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.

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Rebellion Against Henry III by David Pilling

The ‘Montfortian’ civil wars in England lasted from 1259-67, though the death of Simon de Montfort and so many of his followers at the battle of Evesham in 1265 ought to have ended the conflict. In the aftermath of the battle, Henry III’s decision to disinherit all the surviving Montfortians served to prolong the war for another two years. Hundreds of landless men took up arms again to defend their land and property: the redistribution of estates in the wake of Evesham occurred on a massive scale, as lands were either granted away by the king or simply taken by his supporters. The Disinherited, as they were known, defied the might of the Crown longer than anyone could have reasonably expected. They were scattered, outnumbered and out-resourced, with no real unifying figure after the death of Earl Simon, and suffered a number of heavy defeats. Despite all their problems and setbacks, they succeeded in forcing the king into a compromise. The Dictum of Kenilworth, published in 1266, acknowledged that Henry could not hope to defeat the Disinherited via military force alone. The purely military aspects of the revolt, including effective use of guerilla-type warfare and major actions such as the battle of Chesterfield, the siege of Kenilworth and the capture of London, will all be featured. Charismatic rebel leaders such as Robert de Ferrers, the ‘wild and flighty’ Earl of Derby, Sir John de Eyvill, ‘the bold D’Eyvill’ and others such as Sir Adam de Gurdon, David of Uffington and Baldwin Wake all receive a proper appraisal.

Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 by David Pilling covers an often overlooked period of history. It follows the mixed fortunes, of those who had supported Simon de Montfort during the Second Barons’ War, following Simon’s defeat and death at the Battle of Evesham. It is a book I never realised needed to be written, until I read it!

Over the years, reams and reams of paper have been dedicated to the conflict between King Henry III and Simon de Montfort, but this is the first book that looks at the aftermath, at what happened to those who survived the war and the dreadful, final Battle of Evesham, but found themselves on the losing side. Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 is an engaging study of these noblemen, minor barons and knights, known collectively as the Disinherited.

I have touched on many events in Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 for my own books, the recently published Ladies of Magna Carta and my next book about the Warenne Earls of Surrey. As a consequence, I was familiar with much of the main story, but was surprised at the level of continuing resistance that occurred after the defeat at Evesham. Interestingly, the hotspots of resistance had not changed since past rebellions; many of the Disinherited retreated to the wilds of the Isles of Axholme in Lincolnshire and Ely in Cambridgeshire; the former was associated with rebellion against King John, while the latter was the focus of resistance against William the Conqueror. Indeed, many of the names are familiar to students of the First Barons’ War that followed John’s rejection of Magna Carta.

The traumatic news of Evesham ripped the heart out of the baronial resistance in England. Earl Simon’s death or capture of most of the leading Montfortians in one fell swoop, demoralised rebel garrisons up and down the country. In the weeks after the battle one castle after another surrendered to the triumphant royalists. Wallingford and Berkhampstead submitted on 7 August, just three days after the slaughter, while Edward’s first move was to race north to secure his earldom of Chester. In the south, Windsor and the Tower quickly fell to the king, and Odiham and Rochester were in royal hands by the 14th. The castle of the Peak in Derbyshire held out a while longer, but submitted before January 1266.

This mass surrender left just two bastions of resistance in England. One was the mighty fortress of Kenilworth in Warwickshire, where Simon the Younger had retreated to grieve after his father’s death. The other was Dover Castle and the Cinque Ports in southeast England. Countess Eleanor, Simon’s widow, was holed up at Dover, and pirates from the rebel-held Cinque Ports still harassed shipping in the Channel.

At first there were hopes of a peaceful settlement to the war. While at Chester, Edward ordered letters to be drafted inviting the garrison at Kenilworth to surrender, on pain of disinheritance and loss of life. Simon the Younger, for his part, resisted the temptation to avenge himself on Richard of Almaine, Edward’s uncle, who was held prisoner at Kenilworth. Instead he released Almaine on 6 September, who in turn promised he would mediate with King Henry on Simon’s behalf.

Later that month, at Winchester, Edward ordered the chancellor Walter Giffard to make out letters of protection for four rebel knights. The persons and goods of these men – Richard de Havering, John de Havering, Simon de Stoke and William de Turevil – were not to be molested in any way, and they would be allowed to continue to hold their lands freely. They had sought Edward’s ‘goodwill’ on 7 August, the same day as the fall of Wallingford and Berkhampsted. and were responsible for restoring those castle to royal custody. In return Edward promised they would be safe from disinheritance and asked Giffard to provide some surety for his promise. Richard de Havering had served as the late Earl Simon’s estates steward, while John was his son and would later serve Edward as deputy justiciar of Noth Wales and seneschal of Gascony. Edward’s willingness to protect these men may have been driven by his desire to reconcile the Montfort clan after the butchery of Evesham.

Such efforts at rapprochement were shattered at Winchester parliament, which opened on 11 September….

Written in more than 20 short, punchy, chapters, the book looks at the leading figures among the Disinherited, the most notable Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, John D’Eyville and many others. There is a fascinating case study at the back that almost – almost – convinces me that the legendary Robin Hood was among ranks of the Disinherited. David Pilling provides a pretty convincing argument, but I guess we’ll never know.

The author looks at the events from all sides, telling the story of the fight both from the point of view of the rebels and the royalists. Neither are the royalists always seen in a good light. David Pilling does highlight when such as John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and one of the more brutal men of the time, took advantage of the disorder in order to further their own ends. He also highlights the future Edward I’s impressive carrot-and-stick approach to dealing with the rebels, offering pardons where it was beneficial to the crown. The crown also were keen to ensure sentences of disinheritance were enforced if it meant the confiscated lands fell into the hands of royalists or their supporters.

Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 is engagingly written and well referenced with an impressive bibliography. The only negative I can say about the book is that it lacks an index, which will cause problems for anyone wanting to use this book for research. And it would be a wonderful research tool, if it had an index. I’m hoping this omission will be rectified for the paperback version.

Despite that, Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 by David Pilling was a thoroughly absorbing book. A very interesting read that highlights a 10-year period that is often overlooked after the momentous events of the previous decade. I have no hesitation in recommending it.

Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 is available now in hardback and ebook from Amazon UK and Pen & Sword Books.

From the author:

I’m a writer and researcher, addicted to history for as long as I can remember. The medieval era has always held a fascination for me, perhaps because I spent much of my childhood exploring the misted ruins of castles in Wales. I also have an interest in the Byzantine Empire, the post-Roman period in Britain and the British & Irish Civil Wars.

I am a prolific author and have written and published a number of series and stand-alone tales. These include my first published novel, Folville’s Law, which chronicled the adventures of Sir John Swale in the last days of the reign of Edward II of England. This was followed by The White Hawk series, set during the Wars of the Roses, a six-part Arthurian series, and many more. I have also co-written two high fantasy novels with my good friend, Martin Bolton.

I am currently working on a book about the Montfortian civil wars in England in the late 13th century, and hope to produce more nonfiction works in the future, as well as continuing to work on fiction.

Most of my books are available as ebooks and paperbacks, and many are in the process of being converted to audio.

Enjoy!

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4979181.David_Pilling

http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/

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My Books

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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!

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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 

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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.

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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.

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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.

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis

The Anarchy was the first civil war in post-Conquest England, enduring throughout the reign of King Stephen between 1135 and 1154. It ultimately brought about the end of the Norman dynasty and the birth of the mighty Plantagenet kings. When Henry I died having lost his only legitimate son in a shipwreck, he had caused all of his barons to swear to recognize his daughter Matilda, widow of the Holy Roman Emperor, as his heir and remarried her to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. When she was slow to move to England on her father’s death, Henry’s favorite nephew Stephen of Blois rushed to have himself crowned, much as Henry himself had done on the death of his brother William Rufus.

Supported by his brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester, Stephen made a promising start, but Matilda would not give up her birthright and tried to hold the English barons to their oaths. The result was more than a decade of civil war that saw England split apart. Empress Matilda is often remembered as aloof and high-handed, Stephen as ineffective and indecisive. By following both sides of the dispute and seeking to understand their actions and motivations, Matthew Lewis aims to reach a more rounded understanding of this crucial period of English history and asks to what extent there really was anarchy.

Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis, is a wonderful book looking at the civil war, known as The Anarchy, through the eyes of the two leading protagonists, King Stephen and his cousin, Empress Matilda. A totally absorbing read, this book is enjoyable and informative, analysing the actions of both sides in a critical but sympathetic light.

Matthew Lewis digs deep into the personalities involved in both sides of the war and puts flesh on the bones of these characters. The result is a fair and balanced appraisal of the conflict between these two cousins, both as rival claimants to the throne and as leaders of their disparate supporters. The story is told in alternate chapters from the views of Stephen and Matilda, helping to keep the analysis and narrative balanced and fresh.

Matthew Lewis tries to be fair to both sides. You can tell that he feels for Empress Matilda, faced not only with a challenge to her right to the throne, but with the extra challenges that arose out of her being a woman and unable to lead the military aspects of the war. The author highlights Matilda’s failings, but does temper them with an explanation of how her actions would have been received differently, had she only been a man!

On the other side, King Stephen’s own faults and weaknesses are also singled out, though Matthew Lewis also stresses that where Matilda was hindered by her sex, so was Stephen – by Matilda’s gender, that is. There were limits put on Stephen by the fact he was challenged by a woman; just as Matilda could not lead her troops into battle, neither could Stephen face his challenger in an all-for-nothing trial by combat that could have put an end to the war years later. The result was a long, protracted war during which it was said ‘Christ and his saints slept.’

Before any move was made, there were probably four prime candidates to succeed Henry. His daughter, Empress Matilda, was perhaps the most obvious, but also in many ways the least attractive. Female rule was still something unheard of, at least in England, a nation that would have no queen regnant for another 400 years. The second possibility was Robert, Earl of Gloucester. Robert was an illegitimate son of Henry I, widely considered his favourite. He had extensive lands and power both in Normandy and England and was well respected. He was, however, illegitimate. That was less of a bar to power in Normandy: the Conqueror himself had been called William the Bastard. In England, it was unheard of. Legitimacy was still an absolute, marking the distinction between a duke and a king. Robert had everything required to follow his father except the right mother.

The two other contenders came from the House of Blois. They were Henry’s nephews, the sons of his sister Adela and her husband Stephen, Count of Blois. Theobald, Count of Blois and Champagne was the senior male of the house, though his younger brother Stephen, Count of Mortain, had been in England for years and was close to his uncle. They offered the prospect of legitimate, male successors as grandsons of William the Conqueror, albeit in a female line of descent. None of these solutions appeared perfect, and only one could win the throne. As it turned out, only two displayed an interest, and neither would give up during the nineteen years that followed.

Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis is a thoroughly enjoyable read, offering the perfect balance in a non-fiction book; accessible, interesting and informative. It gives a whole new perspective to the Civil War which divided England for the whole of Stephen’s 19-year reign. The book looks into each aspect of the war. The battles, conferences, truces and stalemates, are all analysed through the disparate eyes of those involved; not only looking into how they effected events, but also how events affected them.

Although it concentrates on the 2 leading protagonists, Stephen and Matilda, the book also gives insight into the lead supporting characters on both sides, giving the reader a comprehensive, panoramic view of the era through the personalities of those involved; from the steadfast and loyal Robert, Earl of Gloucester, to Stephen’s queen, also Matilda and the gruff, fearless John Marshal, father of William Marshal, first Earl of Pembroke and arguable the greatest knight England ever had.

Although more known for his books on the Wars of the Roses, Matthew Lewis has managed to demonstrate the breadth and depth of his historical knowledge with Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy. He had put his usual level of passion and attention to detail into this book and the result is well worth reading. Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis is a thoroughly compelling read.

Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy by Matthew Lewis is available from Amazon.

About the author:

Matthew Lewis trained in law and is now a full time author of historical fiction and non-fiction. He also blogs on his website, Matt’s History Blog, and can be found on Twitter as @mattlewisauthor. His main interest is medieval history and he has a number of books on that topic, including The Survival of the Princes in the Tower and Richard, Duke of York: King by Right.

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My Books

Coming soon! 

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: Faces of Darkness by Steven A. McKay

CROFTUN, ENGLAND AD 1328
Lady Isabella de Courcy is found alone in a room bolted from the inside, unconscious, and with a dagger brutally forced through her hand into the floorboards beneath, but this is just the latest in a line of similar, terrifying incidents. For months now she’s been stalked by some shadowy tormentor who leaves no trace of his movements and has never been clearly seen by anyone, even Lady Isabella.

Can the bailiff, John Little, along with his friend – the legendary friar, Robert Stafford – uncover the truth and, more importantly, will they be able to save the troubled victim before she ends up dead?

This new standalone tale from the author of The Druid sees the return of two much-loved characters from the Forest Lord series and is based on a shocking real-life case which remains, to this day, unsolved.

I have been a fan of Steven A McKay‘s writing for several years now. His Forest Lord series, retelling the story of Robin Hood in Barnsdale Forest, rather than Sherwood, was a refreshing new take on the outlaw’s legend. And the 2 books in his new series, Warrior Druid of Britain, the Druid and Song of the Centurion are among the finest books I have read in recent years. So Faces of Darkness had quite a lot to live up to.

And it did not disappoint.

Faces of Darkness is a novella featuring two of Robin Hood’s best friends, Friar Tuck and Little John, and is a detective novel-cum-psychological thriller of impressive quality. The story revolves around Lady Isabella de Courcy, who is being tormented by a mysterious stalker no one has seen. Friar Tuck and Little John are brought int o investigate the matter.

“Did you see him, Isabella?” the nobleman was demanding, in a hard tone of voice which Tuck felt inappropriate given the young woman’s ordeal. It wasn’t his place to interfere in the dynamic of their relationship though, and unbidden, he began to inspect the rooms for signs of what had taken place.

“No,” the lady sobbed. “Please, Adam, my hand is really hurting. Can you fetch me something for it?”

“Anne,” de Courcy said irritably. “Go and fetch some wine for the lady, hurry.”

“No,” broke in Isabella, eyes wide. “I can’t stay in this room another moment.” Tuck turned to look at her and realised there was a length of fabric tied around her neck, which also bore tell-tale red bruising. Clearly, she had suffered a most violent assault – no wonder she wanted away from the scene of the crime.

“John,” he said. “Could you help Lady Isabella to the room we came from? Would that be acceptable, Sir Adam? Aye? Good. Anne will make the place comfortable, with some unwatered wine to numb the pain a little and …” he stood next to the bed as the injured woman rose to her feet. “Fear nothing, my lady. If the person who did this to you is still around, Little John will deal with them.”

“You can be sure of that,” rumbled John who, at over six-and-a-half feet, had to stoop to avoid hitting his head on the doorframe. “You’re safe with me, my lady.”

Faces of Darkness is quite a departure for Steven A. McKay. A psychological thriller, it could be set in any era, but he has ingeniously set it in the world of his Forest Lord series, so that the astute Friar Tuck and redoubtable Little John can take the lead in solving the mystery, giving the reader the comfort of familiar characters in a story that is both emotional and evocative.

The novella keeps you guessing the true cause of Lady Isabella’s misery to the climactic end. There were several points where I thought I had solved the mystery, only to be disabused of my theory a few pages later, which, of course, makes the book even more riveting!

This is fabulous story that has only one downside – it is too short. I would have loved the book to be a full-length historical novel. It was enthralling! Here’s hoping that Faces of Darkness sparks a new career for Friar Tuck and Little John, solving medieval mysteries.

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About the author:

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

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

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

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My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Amazon UK 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: Fortune’s Child by James Conroyd Martin

Theodora: actress, prostitute, mistress, feminist. And Byzantine Empress of the civilized world. Stephen: handsome Syrian boy, wizard’s apprentice, palace eunuch. And Secretary to the Empress. How does this unlikely pair become such allies that one day Empress Theodora asks Stephen to write her biography?

From a very young age, Theodora, daughter of a circus bearkeeper in Constantinople, sets her sights well above her station in life. Her exquisite beauty sets her apart on stages and in the eyes of men.

Stephen, a Syrian lad of striking good looks, is sold by his parents to a Persian wizard, who teaches him a skill in languages that will serve him well.
By the time Destiny brings them together in Antioch, Theodora has undergone heart-rending trials and a transformation, while Stephen has been sold again . . . and castrated.
Discover the enduring bond that, however imperfect, prompts Theodora—as Empress—to request palace eunuch Stephen to write her biography.

This is a true rags to riches story, of a girl from the lowers echelons of society who rose to be empress of Constantinople. Fortune’s Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora tells the story of Empress Theodora, born in 500, into a poor Greek family; her father a circus worker for the Greens, who rose to be Master of the Bears. Theodora’s future was to be an actress, a popular one, but little more than a prostitute in the eyes of many, and with no prospects to ever improve her situation, unless she forced matters.

Although a novel, Fortune’s Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora flawlessly blends history and story-telling to draw the reader into the exotic world of 6th century Constantinople and the East. Recreating the life of Theodora and the world in which she lived, James Conroyd Martin takes you on an adventure that explores every aspect of Theodora’s world, the challenges, grief and struggles that she had to face to climb out of the fate into which she was born and make her own fortune.

This is a novel that will take you through the full range of emotions. It is not all glamour and success, but neither is it all dull and gloom. The author imbues a humanity that invokes both sympathy and compassion for the title character, even when her actions are less than noble.

It is late at night when a soft knock, almost imperceptible, comes at the door. I open it to find Theodora standing there, a finger to her lips. She is dressed in a purple bedchamber robe. She wears no veil or headdress. Her hair falls about her face like an ebony frame about the portrait of a ghost. I stand aside and she enters, gliding like some visitant saint into a monk’s cell.

But she is no saint. And since I am no monk, I take the comfortable chair.

“You know the circumstances of my birth, Stephen, how my mother kept me from being … abandoned – exposed to the elements.”

I nod, taking up a kalamos.

“The story is legend by now. Of course, it may be quite accurate, but my mother would relate it as a way of upbraiding a thoughtless and unappreciative daughter who would drolly mimic the ways of the adults around her, as well as the pretentious airs of an older sister. I was two when the mid-wife was called again and mother gave birth to a third child – alas, another girl.” She pauses, appraising me, her biographer. “Take what I tell you, Stephen, and bring my life to parchment. Breathe life into my past.” The empress grimaces as she settles in without complaint against the hard back of the chair, bringing her hands together in her lap, the interlocking fingers pale as moonbeams against the purple of her robe. “I shall begin, Stephen, where my memory begins.”

For my pettiness in my choice of chair, I feel a tinge of guilt, but I dust away and begin taking the notes that will become her biography.

Sixth century Byzantium is a period that is not often featured in historical fiction, which is such a shame, if Fortune’s Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora is anything to go by. It is a thoroughly engaging read, immersing the reader in 6th century Byzantium, through the sights, sounds and smells of Constantinople; the challenges and prejudices faced by lower class women, however beautiful and alluring, and the rules and restrictions of the privileged classes and the imperial court.

It is, at times, a hard book to read, when the reality of a woman’s lot and the prejudices and attitudes Theodora had to face and overcome. And yet, she never seems to forget her roots. The author avoids melodrama to bring you a story that is, at once, the story of Theodora and of her biographer, and how their lives are intertwined with Theodora’s own rise through the ranks of society.

As you read the novel, you can understand why James Conroyd Martin chose to tell Theodora’s life, it is as mesmerising and engaging as Theodora herself must have been. From the first pages the reader is immediately and irrevocably invested in the story of this incredible woman. I cannot recommend it highly enough – it is a must-read. Many aspects of it will remain with you long after you have finished the last page.

Fortune’s Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora by James Conroyd Martin is available in hardback, paperback and ebook from Amazon UK.

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My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Amazon UK 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: Allegiance of Blood by Mark Turnbull

Sir Francis Berkeley strives to protect his wife and family from the brutal effects of the English Civil War. But aside from the struggle between king and parliament, the allegiances of family, friendship and honour entangle him at every turn and prove to be just as bloody.
As a witness to treason on the field of Edgehill, Francis is drawn into a fast-moving world of espionage and politics. Against a backdrop of some of the major battles and sieges, Francis’s fight to reunite his family opens up very different conflicts with which to contend.
Everything is at stake when the war comes to a little church one December morning. Can the family survive the parliamentarian onslaught as well as their own feud?

I have to admit, the English Civil War is not one of my more familiar periods of history. So a book on it – be it fact or fiction – has to be really good to hold my attention. Allegiance of Blood by Mark Turnbull is one such book. It is a wonderful novel based around the struggles between the English Parliament and King Charles I and the divisions this caused with the country – and even within families. It centres on the story of one royalist, Sir Francis Berkeley, and his experiences following the battle of Edgehill on October 1642.

Allegiance of Blood beautifully weaves together the personal life and tragedies of the hero, Berkeley, with the greater drama that is overtaking England and the embattled King Charles I. Fast-paced and full of action, the story highlights the many conspiracies and conflicted loyalties that plagued the soldiers on both sides of the war; where brothers fought brothers, friends found themselves on opposing sides and families were torn by politics and ideologies.

The story is augmented by Francis’s proximity to the great and the good. Taken under the wing of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, the dashing cavalier general, and given promotion and responsibility, Francis fights to further the royalist cause, even against his own family and friends.

“After years of watching others, I see I have been spied upon myself.” Harbottle paled with realisation. “A secret that will die with you.” He squeezed the trigger, only for a flash of yellow and a hiss to taunt him upon its smoking misfire.

Francis seized his sword and sliced at Harbottle’s leg; a streak of crimson filled the gash. Before the blood had time to soak into his breeches, Francis punched the man in the face and then in the stomach. Harbottle, winded and with a broken nose, careered backwards into a shelf of pewter plates that jangled across the floor around them.

“You betrayed every man who lost his life that day.” Francis caught his breath and grabbed the remaining letters. “Cowardly son of a whore.” Clutching them in his other fist he held them up in vindication of all the lost souls of Edgehill who’d been sold out by this self-centred dog. It took all of his restraint not to skewer Harbottle on the end of his sword that instant.

“I’m no such thing.” Harbottle panted, claiming that swimming against the popular tide took much more courage. “My family’s future will not be dictated by attachment to one of two corrupt factions.”

“Perhaps you’ll soon come to realise the futility of your two-faced strategy.”

“Your battlefield memories are little more than the ramblings of a lunatic,” Harbottle replied.

“I suspect these letters contain more than mere ramblings.” Francis warned that Harbottle would soon be swinging from a noose. “A constricted throat will put an end to your betrayal of the King.”

With the appearance of his subordinates, revealing that the street was rapidly being cleared of rebels, Francis’s prediction took a step closer to reality. Every passing day of peace negotiations had seen royal dominance loosened bit by bit, because every fresh day brought Parliament’s field army closer to London in its bid to defend the city. Brentford’s fall evened out the balance of power, but what remained to be seen was whether Francis could tip the scales against Harbottle and prove the man’s duplicity.

After a slight tendency to over-description in the early chapters, Allegiance of Blood proves to be a wonderful novel, exciting, entertaining and addictive. It draws you in, taking you through all the motions as you experience love, battle, betrayal and grief. The imagery is sublime.

The history is impeccable and Mark’s extensive research shines through, but does not overshadow the story. The characters are a wonderful, disparate group, from the Puritan brother-in-law, drunken father-in-law, to a loving wife. And then there’s Francis himself, a loyal royalist who is often caught between his unwavering allegiance to the crown and family and friendship loyalties which serve to test that allegiance.

Mark Turnbull skilfully brings together all the aspects of war; family and friendships riven apart, betrayal, espionage, sieges and pitched battles – and a family secret! He weaves a wonderful, sweeping story, which draws the reader into the essence of the wars between parliament and king.

Allegiance of Blood by Mark Turnbull is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon UK.

About the author:

After a visit to Helmsley Castle at the age of 10, Mark Turnbull bought a pack of ‘top trump’ cards featuring the monarchs of England. The card portraying King Charles I fascinated him.
Van Dyck’s regal portrait of the King and the fact that he was executed by his own people were the beginnings of Mark’s passionate interest in the English Civil War that has lasted ever since.
In the absence of time travel, he thoroughly enjoys bringing this period to life through writing. He has written articles for magazines, local newspapers and online educational sites. He has also re-enacted battles with The Sealed Knot and for several years edited the Historical Novel Society’s online newsletter.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: The Dead Don’t Wait by Michael Jecks

Jack Blackjack stands accused of killing a priest in the wickedly entertaining new Bloody Mary Tudor mystery.

April, 1555. A priest has been stabbed to death in the village of St Botolph, to the east of the City of London, his body left to rot by the roadside – and Jack Blackjack stands accused of his murder.

As well as clearing his name, Jack has his own reasons for wanting to find out who really killed the priest – but this is an investigation where nothing is as it seems. Was it a random attack by a desperate outlaw, or do the answers lie in the murdered priest’s past? As he questions those who knew the dead man, Jack is faced with a number of conflicting accounts – and it’s clear that not everyone can be telling him the whole truth.

But Jack is about to be sidetracked from the investigation … with disastrous consequences.

I have been a fan of Michael Jecks‘ books ever since the first, The Last Templar, came out many, many years ago. And The Dead Don’t Wait clearly reminds me why I am such a fan of his writing. It is a wonderful murder mystery set in the time of Queen Mary I and a fine example of why Michael Jecks is considered one of the foremost authors of historical crime fiction.

The Dead Don’t Wait is the 4th title in Jecks’ Bloody Mary Mystery series.

The characters are wonderfully colourful and the various suspects suitably despicable or sympathetic, depending on their possible motives. The victim himself is not exactly the most innocent of men. And without the modern benefits of fingerprinting and DNA analysis, the book’s dubious hero, Jack Blackjack, must use his best detective skills to solve the crime. This fabulous combination serves to create a murder mystery that will have the reader gripped from the first page to the last.

What makes this book so perfect is its ‘hero’ – and I use the term as loosely as possible. Jack Blackjack is the most unremarkable hero you have probably come across. His drinking and womanising gets him into no end of trouble, and the fact he is officially an assassin – who has an aversion to blood – makes him the most unlikely of heroes and should make him an unsympathetic protagonist. However, it’s impossible not to like him!

Thus it was that a scant few minutes later I found myself bellowing for Raphe, who had finally found a decent wine, which he set about pouring into fresh cups. Sir Richard took up one and sipped it with a black glower fixed to his face, which was suddenly washed away and replaced by a beatific smile. ‘Hah! That’s more like it, boy! Next time I come, you will make sure that you find that barrel again, won’t ye? And next time we come here and find you’re serving dregs to your master, I will have you taken to the stocks personally. Understand me, boy?’

‘Y-yes,’ Raphe said, and I was delighted to hear him stammer. It was the first time in months that I had seen him lost for words or anxious, and it was a salve to my soul.

‘The dog,’ I said before he could scurry away. ‘You will have to put it out. I don’t want some mangy cur in my house. It could have rabies, for all you know.’

‘Yes, sir.’

That itself was a major success. He tended to avoid calling me ‘sir’, as if that was to concede that his own position was inferior. I watched him with narrowed eyes. I didn’t trust his sudden conversion to politeness.

He walked out carrying the two dirty cups and the empty flagon before I could comment further.

‘So you deny knowing this dead man?’ Sir Richard said.

‘Yes! I don’t even know the place you’re talking about. I’ve never been there. I spent all day today here in London.’

It is not only by the intricacies of the murder plot and the unravelling of the mystery, that the reader is entertained, but also by Jack’s own ability to get himself into the deepest water with the seediest members of the Tudor underworld.

The Dead Don’t Wait is a fast paced, enjoyable murder mystery with a balanced combination of diligent detective work and frenetic action. The characters drive this story, from Jack and his co-detective, Sir Richard, to Arch and Hamon, the London low-lifes who see Jack as an easy mark, to the various suspects who all have their own stories to unravel.

Michael Jecks weaves the various strands of the story together to create an engaging story that is impossible to put down and keeps the reader enthralled until long past their bedtime! It is thoroughly enjoyable!

For any fan of the detective novel, and any lover of Tudor history, this is a must read, and Jack Blackjack is a protagonist everyone should meet!

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The Dead Don’t Wait is available from Amazon in the UK and US.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Legitimacy of Bastards by Helen Matthews

For the nobility and gentry in later medieval England, land was a source of wealth and status. Their marriages were arranged with this in mind, and it is not surprising that so many of them had mistresses and illegitimate children. John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, married at the age of twenty to a ten-year-old granddaughter of Edward I, had at least eight bastards and a complicated love life. In theory, bastards were at a considerable disadvantage. Regarded as filius nullius’ or the son of no one, they were unable to inherit real property and barred from the priesthood. In practice, illegitimacy could be less of a stigma in late medieval England than it became between the sixteenth and late twentieth centuries. There were ways of making provision for illegitimate offspring and some bastards did extremely well: in the church; through marriage; as soldiers; a few even succeeding to the family estates. _The Legitimacy of Bastards_ is the first book to consider the individuals who had illegitimate children, the ways in which they provided for them and attitudes towards both the parents and the bastard children. It also highlights important differences between the views of illegitimacy taken by the Church and by the English law.

I often come across non-fiction books about which I think ‘ooh, this could be handy for research’, but every once in a while I come across a book and I just think ‘wow! This is so useful! Every one needs a copy!’ The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England by Helen Matthews definitely falls in this latter category.

The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England examines the church and lay laws governing illegitimacy in later medieval England, and portrays the reality of bastard children. Based on the author’s own thesis, the book should be the ‘go to’ tool for anyone who needs to study the stigma, status and reality of illegitimacy in medieval England.

Divided into 6 chapters, The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England explores the legal status of illegitimate children and the various types – or categories – of illegitimacy within medieval society; whether they be children of unmarried parents, married parents or of members of the clergy dictated their prospects in life and career opportunities. The book also examines the methods used by parents in order to get around the various limitations placed on illegitimate children, such as legal devices, church careers and, of course, marriage.

One of the challenges of researching illegitimacy in later medieval England is that there is no single source of reliable records of the kind that is available, for example, for some of the Italian city states. It is no accident that the comprehensive study of bastardy in England begins with the sixteenth century and the introduction of parochial registration of births, marriages and deaths in 1538. Even then, the level of detail prior to 1850 is limited. Any attempt to establish the prevalence of illegitimacy in the period before parish registers are available is clearly even more problematic. Illegitimate children cannot be identified by their name alone. Bastards who were recognised by their fathers would very often take their father’s name, though some were known by their mother’s surname. It should be noted that a surname beginning with ‘Fitz-‘ simply means ‘son of’ and does not itself denote illegitimacy, although it became common for royal bastards to have names of this type, for example Henry Fitzroy, the son of Henry VIII (1509-47) and Elizabeth Blount, a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon.

However, some attempt has been made to do so at the level of peasant society by exploiting manorial records, mainly in the context of wider studies of a particular peasant community. As in the Italian city states, it is the existence of financial records that makes this possible. In this case the records concerned are payments of fines. These were either leyrwite, a fine for single women and widows of unfree status who committed fornication, or childwyte, a fine for giving birth to an illegitimate child.

The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England looks into illegitimacy throughout all levels of society, from the royal family to the lowly peasant. Incredibly useful to my own research, Helen Matthews presents the experiences of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, as a case study of the practicalities of illegitimacy. This chapter helps the reader to understand the life and limitations of a child born outside of marriage, as well as the extraordinary lengths that parents were willing to go in order to advance the prospects of their children.

I had no idea how complex the laws surrounding illegitimacy in England, not just on inheritance, but also on marriage prospects, on the difference between church and state and on the difference between clerical and lay requirements for the legitimisation of a child.

An easy book to read, Helen Matthews has made good use of the materials and evidence available to build a picture of the realities of illegitimacy in later medieval England, not just for the child themselves, but for their families and the legitimate heirs. Impeccably researched and rich in detail The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England is a wonderful research tool and an engaging read, with none of the dryness that you often find in books developed from academic theses.

The only downside of The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England is that there are no footnotes, which makes it hard for the researcher to follow up some of the details; however, there is an exhaustive and impressive bibliography and an impressive list of the subjects used in the book for ease of cross-referencing.

The further I read into The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England the more I realised how useful this book will be to any researcher, student of history or casual reader around the subject. The impeccable research and engaging writing style make this a valuable addition to anyone’s medieval library.

I cannot recommend it highly enough!

To buy the book:

The Legitimacy of Bastards; The Place of Illegitimate Children in Later Medieval England is available from Pen & Sword and Amazon in the UK and US.

About the Author:

Helen Matthews studied medieval history at UCL and Royal Holloway. A chance remark in a footnote inspired her to embark on the thesis on medieval bastards, on which this book is based.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

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

Heroines of the Medieval World

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

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly