Queens, Bones and Bastards by David Hilliam; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles translated and edited by Michael Swaton; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; Queen Emma and the Vikings by Harriett O’Brien; The Bayeux Tapestry by Carola Hicks; On the Spindle Side: the Kinswomen of Earl Godwin of Wessex by Ann Williams; oxforddnb.com.

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My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Zoe, Empress of Constantinople

Mosaic of Empress Zoe at the Hagia Sophia

Zoe Porphyrogenita lived most of her life in relative obscurity. She was the second of 3 daughters born to Constantine VIII and his wife, Helena. Zoe was born in Constantinople in about 978. She was the niece of Basil II, the warrior emperor who had co-ruled, as senior emperor, with Constantine for over 60 years. Basil died in January 1025, leaving Constantine to rule alone for a further 3 years before his own death in November 1028. By all accounts, while Basil fought to preserve his empire, Constantine was more in love with the trapping of power, rather than the wielding of it.

Zoe’s father had been emperor since the age of 2, meaning that Zoe was ‘born into the purple’ – born to a reigning emperor. She had an elder sister, Eudokia, who joined a monastery, and a younger sister, Theodora. Zoe’s uncle Basil II refused to arrange marriages for his nieces, as such marriages would give their husbands a claim to the imperial throne. The girls lived in virtual obscurity in the women’s quarters of the palace for many years.

Zoe first appeared on the international stage in 1001, at the age of 23, when her uncle offered her as a bride to German Emperor Otto III (reigned 996-1002). Zoe had set sail from Constantinople, but on arriving at Bari, was met with the news that her prospective groom had died of a fever. Zoe returned home to Constantinople and the continued seclusion of the royal palace.

Following the death of her uncle, and with no legitimate male heir to succeed him, Zoe’s father, Constantine, sought to settle the empire’s future by finally arranging Zoe’s marriage. At the age of 50, in 1028, she was married to her father’s designated successor, probably to add legitimacy to his claim to the imperial throne. Her new husband became Emperor Romanos III, and Zoe empress consort, when he succeeded to the throne just 3 days after the wedding.

Zoe was described by a palace courtier, Michael Psellos, as;

‘a woman of great beauty, most imposing in her manner and commanding respect … a woman of passionate interests, prepared with equal enthusiasm for both alternatives, death or life, I mean. In that she reminded me of sea-waves, now lifting a ship on high and then again plunging it down to the depths … Zoe was openhanded, the sort of woman who could exhaust a sea teaming with gold-dust in one day … [she] confused the trifles of the harem with important matters of state … her eyes were large, set wide apart with imposing eyebrows. Her nose was inclined to be aquiline, and her whole body was radiant with the whiteness of her skin.’

Zoe and Theodora, Chronographia

As empress consort, Zoe asserted herself. Her younger sister, Theodora, was sent to a monastery. Romanos was an unpopular ruler, his economic policies and military defeat in 1030 causing consternation. Neglected by her husband, who took a lover and refused to allow Zoe any say in affairs of state, the empress took a much younger, teenage lover, her chamberlain, Michael. Together they conspired to dispose of Romanos and he was found dead in his bath on 10 April 1034, allegedly poisoned by Zoe or her lover.

Michael IV

Zoe promptly married her young lover and made him Emperor Michael IV. Not surprisingly, their marriage was full of distrust and Zoe was allowed no power or say in government. Michael IV then banished Zoe to a monastery. His reign was no golden age, with the aristocracy opposing the undue influence of the emperor’s brother, John the Orphanostrophos. High taxation sparked a revolt, led by Peter Deljan, who used it as a pretext to end the Byzantine dominance of the Bulgars. The rebellion was quashed within a year, with the aid of Harald Hardrada and his 500 Norwegians, who had joined the Varanagian Guard in 1034. Further losses in Sicily and the emperor’s worsening epilepsy added to the empire’s woes. Not to be forgotten, Zoe began scheming to reclaim her throne. After she was allowed back to court, and unable to bear her own children due to her age, Zoe was persuaded to adopt Michael IV’s nephew, another Michael, and make him her heir.

Michael IV’s life would have probably ended in the same way as his predecessor, Romanos III, drowned in the bath or with a knife in his back, had he not died of natural causes in 1041, after retiring to a monastery. His nephew, Zoe’s adopted son, ascended the throne as Michael V; Michael was the son of the sister of Michael IV. Michael V was crowned in 1041 but immediately turned against those who had raised him to the throne. His uncle, John the Orphanotrophos, was exiled from court and Zoe was again banished to a monastery, an act which caused an uprising in Constantinople.

The people of Constantinople and the church wanted to see the crown returned to Zoe and the legitimate dynastic line. The mob ransacked the royal palace and deposed Michael V in April 1042. The young emperor was deposed after only 4 months of disastrous rule. He was exiled to a monastery, but complaints about such lenient treatment meant that Zoe issued orders for his mutilation. He was blinded, an act symbolically rendering him incapable of ruling, supposedly by Harald Hadrada, the future king of Norway, himself.

Zoe and Theodora

Now 64 years old, Zoe was empress once again.

Zoe’s sister, Theodora, was retrieved from her monastery to rule beside her. As the elder sister, Zoe’s throne was placed slightly forward of her Theodora’s at the joint coronation ceremony, as an obvious indication of which of the sisters was in charge!

The sisters sought to reform Byzantine imperial policies, making new court appointments, ending corrupt practices, such as selling titles, and instigating an investigation into the actions of their predecessor.

In the same year, 1042, Zoe took a third husband, Constantine Monomachos, who ruled as Emperor Constantine IX. Long-admired by the empress, Constantine had been exiled to Lesbos but was recalled to become Zoe’s third husband. Constantine was rich and elegant, with a reputation as a ladies man, but with experience of Byzantine government as a senior civil administrator. He co-ruled the empire with the 2 imperial sisters.

Domestic arrangements, however, were frowned upon when Constantine moved his long-time lover, Sclerina, into the imperial palace, apparently with Zoe’s blessing. The public were not so tolerant and called for Sclerina’s removal; the crisis was resolved by Sclerina’s sudden death from a pulmonary disease.

Emperor Constantine IX

Constantine set about reforming the Byzantine administration, exiling John the Orphanotrophos from court for a second time, and surrounding himself with noted intellectuals, among them Michael Psellos. However, his reforms and neglect of the army led to two uprisings, in 1043 and 1047, respectively, and saw the frontiers of the empire crumbling under incursions from the Normans, the Seljuks and the Pechenegs.

Constantine outlived his wife; Zoe died in 1050, aged about 72. And when her sister, Theodora, died in 1056, the Macedonian dynasty founded by Basil I (reigned 867-886) came to an end. Zoe is remembered in the gold and glass mosaic of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (now Istanbul) in which she is portrayed with Constantine IX and Jesus Christ. The inscription reads ‘Zoe, the most pious Augusta’.

Pictures:

Courtesy of Wikipaedia

Sources:

britannica.com; A History of the Vikings by T.D. Kendrick; God’s Viking: Harald Hardrada by Nic Fields; Heimskringla. The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway by Snorre Strurluson; Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest by Sharon Bennett Connolly; Ancient History Encyclopedia.

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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 

Book Corner: Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a man of his word.

An oath bound him to King Alfred. An oath bound him to Æthelflaed. And now an oath will wrench him away from the ancestral home he fought so hard to regain. For Uhtred has sworn that on King Edward’s death, he will kill two men. And now Edward is dying.

A violent attack drives Uhtred south with a small band of warriors, and headlong into the battle for kingship. Plunged into a world of shifting alliances and uncertain loyalties, he will need all his strength and guile to overcome the fiercest warrior of them all.
 
As two opposing Kings gather their armies, fate drags Uhtred to London, and a struggle for control that must leave one King victorious, and one dead. But fate – as Uhtred has learned to his cost – is inexorable. Wyrd bið ful ãræd. And Uhtred’s destiny is to stand at the heart of the shield wall once again…

I have said a few times that I am a big Bernard Cornwell fan. I have been reading his books since I was 14 and the Sharpe series was the inspiration for my dissertation at university. He is the most thoughtful author out there; he publishes a book every year in October, just in time for my birthday (for which the hubby and I are equally grateful!). This year was no exception.

This is the 12th outing for Uhtred of Bebbanburgh and Bernard Cornwell has done it again! Sword of Kings is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure set in 10th century England. Full of action, intrigue, friendship and a little bit of love, the master storyteller has given us yet another book that is impossible to put down.

Uhtred’s penchant for swearing oaths, and for standing by his oaths, once again gets him into trouble. This time he has sworn to help put Athelstan on the throne; the grandson of King Alfred and nephew of Uhtred’s former love, Æthelflaed, he is the eldest son of King Edward the Elder. But there is a question over his legitimacy and other, powerful nobles would see Athelstan’s half-brother, Ælfweard. Luckily for Athelstan, Uhtred has also sworn to kill Ælfweard and his uncle, Æthelhelm. However, fulfilling an oath is not as easy as making it!

So Æthelhelm the Younger had sent his youngest brother to kill me. He had equipped a fleet, and offered gold to the crew, and placed a rancid priest on the ships to inspire Æthelwulf with righteous anger. Æthelhelm knew it would be next to impossible to kill me while I stayed inside the fortress and knew too that he could not send sufficient en to ambush me on my lands without those men being discovered and slaughtered by Northumbria’s warriors, so he had been clever. Her had sent men to ambush me at sea.

Æthelwulf was the fleet’s leader, but Æthelhelm knew that his brother, though imbued with the family’s hatred of me, was not the most ruthless of men, and so he had sent Father Ceolnoth to fill Æthelwulf with holy stupidity, and he also sent the man they called Edgar. Except that was not his real name. Æthelhelm had wanted no one to know of the fleet’s true allegiance, or to connect my death to his orders. He had hoped the blame would be placed on piracy, or on some passing Norse ship, and so he had commanded the leaders to use any name except their own. Æthelwulf had become Wistan, and I learned that Edgar was really Waormund.

I knew Waormund. He was a huge West Saxon, a brutal man, with a slab face scarred from his right eyebrow to his lower left jaw. I remembered his eyes, dead as stone. In battle Waormund was a man you would want standing beside you because he was capable of terrible violence, but he was also a man who revelled in that savagery. A strong man, even taller than me, and implacable. He was a warrior, and, though you might want his help in a battle, no one but a fool would want Waormund as an enemy. ‘Why,’ I asked Æthelwulf the next morning, ‘was Waormund in your smallest ship?’

‘I ordered him into that ship, lord, because I wanted him gone! He is not a Christian.’

‘He’s a pagan?’

‘He’s a beast. It was Waormund who tortured the captives. I tried to stop him.’

But Father Ceolnoth encouraged him?’

‘Yes.’ Æthelwulf nodded miserably. We were walking on Bebbanburg’s ramparts. The sun glittered from an empty sea and a small wind brought the smell of seaweed and salt. ‘I tried to stop Waormund,’ Æthelwulf went on, ‘and he cursed me and he cursed God.’

‘He cursed your god?’ I asked, amused.

As we have come to expect from Bernard Cornwell, the action is non-stop. the writing is up to his usual high standard, keeping the reader enthralled from the first page to the last. Uhtred gets himself into some of the worst scrapes yet, leaving the reader petrified that his luck will finally run out…

Uhtred has always been a sympathetic character to me, ruthless in battle but with a softer side for his lovers and (most of) his children. What shines through in this book, probably more so than in the rest of the series, is his friendship with Finan. These two men have been through Hell together – slavery and countless battles – and their relationship has always remained strong. In Sword of Kings it is this friendship that drives the book; their mutual trust and reliance on each other, in battle and out, is what makes this book so engaging.

Bernard Cornwell is a natural storyteller, one of the best at the craft. Sword of Kings is yet more testament to that fact. You never quite know how it is going to work out for Uhtred – he is not immune to loss and suffering – which is what always makes these books so gripping – you know he is not going to come out of his adventures totally unscathed. The suspense, the drama, the intrigue and action all come together to make yet another perfect chapter in Uhtred’s story.

Uhtred may be fictional, but other characters are real, and as always, there is an author’s note at the end to explain the history behind the story.

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About the Author

Bernard Cornwell was born in London and worked in television until he met his American wife and moved to the US. Denied a work permit, he wrote a novel and has been writing ever since.

A master storyteller with a passion for history, his current bestselling series, THE LAST KINGDOM, is centred around the creation of England. It is also a major TV series on Netflix, with Bernard playing a cameo role in season three. The fourth season is currently being filmed.

He is also the author of THE GRAIL QUEST series, set in the Hundred Years’ War, THE WARLORD chronicles, set in Arthurian Britain, a number of standalone novels, one non-fiction work on Waterloo and the series with which he began, the SHARPE series.

For exciting news, tour and publication details, and exclusive content from Bernard visit http://www.bernardcornwell.net and like his author page on Facebook/Bernard.Cornwel

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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