Guest Post: Trial by Combat – Rough Justice by Toni Mount

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome author and historian Toni Mount back to the blog, with an article based on her research for her latest non-fiction book, How to Survive in Medieval England. Toni has a wonderful way with words to the extent that her books – fiction and non-fiction alike – are a pure pleasure to read.

So, without further ado, it is over to Toni:

Trial by Combat – Rough Justice

My new book, How to Survive in Medieval England, published by Pen & Sword, is a guide to travelling in history: what to expect, how to dress, how to stay safe and what to look for on the menu.

If you were able to go back in time to medieval England, so much would be very different and so many things missing – all technology, from engines to the Internet. All work would be done by hand. In medieval England, the law sometimes works quite differently from the way we expect today. Trial by Ordeal was a means of deciding who was innocent and who was guilty. A suspect or the accused would be taken to a church and with a priest presiding, subjected to one of a number of horrific acts.

Trial by Fire – a priest (centre) blesses the ordeal as the accused (left) takes the red-hot iron in hand.
[Readers may note the accused wears ‘motley’ – parti-coloured cloth – a sure sign of untrustworthiness.’

A favourite was Trial by Fire. In this case, a piece of iron was heated to red-hot in a brazier and the accused had to remove the metal from the fire – by hand! His burns would be bandaged and left for a week. When inspected by the priest at the end of seven days, if they were healing well this was God’s decision and the accused was innocent. But if the burns were septic and weeping, that was also God’s doing and proved the accused was guilty because God was not on his side.

Trial by Water could be similar with the accused having to plunge his hand into a cauldron of boiling water. Or, an alternative Ordeal by Water involved throwing the accused into a pond or river, though this one always seems most unfair to me. If the accused sank and, therefore, probably drowned, he was innocent because the water, having been blessed by a priest, ‘accepted’ him. If he floated, he was guilty because the blessed water refused him. In which case, he would be hanged, so he died either way.

Another method was Trial by Combat in which the accuser and the accused fought it out with weapons. God would cause whoever was telling the truth to win the battle.

In 1249, a gang of thieves was terrorising Winchester, Salisbury and Guildford, specialising in stealing expensive clothing and shoes. The gang was often violent and, although folk in the area knew who they were, they were too scared to accuse them.

Top right corner – Walter (left) fighting Hamo (right) and Hamo (top centre) being hanged after he lost
[https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2018/09/judicial-combat-barbarous-relic-or-timeless-litigation-strategy/]

In my new book, I include some imagined interviews with real people of the time as a means of telling about true aspects or incidents in their lives. Let’s speak to Walter Blowberme, a member of this notorious gang of thieves:

‘Now Walter, you were caught in the act, I believe, and admitted your crimes. Tell us what you did.’

‘Well, see, we stoled all this valuable stuff, didn’t we? Good cloth, shoes, some jewellery and silver cups. Made a fine profit ’til I got caught, filching a gold brooch. I knewed this meant a date wi’ the hangman for me so I told the sheriff I’d be an approver.’

‘What is an approver?’

‘You don’t know? What a dim-wit. It means my life’ll be spared if I telled the court the names of ten others involved in the crimes. I didn’t want t’ do it, ’cos they was my mates but a man has t’ lookout for hisself.’

‘So you snitched on your fellows. What happened then?’

‘I named six fellows from Guildford who was all members of the gang. They was all arrested, tried and condemned. I didn’t feel too bad about them ’cos I never liked most of ’em, except Tom. It was a shame about him. But I still needed another four fellows convicted to save my own neck, so I accused three from Hampshire. They wasn’t in the gang; just fellows I knowed and didn’t like much. They was found not guilty and released so I had t’ name four others as gang members. It’s a good thing I know so many folk and don’t like none of ’em. These four was nasty bits o’ work, I can tell you, but when the sheriff tried to take ’em, three managed to escape. But because they never turned up in court, they was found guilty anyway. The fourth fellow, Hamo Stare – my sister’s husband what I never liked – was brung to trial but things was so complicated, the judge offered Hamo a trial by ordeal.’

‘I thought trial by ordeal was made illegal by the Church?’

‘Don’t ask me; I’m not the judge. Anyhow, Hamo chosed trial by combat and I, as his accuser, had to be his opponent. We had wooden clubs and shields and fighted ’til we was both bloody but Hamo gave in first. The judge declared God had gived me most strength, so I must have spoke truly against Hamo. Hamo was hanged – good riddance – and I’d managed to get ten fellows convicted, so my life was spared but I got banished from the district forever ’cos I admitted being guilty of so many crimes.’

‘But you didn’t mend your ways, Walter?’

‘Nay. Couldn’t resist some silver bits, could I? I comed t’ London and just six months later I got caught, thieving a chalice and candlesticks from St Mary-le-Bow church.’

‘And this time there is no second chance for you, is there, Walter?’

‘Nay. This time it’s the gallows for me. T’morrow. Pray for me soul, won’t you?’

Judicial tests and ordeals had been abolished at an important Lateran Council meeting, held by the pope in 1215, stating that churchmen may ‘neither pronounce nor execute a sentence of death. Nor may they act as judges in extreme criminal cases, or take part in matters connected with.’ This meant trial by ordeal no longer had God’s sanction – a priest had to be present as His representative – since it was God who determined the outcome. However, obviously, such trials must have continued for at least another thirty years.

A naughty priest in the stocks along with his mistress – churchmen’s punishments were not so bad.
[https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/monks-sex-drink-gamble-history-pope/]

Churchmen could no longer sit in judgement but neither could they be tried in a state court. They had to be tried in church courts by their fellow clerics and a death sentence could never be past, even for murder. So, in medieval England, if anyone could prove they were a man of the cloth, or a nun, then they could, literally, get away with murder. Here’s how: only trained clerics can read Latin; so if the accused can read the Bible – always in Latin – he must be a churchman. To prove a person can read, the same passage is always required to be read aloud from the Bible: ‘Oh loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon my transgressions.’ (Psalm 51, Verse 1.) This meant that any forward-thinking criminal learned this verse by heart, in Latin, even if he couldn’t read a word. It saved the necks of so many miscreants, it was known as the ‘Neck-Verse’ and got a great number of very guilty people out of trouble.

Readers can find out far more about medieval lives, meet some of the characters involved and get a ‘taste’ of the food of the time in How to Survive in Medieval England, my new book from Pen & Sword, published on 30th June 2021 and available for pre-order now on Amazon.

About the book:

How to Survive in Medieval England by Toni Mount
Pen & Sword History (30 Jun. 2021)

Imagine you were transported back to Medieval England and had to start a new life – without mobile phones, ipads, or social media. When transport meant walking or, if you’re lucky, horse-back; how will you know where you are or what to do? Where will you live? What is there to eat? What shall you wear and how can you communicate? Who can you turn to if you fall ill or are mugged in the street,? All these questions and many more are answered in this new guide book. How to Survive in Medieval England is a handy self-help guide with tips and suggestions to make your visit to the Middle Ages much more fun. Learn the rules so you don’t get into trouble or show your ignorance in embarrassing
situations and read interviews with the stars of the day, from a celebrity chef to King Richard III himself. Have an exciting visit but be sure to keep this book to hand.

About the Author

Toni Mount is a history teacher and a best-selling author of historical non-fiction and fiction. She’s a member of the Richard III Society’s Research Committee, a regular speaker to groups and societies and belongs to the Crime Writers’ Association. She writes regularly for Tudor Life magazine, has written several online courses for http://www.MedievalCourses.com and created the Sebastian Foxley series of medieval murder mysteries. Toni has a First class honours degree in history, a Masters Degree in Medieval History, a Diploma in English Literature with Creative Writing, a Diploma in European Humanities and a PGCE. She lives in Kent, England with her husband and has two grown-up sons.

Web http://www.tonimount.com

Social https://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10/ https://twitter.com/tonihistorian https://www.instagram.com/toni.mount.10/

*

My Books

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

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

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Toni Mount

Book Corner: Masters of Rome by Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney

Their rivalry will change the world forever.

As competition for the imperial throne intensifies, Constantine and Maxentius realise their childhood friendship cannot last. Each man struggles to control their respective quadrant of empire, battered by currents of politics, religion and personal tragedy, threatened by barbarian forces and enemies within.

With their positions becoming at once stronger and more troubled, the strained threads of their friendship begin to unravel. Unfortunate words and misunderstandings finally sever their ties, leaving them as bitter opponents in the greatest game of all, with the throne of Rome the prize.

It is a matter that can only be settled by outright war…

Oh boy! What a story!

Last year I read a wonderful book by two of my favourite authors, Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty. Sons of Rome was a fabulous adventure looking at the early years of two future rival for the Roman imperial title, Maxentius and Constantine. Told from two viewpoints, each author had his own character: Turney was Maxentius and Doherty was Constantine. In Masters of Rome, they have continued the story and increased the pace, getting to the heart of the struggles and threats the two leading protagonists face.

Masters of Rome is a fascinating tale of the Roman Empire and the struggle between its various rulers and the factions they engendered. The politics are high drama, the manipulations of friends and advisers demonstrate the dangers of great power and politics; you cannot trust anyone! Friendships are stretched to the limits, though Maxentius and Constantine are reluctant to break that tenuous link, the inevitability of it, as both try to realise their ambitions, is a driving force in the book.

And then there are Maxentius and Constantine themselves. As a reader, you feel that you must pick a side. I thought I would be on Team Constantine, but then Maxentius did something notable and I wavered. The conflict in the pages causes a reciprocal conflict in the reader. The truth is, both emperors did things they should be proud of, and both made big mistakes. At the heart of this books is the truth about all men; they have their strengths and weaknesses. Each has noble traits, and each has his flaws. Ultimately, they are both likable characters, which is what makes their story so fascinating.

As a reader you are torn, between the two, just as Rome was.

The tension is relentless.

The drama is palpable.

Constantine

Land of the Seven Mountains, East of the Rhenus, 1st December 308 AD

The greatest affront happened at the imperial river city of Carnuntum. That day, in those marbled halls, the Lords of the Tetrarchy assumed they could strip me of my station. I had rebuffed their attempts and let them know in no uncertain terms that I was Constantine and I would remain Augustus of the west, heir to my father’s realm. A mere month had passed since that grand congress and my stubborn refusal. I must admit it had fired my pride to assert myself so and witness them gasping in ire. Yet what might those curs think were they to see me now: crouched in the musty ferns of a Germanian hillside nook like an outlaw, my bear pelt and black leather cuirass blending into the earthy hillside like my dirt-streaked face in the half-light of this sullen winter’s day?

A few shafts of watery sunlight penetrated the sea of freezing mist around me, illuminating the semi-frozen hillside: strewn with a frosty carpet of leaves, dotted with dark green spruce and skeletal brown larch. The valley floor below – the once clear path through these roughs – was carpeted with bracken. The cold gnawed on my skin and stung my nostrils, but not so much as to mask that ubiquitous musty stink of the Germanian woods. Hardy ravens cawed somewhere in the skies above the sea of mist, as if to remind me just how far I was from home, yet all down here was still and silent … eerily silent. Then the sudden, hollow drumming of an unseen woodpecker nearby sent an invisible lance of ice through my breast. With a puff of breath I cursed the winged menace, as if it were scouting for the enemy who had drawn me out here.

The Bructeri – one of the many tribes in the Frankish confederation – were on the move. Coming this way to cross the Rhenus and pour once more into Gaul… my realm. I only had myself to blame, for early last year I had put two of their many kings to death in Treverorum’s arena. Yes, it was in the name of vengeance that the tribes had mobilised. But now, of all times? Marching to war in the grip of winter? I seethed. And you wonder why we Romans call you barbarians!

I could not ignore the tribal threat, yet equally I could ill afford to be here. For back across the river and all over imperial lands, the hearsay and consequences of Carnuntum were already spreading like a plague. A chatter rose within my mind, each voice urgent and shrill, like hooks being dragged through my head, all demanding attention…

Masters of Rome is a tense, thrilling story charting the lives of two unique individuals, Maxentius and Constantine, both seeking to become the Roman Empire’s sole emperor. The triumph of this book – and indeed the series – is that each lead character has a unique voice, due to the fact each has his own writer. Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty work well together to give each emperor their own voice, viewpoint and story. It is a fascinating concept that could have gone very wrong, if not for the individual strength of the two authors. With Turney and Doherty, it works beautifully.

The research is impeccable and the depth of that research helps to recreate not only the buildings of Rome, but also the atmosphere of the Roman Empire, and the personalities of all those who touched the lives of Constantine and Maxentius, as well as the two protagonists themselves. Both Doherty’s and Turney’s unrivaled understanding of the Roman war machine helped to make Masters of Rome a riveting read.

If you have never read a novel about Rome, this series would be a good place to start. It draws you in, envelops you and involves you so deeply in the drama that you find yourself shouting at the book! Masters of Rome is a fabulous, absorbing read that you never want to end – but at the same time can’t read quick enough! The drama, the politics and the personalities all serve to make Masters of Rome a masterpiece of fiction.

It is, quite simply, a must-read.

*

Pre-order link for Masters of Rome: Amazon: https://amzn.to/2ZpfUJC

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

Blog Tour Hashtag: #MastersofRome

About the Authors

Simon Turney is from Yorkshire and, having spent much of his childhood visiting historic sites, he fell in love with the Roman heritage of the region. His fascination with the ancient world snowballed from there with great interest in Rome, Egypt, Greece and Byzantium. His works include the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, as well as the Tales of the Empire series for Canelo and The Damned Emperor series for Orion. http://www.simonturney.com @SJATurney.

Follow Simon

Twitter: @SJATurney; Instagram: @simonturney_aka_sjaturney; Website: http://simonturney.com/

Gordon Doherty is a Scottish author, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction. Inspired by visits to the misty Roman ruins of Britain and the sun-baked antiquities of Turkey and Greece, Gordon has written tales of the later Roman Empire, Byzantium, Classical Greece and the Bronze Age. His works include the Legionary, Strategos and Empires of Bronze series, and the Assassin’s Creed tie-in novel Odyssey. http://www.gordondoherty.co.uk @GordonDoherty.

Follow Gordon

Twitter: @GordonDoherty Instagram: @gordon.doherty Website: https://www.gordondoherty.co.uk/

*

My books

Coming 31st May:

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: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword Books.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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: All Manner of Things by Wendy J. Dunn

Winter, 1539: María de Salinas is dying. Too ill to travel, she writes a letter to her daughter Katherine, the young duchess of Suffolk. A letter telling of her life: a life intertwined with her friend and cousin Catalina of Aragon, the youngest child of Isabel of Castile. It is a letter to help her daughter understand the choices she has made in her life, beginning from the time she keeps her vow to Catalina to share her life of exile in England.

Friendship.

Betrayal.

Hatred.

Forgiveness.

Love wins out in the end.

All Manner of Things by Wendy J. Dunn is the second book in the Falling Pomegranate Seeds series, although it works perfectly well as a standalone. In fact, if you didn’t know it was part of a series, nothing in the pages would tell you. You do not feel as if you are missing part of the story, or need to read the first book in the series, The Duty of Daughters, to grasp what is going on. Which makes it eminently readable for everyone.

And what a fabulous book it is!

All Manner of Things follows the story of Infanta Catalina (Katherine of Aragon) from her journey to the English court to marry Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, to the Field of the Cloth of Gold of 1520, when Henry VIII met Francis I in a spectacular display of pageantry and might. The event also marked the introduction of Anne Boleyn to English affairs; Anne was still in the service of Queen Claude of France but returned to England soon afterwards.

The story tells of the pitifully short marriage of Catalina and Arthur, the lonely years following Arthur’s death, when Catalina was a hostage, in all but name, of the English king, Henry VII, and the early years of her marriage to King Henry VIII. Historically, it documents how the relationship between Henry and Catalina changed over time, how a promising marriage and love was soured by Henry’s frequent infidelities, Catalina’s miscarriages and the many lost infants that turned a loving relationship sour.

All Manner of Things by Wendy J. Dunn is told through the eyes of Maria de Salinas, Catalina’s closest friend and companion, though no fan of Henry VIII, which puts an interesting slant on the story and shows Henry in two lights: how he is adored by his wife, and how his wife’s friend sees him. It is an interesting dichotomy that works wonderfully in the novel and demonstrates the author’s deep understanding of the Tudor court and the personalities involved.

The overriding theme of this book is friendship and love; the sisterly love and friendship between Catalina (Katherine of Aragon) and her childhood friend and almost-constant companion, Maria de Salinas.

When Maria returned to the bedchamber, Catalina was awake and at her writing desk. She lifted her head, put aside her quill and smiled at her. “You have been gone for a while.”

“I have been talking to our companions.”

“Mm…” Catalina picked up her quill again, her attention returned to the parchment in front of her.

“Catalina – could you please listen to e for a moment?”

Catalina twisted around. “What is it?”

“I think it would be wiser if we are not alone so much. The other women are your companions too. They are unhappy. I do not believe it is simply due to this long journey.”

Catalina pursed her mouth. “Do you know what troubles them?”

“They are jealous.” Maria sighed.

“Jealous?” A frown so alike her mother’s knotted between Catalina’s thinned eyebrows.

Maria sighed again. “Of me. They are jealous of me.”

Catalina looked taken aback. “But you and I have always been together.”

Maria shrugged. “I think it would be wise to remember the queen’s advice not to have obvious favourites. Once we are in England, your companions will form your inner court within your court.”

“But I think of you as my sister,” Catalina said. “Even mother kept those she trusted close to her, your mother for one.”

“Si, and like my mother for your mother, I vow to serve you to the day of our death. But the other girls begin to worry me. They are scared too about the sea voyage and, like us, they are leaving behind everything they love for England. Pray, for my sake, let us eat with them and spend more time getting to know them. I think if you befriend them, really befriend them, they won’t be so jealous and cause mischief. I do not like their black looks.”

Having researched Maria’s story myself, Maria’s life at court, marriage and constant support for her friend and queen, it is obvious that Wendy J. Dunn has done her homework. In All Manner of Things, Wendy J. Dunn captures wonderfully not only the friendship between Catalina (Katherine of Aragon’s name in her native Castilian) and Maria, but also the complications that arise from life at the Tudor court, and a friendship with a queen.

Wendy J. Dunn expertly recreates the Tudor court, the glamour of the royal family and the drama associated with all aspects of their lives – and of the lives of those who serve them. The reader is drawn into the relationships, the intrigues and the underlying falsehoods that accompany any court, expertly contrasting the ‘show’ with the friendships and relationships behind the scenes, of the queen with her ladies. The glamour of court life itself reveals the contradictions, and the changing relationships as the characters grow and are affected by the challenges they face and the secrets they have to keep.

Wendy J. Dunn wonderfully combines the history and fiction to create a gripping drama, where you will find it hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins. The storytelling is first class!

Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things by Wendy J. Dunn is available from Amazon.

About the Author:

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian author, playwright and poet who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel.

While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program.

*

My books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

*

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: A Time for Swords by Matthew Harffy

When the Vikings attack, a novice monk’s life is changed forever in Matthew Harffy’s new historical adventure.

Lindisfarne, AD793.

There had been portents – famine, whirlwinds, lightning from clear skies, serpents seen flying through the air. But when the raiders came, no one was prepared.

They came from the North, their dragon-prowed longships gliding out of the dawn mist as they descended on the kingdom’s most sacred site.

It is 8th June AD793, and with the pillage of the monastery on Lindisfarne, the Viking Age has begun.

While his fellow monks flee before the Norse onslaught, one young novice stands his ground. He has been taught to turn the other cheek, but faced with the slaughter of his brothers and the pagan desecration of his church, forgiveness is impossible.

Hunlaf soon learns that there is a time for faith and prayer . . . and there is a time for swords.

It is my pleasure to be a part of Matthew Harffy’s blog tour for the release of the first book in what will be a new series, A Time for Swords.

It is always a worry when one of your favourite authors starts a new series – for author and reader, alike – that you may not like it, that the new hero doesn’t live up to the promise of the last hero – or even that the new hero is too similar to the last and the book appears formulaic.

Well, with Matthew Harffy, you needn’t worry about that. He seems to be able to create distinct characters and storylines at the drop of a hat. To be fair to Matthew, I am sure that it is not that easy – though he does make it look so! With Wolf of Wessex, his first foray away from the heroic Beobrand, Matthew Harffy proved his ability at storytelling did not just lay in one direction, and that he did have so much more in his repertoire.

With A Time for Swords, he has done it again!

Recreating the world of 8th century Northumbria, Matthew Harffy has left the 7th century behind to document the arrival of the Vikings on Britain’s shores, with the raid on Lindisfarne – Holy Island. A Time for Swords takes this raid as its starting point and pursues the likely reactions on the people of Northumbria following this unexpected explosion of violence on the peaceful island monastery. As we have come to expect from Matthew Harffy, the action starts on the very first page and doesn’t let the reader stop for breath until the very last.

My feet pounded the soft earth as I sped back towards the dwellings of the ceorls. A green plover, startled by my passing, burst from the long grass that brushed against my bare legs as I ran. I stumbled in shock and surprise at the bird’s screeching call, so like that of the screams of the people dying in the minster and the huts of the villagers. I rushed on, my lungs burning and the thickening smoke stinging my eyes.

I came up over the low rise from the beach to a scene of chaos. When I had left the minster at dawn, its buildings had rested peacefully, close to the natural harbour and overlooked by the mound of rock at the island’s tip. A few small fishing boats had been canted in the shallows of low tide, and teh morning had been still and quiet. Now the brightening day was filled with noise, fire and smoke.

And death.

In the harbour were three huge ships, sleek and menacing with terrifying carven serpent head prows. Around the ships were congregated several men. The land all around was full of movement. Dozens of armed warriors had poured from the ships and had made their way into the grounds of the minster. Three of the monastery buildings were burning, great pillars of flame and smoke smudging the sky. My heart lurched as I realised one of the fires was the scriptorium. I imagined the gold cover of The Treasure of Life melting, the parchment leaves curling, smouldering and then bursting into flames. Leofstan and I would never unpick the secrets within its pages now. I felt tears prickle my eyes as I thought of so many books being consumed, just like in my nightmare of Alexandria. Countless days of painstaking work and skill gone in an instant. So much knowledge snuffed out and lost. I was a long way off, but as I crested the rise I could feel the heat from the fires on my face.

The lead character, Hunlaf, is a monk who has discovered a skill with the sword, and who wants nothing more than to protect his brethren at the monastery at Werceworthe (Warkworth) from the attack that he knows is coming. The intrepid warrior monk manages to attract a small but fierce group of fighters to his cause, including Runolf, a Viking left behind in the raid on Lindisfarne, who has his own motives for confronting the Norse raiders.

Hunlaf is a likeable character, torn between his love of the church and the draw of the sword and the comradeship of warriors. He is a young, gifted fighter with an eagerness to learn and a desire to protect that means he will find it hard to back down from a fight. Each of the characters surrounding Hunlaf have their own stories and reasons for joining the fight, from the monk, Leofstan, with a warrior past of his own, to Runolf the Norseman fighting his own kind, to a Welshman always in need of proving himself and a young, fiery Irishman, Cormac, seeking vengeance for the fate of his family.

The storyline of A Time for Swords draws the reader in from the outset, taking you on a journey from the ruined Lindisfarne to York and on to the monastery at Warkworth. Matthew Harffy demonstrates his knowledge of the area, the people and the landscape, in Hunlaf’s travels. Harffy skillfully combines impeccable historical research with his wonderful storytelling, to create a novel that has a sense of authenticity about it. While the raid on Lindisfarne is historical fact, the subsequent events that young Hunlaf gets involved in are a creation of the author. However, Matthew Harffy supplements the fictional fighting by using the original landscape, the weapons used, fighting tactics and the very real threat of the Viking raiders, to add a sense of realism,

As you may have come to expect with Matthew Harffy, the fight scenes are where he is in his element. Beautifully choreographed, they are frenetic and vividly described with a passion unique to the author. and there is no guarantee that your favourite character will survive…

In short, A Time for Swords is one of those books which is not to be missed. Entertaining, exciting and totally gripping, the novel reaffirms, once more – if more affirmation is needed – Matthew Harffy’s status as one of the best authors of historical fiction around.

Read it – I promise, you will not be disappointed!

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/39T3MqJ

Follow Matthew:

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Website: www.matthewharffy.com

Follow Aries:

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

*

My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Empress Hermine and the Tragic Wedding

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Moniek Bloks to History … The Interesting Bits on the first stop of her book tour. Moniek is the author of a new biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s second wife, Hermine Reuss of Greiz. The book, Hermine; An Empress in Exile will be released in the UK on Friday 11th December.

So, it’s over to Moniek:

Hermine

Empress Hermine and the tragic wedding

Caroline and her husband

Hermine Reuss of Greiz was one of the five daughters of Heinrich XXII, Prince Reuss of Greiz and his wife Princess Ida of Schaumburg-Lippe. Her childhood was overshadowed by the death of her mother in childbirth and the incurable disability of her only brother.  A 13-year marriage to Prince Johann Georg of Schönaich-Carolath produced five children before her husband’s death of tuberculosis. However determined never to be married again, Hermine ended up meeting the exiled German Emperor Wilhelm II, and soon fate had other plans.

But before Hermine had even married her first husband, she met the Emperor as a 15-year-old girl. In 1903, her elder sister Caroline was destined to marry Wilhelm Ernst, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Hermine and Caroline were especially close, and Caroline was only three years older than her. On 30 April 1903, Caroline married the Grand Duke at Bückeburg Palace, but Caroline was deeply unhappy; she hardly knew the man she was going to marry and abhorred the life that was waiting for her in Weimar.

Though faced with the separation of her much-beloved sister, Hermine’s memories of that day also focused on a man who towered above everyone else, the Emperor. Her uncle and guardian, who was hosting the wedding, promised to introduce her to him and young Hermine dutifully curtseyed to him. It was an unforgettable experience for her, but the Emperor paid little attention. She later said, “How could he have foreseen that this blushing little girl was his future wife? I stood there, frozen on the spot where the Emperor had received my greeting. The Emperor went on and chatted with my uncle.”

Caroline

It wasn’t just Caroline who had doubts about the wedding. Wilhelm Ernst received a stern talking to from the Emperor, and he said, “Only love can turn a palace into a home. Caroline is like a little bird, fallen out of its nest. She will miss the sisters who loved her. It will take her some time before she learns to be at home on the cold parquet floor of your castle.” He then raised his voice and said, “You have given me an Oath of Allegiance, and I order you to marry tomorrow.” The wedding went ahead as planned.

Caroline remained deeply unhappy, took up smoking and barely ate. The unhappiness of her marriage consumed her body, and she was soon emaciated. On 17 January 1905, Hermine sat by her dying sister’s bedside. On top of everything, Caroline had fallen ill with influenza, and her weakened body simply could not fight the disease. Hermine wrote, “The attack was so violent that there was no hope of her recovery from the first. She received the tenderest care, but all effort was in vain. In her heart of hearts, she did not wish to live.”

Hermine would always remember that she first met her future husband at her sister’s wedding but mostly, she would remember the dear sister she lost.

Many thanks to Moniek for a wonderful post and my very best wishes on her latest release. Please do follow the rest of the blog tour.

The book Hermine: An Empress in Exile will be released on 11 December 2020 (UK) and 1 January 2021 (US).

About the book:

Hermine Reuss of Greiz is perhaps better known as the second wife of the Kaiser (Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany) whom she married shortly after the death of his first wife Auguste Viktoria and while he was in exile in the Netherlands. She was by then a widow herself with young children. She was known to be ambitious about wanting to return to power, and her husband insisted on her being called ‘Empress’. To achieve her goal, she turned to the most powerful man in Germany at the time, Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, her dream was not realised as Hitler refused to restore the monarchy and with the death of Wilhelm in 1941, Hermine was forced to return to her first husband’s lands. She was arrested shortly after the end of the Second World War and would die under mysterious circumstances while under house arrest by the Red Army.

*

About the author:

Moniek Bloks

Moniek Bloks is the editor of the successful blog History of Royal Women. She lives in the Netherlands and has a background in law.

Her interest in historical royal women and writing began at an early age, and she has been glad to share the stories of often little-known royal women.

When she isn’t writing, she is visiting castles and palaces around Europe with her trusty camera.

*

My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Moniek Bloks

Book Corner: The Castle in the Wars of the Roses by Dan Spencer

The Wars of the Roses is one of the most dramatic and fascinating periods in medieval history. Much has been written about the leading personalities, bitter dynastic rivalries, political intrigues, and the rapid change of fortune on the battlefields of England and Wales. However, there is one aspect that has been often overlooked, the role of castles in the conflict.

Dan Spencer’s original study traces their use from the outbreak of civil war in the reign of Henry VI in the 1450s to the triumph of Henry VII some thirty years later. Using a wide range of narrative, architectural, financial and administrative sources, he sheds new light on the place of castles within the conflict, demonstrating their importance as strategic and logistical centres, bases for marshalling troops, and as fortresses

Dan Spencer’s book provides a fascinating contribution to the literature on the Wars of the Roses and to the study of siege warfare in the Middle Ages.

The Castle in the Wars of the Roses by Dan Spencer provides a unique perspective on that most famous of civil wars in England. Dr Spencer combines the story of the Wars of the Roses with the varied uses of the castle during the period, as defensive structures, administrative centres and homes for the nobility. Dan Spencer establishes that the castle as a military structure was still an important asset to any army and served to guard the marches of Wales and Scotland and to act as muster points for gathering armies. Castles were strong defensive structures that could be garrisoned whenever the war came too close, though as Dr Spencer highlights, permanent garrisons were rare by this time, they could provide effective defence and intimidation when needed.

I was aware of a number of sieges during the Wars of the Roses, mainly those at Dunstanburgh and Bamburgh. However, I was not aware that that was just the tip of the iceberg. According to Dan Spencer, there were 36 definite sieges and several more possible sieges – for which there is little contemporary information, so we can’t say for certain. These possible sieges include where there are written orders for a castle to be invested, but no further report of whether the siege was undertaken or the castle surrendered without a fight.

In The Castle in the Wars of the Roses, Dan Spencer argues that while the use of the castle was declining, it still played an important role in the conflict. The book is written in a narrative, chronological style, whereby Dr Spencer tells the whole story of the Wars of the Roses, but with particular focus on the siege warfare and the use and provision of castles. It is an excellent read.

The fall of Bamburgh marked the end of a four-year-long struggle for control of Northumberland. This was part of a wider dynastic conflict between the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions for control of the kingdom of England. For much of the second half of the fifteenth century these two rival houses fought a series of wars to win the English throne, which since the nineteenth century has been commonly called the Wars of the Roses. This era is without a doubt one of the most popular topics in medieval English history. Numerous books, articles, plays and films have been produced over the centuries. Looking at all sorts of aspects ranging from the dynamic personalities of key figures, such as Richard III, the causes of the conflict, its long-term legacy and the military campaigns, particularly the major battles. Given this vast output on the subject, it may be pertinent to ask why it is necessary for yet another book to be written. The answer is that one important area has been almost wholly neglected: the role of the castle in the Wars of the Roses.

Why has this been the case? One explanation is the perception that the campaigns of the Wars of the Roses were dominated by decisive battles, in which castles played a very minor role. This argument does have some substance. The era was unusual for the frequency with which significant battles took place. Nevertheless, this does not tell the whole story. As we will see, there were many campaigns in which castles were used in a significant way. Similarly, the late Middle Ages has been characterised as a period in which castles were in a state of transition and decline, in which their traditional role as fortresses was increasingly no longer necessary due to changes in warfare and society.

While there are many books on the Wars of the Roses, none have looked at the conflict in quite this way before. Dan Spencer covers every aspect of the conflict and the actions of the leading players involved, including Henry VI, Edward IV, Warwick the Kingmaker, Richard III, etc. While the major battles are also covered, the spotlight is on the castles, their role in the conflict ad the tactics used to successfully prosecute a siege. Dan Spencer’s impeccable research means that he can build a deep understanding of the layout of each castle, the provisions it stored and the garrison that manned it.

The Castle in the Wars of the Roses analyses not only the strength of a castle, but the prosecution of these sieges and the reasons for their success or failures. Using primary sources, archaeological evidence and his own extensive experience of castles, Dan Spencer has produced a fascinating book that can only add to our knowledge of the Wars of the Roses. The text is supported by wonderful colour images of the castles mentioned, and detailed floor plans. It is whole knew way of looking at the conflict, providing a freesh perspective.

Well written in an engaging narrative, The Castle in the Wars of the Roses is a fascinating, addictive read. And a perfect Christmas present!

The Castle in the Wars of the Roses is available from Amazon or direct from Pen & Sword Books (with 30% off in December!)

About the author:

Dr Dan Spencer has made a special study of late medieval warfare, focusing in particular on gunpowder artillery and castles. Recent publications include The Castle at War in Medieval England and Wales and Royal and Urban Gunpowder Weapons in Late Medieval England. To find out more visit danspencer.info or follow him on Twitter and Instagram @Gunpowderdan.

*

My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: The Northern Throne by Steven A. McKay

Bellicus the Druid and his friend Duro, a former Roman centurion, have already suffered a great deal in recent years but, for them, things are about to get even worse.
Britain is changing. The Romans have gone and warriors from many different places seek to fill the void the legions left behind. In the south, the Saxons’ expansion seems unstoppable despite the efforts of the warlord Arthur, while north of Hadrian’s Wall various kings and chieftains are always looking to extend their borders.

In Dun Breatann, Bellicus believes the disparate northern tribes must put aside their differences, become allies, and face the Saxon threat together, under one High King.

Or High Queen…

Small-minded men don’t always look at the bigger picture though, and, when Bellicus and Duro seek to form a pact with an old enemy, events take a shocking and terrible turn that will leave the companions changed forever.

This third volume in the Warrior Druid of Britain Chronicles is packed with adventure, battles, triumph, and tears, and at the end of it a new course will be set for Bellicus.

But at what cost?

One of the highlights of my reading year is when Steven A. McKay publishes a book, This year I have had the pleasure to read two! Steven has a book, Lucia: A Roman Slave’s Tale, coming out in October, which is incredibly thought-provoking – but more of that one nearer the time…

This summer the 3rd book in the Warrior Druid of Britain series was finally published. It seems like it has been a long wait since book 2, Song of the Centurion came out, but it has been well worth it! Steven A. McKay takes us on another, suspense-filled adventure with Bellicus the Druid and his Roman friend, Duro.

Bellicus’ story started with The Druid and a rescue mission into the heart of Anglo-Saxon England to recover young princess Catia. It continued in Song of the Centurion where Bellicus and his friend Duro, the former Roman centurion, fought to save Alt Clota from the machinations of its enemies and the growing paranoia of its king, Coroticus. Each story has led us to The Northern Throne, an adventure that proves more perilous and personal for Bellicus and Duro.

Set in the time of King Arthur and the Saxon invasion of Britain, the story takes us north of Hadrian’s Wall and into the lands of the Scots and Picts. As with the previous novels, Arthur is a supporting character, making a handful of cameo appearances, though I suspect his time will come, when he and Bellicus team up to fight the Saxon threat.

“Nicely done, lads,” Gerallt said approvingly. “With the Votadini taken care of, and the Dalriadans in disarray, all we have left to deal with are the Picts.”

Bellicus bodded. If they could defeat Drest it would put Narina in a very strong position. Ultimately, the druid would like to see her crowned High Queen of all the northern lands, and it seemed that day might be close. A Damnonii High Queen would nullify the growing threat the Christians’ posed to the old ways, while allowing the united tribes to face the Saxon threat at the side of Arthur and Merlin. The druid just had to find a way to steer events towards such a favourable outcome.

“How long have we got before Drest arrives in Alt Clota?” Gerallt asked the messenger, disturbing Bellicus from his reverie.

“At the speed they were marching when I observed them,” the messenger reported, “I’d say about 3 or 4 days, my lord.”
“That should be more than enough,” Duro said, resting his left hand on the pommel of his spatha. “If we leave here tomorrow at sun-up, we’ll be able to head them off on the road before they get anywhere hear Dun Breatann.”

“And we’re thirty men stronger now, too,” Gerallt said, smiling grimly. “We’ll be able top ambush the Pictish bastards just like we did the Votadini.”

“Hopefully you’re right, and we do surprise them,” Bellicus muttered, gazing hopefully into his half-empty cup. “Because if Cefin’s numbers are accurate, Drest’s army still outnumbers us.”

The triumph of these books is in Steven A. McKay’s portrayal of Bellicus the Druid. An author could easily fall into the realm of fantasy and explain the druidic rituals as magic. That is not the case with the Warrior Druid of Britain books. Bellicus is a clever, educated man who has studied the nature of humanity. Insightful and intelligent, he knows how to read people, their actions and expressions, and how to interpret their intentions.

His years of training have made him a well-respected, authoritative character and he uses his skills to great advantage. There is an air of mystery about him, but he is also portrayed as a man who is all-too-human, and whose flaws and pride can sometimes lead him into trouble of his own making.

And that is what makes these books so special!

The characters in The Northern Throne are wonderful creations, each one vivid and individual, from the heroes such as Duro and Bellicus, to the villains such as Drest and down to little Catia, the princess who is growing up and trying to find her role in the world, who is learning to fight, to command and to judge people for herself.

Steven A. McKay skillfully recreates the landscape, people and legends of 5th century Scotland. His knowledge of the area, and its traditions, shines through on every page, transporting the reader to the stark fortresses, wooded valleys and fast-flowing rivers; taking you on an astonishing adventure without leaving your seat. He brings all this together in a rich tapestry that forms the backdrop of these incredible stories.

The tension is high throughout The Northern Throne. One crisis leads to another, loyalties and friendships pushed are to the limits; and love and betrayal are two very fine lines. This combination makes for a thoroughly absorbing tale which entwines history, legend and myth and takes the reader along on Bellicus’ heroic journey.

In short, The Northern Throne is a wonderful, engaging adventure that, once again, leaves the reader desperate for the next instalment.

The Northern Throne is available now from Amazon UK.

About the Author:

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

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

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

*

My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Fortress of Fury by Matthew Harffy

Beobrand is besieged in the action-packed instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles set in AD 647 Anglo-Saxon Britain.

War hangs heavy in the hot summer air as Penda of Mercia and his allies march into the north. Caught unawares, the Bernician forces are besieged within the great fortress of Bebbanburg.

It falls to Beobrand to mount the defence of the stronghold, but even while the battle rages, old and powerful enemies have mobilised against him, seeking vengeance for past events.

As the Mercian forces tighten their grip and unknown killers close in, Beobrand finds himself in a struggle with conflicting oaths and the dreadful pull of a forbidden love that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

With the future of Northumbria in jeopardy, will Beobrand be able to withstand the powers that beset him and find a path to victory against all the odds?

In recent years, the Matthew Harffy new book release has become one of the highlights of my year, and 2020 is no exception. Fortress of Fury is the 7th book in his wonderful series, The Bernicia Chronicles. And it is probably the best so far! Beobrand has returned home after his recent journey to France in Storm of Steel, and now must defend the kingdom of Bernicia (now known as Northumbria) – and Bebbanburgh itself – from Welsh and Mercian invaders.

Fast paced, full of suspense and action, it is a non-stop rollercoaster ride of action and emotion for the reader. Matthew Harffy expertly combines the story with the known history and recreates 7th century Northumbria perfectly, giving the reader vivid descriptions of the landscape, the harsh reality of life in a kingdom suffering from invasion and fight scenes to die for – literally!

The fears of the characters are palpable.

Matthew Harffy’s storytelling abilities are second-to-none, he pulls you into the story from the very first, action-packed pages, and keeps you constantly gripped to the very last. And he always leaves you wanting more. Fortress of Fury is no exception! Waiting for book no. 8 is going to really test my patience!

They chased the raiders westward as the sun slid down through a crimson sky towards the desolate hills and moors of western Bernicia. Far beyond the horizon, before the land dipped into the sea that separated Albion from Hibernnia, Beobrand knew there rose great snowcapped mountains. But that land was days’s ride away and they would run their quarry to ground long before they saw the craggy bluffs and peaks of Rheged. He glanced over his shoulder at the score of warriors that rode hard behind him. Given their pace and the freshness of their steeds, they might well catch the men they pursued before sunset. He hoped so. He did not wish to lose them in the night. They had burnt a steading, killing folk whom Beobrand had sword to defend. And they had injured one of Beobrand’s gesithas. These Mercians must pay.

Beobrand squinted into the lowering sun. He could make out no details in the glare. A prickle of unease scratched the nape of his neck. Could they be riding into an ambush? With a twitch of the reins, he slowed his black stallion, Sceadugenga, almost imperceptibly. Beside him, Cynan shot him a glance and guided his mount closer.

“What is it?” asked the Waelisc warrior. He rode his bay mare effortlessly, and as always, when Beobrand watched the man ride, he marvelled at how one who had been so unsuited to horseback at first had gone on to become the nest horseman of his warband, and arguably in the kingdom.

Beobrand was no great rider, but he had the finest of horses. Sceadugenga was no longer young, but the horse was still hale and strong and there was a deep understanding between horse and rider. Beobrand knew it was foolish to care for a beast, but the bond he shared with Sceadugenga was unlike anything he had felt with other animals. The stallion and he had been through much together and it often seemed to him that the animal knew what he was going to command before he even knew himself.

“Something is not right,” Beobrand said, raising his voice over the thunder of the horses’ hooves on the summer-dry ground.

“You think it a trap?” said Cynan

There is not just one aspect of this book you can look at and point to and say ‘that’s what makes this a good book’; it is the combination of history, atmosphere, action, characters and storytelling that makes Fortress of Fury the perfect novel. Matthew Harffy uses the background of real events behind the invasion of Bernicia, and weaves it seamlessly into the lives of his characters. Beobrand, now the most feared and renowned warrior in Bernicia, is tasked with defending the great fortress of Bebbanburgh.

Fortress of Fury feels like it is a seminal book in the series, a turning point for Beobrand, as he matures into a great leader of men, whose own men are now becoming leaders. The decision he takes in this book will decide his future. I have yet to see if I’m right – I will have to wait for book no. 8 – but this feels like a momentous book for its hero. The events of Fortress of Fury will have a major influence on where Beobrand goes next – I can feel it!

I still haven’t worked out if ‘unputdownable’ is a word, but it is the best way to describe Fortress of Fury. I lost two afternoons of work because I couldn’t leave the book at crucial moments in the story, then stayed up til midnight, just so I could finish the last 50 pages.

I have long thought that the books of the Bernicia Chronicles are addictive and Fortress of Fury is no exception.

Simply put, Fortress of Fury by Matthew Harffy is a fabulous feat of storytelling.

It is available from 6 August. Buy link: Amazon UK

About the author:

Matthew 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.

 Follow Matthew Harffy:    

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy, Facebook: @MatthewHarffyAuthor, Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Buy link: Amazon UK

My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Britannia: World’s End by Derek Birks

454 AD.
Even after years of Roman rule, Britannia is a conflicted and largely untamed land.
Disgraced Imperial Officer, Dux Ambrosius Aurelianus, flees to its shores seeking sanctuary in the land of his deceased mother. His years of loyal service to the emperor count for nothing now. He must carve out a new life beyond the empire.
Accompanying Ambrosius is a disparate group of fellow refugees: Inga, a freed Saxon slave, his bucellarii – warriors sworn to him – and the surviving members of his estranged family.
The burden of command weighs heavy on his shoulders, for when he lands in the country, winter is fast approaching.
But the weather is not the only thing inhospitable towards the newcomers.
Plagued by troubles, Ambrosius faces opponents among both the native Britons and Saxon settlers. He discovers that no-one in Britannia – least of all, the High King, Vortigern – still fears the soldiers of the decaying empire.
When those he loves are savagely abducted and betrayal divides his company, Ambrosius is left with only a handful of his bucellarii. Though heavily outnumbered and unfamiliar with the land, Ambrosius remains undaunted.
Pitted against powerful opponents, the Roman will need new allies if he is to free the hostages and make Britannia his home.
There will be blood.

Derek Birks has fast become one of my favourite authors. His first novel, Feud, is still one of my personal favourites. He has a knack for fast-paced action woven into a wonderful story that keeps the reader hooked from the first page to the last. This latest offering is no different. Trouble arrives almost at the very first page and leaves the reader on the edge of their seat to the very end. Survival is far from certain and each character has their own battle to fight – and their own demons to face – within the larger story.

Britannia: World’s End is the second book in Derek Birks’ new series based in the twilight of the Roman era, which follows the exploits of Ambrosius Aurelianus and his small band of loyal warriors, and a disparate group of waifs and strays that he has picked up since being chased out of the Roman Empire. Ambrosius leads his people to the island of Britain, in the hope of finding a new home, but only finds more problems and more enemies to fight.

Set in the age of King Arthur, there are suggestions of the famous Arthurian legends, and the links to Ambrosius Aurelianus, though the story is firmly set in the history and reality of Britain at the waning of the Roman Empire, where land and people were open to exploitation and manipulation.

With a final scowl at Remigius, Ambrosius leapt from the boat onto the stony shore where dog-tired men were cheering and clapping each other on the back. They deserved to celebrate, he thought, for though they were some yards east of the camp now, at least they had salvaged the boat. By the time he heard the hooves, it was too late and he could only stare, helpless, as a dozen horsemen cantered through his camp.

By the time he roared: “To arms!”, women were already scattering in fear. Obliged to retrieve their scattered weapons from all along the beach, Ambrosius and his bucellarii were slow to return to the camp. Ambrosius was still trying to disentangle his spatha from his belt when he heard Inga’s voice, heaping Saxon abuse at her assailants.

“I’m here, Inga!” he cried, as he watched her trying to fend off one of the riders with her knife. “Run – this way! Run to us!”

Defiant as ever, she retorted: “I have Ferox with me!”

Thank God for Ferox, thought Ambrosius, as he stumbled towards her. Of course, the damned dog had not been warning him about the boat at all, for how would a dog know the boat was drifting out to sea? No, Ferox had caught the scent of strangers and their horses, but Ambrosius, like some green recruit, had ignored the animal’s alert and allowed himself to be drawn away from camp.

Though he had told Inga to run, of course, she had not. Armed only with her long blade, she stood her ground, flailing at her mounted assailants. Ambrosius cursed under his breath as he ran, for had he not told her how brave she was – as brave as any one of his bucellarii? And because he encouraged her, she fought, when she should have run. One moment Ambrosius glimpsed her, slashing out in vain, the next she was grappling with her captor. Racing to her side, spatha in hand and ready to dispense death to the villains who had dared to assault his camp, he was relieved to see that she had broken free.

“Stay behind me!” he ordered, but Inga’s blood was up and she took a snarling pace towards one of the horsemen. Thrusting out an arm to pull her back, Ambrosius’ fingertips scarcely brushed hers, as she was lifted clean off her feet and borne away.

Derek Birks has several great strengths as a writer. He is a natural storyteller and has a knack for knowing how to draw a reader in and holding their attention, so that you’re always promising yourself ‘just one more page’ or ‘just one more chapter’. His actions scenes are second-to-none and help to keep the tension high throughout the book.

His greatest skill, however, is in his characters. Despite a large number of supporting characters, Derek Birks has the ability to make each and everyone of them an individual. Not just in their appearance, but in their actions and in their individual stories. Each character has a legend that is his or her own; this means that each character has their own motivations and their own set of rules.

The author is also known for creating strong, independent female characters, such as the great Eleanor Elder in his two series set in the Wars of the Roses. In The Last of the Romans, it is Inga, a former sex slave, who steals the show with her strength and quiet determination. And then there is the dog, Ferox, a ferocious war dog with a soft spot for Inga, and a scene stealer in every chapter in which he appears. He is such a unique character!

There is one other thing Derek Birks has become renowned for in his books;; no character is so precious that he cannot be killed off, if the story asks for it. Not even the hero of the book is safe. And this brings an added tension to the book; the reader does not know who will make it out alive!

These 3 great strengths in the author are a fantastic combination that leads to another amazing novel. I have never had any qualms about recommending Derek Birks’ books to any fan of action-packed historical fiction, and Britannia: World’s End is no exception.

It is an awesome book!

*

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: 
Rebels & Brothers – a 4-book series set during the fifteenth century, which follows a fictional family, the Elders, through their struggle to survive the Wars of the Roses up to 1471.  The Craft of Kings – a sequel series which finds the Elder family ten years later in 1481. The latest book in this series is book 3, Echoes of Treason, which is set during the short and turbulent reign of Richard III.

He has recently embarked upon a new Post-Roman series and the first book is out now: The Last of the Romans

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 signing books – and selling them – at the Chalke Valley History Festival outside Salisbury in Wiltshire.

His books are available on Amazon in the UK and US.
You can find Derek at: Amazon; Blog; Facebook; Twitter 

*

My Books

Out Now!

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Mistress Cromwell by Carol McGrath

MISTRESS CROMWELL presents the rise of Tudor England’s most powerful courtier, Thomas Cromwell, through the eyes of the most important – and little known – woman in his life . . .

When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make a success of the business she inherited from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who know the dark truth about her dead husband.

Happiness arrives when Elizabeth meets ambitious young lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage begins in mutual love and respect – but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an independent, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London. The city is both merciless and filled with temptation, and Elizabeth soon realises she must take care in the life she has chosen . . . or risk losing everything.

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

Written in colourful, vivid language that draws you in from the first page, Mistress Cromwell is a wonderful novel, full of life and imagery. And, of course, the fact I could find no picture of Elizabeth Cromwell – only ones of Thomas – serves to highlight how little information we have about the ordinary Tudor woman. Carol McGrath’s novel gives us a rarely seen insight into everyday life of the non-aristocratic family in Tudor London. However, if you were expecting melodrama, this book is not it; adventure and mystery are given equal billing, with murder, arson and secrets, ambushes in dark corners and some strange, scary personalities making this an exciting story which is not to be missed.

Cromwell’s rise to power at the Tudor court runs parallel with his family concerns, with the arrival of children and Elizabeth’s own business adventures. His mysterious past – as a soldier and adventurer in Italy – is alluded to and even comes in useful. Carol McGrath does an excellent job of portraying the enigma that is Thomas Cromwell; the courtier, soldier and statesman who is also merchant, husband and father. The characters are brought to life in vivid, vibrant detail, creating a tableau that is hard to forget even once the last page has been read.

For several hours, I spoke little and ate sparingly. Father went about the hall speaking with merchants. I wondered how I would manage but knew I must and would. A chair scraped beside me, jolting me out of my thoughts. I felt a light touch on my elbow and glanced up. The feast was ending. My merchant had left his place. Gone to the privy, no doubt. Instead, Father stood by my chair, with Master Cromwell by his side.

‘Lizzy, Master Cromwell is my new cloth middle-man. He would like you to show him your bombazine cloth. He has admired your mourning gown.’

I started. This was nothing new. Father always employed different cloth middlemen to sell his fabrics to Flanders, thinking each one better than the last but today, at my husband’s funeral it was not seemly. Master Cromwell was watching me through eyes of an unusual shade, not quite blue or grey.

He bowed and said, ‘Forgive me for staring, Mistress Williams, but you see I knew you as a child. Your father used our fulling mill in Putney.’ He smiled at Father.

That was why he was familiar. I stared back, and in a moment or two I had recollected a tough, wicked little boy, some years older than I, who taught me to fish in the river with a string and a hook with a wriggling worm at the end of it.

‘I do recollect you, Master Cromwell. We played together as children,’ I said, feeling my mouth widen into a smile. ‘Father sent your father our cloth to be washed, beaten, prepared and softened for sale. I remember climbing trees and stealing apples. You led me astray.’

Elizabeth Cromwell herself is a wonderful, strong character, facing the prejudices of the merchant class and her own family in order to take some control over her life. And Mistress Cromwell will make you want to know more Although a history buff would know what is to become of Cromwell and Elizabeth, the author cleverly manages to avoid inserting any hindsight into the story. If you don’t know what becomes of the characters, you will soon be scouring the history books for the true story.

Carol McGrath’s wonderful novel transports you through time and space to the streets of London and Northampton at the height of Henry VIII’s magnificent reign. With colourful, vivid imagery she recreates a world and its people which has been otherwise lost through the centuries. The city, the characters and the lifestyle have been brought back to life, recreating the vibrant world in which Thomas Cromwell would eventually rise to be the king’s chief statesman. The story follows Elizabeth’s life; her family, her business and her husband, cleverly demonstrating how these are affected and changed by her husband’s inexorable rise to power.

The attention to detail is phenomenal, showing many of the social conventions of the time, while not detracting from the story, nor making the reader feel like they’re in a lecture on social history. It paints a fascinating tableau of merchant life in Tudor London, portraying the struggles and successes facing a widow trying to keep her business going in a man’s world. Rich in detail in every aspect, Carol McGrath’s meticulous research has produced a novel which plunges the reader into the middle of Elizabeth’s household in Tudor London. From funeral and marriage arrangements, births and christenings, to the contents of a Tudor garden and the conduct of the cloth trade, Mistress Cromwell acts as a window into Tudor merchant society.

If you liked Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall you will love Mistress Cromwell by Carol McGrath. It shows the human side of the Cromwell family and is a treat for any lover of historical fiction, and especially for a fan of Tudor history. It is a novel not to be missed, and which must be devoured for both the meticulous detail and the wonderful story – especially the story.

This review first appeared on The Review.

About the author:

Based in England, Carol McGrath writes Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction. She studied History at Queens University Belfast, has an MA in Creative Writing from the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast and an English MPhil from Royal Holloway, University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAS in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this highly acclaimed trilogy. Mistress Cromwell, a best-selling historical novel about Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, is republished by Headline. The Silken Rose, first in a Medieval She-Wolf Queens Trilogy, featuring Ailenor of Provence, was published 2nd April 2020 and comes out 23rd July 2020 as a PB. also published by the Headline Group. Tudor Sex & Sexuality will be published in 2022. Carol speaks at events and conferences. She was the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels’ Society Conference, Oxford in September 2016 and is an avid reader and reviewer, in particular, for the Historical Novel Society. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Historical Writers Association. Carol lives in Oxfordshire with her husband. Website: http://www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk. Newsletter: bit.ly/39eUgKl for the signup page. Amazon.

*

My Books

Out Now!

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

*

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly