Book Corner: John Brown’s Women: A Novel by Susan Higginbotham

As the United States wrestles with its besetting sin-slavery-abolitionist John Brown is growing tired of talk. He takes actions that will propel the nation toward civil war and thrust three courageous women into history.

Wealthy Brown, married to John Brown’s oldest son, eagerly falls in with her husband’s plan to settle in Kansas. Amid clashes between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, Wealthy’s adventure turns into madness, mayhem, and murder.

Fifteen-year-old Annie Brown is thrilled when her father summons her to the farm he has rented in preparation for his raid. There, she guards her father’s secrets while risking her heart.

Mary Brown never expected to be the wife of John Brown, much less the wife of a martyr. When her husband’s daring plan fails, Mary must travel into hostile territory, where she finds the eyes of the nation riveted upon John-and upon her.

Spanning three decades, John Brown’s Women is a tale of love and sacrifice, and of the ongoing struggle for America to achieve its promise of liberty and justice for all.

I have to confess, I knew little about John Brown beyond the song when I started this novel. It demonstrated to me how much my knowledge of American history is seriously lacking. All I knew of John Brown comes from the song about his body ‘a-mouldering in its grave’. I knew he had something to do with abolitionism, but to what extent and what he did to merit the song about him, I was sadly unaware. I had heard of Harper’s Ferry, but hadn’t realised how significant an incident it was,, nor what spark it ignited that would burn into the American Civil War.

John Brown’s Women: A Novel by Susan Higginbotham tells the story of John Brown and his family through the eyes of three women; his second wife, Mary, his daughter-in-law Wealthy and his daughter Annie. Not merely spectators, these three women played active roles in the family’s mixed fortunes and endeavours against slavery. This is the story of a family living in an emerging nation, trying to build a family and farm whilst also fighting against that most abhorrent of practices, slavery. John Brown appears to have been one of those men who was steadfast in his beliefs and managed to draw in those around him.

John’s family, with his first wife and then with Mary, was large and at times disparate, often living in different states, but they were always close. And it is this closeness, often facilitated by Mary, that draws them into the conflicts in Kansas, and later at Harper’s Ferry, that saw the family devastated by loss. John Brown’s Women: A Novel tells their story in a sensitive, thought-provoking manner, that will draw the reader in from the very beginning. Mary’s compassion and John Brown’s quirks provide a fascinating insight into this famous family.

Mary heard someone unbolt a door, then a face appeared, lit by a skylight in the room. It belonged to a girl who was probably about Mary’s age and, to her immense surprise, not all that far off from her color. There were no shackles, and the girl’s calico dress, though too thin for a Pennsylvania winter, was perfectly ordinary, even pretty. “This is Miss Day, ”Johnny said to her. “And this is Josie.”

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am.”

“Johnny said you needed a warmer dress.” Mary displayed the one under her arm. “If you let me try this on you, I can cut it down and have it ready by the morning.”

“That’s kind of you, missus. But ain’t no need for you to do the work. I’ve been sewing since I was a little bit of a thing. Sewed for my mistress, and she was right particular. If you bring me a needle and thread and shears, I’ll whip this out in no time. It’ll pass the time here too.”

“All right.”Mary looked around the room. It was small but adequately ventilated and supplied with a feather bed and heaps of warm blankets. Clearly, this space had been the result of careful planning. “How long have you been  .  .  . escaping?”

“Lord, miss, I’ve lost all track of time. Been a good two months, I guess. Started out in Maryland.”

“What made you decide to run?”

Josie looked in John Jr.’s direction and shook her head.

“John, could you get my sewing things so I don’t have to go up and down this ladder again? You know where I keep them all.” John Jr. obeyed. When she and Mary heard the sound of his feet descending the ladder, Josie said, “Master was looking at me the way he looked at all of us girls when we started getting a shape to us, miss. I knew he’d be doing more than looking soon. So I lit out to a place I’d heard about, and here I am.”

“It must have been hard leaving your family.”

“Ma died years ago.”

“Your father?”

“You might say Master is my father, miss.”

There were so many layers of awfulness here, Mary could hardly unpack them. Josie shrugged. “That’s the way it is, miss. At least in my place. Some masters leave us girls alone, but others don’t. If a girl complains, if she’s fool enough, she gets beaten or sold to someone even worse. Or both.”

Mary tried to imagine what “even worse” might be and decided to stop trying.

Over the next day or so, Mary visited Josie as often as she could without being too conspicuous about it. Josie redid her dress so wonderfully it almost looked pretty—indeed, she put Mary’s sewing to shame—and it was a good thing she was quick about it, for Mr. Brown came home shortly afterward. The next evening, he left on another trip, with Josie—as John Jr. told Mary later—concealed beneath some hay, bound for Ohio. Mary had sent her off with her warmest shawl, knowing she could soon knit herself a new one.

A few days later, Mr. Brown returned from his journey. The morning after his arrival, he caught Mary alone at her spinning wheel. “Miss Day, John told me that you helped with the delivery the other day, and you gave away your shawl and dress.”

Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, John Brown’s Women: A Novel shows America’s struggled with its identity and ethos in the mid- nineteenth century. And the extent of the research undertaken by Susan Higginbotham to produce such a novel is evident in every page. From the methods of farming, to new medical treatments and the historical events themselves, the author’s descriptions are replete with detail and serve to transport the reader back in time.

John Brown’s Women: A Novel is an endearing read, giving the reader an insight into the lives, loves and tragic losses that the family Brown had to endure. Susan Higginbotham allows you be a fly on the wall, watching the tragedies and hardships, that the family had to go through, but also showing you their strength and resilience, and how much of each they took from each other. The strength of John Brown’s convictions resonate throughout the family and its generations.

John Brown’s Women: A Novel by Susan Higginbotham takes you on an emotional rollercoaster – you will need tissues, I can guarantee it. I read the last few chapters through eyes streaming with tears.

For anyone interested in life in 19th century American, whether on a social, political or simply entertaining level, I cannot recommend John Brown’s Women: A Novel highly enough.

To buy the book:

John Brown’s Women: A Novel is available on Amazon in the UK and US.

About the author:

Susan Higginbotham’s meticulously researched historical fiction brought to life by her heartfelt writing delights readers. Higginbotham runs her own historical fiction/history blog, History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham. She has worked as an editor and an attorney and lives in Maryland with her family.

Website: www.susanhigginbotham.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 and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War by John Paul Davis

In 1204, the great Angevin Empire created by the joining of the dynasties of Henry II of England and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was fragmenting. At its height, the family landholdings had been among the largest the world had ever seen. From the border of England and Scotland in the north to south of the Pyrenees, it seemed there was nowhere in Europe destined to escape Plantagenet control. Yet within five years of his accession, King John’s grip on the family holdings was loosening. Betrayal against his father and brother, the murder of his nephew, and breaking promises made to his supporters were just some of the accusations levelled against him. When Philip II conquered Normandy, the chroniclers believed that an ancient prophecy was fulfilled: that in this year the sword would be separated from the sceptre. For the first time since 1066, England’s rule over the ancestral land was over. For John, troubles on the continent were just the beginning of a series of challenges that would ultimately define his reign. Difficult relations with the papacy and clergy, coupled with rising dissent among his barons ensured conflict would not be limited to the continent. When John died in 1216, more than half of the country was in the hands of the dauphin of France. Never had the future of the Plantagenet dynasty looked more uncertain. As the following pages will show, throughout the first eighteen years of the reign of Henry III, the future direction of England as a political state, the identity of the ruling family and the fate of Henry II’s lost empire were still matters that could have gone either way. For the advisors of the young king, led by the influential regent, William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, the effects of John’s reign would be long and severe. Successful implementation of the failed Magna Carta may have ensured his son’s short-term survival, yet living up to such promises created arguably a more significant challenge. This is the story of how the varying actions of two very different kings both threatened and created the English way of life, and ultimately put England on the path to its Lost Civil War.

What a fascinating book!

King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War by John Paul Davis is a study of the often overlooked civil war that took place between the First and Second Barons’ Wars of the 13th century. Very much overshadowed by King John’s struggles against the imposition of Magna Carta in 1215 and the later rise of Simon de Montfort, who was England’s ruler in all but name in 1264/5, the Marshal War often gets sidelined or ignored. Admittedly not as disruptive or even as violent as its more famous counterparts, the Marshal War was still an important event in the reign of Henry III.

In King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War, John Paul Davis takes the reader on a thorough investigation into the events and politics that caused the Marshal War. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, John Paul Davis examines the reigns of both King John and Henry III in order to explain the context and background to the short-lived rebellion of 1234 of the country’s leading magnates.

A howling gale tore through the streets of Newark on the evening of 18 October 1216. A mid-sized market town located some forty miles inland from the North Sea, it was rare for a storm to give rise to the levels of concern often felt by citizens of its coastal counterparts. Lying on both the Great North Road and the Fosse Way, the area was popular with travellers, especially cloth and wool merchants in town to sell their wares. The early twelfth-century bridge over the Trent had improved the trade links further, and by the reign of Henry II, the market had become well established. Though most of the buildings were of timber construction, even at the height of winter weather damage was often repairable.

This was not the first time the town had been forced to endure such a tempest.

Behind the sturdy stone walls of the nearby Norman castle, the abbot of Croxton had far more troubling issues to address. The south riverside fortress, though by no means immune to regular splashback, was far better prepared for nature’s challenges than the earlier motte-and-bailey that had preceded it. The same lack of worry, however, could not be said of the crisis that had brought him there. Renowned for his medicinal expertise, it didn’t take him long to realise that the patient he had been asked to treat was beyond hope of recovery. Rather than prolong the inevitable, he heard the dying man’s confession and performed the last rites. The storm was over by sunrise.

Blighted by a combination of chronic fatigue, dysentery brought about from years of poor diet and a sudden fever, King John passed away in the early hours of 19 October after more than seventeen years on the throne. His final year had been a black one for England. Accusations of betrayal against his own family and an inability to keep his allies on side had contributed in no small part to humiliating defeat on the Continent. By 1214, the loss of much of his ancestral birthright had been compounded by domestic discord. Loathed in equal measure by natural adversary and should-be follower, John’s life ended ignominiously amid a strange alliance of foreign invader and baronial rebel. Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, it ended through natural causes.

There are several instances where my own research crosses with John Paul Davis’s work and it was interesting to see William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the son of Hamelin and Isabel de Warenne, make an appearance; William played a prominent part in the events surrounding the rebellion. I have to say, also, that King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War would be a perfect accompaniment to my own book Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, which looks at the same years, though with the focus on the women.

The research is impeccable. John Paul Davis and I apparently agree on many aspects of the period, which is encouraging! If you have an interest in 13th century history, this is definitely a book for your library. John Paul Davis fills in many of the gaps between the First and Second Barons’ Wars, an often overlooked period of history.

Written in an engaging, accessible manner, King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War, is a thoroughly entertaining study of the politics, history and personalities involved in the first third of the century, from the devastating reign of King John, through the minority of Henry III and into the early years of Henry’s personal rule.

I can heartily recommend it!

King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War is now available from Amazon and Pen & Sword Books.

About the author:

John Paul Davis is the international bestselling author of eleven thriller novels and four works of historical non-fiction. His debut thriller, The Templar Agenda, was a UK top 20 bestseller; The Cortés Trilogy has also been an international bestseller. As well as being a thriller author, his debut work, Robin Hood: The Unknown Templar, has been the subject of international attention, including articles in The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Yorkshire Post and Nottingham Evening Post, mentions in USA Today and The Independent and reviews in the Birmingham Post and Medieval History Journal. His second work, Pity for the Guy, was the first full-length biography of Guy Fawkes and was featured on ITV’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show in November 2011. His most recent work on Henry III, The Gothic King, was released in 2013. His latest work of non-fiction, A Hidden History of the Tower of London, also published by Pen & Sword, was released in February 2020. He was educated at Loughborough University and lives in Warwickshire. His websites are http://www.officiallyjpd.com and http://www.theunknowntemplar.com. Twitter: @unknown_templar.

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My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Rebel’s Knot by Cryssa Bazos

Ireland 1652: In the desperate, final days of the English invasion . . .

A fey young woman, Áine Callaghan, is the sole survivor of an attack by English marauders. When Irish soldier Niall O’Coneill discovers his own kin slaughtered in the same massacre, he vows to hunt down the men responsible. He takes Áine under his protection and together they reach the safety of an encampment held by the Irish forces in Tipperary.

Hardly a safe haven, the camp is rife with danger and intrigue. Áine is a stranger with the old stories stirring on her tongue and rumours follow her everywhere. The English cut off support to the brigade, and a traitor undermines the Irish cause, turning Niall from hunter to hunted.

When someone from Áine’s past arrives, her secrets boil to the surface—and she must slay her demons once and for all.

As the web of violence and treachery grows, Áine and Niall find solace in each other’s arms—but can their love survive long-buried secrets and the darkness of vengeance?

Thank you so much to Cryssa Bazos for disrupting my work this week! Instead of working for 3 hours and then reading for an hour over lunch, I’ve been working for 1 hour and reading for 3! But it’s ok, I’ve finished Rebel’s Knot now so I can get on with my life. What a bloody amazing book – again!

I do not usually read stories set in the 17th century, they’re a little out of my comfort zone. However, novels by Cryssa Bazos have definitely earned an exemption. This is Cryssa’s third book set in the civil wars that tore Britain apart during the reign of Charles I. The first was set in England whilst the second followed the exploits of those unfortunates who were forced into indentured servitude in the colonies. This third instalment follows the fortunes of the Irish Catholics who continued to hold on to their resistance to Oliver Cromwell an the Parliamentarians.

Pursuing a form of guerrilla warfare against a much stringer and better equipped English army, the Irish brigades sheltered in Ireland’s forests and depended on the goodwill of the Irish people to survive. Rebel’s Knot tells the story of one such brigade, the harsh conditions they were forced to live under and the political divisions that threatened to destroy their cause.

Áine still clutched the poker, her back pressed against the stone fireplace. She had never been more alarmed in her life to see a man materialise in her path. From experience, she gave them all distance. Niall O’Coneill had appeared, sprung from legend—a blazing warrior brandishing a gleaming sword, accompanied by a kingly wolfhound. He looked capable of hewing a giant in half. Were it not for his mud-splattered mantle, stubbled beard and dark shadows beneath his eyes, she’d believe him to be a figment of her fanciful imagination.

And then reality slammed her with the tide of his rage. With a fearsome bellow, he heaved the edge of the worktable, and it crashed onto its side. Áine muffled a scream. Her shoulder scraped against the rough stone—she was pinned between the fireplace and the raging man. The old terror gripped her.

With his back turned to her, his shoulders rose and fell with each breath. Áine marshalled her scattered wits, determined to fly. Now was her chance, while this man and his wolfhound paid her no attention.

But then he faced her. Áine sucked in her breath, her stomach knotting. She was ten feet from the door—from safety—but with every heartbeat of hesitation, that distance stretched to impossible.

He took a step forward, and she flinched, braced for the force of a blow. She squeezed her eyes shut. Please, not fists.

“I’m sorry.”

This hadn’t come from Áine, though those same words had been running through her mind—a reflex she thought she had smothered. No, he had spoken those words.

Áine’s eyes flew open. He stood a few feet away—jaw tense, hands balled into fists. “I’m sorry,”he repeated tersely. “My anger is not with you.”

She released the breath she had been holding and gave him an answering nod. Few had ever apologised to her. A part of her feared it might be a ruse.

The man ran a shaky hand through his dark hair and looked around the kitchen, a frown worrying his brow. “Gather what you will, Áine Callaghan. Supplies, any food. Especially food. We leave shortly.”

“And where are we to be going?” Áine asked sharply.

“Away from here.” He seemed deep in thought, his mind visibly whirring.

The heroes of Rebel’s Knot are a young woman, Aine, who has demons in her own past, and Niall, a born soldier who is driven to his limits when his loyalty is questioned. That Aine and Niall come up against a number of enemies, both known and unknown, leaves the reader on the edge of their seats, never quite knowing who is on the heroes’ side – and who isn’t. To prove his own innocence, he must find the real traitor.

The characters are wonderful, vivid creations who draw you in to their story. Cryssa Bazos recreates rural Ireland in great deal, drawing not only on the landscape, but also on the atmosphere and the beauty that is uniquely Ireland. Allusions to the Irish legends of the past serve to draw the reader in even deeper. What a masterpiece!

Rebel’s Knot is a wonderfully fast-paced novel that draws you in. Cleverly written, it leaves you guessing, almost to the very last page, as to the outcome of all the various strands and intrigues. The love story of Aine and Niall is offset by the violence engendered by war and the distrust borne out of the presence of a traitor.

Well, at least now I’ve finished it I can actually get back to work. I love it when a book grabs you like that! If you’re not reading it, you’re thinking about reading it!

It was a pleasure to read!

Rebel’s Knot by Cryssa Bazos is now available from Amazon.

From the author:

I am a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast, with a particular interest in the English Civil War (ECW) and romantic fiction. I blog about English history and storytelling at my site, the 17th Century Enthusiast, and I’m involved with the English Historical Fiction Authors blog site and a member of the Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) and the Historical Novel Society (HNS).

My absolute favourite books are romantic adventures, steeped in history, that take me to another time and place. I hope you enjoy my stories.

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My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Bear of Britain by Steven A. McKay

AD 432. BRITAIN. The winter snows are melting at last, but spring will bring more than just rebirth this year. The Saxons are coming, and that means war.
Bellicus, Duro and Cai have travelled south to join the warlord, Arthur, and his growing army of Britons. New friendships have been made and exciting adventures await the warrior-druid and his companions, but the threat of Hengist and his invaders casts a dark cloud over all. For years, the Saxons have been content to remain mostly confined to the eastern parts of the country, but now they are marching west, and Hengist has amassed the biggest army seen on these shores since the Romans left over twenty years ago.
Arthur – dubbed the Bear of Britain by his advisor, Merlin – has never truly felt he’d earned such a grand title, but now he will have a chance to prove himself. The addition of a new, crack unit to his ranks will, he hopes, be enough to sweep the Saxon threat from Britain once and for all, and herald a generation of peace and prosperity for his people. But nothing in war is straightforward and even their own countrymen can turn violently against them at any moment, as Bellicus discovers to his cost…

The post-Roman landscape of Britain is brought vividly to life in this exciting fourth novel in the Warrior Druid of Britain Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Simon Scarrow, Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden.

At last! Bellicus is back.

And what a thoroughly enjoyable novel it is.

I have developed a soft spot for this druid of the ancient Britons and his adventures. And this time he joins Arthur, the Bear of Britain to fight against Hengist and Horsa. The Bear of Britain truly indulges my love of all things Arthurian, with all the leading characters of the legend, Lancelot, Sir Kay and Merlin himself, joining the story. And what a story. Steven A. McKay has surpassed himself this time (and that is hard to do!). This was a fabulous adventure which I devoured in no time.

The Bear of Britain is a beautifully crafted adventure that sees Bellicus and his friend, the former Roman Centurion, Duro, join Arthur for an offensive against the Saxon brothers, Hengist and Horsa. Both Bellicus and Arthur are tasked with uniting the various British factions to form one coherent fighting force. And it is not that easy when each king thinks he himself should have the authority over Arthur, a man who is not tied to one land, but who has been raised since childhood to be the most formidable warlord and leader of men. Arthur must assert his own authority before he can lead his disparate forces against the Saxon invaders.

The Bear of Britain is a fabulous combination of battles, intrigue and political in-fighting and not everything will go Arthur’s way. However, he is blessed with the guidance of the Merlin and Bellicus, two druids who know how to influence the minds of kings and men. It is a fascinating study, not only of 6th century warfare, but also of what it takes to forge an army and lead it against such a formidable foe.

“I’ll actually be glad once the fighting starts,”the centurion said vehemently. “Since it’ll warm me up a little!”

A rider charged towards the camp from the east, heading towards Arthur’s tent and Bellicus led the way there himself. “That’ll be one of the scouts,”he said. “Bringing word of the Saxons’intended target perhaps.”

“Morning, big man,”a voice called, and they turned to see their young compatriot, and rowdy champion of the Votadini tribe, Eburus, warming himself by a fire. He’d travelled south with them after forming an unlikely friendship with both during the previous year’s battles against the Picts. “What’s happening? Are we moving out?”

“Soon, I’d guess,”Bellicus replied. “We’re just going to see Arthur now. Have our men ready to move, will you?”

Eburus grinned. Like Lancelot he was loud and brash and confident in his own abilities as a warrior. “They’re all ready to go, don’t worry, druid. Some of us have been up for hours you know.”

“Aye, not many can sleep once you start talking, Eburus. You’re a giant pain in the arse, lad.”Duro’s face was serious, but his eyes twinkled and, as he and Bellicus passed the guards and entered Arthur’s tent they chuckled at the foul insult Eburus called after them.

“Ah, you’re awake. Good.”Arthur nodded to them politely although he seemed pensive as he directed them to sit on a couple of stools by the table in the middle of the tent.

Lancelot was there, looking as fresh and clean-cut as he had before the previous night’s raid and Bellicus thought he could even smell lavender from the man, as though he’d washed in scented water recently. Also present were two local chieftains and, of course, the Merlin.

Nemias was his real name, but he was now more widely known as Merlin, the title given to the chief druid of all Britain.

Cai headed straight for the white-bearded old High Druid and allowed his muzzle to be stroked and a kiss to be planted on his head before padding back and flopping onto the floor at Bellicus’s feet.

“I was just saying,” Arthur told the newcomers, “That our scout reports the Saxons are moving south . He believes they’re heading for Waithe . Which means they won’t have as far to travel as I’d hoped. We should get moving now if you’re all ready?” He looked around at the gathered lords who all nodded agreement. “Let’s not waste any more time then. I’ll lead with Lancelot and my personal guard. King Caradoc, these are your lands, you ride with me, if you would ? Bellicus, you bring up the rear with your men, all right?”

Steven A. McKay has been teasing his readers with little glimpses of Arthur throughout the Warrior Druid of Britain series, but in this book the legendary hero gets more of a leading role – though the focus remains firmly on Bellicus’ story. It is wonderful the way the author skillfully weaves Arthur’s story into that of Bellicus, creating a new legend, all of its own. The character of Bellicus has developed wonderfully through the books, so that an avid reader can almost read his mind. He has a wonderful sense of right and wrong, and of destiny, that means the reader knows how Bellicus forms his decisions and ideas. HIs faithful companion, Duro, has his own demons to face in this episode of the story and it is refreshing to see him branch out on his own a little.

The Bear of Britain is a wonderful addition to Bellicus’ story and adds a new dimension to the druid’s life. The fact that he crosses paths with the legendary characters of Arthur and Lancelot adds a spice that the reader can really relish. One can only hope that their paths will continue to cross in later books.

And I do hope that the observant reader notices Steven A. McKay’s subtle nod to the great Bernard Cornwell and his The Last Kingdom series – it certainly made me smile and nod knowingly (but I will say no more and leave that for you to spot).

The Bear of Britain is a wonderful, enjoyable adventure and an excellent sequel to the preceding instalments of the Warrior Druid of Britain series (The Druid, Song of the Centurion and The northern Throne). The depth of research and thought that have gone into these books is astounding. Steven A. McKay has recreated post-Roman Britain in astonishing and vivid detail, no matter what part of Britain his characters find themselves in, both in the landscape and the people who occupied it.

The Bear of Britain is available in ebook and paperback from Amazon. I highly recommend you get yourself a copy – after reading the first 3 books, that is!

From Steven A. McKay:

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 and Book Depository.

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Castilian Pomegranate by Anna Belfrage

An enraged and grieving queen commands them to retrieve her exquisite jewel and abandon their foundling brat overseas—or never return

Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor, have been temporarily exiled. Officially, they are to travel to the courts of Aragon and Castile as emissaries of Queen Eleanor of England. Unofficially, the queen demands two things: that they abandon Lionel, their foster son, in foreign lands and that they bring back a precious jewel – the Castilian Pomegranate.

Noor would rather chop off a foot than leave Lionel in a foreign land—especially as he’s been entrusted to her by his dead father, the last true prince of Wales. And as to the jewel, stealing it would mean immediate execution. . .

Spain in 1285 is a complicated place. France has launched a crusade against Aragon and soon enough Robert is embroiled in the conflict, standing side by side with their Aragonese hosts.

Once in Castile, it is the fearsome Moors that must be fought, with Robert facing weeks separated from his young wife, a wife who is enthralled by the Castilian court—and a particular Castilian gallant.

Jealousy, betrayal and a thirst for revenge plunge Noor and Robert into life-threatening danger.

Will they emerge unscathed or will savage but beautiful Castile leave them permanently scarred and damaged?

And the wait is over! Anna Belfrage is back with the second instalment in her new Castilian Saga. And she has worked her magic again with another stunning page-turner of a book. A fast-paced adventure into the heart of medieval Spain, with stops at the courts of both Aragon and Castile. Anna Belfrage always seems to know how to craft a tale that will draw the reader in and keep them transfixed to the very end.

The Castilian Pomegranate continues the tale of Noor and her husband, Robert FitzStephan, as the journey to Spain with messages from the English queen, Eleanor of Castile, and in search of Noor’s roots a as a daughter of an illegitimate daughter of the Castilian royal house. They are also carrying a secret in the shape of a child, their foster son, who would be on the top of King Edward I’s Top Ten Most Wanted list, if he knew the child even existed. The story draws the young couple into the action and drama of the Reconquista, as the Catholic monarchs of Castile and Aragon attempt to retake Spain from the Moorish invaders.

The action is fast-paced and, at times, brutal. Anna Belfrage provides a stark contrast between the violence and action of war and the more gentle scenes of the continuing love story between Noor and Robert. That married life is never all plain sailing, means that, perhaps, the more thought provoking scenes are far from any battlefield.

Robert laughed again. For an instant, their gazes met, his light eyes crinkling at the corners as he blew her a kiss. Her man, so full of life, and just the thought of him being tortured to death… No one knew, she told herself shakily – she did that often. Except that Queen Eleanor had added two and two together and harboured strong suspicions as to Lionel’s real identity, and then there was that Welshman Rhys, who had accompanied Dafydd to Orton Manor that day when he’d placed his son in Noor’s care.

Only the fact that Queen Eleanor feared for her royal husband’s immortal soul had stopped her from sharing her suspicions with him. Aghast at having lost yet another son, her beloved Prince Alphonso, convinced that this was divine retribution for what Edward had done to Dafydd’s children, Eleanor had instead ordered Noor and Robert to leave England with the child, saying that as long as she was alive they were forbidden to return with the boy. “Get rid of him,” she’d said. “Leave him behind at a monastery somewhere and you are welcome to return.”

Without conscious thought, Noor had steered her mare back to the litter and dismounted to hug Lionel. “Never,” she whispered into his hair. “I will never abandon you.” So instead she prayed for divine guidance and – God forgive her – for Queen Eleanor’s death. Far too often, she woke angry, silently cursing the woman who’d obliged her and her husband, their foster son and their little daughter, Isabel, to leave their home for a long and hazardous voyage.

The litter drapes were pulled back, and Amalia stuck out her head. “Are we to stay here all day?” she grumbled. “I long for Sevilla, for Castile, not for a field in the middle of nowhere.” She smoothed her wimple into place, framing a very round face in which two dark eyes were the most distinctive feature. “And you,” she said to Lionel, “come here, mi tresoro. You cannot go about like that!”

“Let me,” Noor said, reaching inside for Lionel’s coif. The child protested loudly, but when she promised he could ride with her once the coif was tied into place, he stood as still as was possible for a child born with quicksilver in his veins.

As ever, the extent of Anna Belfrage’s research and attention to detail shines through on every page. The reader is transported to 14th century Spain, accosted by the sights, smells and sounds of the mixture of cultures that lived and fought alongside and within each other. The author has slotted the fictional Noor and Robert into the factual royal families of the time, weaving their story into the wider story of the Reconquista and conflicts, both in religion and cultures, of the Iberian Peninsula.

Anna Belfrage is a wonderful storyteller, one of the best. Her stories are at once exciting, sensual, and full of suspense. The intrigue and action combine beautifully with the love story at the heart of The Castilian Pomegranate. And the women see just as much intrigue and action as the men. That is not to say that actions do not have consequences, and Anna Belfrage always makes sure the story doesn’t always got the heroes’ way, which leaves the reader on the edge of their seat throughout the book.

The Castilian Pomegranate is a fabulous work of fiction, a wonderful story that will leave you captivated to the very end – and bereft when it is finally over. I enjoyed every word of it. Thank goodness there is another book in the works!

The Castilian Pomegranate is available in ebook and paperback from Amazon.

About the Author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. No luck there, so instead she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests; history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. Plus she always finds the time to try out new recipes, chase down obscure rose bushes and initiate a home renovation scheme or two.

Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga , set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy.

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty and love set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the late 13th century.

Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time , is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands.

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of several Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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

It is a pleasure today to join the blog tour for Gods of Rome, with a short review and enticing extract from the book. Gods of Rome is the final instalment in the magnificent Rise of Emperors series by Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty.

For one to rule, the other must die.

AD 312:  A year of horrific and brutal warfare.

Although outnumbered, Constantine’s legions seem unstoppable as they surge through Maxentius’ Italian heartlands. Constantine is determined to reach and seize the ancient capital of Rome from his rival, yet his army is exhausted, plagued by religious rivalries and on the verge of revolt. Maxentius meanwhile contends with a restive and dissenting Roman populace. Neither general can risk a prolonged war.

When the two forces clash amidst portents and omens in a battle that will shape history, there are factors at work beyond their control. Only one thing is certain: Constantine and Maxentius’ rivalry must end. With one on a bloodied sword and the other the sole ruler of an Empire…

The Rise of Emperors trilogy finally comes to its inevitable, devastating conclusion with Gods of Rome. The series has followed the careers of rival emperors Maxentius and Constantine, from their first meeting as children and blossoming friendship in Sons of Rome, to that friendship turning to rivalry in the second instalment, Masters of Rome. In Gods of Rome, the rivalry turns deadly when the ultimate prize is within each’s grasp – that of command of the empire itself.

This series has been a fabulous, unique reading experience. With each writer taking the voice of one of the emperors, the distinction between the two becomes profound. There is no hidden bias as you may find with one author writing both sides – but secretly preferring one. The rival emperors, Constantine and Maxentius, each have their own very distinct voice.

As you would expect with anything from Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney, the action is intense, the pace is, at times, rather furious, grabbing the reader’s attention and holding it to the very end.

The only problem with the whole trilogy is that one of the heroes had to lose – was destined to lose. And neither truly deserved to. Doherty and Turney draw wonderfully on the political machinations and family rivalries that drew these two former friends, Constantine and Maxentius, to final, devastating contest for Rome itself.

The meticulous research of the history, landscape, military strategy of the time and the war itself, help to recreate the world of the Roman Empire of the 4th century. Both authors draw on the conflicts, not only of politics and protagonists, but also through the rise of Christianity and how the rival emperors harnessed or exploited those divisions within their own camp and the camp of their rival.

Gods of Rome is a wonderful, engaging and fast-paced novel that is entertaining from start to finish. Another Doherty/Turney collaboration that is an absolute triumph.

Here’s what the reader has to look forward to:

Extract

1
CONSTANTINE

The Cottian Alpes, 27th January 312 ad

We moved through the mountains like winter wolves. The ferocious blizzard sped southwards with us, carried on the famous bora winds, singing a dire song. For days we marched through that driving snow, seeing nothing but great white-clad peaks either side of us; rugged,inhospitable highlands which in these frozen months soldiers were not meant to cross. All around me the gale screamed, boots crunched endlessly through the successively deeper drifts of white, men’s teeth chattered violently, mules brayed, exhausted. It felt at times as if we were wandering, snow-blind, to our deaths, but I knew what lay ahead… so close now.

I called upon my chosen men and a handful of their best soldiers – a group of thirty – and we roved ahead of the army like advance scouts. The blizzard raked through my bear cloak, the snow rattling like slingshot against my gemmed ridge helm and bronze scales as I scoured the valley route. Yet I refused to blink. When the speeding hail of white slowed and the murky grey ahead thinned a little, I saw them: a pair of stone and timber watchtowers, northern faces plastered in snow. Gateposts watching this passage between two realms. I dropped to my haunches behind the brow of a snowdrift and my chosen men hunkered down with me. I gazed over the drift’s brow, regarding the narrow gap between the towers and the valley route beyond, on through the winter-veined mountains. Thinking of the land that lay beyond these heights, my frozen lips moved soundlessly.

Italia…

Land of Roman forefathers. Home of the man I had once considered my friend… but that territory was rightfully mine. Mine! My surging anger scattered when I spotted movement atop one of the two towers: a freezing Maxentian scout blowing into his hands, oblivious to our presence. Then the blizzard fell treacherously slack, and the speeding veil of white cleared for a trice. I saw his ice-crusted eyebrows rise as he leaned forward, peering into the momentary clarity, right at us. His eyes bulged, mouth agog.

‘He is here!’ he screamed to be heard over the sudden return of the storm’s wrath. ‘Constantine is h—’

With a wet punch, an arrow whacked into the man’s chest and shuddered there. He spasmed then folded over the edge of the timber parapet and fell like a sack of gravel, crunching into a pillowy snowdrift at the turret’s foot. I glanced to my right, seeing my archer nock and draw again, shifting his bow to the heights of the other tower, his eyes narrowing within the shadow
of his helm brow. He loosed, but the dark-skinned sentry up there ducked behind the parapet, screaming and tolling a warning bell. At once, three more Maxentians spilled from the door at the base of that rightmost tower, rushing south towards a simple, snow-topped stable twenty paces away, in the lee of a rocky overhang. This was one of the few gateways through the mountains – albeit the least favoured and most treacherous – and it was guarded by just five men? Instantly, suspicion and elation clashed like swords in my mind. We had no time to rake over the facts. These watchmen could not be allowed to ride south and warn the legions of Italia. They had to die.

About the authors

Gordon Doherty

Simon Turney is the author of the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, as well as The Damned Emperor series for Orion and Tales of the Empire series for Canelo. He is based in Yorkshire.

Gordon Doherty is the author of the Legionary and Strategos series, and wrote the Assassin’s Creed tie-in novel Odyssey. He is based in Scotland.

Pre-order link

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3EtqBgF

Follow Simon

Twitter: @SJATurney

Instagram: @simonturney_aka_sjaturney

Website: http://simonturney.com/

Follow Gordon

Simon Turney

Twitter: @GordonDoherty

Instagram: @gordon.doherty

Website: https://www.gordondoherty.co.uk/

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

Blog Tour Hashtag

#GodsofRome

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My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Reliquary by Prue Batten

1196AD

Lyon

Relics can move mountains, so history relays. They cure the sick, promise success, enable whole kingdoms to win wars.

A fragment of byssus lies in a small chest and its very existence underlines the life of Christ and the meaning behind the Holy Church. Its power can only be wondered at.

It is the kind of relic which inspires heroic deeds and . . . murder.

An elderly nun and a returned crusader are all that stands between the world’s most sanctified relic and a Templar knight who craves it for his own purpose.

From Constantinople to Caen, from Venice to Viviers, from Rome to Rouen, relics are traded like pepper and frankincense, silk and silver, lapis and alum. Sold to the highest bidder.

Who then should pay the highest price of all for a fragment of aged cloth?

Is the highest price surely . . . and inevitably . . . death?

My first thought on looking at Reliquary by Prue Batten was what a gorgeous cover!

As to the book, it was fabulous!

I loved Reliquary!

Reliquary brings together a disparate group of heroes with one aim – to get a newly acquired relic safely to its destination, which is a small, impoverished convent in France. It is a moving and exciting tale of the power of relics and friendship in Europe in the aftermath of the Third Crusade.

Faced by powerful enemies, including the weather, and set in the aftermath of the Third Crusade, Reliquary is a gripping tale, replete with action, adventure and intrigue. The clever plotline is enacted by wonderful, flawed characters with whom the reader cannot help but to feel an affinity. Prue Batten has written a marvellous, gripping tale of a comradeship forged against the avaricious greed of the rich and powerful.

Beautiful imagery.

‘We need a relic.’

‘Pardon,’ the Obedientiary put down her mug of watered wine and stared at the Prioress.

‘We need a relic,’ the Prioress replied. Younger than the Obedientiary, she had blue eyes. One could almost say guileless, had it not been for the veil of iron behind the heavenly colour. The Obedientiary had observed those eyes harden to molten steel, and as strong, many times. Especially when senior prelates had visited the priory with the express purpose of wanting it closed because of its small population and lack of fame and fortune. As the Prioress spoke now, her eyes darkened – a tint reminiscent of the forge as the smithy honed blades for those who sought to arm themselves.

‘Something to bring the pilgrims,’ she continued, rubbing the worn edge of the table as if the smooth rhythm might settle the uneven nature of her thoughts. ‘In short, to bring us monies. We are only a few leagues away from the Chemin de Compostelle…’

In fact, the Obedientiary knew this. The Via Arena, beloved of pilgrims, passed through Jumeaux, following the river that trickled and sometimes flowed, not far from Esteil.

‘I cannot fight off these crows of canons for much longer. I have been communicating with Mother Abbess at Fontevrault and she agrees that we must find a way to improve Esteil’s fortunes. In between times, she has said she will do what she can, but in my view it will be little, perhaps nothing.’

Esteil was situated within Fontevrault’s purview. Occasionally, the mother house dispensed funds to smaller houses in distress. It also kept a weather eye on the spiritual well being of the houses, but most small convents were expected to contribute to the continuance – temporal and spiritual. Survival of the fittest, thought the Obedientiary.

Outside, the wood pigeons cooed and the hens that lay smooth brown eggs pecked and clucked as if they understood the Prioress’s concerns. Someone walked past in clogs, the beat of their steps on the stones of the cloister the only sound apart from the birds. Perhaps the midday meal was done and the sisters were beginning to file out of the refectory to attend to their yard duties – the physic garden, the provender garden, the hens or the orchard. Or perhaps some of their small number were copying in the scriptorium, or stitching within the solar. Right now, the Obedientiary should be there, checking that her three stitching novices had begun their afternoon’s work on a cope while there was any sort of light.

‘And what is our value, Mère Gisela?’ she asked. ‘Are we any better or worse than other such small houses like ourselves? How do we argue our value when we are less than twenty sisters?’

‘Indeed, and despite what we do every day, what we accomplish in the scriptorium and with our threads, it is apparently not enough.’ The Prioress sighed and rubbed at the smooth skin of her hands. One folding over the other, rubbing this way, rubbing that as if her young bones ached. ‘God help us. Despite the quality of our scribes and the skill of our needlewomen, such work is not enough to plead our cause. Which is why I say we need a relic.’

Prue Batten’s wonderful array of characters, from the non-worldly Sister Cecile to the war-weary Henri de Montbrisson, and their band of friends and allies, help to make Reliquary a truly memorable novel.

For any fan of medieval historical fiction, Reliquary is a tale not to be missed. It is one of those books that will have you reading ‘just one more chapter’ long into the early hours. A thoroughly enjoyable historical fiction thriller – it will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

Prue Batten has crafted a novel that draws the reader in and keeps a hold of them until the very end. It is impossible to put down!

And the best thing about Reliquary? It is the first in a new series – and I can’t wait to read more!

Reliquary is now available from Amazon.

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones

Dan Jones’s epic new history tells nothing less than the story of how the world we know today came to be built. It is a thousand-year adventure that moves from the ruins of the once-mighty city of Rome, sacked by barbarians in AD 410, to the first contacts between the old and new worlds in the sixteenth century. It shows how, from a state of crisis and collapse, the West was rebuilt and came to dominate the entire globe. The book identifies three key themes that underpinned the success of the West: commerce, conquest and Christianity.

Across 16 chapters, blending Dan Jones’s trademark gripping narrative style with authoritative analysis, Powers and Thrones shows how, at each stage in this story, successive western powers thrived by attracting – or stealing – the most valuable resources, ideas and people from the rest of the world. It casts new light on iconic locations – Rome, Paris, Venice, Constantinople – and it features some of history’s most famous and notorious men and women.

This is a book written about – and for – an age of profound change, and it asks the biggest questions about the West both then and now. Where did we come from? What made us? Where do we go from here?

Well, isn’t this an epic undertaking. The history of the Middle Ages, across Europe and into the four corners of the world (except Australia because it still hadn’t been discovered) – in 16 chapters, 633 pages and about 25 hours of reading. And it is awesome!

I couldn’t read this book at a leisurely pace because I was actually scheduled to interview Dan Jones on 29 September, for Lindum Books in Lincoln and I desperately wanted to make sure I had read the whole thing beforehand. So, I had 10 days to read it and I am quite proud of myself that I managed it. I put all other books aside and concentrated on this, hoping it would keep my attention. I was a little worried. It is a long book and covers such a wide historical arena. Could it keep my interest? Well, the simple answer is YES!

Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones is a thoroughly enthralling read encompassing over a thousand years of history, from the Sack of Rome in 410AD to the sack of Rome in 1527. Writing the story of the entire medieval era was a massive undertaking that Dan said he wanted to do, both as his 10th book and to mark his 40th birthday. And it is, indeed, a magnum opus to be proud of. Powers and Thrones is a perfectly balanced book, giving just enough attention to each area of interest and geographical location, going from Rome, to Byzantium and on to the rise of Islam, Dan Jones manages to cover the significant events and influences that drove change and development through the entire Middle Ages.

Powers and Thrones demonstrates how climate change, disease, technology and ideology were often the forces behind change. For example, the Guttenberg Press was revolutionary in every way, allowing the mass production of books, pamphlets and the dissemination of knowledge to a far-wider audience. It was the medieval equivalent to our social media, both in its reach and influence, and Dan Jones highlights how significant it was in Europe’s emergence from the medieval era, with its impact on learning, communication and – perhaps above all – religion.

For those alert to signs hidden in the fabric of the world, the Roman Empire’s collapse in the west was announced by a series of omens. In Antioch, dogs howled like wolves, night-birds let out hideous shrieks and people muttered that the emperor should be burned alive. In Thrace, a dead man lay in the road and fixed passers-by with a unnerving, lifelike glare, until after a few days the corpse suddenly disappeared. And in the city of Rome itself, citizens persisted in going to the theatre: an egregious and insanely sinful pastime, which, according to one Christian writer, practically invited the wrath of the Almighty. Human beings have been superstitious in all ages and we are especially good at adducing portents when we have the benefit of hindsight. Hence the opinion of the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, who looked back on the end of the fourth century into which he was born and reflected that this was a time when fortune’s wheel, ‘which is perpetually alternating prosperity and adversity’, was turning fast.

In the 370s, when Rome’s fatal malady set in, the Roman state – monarchy, republic and empire – had existed for more than a millennium. Yet within little more than one hundred years, by the end of the fifth century AD, every province west of the Balkans had slipped from Roman control. In the ancient heartlands of empire, Roman institutions, tax systems and trade networks were falling apart. The physical signs of Roma elite culture – palatial villas, cheap imported consumer goods, hot running water – were fading from everyday life. The Eternal City had been sacked several times, the western crown had passed between a succession of dimwits, usurpers, tyrants and children, until eventually it had been abolished; and territory that formerly comprised the core of a powerful mega-state had been parcelled among peoples whom the proud-hearted citizens of Rome’s imperial heyday had previously scorned as savages and subhumans. These were the ‘barbarians’: a derogatory word which encompassed a huge range of people from itinerant nomadic tribes quite new to the west and ignorant or dismissive of Roman mores, through to longstanding near-neighbours, whose lives were heavily influenced by Roman-ness, but who had not been able to share in the fruits of citizenship.

With Dan Jones at The Collection, Lincoln

What makes this book special is the way Dan Jones manages to make Powers and Thrones relevant to today. Writing it in the midst of a pandemic certainly must have helped to give Dan a sense of history all around him and he alludes to this in the book. When interviewing him, Dan told me that living through Covid gave him a better understanding of the plague years of 14th century Europe, of the fear and panic that must have consumed people. And by referring to modern-day equivalents, such as world leaders, the pandemic and the rise of social media, Dan is able to draw the reader in and make medieval history relevant in the modern age.

Dan Jones does not shy away from the harsh questions, either, examining the development and morals of slavery, the reasoning behind the crusades and the rise of Protestantism. What may surprise readers is the facts this book is essentially Euro-centric – it made me realise how Anglo-centric my study of history has been over the years. By focusing on change and development in mainland Europe, whilst encompassing England and the British Isles in various guises where appropriate, it gives the reader a whole new outlook on the medieval era, whilst also demonstrates how events in Europe – even back then – could influence events in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Powers and Thrones highlights the driving forces of change, whether it was people, ideas or technology, and demonstrates how such change effected Europe in general and individuals in particular, whether it was the empire of Charlemagne, the rise of monasticism, or even the development of the humble stirrup that led to the emergence of the knightly class.

In Powers and Thrones, Dan Jones combines a narrative of international events with case studies that focus on individual people, organisations and movements. By highlighting such diverse subjects as Empress Theodora, the rise of Islam, El Cid and the magnificent Lincoln Cathedral, the author manages to personalise what might otherwise have been a wide, sweeping narrative. The Warennes also get a mention in the involvement of William de Warenne, the 1st Earl, and his wife, Gundrada, in founding the first Cluniac priory in England, St Pancras Priory in Lewes, Sussex. From my personal point of view, it is fabulous that Dan Jones chose to include Empress Theodora so prominently – a woman who rose from extremely humble roots to become Empress of Byzantium and a woman who was influential in holding that empire together, especially in adroitly soothing religious dissension. It is impossible to get everything from 1,000 years of history in one book, but by showing the big picture, whilst highlighting particular events, ideas, buildings or people, Dan Jones manages to provide a fascinating narrative that is fast-paced and engaging without being overwhelming.

Powers and Thrones is, quite simply, an amazing book. It is chock full of little snippets of information that you may never have known, it relates medieval events to our modern day equivalents, such as the Black Death to Covid. Such references to the modern era could easily have backfired, but they serve to make the book more accessible and entertaining and not a little amusing. The moments of light-heartedness often provide an extra depth to the reading experience and make the book accessible to every reader.

Powers and Thrones was certainly an ambitious project, but in the hour-long interview I had with Dan Jones, he spoke about every aspect of it with passion and enthusiasm an that same passion and enthusiasm comes across throughout the book. The book is a pleasure to read and would be a welcome addition to any bookshelf.

Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones is available from Amazon and Bookshop.org.

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Man in the Iron Mask by Josephine Wilkinson

The Man in the Iron Mask has all the hallmarks of a thrilling adventure story: a glamorous and all-powerful king, ambitious ministers, a cruel and despotic gaoler, dark and sinister dungeons – and a secret prisoner. It is easy for forget that this story, made famous by Alexandre Dumas, is that of a real person, who spent more than thirty years in the prison system of Louis XIV’s France never to be freed. This book brings to life the true story of this mysterious man and follows his journey through four prisons and across decades of time. It introduces the reader to those with whom he shared his imprisonment, those who had charge of him and those who decided his fate. The Man in the Iron Mask is one of the most enduring mysteries of Louis XIV’s reign, but, above all, it is a human story. Using contemporary documents, this book shows what life was really like for state prisoners in seventeenth-century France and offers tantalising insight into why this mysterious man was arrested and why, several years later, his story would become one of France’s most intriguing legends.

I have long had a fascination with the story of the Man in the Iron Mask, probably thanks to my obsession for all things related to The Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas covers a version of the story in the last book, Ten Years Later (Dix Ans Plus Tard). In Dumas’ version, the prisoner is a twin brother of Louis XIV, who had been spirited away after birth in order to avoid a succession competition between the two heirs. And Dumas was not the only one to advance a theory. In other stories, the young man is an illegitimate older brother, a lookalike, the English Duke of Beaufort, various of Louis XIV’s ministers…

The list is a long one.

In The Man in The Iron Mask: the Truth About Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner, Josephine Wilkinson finally separates the legend from the history and brings the real story of the mysterious prisoner to light.

It began with a letter written to an obscure gaoler in the distant fortress of Pignerol at the end of July 1669. Saint-Mars, the governor of the donjon of Pignerol, was alerted to the imminent arrival of a new prisoner. It was of the utmost importance to the king’s service, he was told, that the man whose name was given as ‘Eustache d’Auger’ should be kept under conditions of the strictest security. Particularly, it was imperative that this man should be unable to communicate with anyone by any means whatsoever.

Saint-Mars was being warned in advance of the arrival of his prisoner so that he could prepare a secure cell. He was ordered to take care that the windows of this cell were ‘so placed that they could not be approached by anyone’, and that it was equipped with ‘enough doors closing one upon the other’ that Saint-Mars’s sentries would not be able to hear anything. Saint-Mars himself was to take to this ‘wretch’, once a day, whatever he might need for the day, and he was not under any pretext to listen to what the prisoner might say to him, but instead to threaten to kill him if he tried to speak of anything except his basic needs. The sieur Poupart, commissioner for war at Pignerol, was on standby waiting to begin work on the secure cell, while Saint-Mars was authorised to obtain some furniture for the prisoner, bearing in mind that ‘since he is only a valet’ this should not cost very much.’

The letter to Saint-Mars, which was dated 19 July 1669, was written on the orders of Louis XIV by François-Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois. Still only twenty-eight years old, Louvois was destined to play a vital role in the story of the Man in the Iron Mask. Serving as Louis XIV’s minister of state for war, Louvois had been educated at the Jesuit Collège de Clermont in the rue Saint-Jacques in Paris. Upon leaving the school in 1657, he was instructed in French law by his father, the formidable secretary of state for war, Michel Le Tellier. Louvois then served at the parlement of Metz as counsellor before obtaining the survivance of his father’s office. He worked in the ministry for war for a time, learning the job under his father’s guidance, but Le Tellier would hand over increasing amounts of ministry work to his son and, upon being made chancellor in 1677, he would leave Louvois in sole charge. As the minister for war, the garrison and prison of Pignerol came under Louvois’s jurisdiction, as did any prisoner who might be held there.

Beautifully written and told as a narrative following the career of the supposed Man in the Iron Mask’s gaoler, Josephine Wilkinson traces the origins of the legend, the facts of the story and the embellishments that came after, helped along by the likes of Voltaire and Liselotte, Duchess of Orleans. The Man in The Iron Mask: the Truth About Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner, is a fabulous investigation of every aspect of the Iron Mask story. Tracing the prisoner’s life from the fortress of Pignerol to his last few years in the Bastille, the book clears up so many mysteries, misunderstandings and questions that have arisen over the years.

Josephine Wilkinson has written a superb book that will have the reader engrossed from the very first pages. For anyone with even a passing interest in the Man in the Iron Mask, it is an essential addition to their library.

I cannot recommend it highly enough!

The Man in The Iron Mask: the Truth About Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner is available from Amazon and Amberley Books.

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Roman Conquests: Britain by Simon Elliott

The Roman Conquests series seeks to explain when and how the Romans were able to conquer a vast empire stretching from the foothills of the Scottish Highlands to the Sahara Desert, from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf. How did their armies adapt to and overcome the challenges of widely varied enemies and terrain? In this volume, Dr Simon Elliott draws on the latest research and archaeological evidence to present a new narrative of the conquest (never completed) of Britain. From Julius Caesar’s initial incursions in 55 and 54 BC, through the Claudian invasion of 43 AD and the campaigns of expansion and pacification thereafter, he analyses the Roman army in action. The weapons, equipment, organization, leadership, strategy and tactics of the legions and their British foes are described and analysed. The ferocity of the resistance was such that the island was never wholly subdued and required a disproportionate military presence for the duration of its time as a Roman province.

Roman Conquests: Britain by Simon Elliott is a fascinating study of the Roman campaigns in Britain, from the time of the first forays by Julius Caesar in 55 and 54 BC to the final departure of the legions in the 4th century AD. 400 years of conquest.

I have to confess, I hadn’t read much on Roman history until a holiday on Hadrian’s Wall – at Corbridge – about 8 year ago. Standing on a 2,000 year old High Street in the middle of a Roman town has a way of drawing you in. Since then, I have spent many enjoyable hours reading up on Roman history, particularly in relation to Britain.

Simon Elliott’s Roman Conquests: Britain concentrates on the military aspects of Roman invasion and occupation, and the reactions and rebellions of the various British tribes they wanted to subjugate. With that in mind, the book is an in-depth study of Roman military might and tactics. However, it goes much further, using the evidence of tombstones, archaeology and contemporary sources to give the reader a picture of what it was like to be a Roman – or and Briton – during the 400 years that the Romans held sway over the land at the farthest reaches of its empire.

Caesar made his decision to carry out a second expedition to Britain before the end of 55BC, giving orders to his legates to start building a bespoke fleet of ships more appropriate for a large invasion than those used in his first incursion. He then headed back to Cisalpine Gaul to winter in his usual quarters there.

Early in the new Year, after a brief visit to his other province of Illyricum, he returned to the territory of the Morini where he gathered his entire army of eight legions again, together with 4,000 Gallic allied cavalry. This time we learn the name of the chosen port of embarkation for Britain, Portus Itius. Grainge usefully sets out the various candidate sites in the region, all to the south of modern Calais with its short journey across Oceanus to Britain. The most northerly is Wissant near Cap Gris Nez, while the most southerly is the later major port site at Boulogne (the future headquarters of the Classis Britannica regional fleet). The latter seems the most likely given the fine harbourage there in the estuary of the River Liane.

When Caesar arrived he was pleased with the work of his legates and their shipbuilders, with 600 specially built vessels ready for service. These, based on designs of the Veneti, featured lower freeboards than his earlier Mediterranean designs to enable easier disembarkation, banks of oars as well as a large sail to give good manoeuvrability in shallow waters, and wider beams to carry bulkier loads. To these he added 200 locally chartered transports, over 80 Roman transport ships that had survived the previous year’s incursion, and his 28 remaining war galleys.

Simon Elliott gives a pacy narrative, detailing the various attempts to conquer Britain, and the massive effort needed – in men and resources – to hold on to it. Not that it was ever fully subjugated – the tribes in the far reaches of Scotland made sure of that. Replete with detail, from weapons and personnel to military strategy, Roman Conquests: Britain covers every aspect of the various Roman invasions of Britain, and the men who led them, from Julius Caesar to Agricola and the numerous generals assigned to control the island.

Roman Conquests: Britain highlights what a massive undertaking it was to invade, conquer and subjugate Britain – both in men, money, time and resources. Simon Elliott provides invaluable analysis of the large-scale campaigns and their varying degrees of success, and of the men who led them. However, he does not forget the tribes who opposed them, providing fair assessments of the Boudiccan revolt, the Brigantes’ rebellions and the reasons behind abandoning the newly-built Antonine Wall in favour of the more secure Hadrian’s Wall.

Simon Elliott highlights what we do know about the Roman campaigns in Britain, but clearly identifies how much we do not know. Roman Conquests: Britain is an investigative journey into the first centuries AD, using the evidence we have to explain the possible scenarios and pointing out the information that is still lacking. It is a jigsaw puzzle in which the author pulls together the pieces we have available to give the reader and overall picture of events. Roman Conquests: Britain is a detailed, fascinating look into the conquest of Britain by the massive Roman war machine. Impressive research combines with an engaging narrative to make this an eminently readable book.

A must for anyone with interest in Roman Britain.

Roman Conquests: Britain by Simon Elliott is now available from Pen & Sword Books and Amazon UK.

About the author:

Dr Simon Elliott is an award winning and best selling archaeologist, historian and broadcaster with a PhD in Classics and Archaeology from the University of Kent where he is now an Honorary Research Fellow. He has an MA in Archaeology from UCL and an MA in War Studies from KCL. Simon is widely published with numerous works in print on various themes relating to the ancient world, with a particular focus on the Roman military, and he makes frequent appearances on TV as a Roman expert. Simon lectures widely to universities, local history societies and archaeological groups, is co-Director of a Roman villa excavation, a Trustee of the Council for British Archaeology and an Ambassador for Museum of London Archaeology. He is also a Guide Lecturer for Andante Travels and President of the Society of Ancients.

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My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly