Book Corner: Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.
She chooses to start a fire.

You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.

You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.

You are Cecily.

But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?

Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.

Told through the eyes of its greatest unknown protagonist, this astonishing debut plunges you into the closed bedchambers and bloody battlefields of the first days of the Wars of the Roses, a war as women fight it.

What a fabulous debut novel!

I had already been hearing good things about Annie Garthwaite’s book, Cecily, when I was offered a review copy from NetGalley. So, of course, I jumped at the chance to read it. A book about one of the strongest and most influential women of the 15th century was bound to interest me. I have forever been fascinated with the Wars of the Roses, after all, and written a number of articles about members of the House of York. I’ve also researched and written about Cecily’s amazing mother, Joan Beaufort, and impressive grandmother, Katherine Swynford. So, I was interested to read Annie Garthwaite’s take on this incredible woman.

And I was not disappointed,. It is hard to believe that Cecily is a debut novel. Beautifully written and composed, it transports the reader back the turmoil of fifteenth century England and shows us the Wars of the Roses through the eyes of Cecily and her husband, Richard, Duke of York. Though historical fiction, it has a sense of reality that is not always present in novels.

Cecily takes no wine in Lent but, when its privations are over, she had chance to share her uncle’s gift with unlooked-for visitors. Bedford’s widow comes to Fotheringhay. Not the gentle duchess Anne she’d come to care for in France, but pretty young Jacquetta, who took that lady’s place after plague demanded she vacate it.

In truth, of course, she’d met Jacquetta too, that time in Paris.

It was the morning after Henry’s crowning and she and Richard had been staying in the Bedfords’ household. Their new good fortune had made them more hungry for excitement than sleep, so they stole out in the cold dawn light, planning to take horses and race each other over the frost hard fields beyond the city. They were laughing as they came, thinking themselves alone, until they turned a corner into the mews and saw Jacquetta, daughter of Bedford’s ally the Count of St Pol, leaning down from a fine grey mare and kissing John of Bedford hard on the mouth.

They brazened it out. Jacquetta smiled boldly, gave brief farewells and was gone. Bedford, dismissive, bade them take whichever of his horses they fancied and enjoy their morning. Richard thanked him warmly but couldn’t look him in the eye.

Cecily could.

‘I believe it was Jacquetta’s uncle who captured the peasant Joan when the English could not and sold her to you for ten thousand livres,’ she said, pulling on her gloves. ‘I suppose that, for such service, you owe her much.’

Enough fr him to marry her, it seems. Duchess Anne died the winter after Cecily returned from France. By spring the Duke of Bedford had dried his tears in Jacquetta’s lap and taken her to wife. Cecily had grieved for it but, in truth, who could blame him? Jacquetta was sixteen, untouched by grief and, likely, fertile. He was forty years old and lonely; the king’s her and childless. After the wedding he’d brought his new wife briefly to England and had grace enough to look shamefaced when he’d asked Cecily to be a friend to her. ‘She knows no one here, you see. And I must be busy, so…’

He’d come to make pleas to the council for more money and more men. They begrudged giving either to a man who kept losing. Even then, he’d looked ill; whip thin and hollow. She’d told him so.

‘I’m just tired, Cecily,’ he’d shrugged. ‘This endless war.’

So, out of pity, and because, in truth, he’d been a maker of her fortune, she’d taken Jacquetta into her company, tolerated her French gossip; her vanity and foolishness.

Cecily is a marvellous, sweeping story, that follows the fortunes of the house of York, through the eyes of its duchess, from the last years of the Hundred Years War, through the turbulent ups and downs of the Wars of the Roses, to the triumphal coronation of Edward IV. Meticulously researched, it strikes the perfect balance between portraying national and international events, and the family life of Cecily and her husband, Richard. Ambition, love and loss, victory and defeat all play a powerful part in the narrative.

The storyline is fast-paced, the political and physical landscape of fifteenth century England providing a wonderful backdrop to the dramatic events of the era. Annie Garthwaite tries to get in the heads of her characters, depicting the Yorks not just as whit knights in shining armour, but as genuine, real people, with their own foibles and ambitions. I do love the depth of the characters. Cecily herself is not perfect, and is the product of her experiences – Annie Garthwaite has really considered how Cecily’s personality would be affected by her experiences and by the characters around her, both friends and enemies alike. The complexities of the family relationships involved in the Wars of the Roses can sometimes get confusing, but the author has managed to navigate her way through the complex relationships to craft a story that is, at once, enjoyable and intriguing.

I can heartily recommend Cecily by Annie Garthwaite to anyone with a passion for historical fiction, and for the Wars of the Roses period, in particular. The book does not disappoint!

About the author:

Annie Garthwaite grew up in a working-class community in the north-east of England. She studied English at the University of Wales before embarking on a thirty-year international business career. In 2017 she returned to her first love, books, and set out to write the story of a woman she had always felt drawn to: Cecily Neville. This became her debut novel, Cecily.

Cecily is available from Amazon


My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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


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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with Kristie Dean

12791083_736187379851237_1299001826319792577_nThis week I have the great pleasure of starting off Kristie Dean’s Blog Tour, in honour of the launch of her new book, On the Trail of the Yorks.

Just a year ago she published the book, The World of Richard III and on Monday her latest offering, On the Trail of the Yorks goes on sale in the UK. Kristie’s books are a unique and fascinating blend of history and travel writing; they bring to life the castles, palaces and other locations  associated with one of the ,most famous kings – and families – in British history.

Here, she talks to me about her love of history and writing.

What made you become a writer?
When I was a little girl I would spend my time creating stories for the other kids. I also wrote and distributed a neighborhood newspaper. I was always writing – poems, short stories, and even reports. I wrote a research paper for my 7th grade teacher and she later talked to my parents, telling them I was pushing myself too hard. It wasn’t that; I just couldn’t stand a blank page, and so I was always looking for new ways of writing.

With a career as a teacher, how do you discipline yourself to write?
When I am working on a book, writing consumes my life. I come home from work and write for three or four hours plus I write all day Saturday and most of Sunday. If I have a school event or my husband convinces me to go out, I take that evening off. I take a week off every May to take my students to Washington DC, although I do take research materials to read on the bus. I also am a mentor teacher at my school, so that takes a chunk of time. But, just like writing and teaching, it is worthwhile and enjoyable.

How do you organise your writing day?
At 5 p.m., I get home and write until at least 8 p.m. On weekends, I am researching/writing by 9 a.m. and usually going until 5 p.m. If I am writing about a certain location and I am in a ‘zone’ I will often continue until I am done.

Kristie Dean

How many projects do you have going at once, or do you concentrate on one at a time?
With my time constraints, I usually have one or two in the back of my mind, but I only work on one at a time. I would love to be able to work on two or three projects at a time. Authors who are able to do this amaze me.

Your books are quite unique, a combination of history and historical locations, what made you decide to write them this way?
I traveled to Europe several times and always ended up frustrated with my guidebooks. I ended up making my own guides to each location for myself and fellow travelers to reach deeper in the history. Since I was particularly fascinated with the Plantagenets (especially Richard III) and Anne Boleyn, I was frustrated there weren’t any guides to places associated with them. Then a member of a history group I am in wrote an excellent guide for Anne Boleyn. This helped me to realize that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to explore the history of a location, so I decided to start with the historical figure I was most interested in, which was Richard III.

How long do you spend researching your book before you start writing?
This is a tough one to answer since it varies. I already had a great deal of information on Richard III and the Wars of the Roses, so much of my research involved the locations associated with him. However, I have been researching for a fiction book for years. Whether it ever sees the light of day is a different story.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love getting to delve into the lives of historic figures and locations. I also like visiting each place to get a feel for it. I enjoy trying to make history come alive for my readers.

What is the worst thing about writing?
The long hours of solitude. It can get lonely, and when I am up against a deadline I do not have time to go out with friends.

How long does it take to do a project from start to finish?
About a year. It depends on the book and how much research I’ve done prior. It also depends on where the research takes me. I became interested in Margaret of York while writing my latest book and spent several hours researching information that I did not even need for the book.

Have you ever considered writing a novel? What would it be about?
(Laughs) Oh yes, I have. It would be a thriller, I think. I love reading those types of novels. I might eventually do an historic fiction novel, too.

Who are your favourite personalities from history?
Oh my. It would be easier to answer who doesn’t interest me, but I will give it a try. Richard III, obviously. Anne Boleyn, All the Plantagenet queens, St Margaret, Margaret of York, Cecily Neville, Anne Neville, Llywelyn Fawr, and several lesser known women from history. From a more modern time, Winston Churchill intrigues me.

What are your favourite places from history?1422626_729589277177714_706482969626694562_n
All of England, Scotland, and Wales. I feel like the area is a second home for me. I love traveling and exploring each region. Middleham Castle is one of my favourites, as well as Llanrhychwyn Church, which is believed to be the oldest church in Wales. This little church is a gem, said to have been built by Llywelyn Fawr for his wife, Joan. I had a difficult time finding it, but Sharon Kay Penman helped me by putting me in touch with someone who lived in the area. Pam took me straight there, and I was immediately enchanted.

Your last book was The World of Richard III and the new one is On the Trail of the Yorks, what is it that fascinates you about Richard III and the House of York?
I have been fascinated by that time period for a long time. It’s a time of turbulence, a time of changing allies and enemies, and a time of controversy. It just pulls me in. Originally, I was interested in the controversy surrounding Richard III, but now I am captivated by the entire period.
On another note, The World of Richard III is going to undergo a title change to On the Trail of Richard III for the paperback version. This will keep the two books aligned.

Would you ever consider doing a book about the House of Lancaster and the locations associated with it?
I would, but I think many of the locations would be the same. Of course, the difference would be what the Lancastrians would be doing at each location. It is certainly an interesting idea.

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?
Not often. When I do it is a sign that I need a break. So, I get up, play with my three dogs and two cats or take a walk outside. Or I clean the bathroom. I am always excited to get back to writing after that.

Do you find social media – such as Facebook – a benefit or a hindrance?
It’s a benefit, but I confess to not being the best at it. I don’t get around to the various groups as often as I want, so sometimes I am out of the loop. I do have several wonderfulyorks Facebook friends who help me admin my groups and keep me up to date on what’s happening in the other history groups.

What is be your next project?
I have a book about locations associated with some of history’s forgotten women brewing in my head, but it has a serious contender in Margaret, Mary and Arthur Tudor. I am not sure which will win out in the end. I am taking a much-needed break right now to collaborate with some friends on a joint project. I will spend two weeks in East Anglia this summer with them doing research.

I would like to extend a huge ‘thank you’ to Kristie Dean for her wonderful answers and wish her the every success with her latest book. And look out for my review of On the Trail of the Yorks next week!


Kristie Dean has an MA in History and now enjoys teaching the subject, following a successful career in public relations. Her particular historic interest is the medieval era, specifically the Plantagenets, the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. When not traveling for research, you can find Kristie at home in Tennessee with her husband, three dogs, and two cats. On the Trail of the Yorks is available from Amazon UK from 15th March 2016 and from Amazon US in May. And On the Trail of Richard III is due for release in paperback in May.


My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly