10 Facts About Women and Magna Carta

Magna Carta

Magna Carta is probably the most significant charter in English history and, today, its importance extends beyond England’s shores, holding a special place in the constitutions of many countries around the world. Despite its age, Magna Carta’s iconic status is a more modern phenomena, seen in the influence it has had on nations and organisations throughout the world, such as the United States of America and the United Nations, who have used it as the basis for their own 1791 Bill of Rights and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respectively.

Originally called the Charter of Liberties, it was renamed Magna Carta, or Great Charter, in 1217, when the Charter of the Forest (see Appendix C) was issued. Sealed (not signed) in the meadow at Runnymede in June 1215, the legacy of Magna Carta, down through the centuries, has enjoyed a much greater impact on history and the people of the world than it did at the time of its creation. As a peace treaty between rebellious barons and the infamous King John, it was an utter failure, thrown out almost before the wax seals had hardened, not worth the parchment it was written on.

The Magna Carta of 1215 reflects the needs and events of the time in which it was issued; an England on the brink of civil war, disaffected barons demanding redress, the Church and cities such as London looking for protection. It was not a charter that was intended to form the protection and legal rights of every man, woman and child in the land; though it has come to be seen as just that in subsequent centuries. Indeed, the common man does not get a mention, and of the sixty-three clauses, only eight of them mention women as a gender. Only one clause uses the word femina – woman – and that is a clause which restricts the rights and powers of a woman, rather than upholding them.

10 Facts About Women and Magna Carta

1. As queen, Isabelle d’Angoulême is mentioned in Clause 61, the security clause of Magna Carta:

Seal of Isaballe d’Angoulême

…And if we or our justiciar, should we be out of the kingdom, do not redress the offence within forty days from the time it was brought to the notice of us or our justiciar, should we be out of the kingdom, the aforesaid four barons shall refer the case to the rest of the twenty-five barons and those twenty-five barons with the commune of all the land shall distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely by seizing castles, lands and possessions, and in such other ways as they can, saving our person and those of our queen and our children, until, in their judgement, amends have been made; and when it has been redressed they are to obey us as they did before…

2. Other than Isabelle d’Angoulême, only 2 women can be positively identified in the text of Magna Carta. Though they are not named, the Scottish princesses, Isabella and Margaret appear in clause 59 as the ‘sisters’ of Alexander II, King of Scots:

We will treat Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages and his liberties and rights in the same manner in which we will act towards our other barons of England, unless it ought to be otherwise because of the charters which we have from William his father, formerly king of Scots; and this shall be determined by the judgement of his peers in our court.

3. Magna Carta restricts the right of women to accuse others of murder. Clause 54 states: 

‘No one shall be taken or imprisoned upon the appeal of a woman for the death of anyone except her husband.’

King John

In a time when a man had the right to face his accuser in trial by combat to prove his innocence, this right would be automatically removed if his accuser was a woman; women were not allowed to use force of arms. A female accuser was seen as being able to circumvent the law, and therefore the law was open to abuse. It was merely that a woman may make a false accusation, rather that a woman may be manipulated by her menfolk to make an accusation, knowing that she would not be required to back it up by feat of arms. Whereas her husband, father or brother may have been challenged to do just that.

Clause 54 was used on 5 July 1215, when King John ordered the release of Everard de Mildeston, an alleged murderer. Everard had been accused of the murder of her son, Richard, by Seina Chevel. The charge was therefore forbidden under the terms of Magna Carta, and the accused released.

4. The experiences of Loretta de Braose are believed to have inspired Clauses 7 and 8, which sought to protect the rights of widows. Clause 7 established that:

After her husband’s death, a widow shall have her marriage portion and her inheritance at once and without any hindrance; nor shall she pay anything for her dower, her marriage portion, or her inheritance which she and her husband held on the day of her husband’s death; and she may stay in her husband’s house for 40 days after his death, within which period her dower shall be assigned to her.’

6. Clause 8 allowed that a widow was to be free to choose whether or not to remarry, so long as she paid for the privilege:

No widow shall be compelled to marry so long as she wishes to live without a husband, provided that she gives security that she will not marry without our consent if she holds of us, or without the consent of the lord of whom she holds, if she holds of another.’

The clauses protecting widows were intended to protect the inheritances of underage heirs, rather than the rights of the women themselves.

7. Clause 11 protects a wife from having to repay the debts of her dead husband from her dower:

And if a man dies owing a debt to the Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing of that debt; and if he leaves children under age, their needs shall be met in a manner in keeping with the holding of the deceased; and the debts shall be paid out of the residue, saving the service due to the lords. Debts owing to others than Jews shall be dealt with likewise.’

8. Clause 12 allows the king to raise a ‘reasonable’ aid or scutage (taxes) to pay towards the first marriage of his eldest daughter:

Joan of England, King John’s oldest daughter

No scutage or aid shall be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our realm, unless it is for the ransom of our person, the knighting of our eldest son or the first marriage of our eldest daughter; and for these only a reasonable aid is to be levied. Aids from the city of London are to be treated likewise.’

9. Clause 15 allows that no lord could raise a tax from his free men except to ransom his person, knight his eldest son and marry his eldest daughter once:

Henceforth we will not grant anyone that he may take an aid from his free men except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight and to marry his eldest daughter once; and for these purposes only a reasonable aid is to be levied.’

10. The fate of Matilda de Braose, left to starve to death in John’s dungeons, is thought to have influenced clauses 39 and 40 of Magna Carta. Clause 39 states;

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

Clause 40 promised:

To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’

Clause 39 could not prevent the perpetual imprisonment of women of royal blood, such as Eleanor of Brittany and Gwenllian of Wales. Their royal blood made them a focus for rebellion and opposition and therefore a threat to the throne and the stability of the kingdom.

11. Ela of Salisbury used clause 8 of Magna Carta to support her rejection of an unwelcome offer of marriage:

No widow is to be distrained to marry while she wishes to live without a husband.’

12. Clause 6 of Magna Carta dictated that

Heirs shall be given in marriage without disparagement, yet so that before a marriage is contracted it shall be made known to the heir’s next of kin.’

This clause should have effectively protected women from being forced to marry below their station.

13. Isabel d’Aubigny famously invoked Magna Carta when Henry III commandeered land and rights that were rightly hers, proclaiming; 

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

14. The Rt. Hon. Fiona Woolf, C.B.E., called Magna Carta

the single most important legal document in history. The foundation for global constitutions, commerce and communities. The anchor for the Rule of Law.’ 

You may have noticed that there were 14 facts, rather than the 10 as advertised – my apologies. I got carried away!

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Sources:

Rich Price, King John’s Letters Facebook group; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made EnglandThe Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Ralph of Diceto, Images of History; Marc Morris, King John; David Crouch, William Marshal; Crouch and Holden, History of William Marshal; Crouch, David, ‘William Marshal [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c. 1146–1219)’, Oxforddnb.com; Flanagan, M.T., ‘Isabel de Clare, suo jure countess of Pembroke (1171×6–1220)’, Oxforddnb.com; Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight; Chadwick, Elizabeth, ‘Clothing the Bones: Finding Mahelt Marshal’, livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com; Stacey, Robert C., ‘Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk (c. 1212-1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com.

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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,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and England

Tomb effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Fontevrault

Eleanor of Aquitaine is the only woman to have ever worn the crowns of both England and France. Eleanor was the ultimate survivor and, despite many setbacks, lived to a great age, revered and respected to the very end. Her life story has filled many a volume over the years; she has even been promoted as the first feminist. However, Eleanor lived within the bounds of medieval society, even if she did break the mould in many ways. Eleanor was born in the early 1120s, probably around 1122–4. Her father was Guillaume, 8th Count of Poitou and 10th Duke of Aquitaine. Her mother was Alienor, or Aenor, daughter of Aimery I, Vicomte of Châtellerault. Eleanor was one of three children; she had a sister called Petronilla and a brother, Guillaume. Little Guillaume died during childhood, shortly before the death of the children’s mother. After the death of her brother, Eleanor became her father’s heir, at least until he remarried.

Duke William died unexpectedly during Easter week 1137, while on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Eleanor was somewhere in her mid-teens at the time of her father’s death, and was not expected to be able to rule the valuable inheritance of Aquitaine alone. Just months after her father’s death, in July 1137, she was married to Louis VII of France. It is entirely possible the marriage had been planned during her father’s lifetime and brought forward due to the Duke’s untimely death. At the time of the wedding, Louis was heir to the French throne. Although he had been crowned as junior king in 1131, during his father’s lifetime, a tradition in the French royal house, a way of securing or at least signalling the succession. Shortly after the wedding on 1 August 1137, he succeeded as sole King of France, when his father, Louis VI, died of dysentery. During the years of the marriage the significance of Eleanor’s lands was highlighted by the fact Louis went by the combined title of ‘King of the French and Duke of Aquitaine’.

A 14th-century representation of, at left, the wedding of Louis and Eleanor; at right, Louis leaving on Crusade.

There seems to have been some issue concerning Eleanor’s fertility, with her first child not arriving until eight years into the marriage. There is a story that the revered abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux, had a meeting with Eleanor sometime around 1144, at St Denis, and promised to intercede with God for a son and heir to the French throne. Although Eleanor’s first surviving child was born soon after, in 1145, it was a daughter, Marie, rather than the much-desired son. The year 1144, however, also saw the fall of Edessa, far away in the Holy Land, prompting the pope to call for a new Crusade. A Crusade appealed to Louis, who was seeking atonement for an atrocity committed in his name during the invasion of Champagne, in support of Eleanor’s sister, Petronilla. Petronilla had caused scandal at the French court, by running away with Raoul of Vermandois and marrying him, despite the fact he already had a wife, the niece of the Count of Champagne. As a consequence, the two lovers were both excommunicated. However, conflict with Champagne soon followed. When Louis’ men took the town of Vitry, some 1,300 men, women and children sought sanctuary in the town’s church. Every single one of them perished when the church was burned to the ground by Louis’ marauding soldiers.

It may well be that Eleanor joined the Second Crusade in the hope that God looked favourably on her, enough to give her a son. Maybe she wanted to help her uncle, Raymond of Toulouse, who was Prince of Antioch, who had sent presents accompanied by appeals for help, to his niece and her husband. Or maybe it was Eleanor’s own desire for adventure. Whatever her reason, it was both Eleanor and Louis who took the cross at Vézelay on Easter Day, 31 March 1146, following an inspiring call to arms by Bernard of Clairvaux.

Louis VII

The Second Crusade proved to be the defining point of Eleanor’s marriage to Louis. Led jointly by Louis and the German emperor, Conrad III, it was an unmitigated disaster. Louis lost his personal bodyguard in the heavy defeat by the Seljuk Turks, at Laodicea, in January 1148, while still en route to Outremer. The French forces finally reached the Holy Land, arriving at Antioch, the home of Eleanor’s uncle, Raymond, just a few months later. The warm welcome and lavish attention to his niece soon brought about rumours that Raymond and Eleanor were more than niece and uncle. The persistent rumours of Eleanor’s infidelity, and incest with her uncle, led Louis to put her under close guard, despite a lack of any firm evidence of wrongdoing. She remained under such supervision – although discreetly, so as not to offend her vassals from Aquitaine, who made up a considerable part of Louis’ army. Looking at the evidence today, it is impossible to know whether the rumours, which included not just infidelity but also the birth of a child, had any foundation in truth or were merely fanciful accusations.

Louis fulfilled his pilgrimage by entering Jerusalem in 1148, making the final leg of the journey to the Holy Sepulchre, on foot and fasting, just like countless pilgrims before him. In a council at Acre, Louis and his allies then decided that the best course of action was to take Damascus, with the original aim of the Crusade – to retake Edessa – being forgotten or sidelined. However, attempts to retake the city ended in failure and Louis returned, first to Antioch and then to Jerusalem. The Second Crusade was at an end and, owing to the rumours of infidelity, Louis and Eleanor’s marriage had been dealt a fatal blow.

In 1149, Louis celebrated Easter in the Holy City of Jerusalem, before embarking at Acre for the return journey to France. Eleanor and her ladies travelled separately in another ship. They were reunited in September 1149 and were given a magnificent reception at Potenza, by King Roger of Sicily. From Sicily, they visited the pope, Eugenius III, at Tusculum. Eugenius attempted mediation in the royal marriage, going so far as to insist that they sleep together in a bed which he had personally blessed. Some temporary reconciliation must have been achieved, as their second daughter, Alix, was born within a year. However, with the failure to produce the desired male heir, a permanent reconciliation escaped them and
a divorce, on the grounds of consanguinity, was finally proclaimed during Lent of 1152.

Henry II

Louis attempted to retain control of Aquitaine by insisting that he approve of any prospective husband of Eleanor’s; but the duchess rode away from the French court, and her daughters, returning to her own lands in Aquitaine in the spring of 1152. Eleanor’s marriage – and Aquitaine – was a coveted prize and her journey home was not without its perils. She is said to have narrowly escaped ambushes by the Count of Blois and Geoffrey of Anjou, second son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. Nevertheless, it seems likely that Eleanor had already decided her future even before her divorce was proclaimed by the clerics at Beaugency. A year earlier, Henry of Anjou and his father, Count Geoffrey, husband of Empress Matilda, had been in attendance at the French court for Henry to swear fealty for the Duchy of Normandy, and to settle disputes over the northwestern county, the Vexin. Although the Vexin issue was far from settled, Henry rode away, confirmed as Duke of Normandy and, possibly, with a promise of marriage from the soon-to-be divorced queen.

Although the marriage of Henry and Eleanor is often presented as a love-match, it was a marriage of hardheaded practicality with mutual benefits. Eleanor needed a husband who was strong enough to stand up to Louis. As Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, and with the possibility of the crown of England tantalisingly close, Henry was the ideal choice as Eleanor’s new husband. They were married in Poitiers Cathedral in May 1152; Eleanor was around thirty years old and Henry was nineteen. Louis was furious and called Henry to court to explain himself for having married without the permission of his liege lord. When Henry failed to appear, Louis formed a coalition against him, persuading King Stephen to attack Normandy from England, while he attacked from the south. Stephen was keen to oblige, hoping to secure the English succession for his son, Eustace, and neutralise the threat posed by Henry. Louis’ other allies included Thibault of Blois, recently betrothed to Alix, the two-year-old daughter of Louis and Eleanor; and Henry of Champagne, who was now married to seven-year-old Marie, Louis and Eleanor’s eldest daughter, and Eleanor’s heir to Aquitaine, at least until Eleanor and Henry had a son.

Louis had thought Henry was preoccupied with plans for invading England. Instead, he quickly reacted to the French king’s aggression, conducting a lightning campaign, which caught Louis off guard. The French king was completely outmanoeuvred and was quick to acquiesce when the Church called for peace. Henry
could then turn his attention to England, which he invaded in However, the death of Stephen’s oldest son and heir, Eustace, in August of that year ultimately led to the Treaty of Winchester, with Stephen bypassing his youngest son, William, in order to settle the succession on Henry and bring to a close the twenty years of warfare, known as the Anarchy. When Stephen died the following year, Henry’s accession followed peacefully. Henry and Eleanor were crowned, together, in a magnificent ceremony in Westminster Abbey, on 19 December 1154. They now ruled an empire that stretched from the borders of Scotland in the north, to the borders of Spain in the south.

Tomb effigies of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Fontevrault

By the time of her marriage to Henry, Eleanor had already survived the birthing chamber on at least two occasions, with the births of her daughters, Marie and Alix, by Louis VII. Although she had only produced two children in fifteen years of marriage to Louis, by the time of her coronation Eleanor had already provided Henry with a son and heir, William, born in August 1153. William died in England in 1156, aged just three, with his mother by his side, and his father away in the family’s Continental domains. However, he had already been joined in the nursery by another son, Henry, born in February 1155, and a daughter, Matilda, who was two months old when little William died. Childbirth was a dangerous time for women, with no guarantee that having survived once, twice or three times, you would survive a fourth or fifth confinement. Nevertheless, after William’s death, Eleanor safely delivered another five children into the world. Her favourite son, Richard, who was her choice as heir to Aquitaine, was born in September 1157 and another son, Geoffrey, who became Duke of Brittany when he married the duchy’s heiress, Constance, arrived twelve months later. Eleanor, who would become Queen of Castile, was born in October 1162, and Joanna, who would initially marry the King of Sicily and then Raymond VI of Toulouse, arrived in October 1165. Eleanor’s fifth son, and tenth and last child, John, was born at Christmas, 1167. Having given birth to ten children over the course of twenty-two years, Eleanor had survived the most perilous aspect of any medieval woman’s life. She would have been well aware of the risk she was taking every time she entered the birthing chamber, knowing that either she or the baby, or both, may not survive.

During their married life together Henry was constantly on the move, travelling between his vast domains, dealing with restless barons, dispensing justice and holding court. Eleanor joined him when she could, depending on her state of pregnancy or recent childbirths. In 1156, for example, still grieving for her three-year-old son William, Eleanor crossed the English Channel with her surviving son, eighteen-month-old Henry, and daughter Matilda, when Matilda was just two months old, journeying to join Henry in Anjou, before moving on to Aquitaine in October. Travel had its own dangers; the English Channel is not the calmest of sea roads and Henry’s own uncle, William, son and heir of Henry I, had been killed in the White Ship tragedy in 1120, when his ship had foundered leaving harbour, killing all but one of the people on board.

Tomb effigy thought to be William Marshal, the Temple Church, London

Land journeys could be equally hazardous. Indeed, Eleanor was almost kidnapped or killed in April 1168, when travelling through the hills of Poitou, escorted by Patrick, Earl of Salisbury, and his men. The party were ambushed by Eleanor’s rebellious vassals, Geoffrey and Guy de Lusignan. Salisbury and his men were travelling, unarmoured, when the de Lusignans fell upon them. The earl ‘sent the Queen on to the castle’ at Poitiers while he and the remainder of his men held off the attackers, giving the queen time to make it to safety. The earl was killed by a lance during the vicious skirmish; his nephew, William Marshal, was wounded in the thigh and captured after having his horse killed under him. William spent several months in captivity, his wounds healing despite the harsh treatment meted out by the de Lusignans. William was a young, penniless knight and was finally released when Queen Eleanor agreed to pay his ransom. William then joined the queen’s household, before joining that of her son, Henry. William Marshal would faithfully serve five English kings – Henry II, Henry, the Young King, crowned during his father’s lifetime, Richard I the Lionheart, King John and, finally, Henry III, for whom the aged Marshal was regent.

The years 1169 to 1173 were spent, almost exclusively for Eleanor, in her duchy of Aquitaine with her son, Richard, who she was training as her eventual successor. Richard was invested as Count of Poitou and, in 1169, paid homage to Eleanor’s first husband, King Louis, for the Duchy of Aquitaine. In 1173, however, news reached Henry II that his sons were plotting against him. The boys – now men – were tired of frequently having the possibility of power and responsibility dangled before them, only for their father to withdraw it at the last minute. Henry’s eldest son, Henry, the Young King, fled to the court of Louis VII, his father-in-law since his marriage to Louis’ daughter, Marguerite, in 1160. For unknown reasons, Eleanor sided with her sons against their father. It was later suggested that Eleanor had been incensed at Henry’s relationship with Rosamund Clifford – the Fair Rosamund – and that, wounded by this betrayal, had joined or incited her sons’ rebellion.

Eleanor prepares to poison Rosamund by Evelyn De Morgan

There is, in fact, no contemporary evidence that the affair caused Eleanor’s rebellion and her reasons remain obscure. She may have resented the restrictions of power placed on her, or the fact Henry would not allow their sons any exercise of power. Whatever the reason, Eleanor joined the rebellion, and lost. Her sons were outmanoeuvred and defeated by Henry. Far from humiliating them, however, Henry came to terms with his sons and an uneasy peace ensued. On the other hand, Henry was not so forgiving of Eleanor, who was captured while trying to escape Poitou; she had tried to reach the safety of the French court, dressed in men’s clothing. In 1174, Henry sent his queen to imprisonment in England, possibly at Salisbury, under heavy guard.

Eleanor was kept securely at first, but her imprisonment was relaxed as the years passed, especially after the death of her son, Henry, the Young King, who had pleaded with his father from his deathbed in 1183, that his mother be treated less harshly. In subsequent years, Eleanor was allowed at court for some ceremonial occasions, and was allowed visits by her daughter, Matilda, who had been exiled with her husband, Henry of Saxony, from their German lands. Matilda was instrumental in getting the restrictions eased even further and, although she was still in the custody of guards, Eleanor was allowed to reside with Matilda at various locations in England, including Windsor and Berkhamsted. However, fifteen years of imprisonment in England, far away from her homeland and court in Aquitaine, cannot have been easy for a queen used to riding freely across the vast domains she and her husband possessed.

The queen was only released after Henry’s death in 1189; indeed, ordering his mother’s release was one of the first acts of her son, Richard I. And the queen was there to welcome him for his ceremonial entry into Winchester in August 1189. Now in her mid-sixties, Eleanor was given a new lease of life, and lived it
with the same energy and vigour she had in the years before her imprisonment. Almost immediately, Eleanor was trusted with the oversight of the government of England. In 1190 she travelled to Navarre, to collect Richard’s bride, Berengaria, and deliver the princess to her son, then en route to the Holy Land on the Third Crusade. After a winter journey over the Alps, the queen, now almost seventy, escorted Berenagria to a rendezvous with Richard at Messina in Sicily in March 1191. Having fulfilled her mission, Eleanor set off home, almost immediately; although not before what must have been an emotional reunion with her youngest daughter, Joanna, who was Queen of Sicily and had been widowed in November 1189, but held prisoner by her husband’s successor, Tancred. Richard affected her release and his sister was now to be a companion for his bride; Joanna accompanied Richard and Berenagria to the Holy Land.

Richard I

Eleanor was later instrumental in securing her son’s release from captivity in Germany. Richard had been captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, on his return journey from the Holy Land, in December 1192. He was handed over to the Holy Roman Emperor, Heinrich VI, in March 1193. During Richard’s captivity, Eleanor was inexhaustible in her attempts to raise the ransom, some 150,000 marks and to keep her son, John, in check. John took the opportunity created by Richard’s absence to make a play for power; he and Philip II Augustus, King of France, went so far as to offer Heinrich 80,000 marks to keep Richard incarcerated. John was still in open opposition to his brother when Eleanor finally secured Richard’s release, on 4 February 1194. Eleanor travelled to Germany to personally hand over the ransom payment and escort Richard home. As news of Richard’s release reached England, John fled to France.

Richard’s death in April 1199, must have come as a horrific blow for Eleanor; the loss of her favourite son, at just forty-one years of age, caused immense grief. Richard’s death was soon followed by that of Joanna, Eleanor’s youngest daughter, who, heavily pregnant and hurt, had sought refuge with her mother at Rouen. Eleanor was by her daughter’s side as she gave birth to a son, Richard, who lived only long enough to be baptised. Joanna died within moments of her son, in September 1199, and mother and baby were buried together at the Abbey of Fontevrault.

Having lost four of her children in quick succession – her two daughters with Louis, Alix and Marie, also died in 1197 and 1198, respectively – and with her youngest son, John, now on the English throne, Eleanor undertook one final, diplomatic mission. Nearing her eightieth year, Queen Eleanor journeyed across the Pyrenees to Castile, in search of a bride for Louis, the dauphin of France and grandson of her first husband, Louis VII. England’s Dowager Queen was received at the court of Alfonso VIII and her own daughter, Eleanor, Queen of Castile, with all the pomp and pageantry the Castilians could muster. She stayed there for more than two months, taking the opportunity to spend some time with her daughter and getting to know her granddaughters. Eleanor of Aquitaine seems to have decided that twelve-year-old Blanca would make a more suitable bride for Louis than her sister, Uracca. Eleanor then brought Blanca back to France and delivered her to her bridegroom, Louis; the couple were married in Normandy, as France was under papal interdict at the time, owing to the marital indiscretions of Louis’ father, King Philip II Augustus.

King John

Following her delivery of Blanca to her new husband, Eleanor retired to the Abbey at Fontevrault. She did not take the veil as a nun, but lived in her own house within the abbey’s precincts. However, the eighty-year-old queen had one final adventure in 1202, when she was besieged by her fifteen-year-old grandson, Arthur, Duke of Brittany, at Mirebeau. Arthur had rebelled against his uncle, King John, and made an attempt on the English throne. In a remarkable forced march, John quickly came to his mother’s rescue, capturing Arthur and his sister, Eleanor, and raising the siege. Arthur disappeared into King John’s dungeons at Rouen and probably died there during Easter, 1203. His sister, Eleanor, was sent to England, to a perpetual, if comfortable, imprisonment.

The event was Eleanor’s last major adventure; increasingly frail, she retreated to Fontevrault, where she died on 31 March 1204, aged around eighty-two. She had outlived all but two of her children, with only Eleanor in Castile, and John in England, still living. She was buried in the abbey church alongside her second husband, Henry II, and her son, Richard, and daughter, Joanna. Eleanor of Aquitaine had survived the Second Crusade, several kidnap attempts, fifteen years of imprisonment and giving birth to ten children. She was the most remarkable woman of the medieval age, the ultimate survivor and a heroine to the core.

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources:

.Jane Martindale, Eleanor, suo jure Duchess of Aquitaine (c.1122–1204) (article), Oxforddnb.com; Douglas Boyd, Eleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine; The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens; Thomas Abridge, The greatest Knight; Mary Anne Everett Green, Lives of the Princesses of England from the Norman Conquest; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Alison Weir Eleanor of Aquitaine, by the Wrath of God, Queen of England; britannica.com; geni.com; royalwomenblogspot.co.uk; medievalqueens.com; Brewer’s Royalty by David Williamson

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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, Bookshop.org 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,  AmazonBookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Lancaster Sisters

Although they had the same start in life, the two daughters of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster led very different lives as adults. While Philippa would become the mother of the Illustrious Generation of Portuguese princes, Elizabeth would have to overcome scandal and the taint of treason before finding love in the last of her three marriages.

John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

Philippa of Lancaster was born at Leicester on 31st March 1360. She was the eldest daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and 4th son of Edward III, and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, great-great-granddaughter of Henry III. Philippa’s father was one of the richest men in the country – and one of the most powerful. Her life as a child would have been one of luxury and privilege, with a glorious dynastic marriage awaiting her in the future. Philippa was raised alongside her younger sister, Elizabeth, who was born in 1363/4, and her baby brother, Henry of Bolingbroke, born in 1367.

The children lost their mother when Blanche died at Tutbury on 12th September 1368, from the complications following the birth a daughter, Isabella, who did not survive. The children’s father was with Blanche when she died but departed on campaign to France soon after; although it is doubtful the children’s care was interrupted.

Philippa and her sister were raised together in one household, with Blanche Swynford, the daughter of their mother’s lady-in-waiting, Katherine Swynford. John of Gaunt provided his daughters with an annual allowance of £200. The Lancaster household was well-organised and run by Katherine, now the girls’ governess. She became mistress to their father, John of Gaunt, in early 1371. Despite his relationship with Katherine, in September 1371 the Lancaster children gained a stepmother in their father’s new bride, Constance of Castile. Constance was the daughter and heir of Pedro the Cruel, the deceased King of Castile who had been murdered by his half-brother, Henry of Trastámara, in March 1369. A new sister arrived when Constance gave birth to Catherine (Catalina) of Lancaster, in 1372/3.

Despite several dynastic marriage propositions, by 1385 and at 25 years old Philippa was still unmarried. However, in the following year her father took all three of his daughters on his military expedition to Spain, hoping to claim the kingdom of Castile in right of his second wife, Constance. Philippa’s marriage to John – or Joao – I of Portugal was agreed as part of an alliance made with her father at Ponte do Mouro in November 1386. Philippa was married to King John at Oporto on 2nd February 1387, before they had even received the required papal dispensation. Philippa was 26 – about 10 years older than the average age for a princess to marry. John of Portugal was three years her senior and had been king for just short of two years.

Philippa of Lancaster, Queen of Portugal

Almost immediately after the wedding John returned to the war. In July 1387 Philippa miscarried their first child while visiting John at Curval, where he lay seriously ill. However, after what appears to have been a bumpy start, the couple seem to have been well-matched. John had had two illegitimate children before his marriage, but was demonstrably faithful to Philippa after the wedding. In fact, when court gossip reached the queen with rumours that he had been unfaithful, John went to great lengths to convince Philippa of his innocence. He even went so far as to commemorate the event by having a room in the royal apartments at Sintra decorated with chattering magpies as reference to the court gossips.

Philippa became known as ‘Dona Fillipa’ in Portugal and would be one of the country’s best-loved queens. Her natural disposition to austerity and piety was endearing to the Portuguese people. Philippa reformed the court and encouraged courtly games among her ladies. French poet Eustace Deschamps characterised her as the chief patron of the order of The Flower of England, casting her at the centre of the court and the May Day celebrations.

Instrumental in fostering links between England and Portugal, Philippa had been made a Lady of the Garter in 1378. She was on good terms with both Richard II and his successor – her brother, Henry IV. In 1399 she wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, asking him to intervene with Henry on behalf of her friend, Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich, who had angered the new king by defending Richard II at the time of Henry’s invasion of England and seizure of the throne. Philippa also had a hand in persuading Henry to arrange the marriage of her stepdaughter, Beatriz (John’s illegitimate daughter) to the earl of Arundel in 1405.

Philippa and John were to have a large family, which they brought up with great care. Of their 9 children, five sons and a daughter survived infancy and would later be known in Portugal as ‘the Illustrious Generation’ (a Ínclita Geração).

Their eldest surviving son, Edward, was born in 1391 and would succeed his father as King of Portugal in 1433. Peter, Duke of Coimbra, was born in 1392 and would act as regent for his nephew, Afonso V, following Edward’s death in 1438. Their most famous son was Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’, Duke of Viseu, who was renowned for financing and researching great explorations. Another son was John, Duke of Beja and Constable of Portugal, who married Isabella, the daughter of Alfonso I, Duke of Braganza. And the baby of the family was Ferdinand, Grand Master of Aviz. He was born in 1402 and was later known as ‘the Saint Prince’ following his death as a prisoner of the Moors. John and Philippa’s one daughter, Isabella, was born in 1397 and would go on to marry Philip III the Good, Duke of Burgundy; she was the mother of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

Tomb of John and Philippa, Batalha Abbey

By 1415 Philippa’s oldest sons were itching to prove their martial prowess. Scorning their father’s offer to hold a magnificent tournament for them, they persuaded him to mount an attack on the port of Ceuta in North Africa. It was as they were about to set sail that Philippa fell ill with the plague. She died at Odivelas, near Lisbon, on 18/19th July 1415, aged 55. On her deathbed she gave her three eldest sons a jewel encrusted sword, each, in anticipation of their impending knighthoods. She also gave them a piece of the true cross and her blessing for the forthcoming military expedition, exhorting “them to preserve their faith and to fulfil the duties of their rank”.

Described as pious, charitable, affable and obedient to her husband, Queen Philippa was held up as a model queen. She was buried in the Dominican Priory at Batalha Abbey, which had been founded by King John, who would be laid beside her after his death in August 1433. Their sons, Ferdinand, John, Henry and Peter, were laid to rest along the south side of the same chapel.

Philippa’s sister, Elizabeth, was not to have such a glittering international marriage. She was also made a Lady of the Garter in 1378 and, in 1380, when she was seventeen years old, her future appeared to be decided when she married John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, at Kenilworth Castle. However, the young Earl was only about seven years old at the time, being Elizabeth’s junior by ten years, and the princess soon tired of waiting for her bridegroom to grow up. The unconsummated marriage was eventually dissolved around the same time that it was discovered that Elizabeth was pregnant by Sir John Holland, half-brother of Elizabeth’s cousin, King Richard II. John already had a bit of a reputation and was rumoured to have been having an affair with Elizabeth’s aunt, Isabella of Castile, wife of Edmund, Duke of York, and there was a possibility that he was the father of Isabella’s youngest son, Richard of Conisbrough.

Arms of John Holland, Duke of Exeter, Elizabeth’s second husband

Whether Elizabeth was seduced by John Holland, or whether they fell in love, we cannot be certain. However, once the affair was discovered, Elizabeth and Holland were hurriedly married, near Plymouth, on 24 June 1386. Within two weeks, the couple were aboard ship with John of Gaunt, his wife Constance, and daughters, Philippa and Catherine; ninety ships and thousands of men were taking part in an expedition aimed at winning the throne of Castile for Constance and John. Elizabeth gave birth to her daughter Constance, in early 1387. She would have been nursing the infant throughout the disastrous campaign in Castile, which saw the army decimated by a combination of sickness, the unfriendly climate and dwindling supplies. By May 1387, John of Gaunt and his ally, John I of Portugal, the husband of Elizabeth’s older sister Philippa since February, had agreed peace terms with Castile.

At the end of May 1387, Elizabeth, her husband and their baby girl left the army and returned to English soil, after receiving a safe-conduct to travel through Castile. On 2 June 1388 John was created Earl of Huntingdon by his half-brother, the king; he would be elevated to Duke of Exeter on 29 September 1397.

The marriage produced at least four children, three sons and a daughter. Constance, the oldest, married Thomas Mowbray, 4th Earl of Norfolk. Of the sons John, Richard and Edward, John eventually succeeded to his father’s title of Duke of Exeter. The late 1390s proved turbulent times for Elizabeth. Her brother Henry of Bolingbroke was banished from England by their cousin, Richard II, in 1398; the sentence was extended to life following the death of their father, John of Gaunt, on 3 February 1399. When Henry retaliated by invading England and taking the king prisoner, it must have been a difficult time for Elizabeth. Her brother was now King Henry IV, but she was married to the former king’s half-brother.

Coat of arms of Sir John Cornwall, 1st Baron Fanhope and Milbroke, Elizabeth’s third husband

Her youngest son, Edward was not yet a year old when John Holland joined the conspiracy to restore his brother to the throne, the Epiphany Rising. Holland and his fellow conspirators, the earls of Salisbury, Kent and others, planned to kill the usurping king and his sons at the New Year jousts. However, Henry IV learned of the plot and the conspirators were arrested. John Holland was executed at Pleshey Castle on 9 January 1400, his head placed on London Bridge and his body buried in the Collegiate Church at Pleshey. He was attainted by parliament, his honours and lands forfeit to the crown. However, Elizabeth, as sister of the king, would not suffer for her husband’s treason, and was granted 1,000 marks a year for her maintenance. John and Elizabeth’s eldest surviving son, John, would eventually become Duke of Exeter, in a new creation, in 1444.

Within months of John Holland’s execution, it seems that Elizabeth, now in her late thirties, had an experience that few medieval women were ever privileged to. She fell head over heels in love with Sir John Cornwall, after watching him defeat a French knight in a joust at York. Cornwall was a career soldier who had fought in Scotland and Brittany, and would soon be fighting to defeat Owain Glyn Dwr’s revolt in Wales. Although considerably younger than Elizabeth, he also fell for the Lancastrian princess and within months the couple were secretly married. When he discovered the marriage, the king had Cornwall arrested and thrown into the Tower of London. However, Cornwall’s considerable charm, and most likely the pleas from his sister, soon persuaded the king to release the knight and restore him to favour. A widely respected soldier and one of the great chivalric heroes of his day, Cornwall was accepted into the Order of the Garter in 1409 and was one of Henry V’s most formidable captains during the Agincourt campaign of 1415.

Tomb of Elizabeth of Lancaster, St Mary’s Church, Burford

The couple were to have two children – a daughter, Constance and a son, John, who was born before 15 February 1405, when King Henry IV stood as his godfather. Young John would come to a tragic end in 1421, when the teenager was killed at the Siege of Meaux, his father a devastated witness to the tragedy. Elizabeth died at her husband’s estate of Burford, in Shropshire, on 24 November 1425. She was buried in Burford Parish Church, where her magnificent effigy, showing a tall, slender princess in colourful robes, can still be seen today. Sir John Cornwall was created Baron Fanhope in 1432 and Baron Milbroke around 1441; he died at his great estate of Ampthill in Bedfordshire on 11 December 1443 and was buried in a chapel he had founded, in the cemetery of the Friars Preacher near Ludgate in London. His two children having died before him, Cornwall bequeathed 800 marks to be divided between two illegitimate sons, and his estate at Ampthill was sold to his friend Ralph, Lord Cromwell.

While Philippa and Elizabeth led contrasting lives, the former as a queen on the international stage and the latter a noblewoman on the national stage, they both found contentment in their marriages. Elizabeth of Lancaster had led an eventful life, following her father to war, with an infant daughter on her hip and married for love at least once. Philippa is best remembered for her piety, her patronage and the Illustrious Generation of children that she raised in Portugal, the model image of a model queen.

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An earlier version of this article first appeared on the blog hosted by Kyra Kramer.

Sources: The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson;  englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com; annvictoriaroberts.co.uk.

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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, Bookshop.org 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,  AmazonBookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: A Night of Flames by Matthew Harffy

In the wild lands of Norway, Hunlaf must quell a vicious slave uprising in Matthew Harffy’s new historical adventure.

A wild land. A lethal fanatic. A violent revolt.

Northumbria, AD 794. Those who rule the seas, rule the land. None know the truth of this more than the Vikings. To compete with the seafaring raiders, the king of Northumbria orders the construction of his own longships under the command of oath-sworn Norseman, Runolf.

When the Vikings attack again, the king sends cleric turned warrior, Hunlaf, on a mission to persuade the king of Rogaland into an alliance. But Hunlaf and Runolf have other plans; kin to seek out, old scores to settle, and a heretical tome to find in the wild lands of the Norse.

Their voyage takes them into the centre of a violent uprising. A slave has broken free of his captors and, with religious fervour, is leading his fanatical followers on a rampage – burning all in his path. Hunlaf must brave the Norse wilderness, and overcome deadly foes, to stop this madman. Can he prevent a night of flames and slaughter?

News of a new Matthew Harffy novel has become one of the highlights of my year. Luckily, Harffy is quite a prolific writer, so I never have to wait too long for such news. A Night of Flames is Matthew Harffy’s 11th book in 6 years – that’s quite an achievement!

Especially as his storytelling keeps getting better and better.

The sequel to A Time for Swords, the story begins where the last book left off, with Hunlaf of Ubbanford having forsaken the monk’s cowl for the sword and determined to go in search of his cousin, Aelfwyn, carried off during the raid on Lindisfarne that heralded the Viking era in England. The erstwhile monk comes up with a plan to rescue his cousin and retrieve the highly influential and heretical book, The Treasure of Life, which will lead himself and his friends into the heart of Norway and a heretical band of marauders, made up of former slaves, fanatical warriors and women and children who are killing and spreading devastation wherever they go.

The story has all the ingredients for an exciting adventure. And I have to say, I loved the references to Matthew Harffy’s other series, The Bernicia Chronicles, and the story of Beobrand, with mention of a ballad to Beobrand and his love, Sunniva, or the fact that young Hunlaf was raised in Beobrand’s settlement of Ubbanford, thus interlinking the two very different series with a shared origin.

“I do not wish to slay you,” I hissed at him. “Drop your weapon. End this.”

“There is only one way to end this now,” he yelled. His face was pallid, his eyes glimmering in the bright early morning sun.

Unless he turned away from this course, he was right. I could not defend against him indefinitely. If I waited too long, his brawn and rage would overcome me at last. He was unarmoured, so I had not donned my byrnie. One strike from Wistan could easily prove fatal.

Springing at me again, he attempted a feint, but he signalled his intention with his eyes and his footwork, so my shield was there to parry the attack. This time, I flicked out my sword and opened up a gash on his side, beneath his shield. I skipped away, seeing the pain reach his eyes.

Behind him, Runolf met my gaze. The huge Norseman was grinning, clearly enjoying the excitement of a duel, or hólmgang, as he called it. He had paced out and marked the fighting area with hazel stakes, smiling wolfishly all the while at the prospect of a fight. Beside Runolf, the shorter Gwawrddur was sombre. At my look, he shook his head. I saw the disappointment on the Welshman’s features. There was no honour in defeating a foe who is not able to defend himself. The night before, Gwawrddur had told me to do all in my power to dissuade Wistan from fighting.

“I cannot flee, if he wants to fight,” I had said.

“No, you cannot,” he’d replied. His eyes were sad as he sipped his ale. “But when you laid with his girl, you surely knew this could happen.”

I nodded. I had been flattered by Cwenswith’s attentions, and of course I had enjoyed our fumbling, panting trysts in the store hut, but I had never thought our actions could lead to someone’s death, and certainly not at my hand.

“What if he refuses to step aside?”

“Then you must answer for your actions, just as Wistan must answer for his.”

Wistan now stood breathless before me. He looked down and seemed shocked to see the blood soaking through his kirtle. I had not cut him deeply, hoping the stinging pain would bring him to his senses.

At the sight of blood, someone in the crowd gasped.

Cwenswith screamed, “Finish him!”

Wistan’s eyes narrowed at the shrill sound of her voice. His shoulders tensed and I knew he was preparing to attack once more.

“Don’t,” I said, but too late.

He ran at me, and I retreated. He beat his sword against my shield over and over until the hide covering was tatters and the linden wood splintered.

With a growl, I pushed him back. There was nothing for it. I could not dissuade him, and if I waited any longer, I would be the one to lose my life that day. I sprang forward, holding his blows away from me on my splintering shield and lunging beneath his guard. I felt my sword blade make contact. Wistan grunted and staggered. The morning air was filled with the sudden screaming of women. The men quickly added their voices to the din. I recognised Runolf’s booming voice over the clamour of the crowd, but I could not make out his words.

A Night of Flames is another fabulous rip-roaring adventure from Matthew Harffy, where not everything goes as planned for the heroes and the fight comes close to disaster. It is edge-of-the-seat drama that will keep the reader engrossed late into the night. The battles are vicious, the losses devastating and the outcome uncertain – this is Matthew Harffy at his best.

As has come to be expected with a Matthew Harffy book, the historical research is impeccable; the author’s knowledge of weapons, battle tactics and even sailing the whaleroad is woven into the story so that it is impossible to know where facts end and the author’s imagination begins. The extent of Matthew Harffy’s knowledge and research helps to draw the reader in and makes for a thoroughly engaging book.

The best bit, however – as always with Matthew Harffy – is the story! A Night of Flames is a fascinating, thrilling adventure.

If you like to lose yourself in a book, A Night of Flames by Matthew Harffy is perfect for you!

About the author

Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Pre-order links

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3sOTmAe

Follow Matthew

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Website: www.matthewharffy.com

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.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, Bookshop.org 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,  AmazonBookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Mysterious Knight in the Graveyard

The imposing keep of Conisbrough Castle

Whilst I was researching the Warenne earls of Surrey my cousin, who lives in Conisbrough, passed on to me a story of the accidental discovery of a long-dead knight during road-widening work in the village. Whether he has any relation to the Warenne family is open to conjecture, of course, although it is entirely possible. His identity is a mystery…

The story starts in 1955, with a road widening programme that was carried out along Church Street in Conisbrough. Conisbrough was a tightly packed village, with the road so narrow in places that cars had to mount the pavement if they met oncoming traffic. The ‘pinch’ was outside the parish church of St Peter’s. As a consequence, Conisbrough Urban District Council set to work to widen the road where Church Street meets Church Yard. As this was church property, and graves would have to be disturbed, strict rules were put in place to allow the work to proceed. The then vicar, Rev. G.F. Braithwaite allowed that the boundary wall could be removed and rebuilt a metre further into the churchyard. It was stipulated, however, that no photographs or archaeological examinations could be undertaken during the works. They expected to find twelve lots of human remains in the area to be excavated, and these were to be removed and reinterred speedily, and with reverence and solemn prayer, elsewhere within the churchyard.

When the boundary wall was removed, the stones were carefully stacked for reuse. One stone proved particularly interesting. It was a large stone which had been situated close to the base of the wall, was about a metre long and half a metre wide, with the image of a sword blade carved into the façade; the part of the stone which would have shown the hilt was missing. Work then began on excavating that area of the church yard that was to make way for the widened road. It was expected that twelve graves, dating from Victorian times, would need to be removed. The remains were removed only a short distance and reinterred in an area which is now the memorial garden. As work continued, however, the number of graves had been sorely underestimated, and several dozen graves were uncovered. It was discovered that graves had been stacked, one on top of another, going back through the years.

The Warenne coat of arms

Among the remains found was one who had been buried with a small shield. The shield was about 60cm long and 50cm wide, decorated with a lion rampant (where the lion is stood on his two back legs). It was, therefore, assumed that the remains were that of a knight; although the stipulation that there could be no archaeological investigation, nor photographs taken, means that we know nothing beyond this. We do know that the knight did not belong to the household of the Warenne earls, who had owned Conisbrough and its castle since the time of the Normans; their coat of arms was a shield of blue and gold checks, adopted by the second earl in the first half of the twelfth century.

Although the colour of the lion on the shield was black, this is unlikely to have been the original colour; several hundred years in the ground had erased any indication of the colours of the lion or the background of the shield, thus making it impossible to identify the coat of arms. The remains were reinterred along with the others, according to the conditions imposed for the road widening scheme. The work was then continued, the road widened and a new boundary wall built, with steps into the church yard and a memorial park marking where the disturbed remains had been reburied.

St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough

The incident was then forgotten about with the passage of time. Indeed, when I came to look into it, few had heard of the mysterious knight buried in Conisbrough church yard. Internet searches brought up nothing. The story re-emerged in 1990, when Conisbrough Castle installed new floodlights and hosted a grand ‘switch on’ ceremony for the residents of Conisbrough. An article sent to me by a Conisbrough resident talks of meeting re-enactors at the ceremony, who were dressed as knights of the Earl of Norfolk, with a lion rampant on their shields.

It was then suggested that Earl Hamelin’s daughter Isabel had married Roger Bigod, the first Earl of Norfolk, who died in 1221. Unfortunately, this relationship is not supported by history; Earl Roger was, in fact, the second earl of Norfolk and married to Ida de Tosny, former mistress of Henry II. However, Earl Roger’s son, Hugh, who died in 1225, was married to Matilda Marshal, the eldest daughter of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent for Henry III. On Hugh’s death, Matilda had married William de Warenne, Earl Hamelin’s son and fifth Earl of Warenne and Surrey. It is entirely possible that Matilda was accompanied by knights of her first husband when she visited Conisbrough, or was visited there by a Norfolk knight who then perished and was buried in the church yard of St Peter’s at Conisbrough. However, the emblem of the earls of Norfolk, in Matilda’s time, was a red cross on a yellow background. The red lion rampant, on a field of gold and green, was only adopted until 1269, when Roger Bigod, fifth earl of Norfolk and Matilda Marshal’s grandson, inherited the title of Marshal of England, which had passed to the family through his grandmother. This also means that it is just as likely, or even more so, that the shield belonged to a Marshal retainer who was visiting Matilda, or in Matilda’s employ.

The coat of arms of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke

There are several other possibilities for a Warenne connection to the knight in the churchyard. The emblem of the lion rampant was not an uncommon feature among medieval heraldry in England and Scotland. The royal arms of Scotland, for example, are of a red lion rampant on a yellow field. Edward Balliol, King of Scotland at various points in the 1330s, was a grandson of John de Warenne, sixth Earl of Warenne and Surrey, through his mother, Isabella de Warenne. Edward did not officially relinquish his claim to the Scottish throne until 1356 and died near Doncaster in around 1367. The mysterious knight may have been one of his household retainers. Another daughter of the sixth earl, Eleanor, married Henry Percy, the son of a cadet branch of the earls of Northumberland. The Percy family arms are a yellow lion rampant on a blue field. Other families associated with the Warennes also used the lion rampant on their shields, not least being the d’Aubigny earls of Arundel, whose arms were a yellow lion rampant on a red field; Isabel, daughter of William, the fifth Earl of Warenne and Surrey, married Hugh d’Aubigny, the fifth Earl of Arundel.

One final possibility is that the knight was a natural son of the last earl. John de Warenne, seventh Earl of Warenne and Surrey, had no legitimate children with his wife Joan of Bar, a granddaughter of Edward I but fathered a number of illegitimate children by his mistress, Maud Nerford. Maud was from a knightly family in Norfolk; their coat of arms was a lion rampant. It is known that at least one of their sons, —–, used the Nerford arms as his own. Further, the arms of John’s last mistress, Isabella Holland, who he called ‘ma compaigne’ in his will, was a white lion rampant of a blue field, surrounded by white fleur de lys.1

As to the stone, mentioned earlier, with the carving of a sword blade upon it, it was suggested that this stone was previously a grave marker for the mysterious knight and was found lying in the church grounds sometime in the early 1800s. There was extensive building going on in Conisbrough between 1800 and 1810 and it is assumed that stone was used to rebuild the boundary wall of the churchyard. The fact that the two were found in the vicinity of each other is no suggestion of a link. As archaeologist James Wright explained to me, such stones were often used to decorate churches, castles and important buildings, then repurposed elsewhere once those buildings fell into disuse. The stone could have come from anywhere, and not necessarily a grave marker at all. The stone in question can still be seen at St Peter’s church, to the side of the church porch.

Scotland’s King John Balliol with the arms of a red lion rampant on his surcoat

Although we have no definitive answers as to the identity of the mysterious knight who rests in the grounds of St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough, there are many possibilities that suggest a familial link with the Warenne family. As we have no archaeological survey or photographs to aid the investigation, definitive identification is impossible. Indeed, we do not even have any useful dates through which we can narrow down the possibilities. Although the last earl of Warenne and Surrey died in 1347, it seems unlikely that the knight is from a later period and had no relationship whatsoever with the Warenne earls. Conisbrough Castle passed into royal hands after the earl’s death and was given to Edward III’s fourth surviving son, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York; although the arms of Edmund and his sons were derived from the royal arms of England, which are three lions passant quartered with the fleur de lys of France.

It seems likely, therefore, that although we do not know the identity of century of the knight, he died sometime during the 300 years that the Warenne family held the castle and honour of Conisbrough; and there are several possible explanations for his association with the family, through their many and varied prestigious marriage alliances. There is also a chance that the knight was a Warenne himself, as the illegitimate son of the seventh and final earl, John de Warenne, and his mistress, Maud de Nerford.

The possibilities may not be endless, but they are numerous; without further information, however, it is impossible to narrow it down.

Footnotes:

1 Warner, Kathryn, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation

Images:

Conisbrough Castle and Warenne coat of arms by Sharon Bennett Connolly, St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough by Andrea Mason, John Balliol and Marshal arms courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources:

Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8 Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I; Alfred S. Ellis, Biographical Notes on the Yorkshire Tenants Named in Domesday Book (article); 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; Conisbrough Castle Giudebook by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; F. Royston Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of his Possessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX; Scott L. Waugh, ‘Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne’, ODNB; Kelcey Wilson-Lee, Daughters of Chivalry: The Forgotten Children of Edward I; Kathryn Warner, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com; Marc Morris, King John; David Crouch, William Marshal; Crouch and Holden, History of William Marshal; Crouch, David, ‘William Marshal [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c. 1146–1219)’, Oxforddnb.com; Flanagan, M.T., ‘Isabel de Clare, suo jure countess of Pembroke (1171×6–1220)’, Oxforddnb.com; Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight; Chadwick, Elizabeth, ‘Clothing the Bones: Finding Mahelt Marshal’, livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com; Stacey, Robert C., ‘Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk (c. 1212-1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk.

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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, Bookshop.org 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,  AmazonBookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

A Little Update

Hi all! I hope your 2022 is going well? Or as well as it can be, anyway. I though I would give you a little update on what I’ve been up to – and will be up to in the near future.

Historical Writers Forum Zoom talks programme

As you may know, I am admin for a writers’ group on Facebook, Historical Writers Forum, and last year we launched a series of history-related talks featuring both fiction and non-fiction historical authors. So far, there are 4 talks in the series and we opened with an amazing discussion between myself, Elizabeth Chadwick, Carol McGrath and Samantha Wilcoxson, entitled Writing History in Fiction: Getting the Balance Right. This was followed by A Good Fight: Writing Battles in Historical Fiction, featuring authors SJA Turney, Derek Birks, Lynn Bryant and Paula Lofting. And then we hosted a book launch for Historical Writers’ Forums new anthology of short stories, Hauntings: an Anthology, which includes works from SJA Turney, Samantha Wilcoxson, Paula Lofting, Kate Jewell, KS Barton, Lynn Bryant, Jennifer C. Wilson and introducing Danielle Apple. There’s also a foreword by myself. The Hauntings Book Launch brought all the authors face to face for the first time, if virtually, and gave them the opportunity to discuss the inspirations behind their stories. If you haven’t read the book yet, I recommend you do – it is replete with thoughtful, intelligent historical fiction stories that stretch out the suspense.

Kicking off our 2022 Zoom Talks series was Aelfgyva: the Mysterious Woman in the Bayeux Tapestry. Hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson, authors Patricia Bracewell, myself, Paula Lofting and Carol McGrath will debated the various candidates for the identity of Aelfgyva: Was she the ravaged nun? The sister of a Norman duke? Daughter of a powerful English earl? Concubine of King Cnut? Or the twice-crowned English queen? And what fun it was! A fabulous, energetic discussion about the possibilities – please do take a look.

Historical Writers Forum continues its programme of talks this year, with one for Women’s History Month on 26 February 2022 at 7pm (UK time). Hosted by Paula Lofting, authors Tony Riches, Sharon Bennett Connolly, Samantha Wilcoxson and Anna Belfrage will discuss Women in History: a lively discussion, followed by an audience Q & A, on researching and writing about Women in History. Tickets are free and available through Eventbrite, so do come along if you can! If you can’t make it on the evening, don’t worry, the discussion will be uploaded to our YouTube Channel by 28 February (I hope!).

Podcasts

In 2021 I also made my first forays into podcasts, talking to Khaki Malarkey about the Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England in March and in December I spoke to the Tudors Dynasty podcast about the life of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, the Tudor heiress who was the fourth and last wife of Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon. In January, I giggled my way through a chat with Zack White and Alexandra Churchill from History Hack about the Ladies of Magna Carta. We somehow managed to compare King John to Napoleon – or Napoleon to King John – and decided Ela of Salisbury was awesome! Listen here!

My latest podcast has gone live today, with me chatting with Matthew Lewis over at Gone Medieval, discussing my favourite medieval family – the Warenne Earls of Surrey. We talk about my fascination for the Warennes, the events they were involved in, their remarkable strength as a family and how one disastrous marriage caused their demise. Listen here!

Women’s History Month Talks

To celebrate Women’s History Month this March, I will be presenting two online talks for Heritage Lincolnshire via Zoom.

I can tell you about the 2 online talks I will be doing for Heritage Lincolnshire in March, to celebrate Women’s History Month. The first, Lincolnshire’s Medieval Heroines, will include the legendary Lady Godiva, the indomitable Nicholaa de la Haye, heiress Alice de Lacy and Katherine Swynford, the mistress who became a royal duchess. It will be a Zoom talk on 10 March at 7pm.

The second talk is, as you may have guessed, on my favourite subject, Nicholaa de la Haye, the Heroine of Lincoln Castle and will by via Zoom on 17 March at 7pm. The remarkable Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle in no less than 3 sieges during the reigns of Richard I and King John – the last was a 6-week siege, ended by the 1217 Battle of Lincoln when Nicholaa was in her 60s. She was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right.

Tickets for both are available now and are £6 for members and £8 for non-members.

Unfortunately, these talk will not be recorded for later viewing, so please do come along on the night if you can. It would be great to see you! To reserve a place, book here!

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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, Bookshop.org 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,  AmazonBookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay

For generations, stories have been told about the ruined old house in the marsh outside Wakefield. Stories of hidden treasure, sinister night-time cries, and ghostly figures doomed to haunt the lonely estate for all eternity as punishment for some terrible crime.
This winter, it seems the old tales might just turn out to be true…

England, AD 1330
John Little, a bailiff living in Yorkshire, has little interest in ghost stories, having seen enough horrors among the living to bother much about the dead. The strange accounts from his fellow villagers have everyone talking though, and it’s not long before he’s asked to accompany a group of curious locals on nocturnal visits to the house in the marsh.
There are more worrying concerns in northern England however, as autumn gives way to winter and rumours of rogue bailiffs attacking, and even murdering people in their own homes, begin to circulate.
Along with his friends – ill-tempered Will Scaflock and the renowned friar, Robert Stafford – John is drawn inexorably into a dangerous adventure that will leave yet more people dead and only add to the eerie legends which will pass into English folklore for centuries to come.
Can John and his companions uncover the truth about the house in the marsh and its terrible secrets? And will they be able to forever exorcise the ghost haunting Wakefield, or will this Christmas be anything but merry?

The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is another novella chronicling the investigative adventures of 3 of Robin Hood’s Merry Men; Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet. In this outing of the intrepid ex-outlaws-turned-investigators the trio are investigating the spooky goings-on of an abandoned manor house and a pair of murderers who are impersonating bailiffs. That one of the miscreants is taken to be Little John makes identifying the killers all the more urgent.

The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is a wonderful, creepy novella, combining a detective story with the ghostly and mysterious events that always seem to accompany abandoned, half-derelict buildings. Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet have to look to their own safety whilst calming the fears of villagers – both of the haunted house and the ruthless fake bailiffs. It makes for a story full of suspense, adventure and the threat of sudden, unrestrained violence.

The ex-outlaws, it seems have the skills, courage and intelligence between them to face down both the fear and the violence. The many twists and turns in the book leave the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

Little John might be a lawman, but he was capable of extreme, deadly violence. There were enough stories and songs about him to back that up.

Desperation could make a man more dangerous, however, and, somehow – perhaps John was distracted by a movement in the crowd beside him – the butcher’s cleaver caught the bailiff’s arm. A bright-red, bloody line appeared on the white skin and John roared in pain.

Before Simon could decide what to do next, press his attack or, more probable, run for his life, John stepped forward and smashed the pommel of his sword into the butcher’s mouth.

Simon staggered back almost comically, spitting out bloody teeth, and then he fell onto his knees and pitched forward onto the ground. He didn’t move after that, and, for what felt like a long time, everyone just stared, from the butcher’s prone form to that of the grimacing bailiff whose arm was bleeding heavily.

“Fetch clean water,” a woman said to her son. “And linen.” He ran off towards their house which wasn’t far off, and she hurried to John’s side. “That’s a nasty wound,” she said, examining it expertly. “But you already know that, I’m sure. Sit down, before you fall down like that idiot.”

Despite his injury, John laughed and the sound seemed to take all the fear and alarm from the atmosphere. Others laughed, and chattered excitedly about what had just happened, while the lady knelt beside the bailiff and pushed aside his sleeve.

Her son returned quickly, and, when she used the water he’d brought to wash John’s cut she nodded in satisfaction. “It’s not as deep as I’d feared,” she said.

“I had a feeling he might want a fight,” John said. “So I wore leather bracers.” He shook his sleeve and the leather armour fell out onto the ground, sliced cleanly in half. There were whistles and gasps from teh crowd as they realised what would have happened had he not been wearing bracers.

“That probably saved your life,” said the woman, still washing away the blood before taking the linen her son handed her and using it to tightly bandage the wound. “Or at least your arm.”

The plot of The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is perfectly crafted, with a number of twists and turns throwing the reader off the trail as the story unfolds. As ever, Steven A. McKays’ storytelling skills are first class as he draws the reader through the story. His impeccable research means that he recreates a highly plausible 14th century Yorkshire – you wouldn’t believe he doesn’t live near Wakefield himself!

Growing up in South Yorkshire myself, I have always had a soft spot for the Robin Hood legend. Of Course, Steven A. McKay sets it in Barnsdale Forest in Wakefield, instead of Sherwood, but he can be forgiven for that as his stories are such wonderful adventures. And his characters are much as I have always imagined them, loyal friends who rib each other but are there for each other when needed.

My only problem with The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is that I wish it was longer. Steven A. McKay has created a wonderful side job for these three Merry Men and I do wish he would give them a full length story to get their teeth into.

For now, though, The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is a perfect read for these cold, dark, winter nights.

To buy the book:

The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon.

From the author:

I was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born.

My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write.

I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.

Check out my website at stevenamckay.com and sign up for the email list – in return I’ll send you a FREE short story, as well as offering chances to win signed books, free audiobooks and other quite good things!

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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, Bookshop.org 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,  AmazonBookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Moorland Murderers by Michael Jecks

July, 1556. En route to France and escape from Queen Mary’s men, Jack Blackjack decides to spend the night at a Devon tavern, agrees to a game of dice – and ends up accused of murder. To make matters worse, the dead man turns out to have been the leader of the all-powerful miners who rule the surrounding moors – and they have no intention of waiting for the official court verdict to determine Jack’s guilt.

But who would frame Jack for murder . . . and why? Alone and friendless in a lawless land of cut-throats, outlaws and thieves, Jack realizes that the only way to clear his name – and save his skin – is to unmask the real killer. But knowing nothing of the local ways and customs, how is he to even begin? As Jack’s attempts to find answers stirs up a hornet’s nest of warring factions within the town, events soon start to spiral out of control . . .

What a thoroughly enjoyable adventure! Michael Jecks returns to his old literary haunts of Dartmoor – Lydford and Oakhampton – but without a Simon Puttock or Baldwin de Furnshill in sight. No, we are a few hundred years after the adventures of the bailiff and his friend, Baldwin, the former Knights’ Templar. The Moorland Murderers is set in the time of the Tudor queen, Mary I, shortly after the Wyatt Rebellion. Closely associated with the queen’s sister, Elizabeth, the book’s hero – if you can call him that – Jack Blackjack, has left London for his own safety. Heading for the Continent via Plymouth, he finds himself caught up in a little bother in Oakhampton and stands accused of murder.

Jack Blackjack is not your typical hero. He can’t stand the sight of blood, tends to get bashed on the head – A LOT – and has a rather high opinion of himself. As The Moorland Murderers is told in the first person, the reader gets a healthy – or unhealthy – dose of Jack Blackjack’s opinions about himself and others. Which make for a highly amusing, light-hearted approach to the serious business of murder.

There are few men who can be as uncooperative and suspicious as those who own taverns. I suppose they are used to seeing men trying to drink their houses dry before ‘remembering’ that they had left all their money at home. This fellow,, Mal, was no exception, and as I made my slow and painful way to his bar, I was concerned to see that he had picked up a stout cudgel and was allowing it to slap unpleasantly into his other hand while he gazed at me in a thoughtful manner. It was not an encouraging look. As to my gambling companion, there was no sign.

‘See? My purse has been cut from me!’ I declareed, holding up my laces. ‘The man who gambled with me, he must have chosen to get his money back! He set upon me and robbed me!’

There was some murmuring at that. The large man at the farther end of the room unhitched himself from his post at the wall and began to walk towards me. I did not like the look on his face. The man at the bar, I saw, was no longer there. He too had left. I moved around so that the wench who had wriggled so enticingly on my lap was between us. His expression was not reassuring to this traveller. It was the sort of look a cat might wear while stalking a rat.

The host was not taking my word. ‘Shew ‘un th’ ‘aid.’

I stared at him. His brows darkened. He had looked rather like an ape beforehand, but now he was an angry ape with the suspicion that the figure before him had stolen his favourite fruits. His stick rose menacingly.

‘He said to show him your head,’ the maid translated with a sigh. She rolled her eyes as though thinking me the purest form of fool she had encountered. It made me scowl – but briefly. The movement pulled the skin over the lump on my scalp, and that hurt.

I submitted myself to her inspection. She came forward and glanced at my head. She pulled a face when she parted my hair, making me wince and flinch in pain, and her hands came away with my gore on them. The sight of blood can make me feel queasy at the best of times, but the sight of my own has always had a marked effect. I could feel the colour drain from my face, and the world began to whirl about me once more.

‘Get him a stool!’ the wench burst out, and since her mouth was close to my ear, I started like a child caught stealing a biscuit, and fainted away.

Michael Jecks has long been one of my favourite authors – ever since I read his first book, The Last Templar, a murder mystery series set in the time of Edward II, many years ago. The Bloody Mary Mysteries are set later, in the Tudor era, but are just as engrossing. Jack Blackjack is not your typical hero. He is a paid assassin who cannot stand the sight of blood and has to outsource his work. He thinks very highly of himself – probably too highly – and has a knack for getting into trouble.

Jack Blackjack is a very likeable chap who is trying to negotiate the way through trying times in the reign of Mary I, when political plotting was at a dangerous high and the counter-Reformation was in full swing in England. In The Moorland Murderers, Jack is trying to get away from the intrigues of London – and becoming implicated in the latest rebellion. He finds himself on the edge of Dartmoor, where regional politics were just as dangerous as in London itself!

With the The Moorland Murderers, Michael Jecks is back in his old haunts. He knows the history and landscape of Dartmoor like the back of his hand. And it shows. Historical authenticity, of life on the Moors, of the clashes between the tin miners and those from the towns and of the suspicion of strangers is evident on every page. The story is fast paced and completely absorbing to read. It is such fun! I smiled and giggled through every page!

I haven’t enjoyed a book so much in ages!

I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About the author:

Michael Jecks is the author of more than thirty novels in the Knights Templar medieval mystery series, and four previous Bloody Mary Tudor mysteries. A former Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association, he lives with his wife, children and dogs in northern Dartmoor. 

Michael is a regular speaker about the Knights Templar, the end of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, about writing and publishing, and about finding work. He is also keen to help those who are now going through the latest recession. He endured enough hardship, and lost all his savings, during the last recession, and understands what it means to risk losing everything.

An enthusiastic photographer and watercolourist, Michael can often be seen walking across Dartmoor where he lives, gaining inspiration into the lives of our ancestors for his stories. When relaxing he can usually be found clad in white in a pub near you before dancing mad stick Morris.

Of course, if you want to contact him or link on social media, you can find him at writerlywitterings.com, he’s on YouTube as writerlywitterer, on LinkedIn, he is at Facebook.com/Michael.Jecks.author, at Flickr.com/photos/Michael_Jecks, on Instagram, Pinterest and everywhere else too! He appreciates hearing from readers, so do please contact him.

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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, Bookshop.org 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,  AmazonBookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Isabelle d’Angoulême: A Complicated Queen

Why Isabelle d’Angoulême is hard to love?

Seal of Isabelle d’Angoulême

At first sight, it is easy to have sympathy for Isabelle of Angoulême. When I started researching her for 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 would later be accused of murdering his own nephew and left a woman to starve in his dungeons.

Isabelle d’Angoulême was the only child of Audemar, Count of Angoulême and Alice de Courtenay. Her mother was the daughter Peter de Courtenay, lord of Montargis and Chateaurenard, and a cousin of king Philip II Augustus of France. Through her Courtenay family connections, Isabelle was related to the royal houses of Jerusalem, Hungary, Aragon and Castile. When John set his sights on her, Isabelle was betrothed to Hugh IX de Lusignan: the chronicler Roger of Howden maintained that Isabelle had not yet reached the age of consent, which was why she was still only betrothed to Hugh, rather than married to him. The marriage between Isabelle and Hugh was intended to put to bed, literally, a long-running, bitter rivalry between the Lusignans and the counts of Angoulême. It would also unite neighbouring regions in Aquitaine, posing a threat to Angevin power in the region. This could have effectively cut Aquitaine in two, jeopardising the stability of the borders of Poitou and Gascony. John could not help but see the threat posed by the impending marriage and sought to put a stop to it. Count Audemar, it seems, was quite receptive to the suggestion that he abandon the Lusignan match if it meant that his daughter would become a queen.

King John

In the early years of their marriage, John appears to have treated Isabelle more like a child than a wife, which she still was, and she was financially dependent on him. When she was not at court with the king, Isabelle spent time at Marlborough Castle or in the household of John’s first wife, Isabella of Gloucester, at Winchester. Isabella’s allowance was raised from £50 to £80 a year, to pay for the extra expenses incurred by housing the queen.

It appears that Isabelle was an unpopular queen, guilty by her association with the excesses and abuses of John’s regime. It was in this light that John’s marriage to Isabelle was seen as the start of England’s woes, with some of the blame falling unfairly on the young queen. Contemporary sources reported that John spent his mornings in bed with the queen, when he should have been attending to the business of the country, casting Isabelle as some kind of temptress, irresistible to the king. The fact that Isabelle did not give birth to her first child until 1207, when she was in her late teens, puts the lie to these sources, suggesting that she and John  did not consummate the marriage in the first few years. After 16 years together, the couple had 5 children; Henry III, Richard of Cornwall, Isabella, Joan and the youngest, Eleanor, who was born in 1215 or 1216.

While her movements were restricted and closely controlled during her marriage to John, the situation did not improve for Isabelle following John’s death in 1216. Their 9-year-old son Henry was now king, but Isabelle was excluded from playing a role in the regency government; her unpopularity in England and lack of political experience were major factors. Moreover, she had had limited contact with her children: they lived in separate households and Isabelle was not responsible for their supervision or education, which added to her isolation. Almost as soon as Henrys crowned, Isabelle started making arrangements to go home, to Angoulême, of which she was countess in her own right. In 1217 she left England.

Isabelle’s son, Henry III of England

Once in her own domains, Isabelle was to arrange the wedding of her daughter, Joan. Joan had been betrothed, at the age of 4, to Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche and the son of Hugh IX, the man who had been betrothed to Isabelle before John married her. In 1220 Isabelle shocked England, and probably the whole continent, when she scandalously married her daughter’s betrothed herself. Poor 9-year-old Joan’s erstwhile fiancé was now her stepfather! Worse was to come, however, when the little princess was not returned to her homeland, as might have been expected, but held hostage, by Isabelle and Hugh, to ensure Hugh’s continued control of her dower lands, and as a guarantee to the transfer of her mother’s dower, which the English government was withholding against the return of Joan.

Stalemate.

Isabelle wrote to her son, Henry III, to explain and justify why she had supplanted her own daughter as Hugh’s bride, claiming ‘…lord Hugh of Lusignan remained alone and without heir in the region of Poitou, and his friends did not permit our daughter to be married to him, because she is so young; but they counselled him to take a wife from whom he might quickly have heirs, and it was suggested that he take a wife in France. If he had done so, all your land in Poitou and Gascony and ours would have been lost. But we, seeing the great danger that might emerge from such a marriage – and your counsellors would give us no counsel in this – took said H[ugh], count of La Marche, as our lord; and God knows that we did this more for your advantage than ours…’

Ironically, Isabelle had now achieved that which King John had hoped to avoid; the union of La Marche and Angoulême, splitting Angevin Aquitaine down the Little Joan was finally returned to England towards the end of 1220, but the arguments over Isabelle’s English lands continued throughout the 1220s and beyond. Isabelle would not retire in peace 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).

Seal of Hugh X de Lusignan

Hugh and Isabelle were reconciled with Henry in 1226 and Isabelle met her first-born son for the first time in more than twelve years in 1230, when Henry mounted a futile expedition to Brittany and Poitou. Isabelle and Hugh, however, continued to play the kings of France and England against each other, always looking for the advantage, though this was probably as much by necessity as self-interest. They did, after all, live in France and their relationship with England complicated things. In 1242, for example, when Henry III invaded Poitou, Hugh X initially gave support to his English stepson, only to change sides once more, precipitating the collapse of Henry’s campaign. Isabelle herself was implicated in a plot to poison King Louis IX of France and his brother, only to be foiled at the last minute; the poisoners claimed to have been sent by Isabelle. There is no evidence of Isabelle denying the accusation, but she never admitted her guilt, either.

Isabelle’s second marriage proved even more unstable than her first, shaken by Hugh’s frequent infidelities and threats of divorce. Isabelle enjoyed greater personal authority within her second marriage; where she had issued no charters whilst married to King John, as Hugh de Lusignan’s wife, the couple issued numerous joint charters. Her difficult relationship with France added to Isabelle’s marital problems. In one instance, Isabelle was offended by the queen of France when she was not offered a chair to sit, in the queen’s presence, regardless of the fact she herself was a crowned and anointed queen. Following this insult, in 1241, Isabelle castigated Hugh de Lusignan for supporting a French candidate to the county of Poitou, ahead of her son, Henry III. In retaliation, Isabelle stripped Lusignan Castle of its furnishings and refused to allow her husband into her castle at Angoulême for three days.

Despite the rocky relationship, Isabelle and Hugh had nine children together, including Aymer de Lusignan and William de Valence. Many of his Lusignan half-siblings would later cause problems for Henry III, having come to England to seek patronage and advancement from their royal half-brother.

Tomb effigy of Isabelle d’Angoulême, Fontevraud Abbey

In 1244 the two royal cooks admitted the attempted poisoning of the French king, and that they had been paid by Isabelle. Before she could be arrested, Isabelle retired to Fontevraud Abbey, where she died on 4 June, 1246. The dowager queen of England was buried in the abbey’s churchyard. However, when Henry III visited his mother’s final resting place, he was shocked that she was buried outside the abbey and ordered that she be moved inside. She was finally laid to rest in the abbey church, beside Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

As contemporaries described her as ‘more Jezebel than Isabel’, accused her of ‘sorcery and witchcraft’, Isabelle of Angouleme’s reputation as a heartless mother and habitual schemer seems set to remain. Married to King John whilst still a child, she was castigated as the cause for the loss of the majority of John’s continental possessions and the subsequent strife and civil war; one could easily sympathise with her lack of love for England. That Isabelle apparently abandoned the children of her first husband within months of his death, and her supposed willingness to betray her son for her own ends would go some way to destroy the compassion one may have felt for her. However, we have to remember that nothing is ever black and white and we have to consider that Isabelle was balancing the interests of her two families – one French and one English – which were, unfortunately for Isabelle, irreconcilable due to the politics of the time.

One thing is for sure, Isabelle d’Angoulême is a fascinating character!

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources:

Rich Price, King John’s Letters Facebook group; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made EnglandThe Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Ralph of Diceto, Images of History; Marc Morris, King John; David Crouch, William Marshal; Crouch and Holden, History of William Marshal; Crouch, David, ‘William Marshal [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c. 1146–1219)’, Oxforddnb.com; Flanagan, M.T., ‘Isabel de Clare, suo jure countess of Pembroke (1171×6–1220)’, Oxforddnb.com; Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight; Chadwick, Elizabeth, ‘Clothing the Bones: Finding Mahelt Marshal’, livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com; Stacey, Robert C., ‘Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk (c. 1212-1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com.

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, Bookshop.org 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,  AmazonBookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Crown of Fear by Derek Birks

England, August 1485.
For almost thirty years, the Elder family has been ravaged by the feud between York and Lancaster. Now exiled John Elder, yearning for an end to the Elders’ troubles, throws his support behind a young, untried pretender, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond.
Henry’s tiny invasion force looks certain to be heavily outnumbered by the massive host that Richard III has summoned. But nothing is certain for some of King Richard’s subjects are wondering if the dire rumours they have heard about him are true.
Since one of Richard’s most powerful nobles, Lord Thomas Stanley is also Henry’s stepfather the king takes Stanley’s son hostage. If Stanley deserts him, the king must rely upon the vast army of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, but the earl has long resented Richard’s power in the north.
King Richard’s chief councillor, Sir William Catesby, keen to protect his king decides to crush the dangerous Elder brood once and for all. So, one by one John’s kinfolk are captured and imprisoned.
On a marshy plain not far from Market Bosworth the fate of the Elders and the kingdom of England will finally be settled.

Well this is bitter-sweet. The final instalment of Derek Birks‘ magnificent Wars of the Roses series is finally here. Nine books have followed 2 generations of the Elder family as they negotiated the highs and lows of one of the most protracted and violent conflicts in English history. And with Crown of Fear not only do we come to the culmination of the series, but to the culmination of the wars themselves, with the Battle of Bosworth and the campaign to put Henry VII on the throne.

The fact the author is not averse to killing off a leading character, or a readers’ favourite, means the reader is constantly on tenterhooks, not knowing what is going to happen. This adds to the tension in the story as you really do not know who is going to survive. It also gives a level of authenticity you do not find in many books; no one during the Wars of the Roses knew whether or not the battle they were fighting was going to be their last. Skill in battle could only get you so far; you also needed a heavy dose of luck. And rank was no protection – look at Richard III at Bosworth! Derek Birks manages to get this fact over to the reader perfectly!

The fictional Elder family have fit neatly into the actual history of the 15th century, acting as witnesses and participants of the great events, and explaining the divided loyalties and constantly moving lines that are drawn during a civil war. The family acts as a wonderful foil to the political leaders of the times, on both sides of the political divide, thus allowing the reader to see all aspects of the Wars of the Roses, from both sides of the battlefield. Crown of Fear also demonstrates that not all battles are fought in open fields, between two armies, but also in the family dynamic, in the corridors of power and in the murky world of espionage, where the rules hold no sway and the boundaries are constantly changing.

“Where are they, Mary?” groaned Eleanor Elder. “Four days! Hal promised me he would be back in four days.”

“I think what Hal said, my lady was that, with luck they’d be back in four days.” said her servant, Mary Ford in a vain attempt to soothe Eleanor’s ragged nerves.

“Luck?” grumbled Eleanor. “The only fortune this family knows is ill fortune.”

“Then … just have a little faith in my Hal, lady,” urged Mary.

“For the love of Christ, Mary, how can you ask me that?” snarled Eleanor. “I put my faith in ‘your’Hal long before you ever set eyes on him! Aye, and sometimes Hal was all that kept me alive. No, I would never doubt your man but I just know that, whenever my nephew John’s involved blood starts to flow like water – and sometimes a great black torrent of it.”

Mary’s lined face creased into a familiar grimace. “Aye well, there are some folk, lady, who might say the same about you!”

Eleanor stood still for a moment, contemplating Mary’s barbed response which was, as ever, not only pithy but disturbingly accurate. Mary might carry out the duties of a servant but she was infinitely more than that to Eleanor. Since the two first met in a wild, rain-sodden Yorkshire dale, Mary had been her constant shadow. When Eleanor was reckless, Mary advised caution; when others deserted her, Mary remained loyal. And, if Eleanor was abusive or ungrateful, Mary responded in kind. She had seen Eleanor Elder at her worst and had come back for more.

“I told John I wanted no part in this … this torment,” cried Eleanor. “I’m just … weary of it.”

Crown of Fear is beautifully written and meticulously researched. The author was once a history teacher, and you can tell that he knows his stuff! From the armour and weapons used, to battle tactics and distances travelled, Derek Birks’ historical knowledge and research add to the authenticity of this impressive novel. As ever, the fight scenes, including the Battle of Bosworth itself, are perfectly choreographed, frenetic and urgent in their action. You only realise you’ve been holding your breath throughout once the fight is over!

With Crown of Fear Derek Birks ably demonstrates that he has become a skillful storyteller by keeping the reader enthralled from the first page to the last. He has dedicated a great deal of time and words to the story of the Elder family and this dedication has paid off in that the reader themselves become totally in vested in the characters, particularly in the unlikely heroine, Eleanor Elder. Poor Eleanor has not had the best of lives, and never comes out of any book unscathed. She has lost loves, family and blood for the Elder cause. And she has become a firm favourite with the fans of the Elder family. My trepidation in reading Crown of Fear was irretrievably linked with my fear for Eleanor’s survival. I won’t tell you what happens to her – you need to read the book yourself. But needless to say, with everything going on in the book, my first concern was for what poor Eleanor would have to endure.

So, what did I think of Crown of Fear? I loved it. I read it in 3 days over the Christmas break, eager to get to the end and find out what happened to Eleanor Elder and the rest of her family (I’m still not telling though). It was as exciting an experience as I had reading Feud so many years ago – and it is a fitting end to what has been a fabulous series. I am bereft, because I know there will be no more. But what an experience it has been. I will never look at the Wars of the Roses in the same way again. If you have not read the series, I really do recommend that you do. You are in for a treat. And if,, like me, you have been ardently following the Elder family since the beginning – you are gonna love it!

Crown of Fear is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. On his return to England, he read history at Reading University and for many years he taught history in a secondary school. Whilst he enjoyed his teaching career and it paid the bills, he found a creative outlet in theatrical activities, stage-managing many plays and outdoor Shakespeare performances. Derek always wanted to write and began, aged 17, writing stories, songs and poetry – in fact virtually anything. Inevitably, work and family life took precedence for a long period of time but in 2010 Derek took early retirement to indulge his passion for history and concentrate on his writing. He is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period.

Derek writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. He also produces podcasts on the Wars of the Roses for those interested in the real historical background to his books. Check them out on his website at: https://www.derekbirks.com/history-podcasts/

His historical fiction works include:

The Wars of the Roses – a 9-book series set during the fifteenth century, which follows a fictional family, the Elders, through their struggle to survive the Wars of the Roses from 1459 to 1485. The final book in the series, Crown of Fear is out on December 22nd.

Derek has recently embarked upon a new Post-Roman series and books 1-3 are out now: The Last of the Romans; Britannia: World’s End; and Land of Fire.

Apart from his writing, he enjoys travelling – sometimes, but not always, to carry out research for his books. He also spends his time walking, swimming and taking part in archaeological digs. He was a regular presence at the Harrogate History Festival, is an active member of the Historical Novel Society and you will also find him each summer talking to readers, signing books – and selling them – at the Chalke Valley History Festival outside Salisbury in Wiltshire.

Derek welcomes feedback from readers and you can order signed paperbacks from his website.

Feel free to get in touch with him at: http://www.derekbirks.com or follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/Feud_writer or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/derek.birks.14

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, Bookshop.org 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,  AmazonBookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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, Bookshop.org 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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly