Book Corner: Inspiration for Hauntings by Samantha Wilcoxson

Inspiration for Among the Lost

By Samantha Wilcoxson

My family and I took a trip to Traverse City, Michigan last autumn. While this trip had nothing to do with anything I was writing, my youngest son would be quick to tell you that I always find some sort of historic site to visit anywhere we go. In Traverse City, that place ended up being the former Northern Michigan Asylum, now reinvented as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

The Northern Michigan Asylum was built in 1883-1885, including Building 50, the main structure which is almost a quarter of a mile long. More buildings were added over the years to serve patients that were sent from around the state of Michigan. Men, women, and children were segregated in addition to patients being separated according to condition. ‘Beauty is therapy’ was a famous slogan, referring to founding Medical Superintendent Dr James Munson’s belief that the gorgeous natural surroundings of the area would help the patients heal.

Traverse City is gorgeous with the beautiful blue waters of the bay in the summer and an extraordinary kaleidoscope of trees in the autumn. Certainly, some did find healing in the natural surroundings. The buildings of the asylum were carefully crafted with high ceilings, transom windows, and rounded corners to create a bright, safe atmosphere. The grounds include a grove of trees where no two are alike. The variety was collected by Dr James Munson during his travels. One can envision what the place was like when it was new and filled with hopeful nurses and their charges.

However, as we toured the abandoned, dilapidated structures, it was just as easy to imagine that darker things had taken place as well. Old lead paint is peeling from the walls, and the lack of electricity forced us to light our way with flashlights. Shattered windows and graffiti brought to mind broken souls and nefarious deeds that might have taken place within those walls.

I had not planned on writing anything about the asylum, but when the suggestion of an anthology of historical ghost stories was put forward, I knew just where mine would take place. The mysterious steam tunnels and creamy stone structures topped by red spires suddenly seemed the perfect setting for a young nurse to encounter strange happenings. A ghost may not be the worst being she discovers.

Hauntings

FEAR IS AS OLD AS TIME ITSELF
Chilling Tales that will take you through a labyrinth of historical horror.
You will encounter a tormented Roman general.
A Norse woman who must confront her terrifying destiny.
Meet a troubled Saxon brother, searching for his twin’s murderer.
A young nurse tries to solve the mysteries of an asylum for the insane.Down the passages of time, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn wander through a haunted garden and elsewhere,
a lost slave girl is the soul survivor of a mass slaughter.

These are just a few of the eerie tales which ensure that Hauntings is not for the faint-hearted.

Hauntings is an anthology of stories that span 2,000 years of history. Featuring short stories by S.J.A. Turney, D. Apple, Judith Arnopp, K.S. Barton, Lynn Bryant, Paula Lofting, Stephanie Churchill, Samantha Wilcoxson, Jennifer C. Wilson and Kate Jewell, and with a foreword by yours truly!

now available as an ebook from Amazon in the UK and the US and will be available in paperback shortly.

Hauntings Launch Party!

And we’re having a launch party over Zoom.

Meet the authors and hear the stories behind the stories. It’s free. Come and join us!

It’s on Saturday 23 October at 7pm (UK time) – 2 pm if you’re in New York! Book here!

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Dan Jones at The Collection, Lincoln

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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

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

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

The list is a long one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I cannot recommend it highly enough!

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

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Launch: Hauntings, An Anthology

FEAR IS AS OLD AS TIME ITSELF
Chilling Tales that will take you through a labyrinth of historical horror.
You will encounter a tormented Roman general.
A Norse woman who must confront her terrifying destiny.
Meet a troubled Saxon brother, searching for his twin’s murderer.
A young nurse tries to solve the mysteries of an asylum for the insane.

Down the passages of time, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn wander through a haunted garden and elsewhere,
a lost slave girl is the soul survivor of a mass slaughter.

These are just a few of the eerie tales which ensure that Hauntings is not for the faint-hearted.

Hauntings, an Anthology

Since time immemorial, people have sat around the hearth, in the dark of night with storms raging outside, telling each other ghost stories. Even the fairy tales told to children over the centuries have bordered on horror stories, with a wicked stepmother here, an evil witch there and the candy-selling man who turned out to be a child-catcher; all just waiting to scare and horrify the unsuspecting. Many were moralising tales, told to scare children into being good. But the effects linger. As children become teenagers, they tell scarier stories, staying up late into the night on sleepovers and camping expeditions. The aim has always been to frighten and entertain with ever greater levels of horror, often shining torches into their faces at odd angles to create special effects.

The enduring need to push our fear to the limits has been with us since childhood.

Such camp-fire tales belie the fact that horror and ghost stories have a place deep in the culture of society. They have always been a way to explain the unexplainable.

We have all had that moment, that sense of being watched. But when we turn around, there is no one there…

Or seen that movement out of the corner of our eye…

The room suddenly turning cold for no reason…

The most famous incident of this kind gave birth to not only the vampire but also what is probably the most famous horror story of all time. And it started, as it always does, with a gathering of friends, in their late teens and early 20s, trying to shock and scare each other as a storm raged outside.

Europe had just emerged from its own horror story. Over twenty-five years of warfare had ignited with the French Revolution in 1789 and ended on the battlefield of Waterloo in June 1815, raging across Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula to frozen Russia and even venturing into Africa. A generation had grown up with the shadow of war looming over them. This man-made tragedy had been exacerbated by volcanic eruptions, famine and epidemics; the volcanic ash would cause 3 years of darkness, crop failure and cholera outbreaks. It was a time ripe for dark and desperate literary endeavours.

In the aftermath of Waterloo, a young couple, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, travelled to Lake Geneva in May 1816, ostensibly looking for rest and relaxation. Their party included their four-month-old baby and Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont. At the time, Claire was pregnant with a child by Lord Byron, the ground-breaking poet whose personal affairs and love life had proved too scandalous for England. Most recently he had divorced his wife, abandoning his young daughter, Ada Lovelace, and, so rumour had it, pursued an affair with his own half-sister. Plagued by gossip and debt, he had left England for Europe. Claire, it seems, had decided to surprise her lover by following him.

Mary had fallen in love with Percy in 1814; the couple had run away together, despite Percy already being married, and travelled around Europe for the next 2 years. After Byron left England, a distraught Claire convinced Mary and Percy to travel to Geneva with her. A few days later, Byron—clearly unaware that Claire would be there—arrived in town. Mary, whose own love life not without controversy, sympathized with the scandalous poet.

With Percy and Lord Byron soon forming an intense friendship, the small party abandoned their various travel plans and rented properties close to each other along Lake Geneva. They would gather together in the long, dark, cold evening at the Villa Diodati, the stately mansion Byron had rented for his stay along with John Polidori, his doctor. They read poetry, argued, and talked late into the night. After three nights of the party being trapped inside by the raging storm, tensions were running high. Byron was annoyed by Claire’s obsessive attentions, Mary likewise had to fend off the unwanted attentions of the equally obsessive Doctor Polidori.

They spent their evenings reading horror stories and ghostly poems to each other until one night, they were given a challenge. Byron proposed they each write a ghost story that was better than the ones they had just read. Inspired by a tale of Byron’s, Polidori produced his novella “The Vampyre,” which would be published in 1819. It is the first work of fiction to include a blood-sucking hero—which may have been modelled on Byron himself. Mary took a little longer to settle on the subject of her story but after a long, sleepless night she produced her offering, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Considering what happens when men play gods, and perhaps with the upheaval of the last three decades in her mind, she would later call the story her “hideous progeny”.

Frankenstein would be Mary Shelley’s enduring legacy and the inspiration for so many hopeful writers.

Fast forward a little over 200 hundred years. The year was 2020, the world was in the midst of a pandemic of horrifying proportions. Travel to the neighbouring town was frowned upon, you were allowed out for exercise once a day, families were forced apart, the schools closed and writers the world over were sat in their studies, or at their kitchen tables, tapping away on keyboards, alone, solitary…

Well, not quite…

We now have the internet, so when you are alone, you are still not totally alone. Once again, with the storm raging outside, a group of writers have come together, not in a luxury Swiss mansion, but via the miracle that is the internet. Despite the miles and oceans apart, and across the continents, these ten historical fiction authors were given a challenge: to write a ghost story, to regale each other with terrifying stories of ghosts and ghoulies. Through history and legend, from the legions of Rome to a spooky hotel, from Tudor England to an asylum for the insane, those who have suffered injustice may finally be laid to rest, those who have sought loved ones across the centuries may finally be reunited and those who have borne nightmares for past deeds may finally find peace.

A year after the idea first formed, those stories are set to be unleashed on the world.

Dare you read them?

Hauntings, an Anthology is dedicated to the memory of Sharon Penman, an amazing historical fiction writer, author of The Sunne in Splendour, who inspired so many of us to become writers ourselves.

Hauntings, an Anthology is an anthology of stories that span 2,000 years of history. Featuring short stories by S.J.A. Turney, D. Apple, Judith Arnopp, K.S. Barton, Lynn Bryant, Paula Lofting, Stephanie Churchill, Samantha Wilcoxson, Jennifer C. Wilson and Kate Jewell, and with a foreword by yours truly!

Hauntings, an Anthology is now available as an ebook from Amazon in the UK and the US and will be available in paperback shortly.

Hauntings Launch Party

And we’re having a launch party over Zoom.

Meet the authors and hear the stories behind the stories. It’s free. Come and join us!

It’s on Saturday 23 October at 7pm (UK time) – 2 pm if you’re in New York! Book here!

*

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with Helen Batten

Today, it is a pleasure to welcome author Helen Batten to History…the Interesting Bits. Helen’s new book, The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene: Actress, Writer, and Rebel is out this week.

About the book:

‘‘I rode on the stage in such style, that the men in front forgot I was a girl, and also forgot to laugh’

Emily Soldene


The fascinating biography of an almost forgotten star of the Victorian stage brought back to life by the Sunday Times bestselling author of Sisters of the East End. Emily Soldene was a courageous actor-manager whose life spanned the entire Victorian period. She challenged the stereotype of Victorian women and showed just what women could achieve with enough determination. From in humble working-class beginnings born as the daughter of a Clerkenwell milliner in 1838, she rose to become a celebrated leading lady, director and formidable impresario creating one of the era’s most celebrated opera companies. Her career took her to theatres across America and Australia, as well as throughout Great Britain, before reinventing herself as a journalist and writer in her fifties. She wrote a weekly column for the Sydney Evening News, as well as a novel and a memoir, and scandalised the capital with her revelations. Emily Soldene died in 1912. A darling of London’s music halls and theatre land, Emily counted Charles Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as friends and mingled with the Rothschilds, Oscar Wilde and aristocrats. Charting her international triumphs and calamitous disasters, from taking Broadway by storm, to befriending cowboys in the Wild West and touring the Australian outback, Helen Batten vividly recreates the era and a riotous life that has faded from the limelight. Putting Emily Soldene firmly back in centre stage, The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene is a portrait of an irrepressible character who trod the boards, travelled the globe and tore up the Victorian rule book.

So I asked Helen a few questions about this remarkable Victorian, Emily Soldene, and about her experiences in writing the book.

1. Please tell me a little about the book.

When I was growing up Nanna said we were related to a famous actress, but she knew nothing about her. We dismissed this actress as just a figment of Nanna’s imagination, but years later a historian of our ancestral village told me that we were indeed related to a great actress, that her name was Emily Soldene and I must Google her. I was amazed to find that she was not only a star of the music hall, but a leading lady of light opera. She went on to become a producer, director and then an impresario, taking the lease of London’s top theatres. She bought the rights to Bizet’s Carmen and was the first person to tour it around Britain. She was the Cameron Mackintosh of her time, and she was my first cousin three times removed.

Emily had a social life that was as stellar as her career – she mixed with the most interesting men of her generation, the great and the good who were running the country. She was invited to the best parties, sailed in yachts, had weekend trips to Brighton, drank champagne, ate oysters and played a lot of poker. Her favourite pastime was a trip to the races. She also managed to circle the globe several times. Emily took her production company on tour, was a hit on Broadway, played mining towns in the Wild West and got stuck in an earthquake in San Francisco. Then, struck by wanderlust she carried on to New Zealand and Australia, driving across the outback in a Cobbs Coach. Emily was married and had four children, but the existence of a family didn’t stop Emily having the life she wanted. She once said that her husband ‘never got in the way of the green room’.

But it was her next incarnation as a journalist that I find the most heroic. As her light operas went out of fashion (Gilbert and Sullivan were suddenly all the rage), she entered her middle years and struggled with her weight. Emily found herself stranded in Australia with no money for the passage home and needing a new career. She started writing theatre reviews anonymously and within three years was on a boat home, with a new job as the London correspondent for Australia’s largest newspaper. Emily could write about whatever she liked and she did every week for the next eleven years of her life. She was funny and outspoken – parties, politics, suffragettes, Churchill, hemlines and her personal life – everything was fair game. She also published a scandalous novel and her kiss and tell memoir was one of the best-selling books of 1898.

Emily always loved her food (and a brandy and soda) it was this that killed her, having a heart attack after a ten course Easter Sunday lunch that was the subject of her last column. As soon as I found out about Emily, I knew that I wanted to write a book about her. She has disappeared from the public consciousness, but I think her extraordinary story should be told; her life shows what Victorian women could and did achieve. This book is my attempt at putting her back into the limelight where she belongs.

2. What attracted you to Emily Soldene’s story?

Emily had never been educated, she was the illegitimate daughter of a Clerkenwell bonnet maker and yet she managed to have a rare thing for a Victorian working-class woman – a public voice. She mixed with the most famous men of her day and travelled in a way many of us in the twenty first century have never managed. And she was a wife and a mother of four children. I find her very inspiring.

Emily’s story gives an insight into the colourful world of Victorian theatre. But it’s an amazing personal story of rising above unpromising beginnings, and resilience despite numerous public disappointments. She was adored and achieved the heights of fame, only in later years to receive the sort of public criticism that would be worthy of today’s social media trolls – as one reviewer said, ‘please take away the corpse’, but Emily never lost her joie de vivre and just kept on getting up there on the stage.

In her journalism she gives us a unique insight into Edwardian London and the upper classes from the view of a working-class woman. Her opinions are fascinating – she’s a feminist and yet not a suffragette. She despises sexual hypocrisy and is anti-abortion. She loathes Churchill but loves Cecil Rhodes. She is devastated when Queen Victoria dies. She is a great fan of the Empire, hates taxes but is first in the queue to get her pension when they are brought in in 1906. She’s initially suspicious of the motor car (terrible attire for women) but loves the idea of flight, and is confused by the tube – why is it so windy and what happens if they break?

Most of all she was not afraid to speak out about what she believed in. She wrote a novel advocating that men who had affairs should be exposed, and illegitimate children should not be stigmatised but recognised. Of course, this was very personal, the circumstances of her birth had haunted her all her life. And then she practised what she preached by outing the famously respectable men who had consorted with actresses in her bestselling memoir. Basically, Emily gave me more than enough material for a book!

3. What made you become a writer?

I was always scribbling as a child and my earliest ambition was to write a book. It was going to be a historical novel with handsome knights and courageous princesses, a story of great love winning over adversity. This book is still to be written. Instead, I kept a daily diary from the age of five until I went off to university and the late nights got in the way. Afterwards I trained as a journalist but went into television, so I didn’t write so much, but in a way, I was still telling stories, just in a different form. One day I went to a talk at a book festival and had a bit of an epiphany moment. The three successful female authors on the panel said that it was ok not to have the book plotted out before you start – it can write itself, you don’t have to start at the beginning, characters take on a life of their own, momentum is really important – just write a small amount but every day, the first draft is the most difficult and generally rubbish. All these tips made it seem much more possible to write a book. I came out exhilarated with a sense that I could do it too.

Around the same time, I made a television documentary spending a year following Gerry Cottle’s circus. He was a brilliant raconteur and kept me entertained with endless fantastic anecdotes. His whole life felt like a novel – he was a stockbroker’s son who ran away to join the circus when he was sixteen and married into circus royalty. He was soon Britain’s biggest circus owner, and yet he also battled with terrible demons particulalry his addiction to cocaine and prostitutes, which he eventually overcame. He made millions and was bankrupt many times, a survivor. So, when he rang me and asked whether I would write his life story for him, I couldn’t refuse.

4. Who are your major writing influences?

For the Improbable Adventures, Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dicken’s mistress, Nelly Ternan, The Invisible Woman, was an extremely useful window into the world of the Victorian actress, Haille Rubbenhold’s Five gave a sense of the precariousness of life for women in Victorian London and helped explain why Emily worked so hard to make herself financially independent, and rereading Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet inspired me at the beginning of writing the book. Although fiction, it sounded rather like Emily and her theatrical world.

But as to historical writing influences generally, as a child I spent hours pouring over Antonia Fraser’s Kings and Queens of England which started my love of history. Then as a young teenager I read Anya Seaton’s Katherine, a biography of John of Gaunt’s mistress Katherine Swynford, which rooted me firmly in the fourteenth century. The Waning of the Middle Ages by Huizinga is slightly impenetrable but when I first read it as a teenager it somehow managed to make me feel if I was right there in the middle of the calamitous fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with their misplaced chivalry, endless civil wars, heretical religious movements, revolting peasants and repeating pandemics.

My favourite author is Daphne Du Maurier, I think she is altogether darker and more complicated than at first glance. I also think she is rather good at capturing the breathless intensity, excitement and fun of romantic relationships. My guilty pleasure is Frenchman’s Creek. I read it whenever real life becomes too pressing….

In my twenties I read Tom Baker’s memoir Who on Earth is Tom Baker? which is utterly hilarious and started me off reading a stream of autobiographies of a certain kind of mid to late twentieth century entertainer as if I was unconsciously preparing for writing Gerry’s autobiography. But then I branched out into autobiographies of all kinds – favourites include Clare Balding, Alan Johnson, Elizabeth Jane Howard and Claire Tomalin. Hilary Mantel is of course a genius, but my favourite book is her memoir Giving up the Ghost, and then most recently Maggie O’Farrell’s I am, I am, I am- Seventeen brushes with death which is just an inspired way to construct a life story. Years ago, after losing someone very close and precious to me, I read Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking. It’s short and poetic; and managed to put into beautiful words how I felt in that dark place. A lesson in the power of books to save you in extreme times.

Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird have been the most helpful books with writing. I haven’t started with the books that have inspired my day job as a psychotherapist, but I’ll stop now….

5. How long did you spend researching Emily Soldene before writing the book?

I tend to research as I go along but I’d say the book was six months in preparation and another year almost to the day to write. It was a lockdown book. I signed the publishing deal in the first week of March 2020. I could feel the way things were going, so spent every spare second in the British Library and London Library, trying to get all the information I could, while I could. Luckily the London Library continued to post books through the pandemic which was a lifeline.

6. Have you always been interested in the Victorian era?

I’ve always been interested in social history, particularly the lives of women and how they have changed. Along with previous books, researching Emily’s story has given me a fascinating insight into how women used to live. I’ve been rooted in the twentieth century before, and with this book I really enjoyed the opportunity to go back a bit further. It’s made me very grateful to be a woman in the twenty first century with all the opportunities and rights we have now. I think being a woman of whatever class in Victorian Britain was particularly oppressive. A choice between respectability and independence, security and experience, which makes Emily all the more remarkable.

7. What do you enjoy most about writing?

I’m a bit of an insomniac and so most of my books have been written in the quiet hours before the house stirs between 5 and 7.30am. Watching the daybreak is a precious time. I feel lucky, fashioning something that’s hopefully meaningful out of the contents of my head, seems like a kind of alchemy. When it’s going well, the words write themselves. It’s exhilarating. I can get away from the small nonsense that can clamour too loudly. Writing helps put things into perspective. It can be a kind of therapy.

8. What is the worst thing about writing?

Sometimes I feel like I’m more in the world I’m writing about than the present. When I’m in the flow it can be frustrating to have to stop and re-enter the real world. And then I do become a bit obsessed with the topic I’m working on and keep talking about it. I don’t think being the child (or partner!) of a writer is necessarily easy. It’s no accident that I’ve thanked my three daughters for putting up with my endless book-related chat in the acknowledgements of my last two books.

9. Who are your favourite personalities from history? Is there anyone you would particularly like to write about, but haven’t yet?

My university dissertation was centred on an obscure medieval monarch called Alfonso XI of Castille. He was a bit of a hero – inherited the throne at 10 months old, managed to seize the reins of power from his bossy granny, reunited the warring barons, drove the Moors out of Gibraltar, founded Europe’s first chivalric order, crowned himself with a mechanical statue, and had a hot affair with Eleanor the beautiful widow of Seville. Unfortunately, he died in the Black Death at the age of 38 and his legacy was the most horrible civil war. Over thirty years ago I promised my supervisor that I’d write a book about him, so Alfonso has been on my ‘to do’ list for a long time.

10. Who are your heroes/heroines, from history or elsewhere?

I have a deep respect for some of my ancestors, not least for their general resilience in the face of an unforgiving universe. I dedicated the Improbable Adventures to my three daughters because I think Emily is so inspiring for a young woman – her can do, irrepressible joie de vivre, not ‘why me?’, but ‘why not me?’ attitude to life. But writing my last book, The Scarlet Sisters, I learned about my great grandmother, Clara Crisp, and was humbled by what she had experienced and survived, and her determination to give her daughters a better life. I’m also in awe of my paternal grandfather who was drafted into the Household Cavalry at the start of the First World War because he was so tall (he knew nothing about horses, he was a glazier’s son), and charged the German machine guns on his warhorse. He believed that what kept him alive was reciting Kipling’s poem, If, as the bullets whistled past. Eventually he was made to eat the horse, and then was gassed in the trenches. But he went back and fought right up until the end of the war. Afterwards he joined the police (because he was so tall) and ended up as the Chief Constable of Warwickshire Police, in charge of policing Coventry during the blitz. Every night he was driven round the city inspecting the damage and directing operations. I remember him in his nineties, a kindly archetypal (still tall) grandpa who gave me sweets and pennies, and told me stories of going to bed with candles and a nightcap like Wee Willy Winkie. My granny, was the chief matron at Coventry General and was also busy during the Blitz. She cut off her finger while passing a scalpel during an operation, but didn’t say anything until after it had finished. I was always staring at this half finger. She was also scarred on her face from going back into the hospital when it received a direct hit and pulling a young doctor out from the flames. She was less of an archetypal grandparent though. A gambler, she was known as ‘Five Ace Annie’ because she allegedly always had an extra ace up her sleeve. She taught me how to play poker at the age of five.

Aside from the ancestors, I love the many wise writings of Nora Ephron and I have a lot of time for Dolly Parton, the music and the woman.

11. Do you find social media – such as Facebook and Twitter – a benefit or a hindrance?

I’m late to social media, but I can see the potential. I like Facebook for family and friends, and then I’ve recently joined Twitter and I’m impressed with how easy it is to connect to people with the same interests. I’ve been a bit behind the curve on this one…

12. What’s next? Do you have another writing project in mind?

I’ve got a few ideas of the historical nonfiction variety, but just at the moment I’m doing a writing for TV course, so who knows?

13. What did you learn from writing the book?

Apart from the general awe inspired by the scope of Emily’s adventures, I was struck by how the different expectations of mothers in the Victorian era could give opportunities for a freedom unknown to twenty first century mothers. Victorian mothers were not expected to have a relationship with their children. As long as they kept them fed, washed and morally upright, or at least paid someone else to do it, they’d fulfilled the brief. This meant that Emily could buy a big house in Staines, install her mother and a few maids, and leave her children for years at a time with no one thinking any the worse of her. And then Emily’s views sometimes surprised – for example although she lived a kind of practical feminism way ahead of her time, she was anti the suffragette movement arguing that women held the reins anyway – ‘ let them do it with silk gloves’. She was also, along with many feminists of the time, anti-abortion, believing that women were driven to have them by society’s sexual hypocrisy and harsh judgement. Instead, affairs should be open, mistresses acknowledged, illegitimate children instead of being stigmatized should be welcomed and their legal rights the same as other children. This was deeply personal for Emily as all her life she had hidden her own illegitimacy and the name of her real father.

Thank you so much, Helen, for a fascinating conversation. Good luck with the book – I can’t wait to read it!

About the author:

Helen Batten is the Sunday Times bestselling author of Sisters of the East End, and of The Scarlet Sisters which told the story of her grandmother’s life. She is also the co-author of Confessions of a Showman: My Life in the Circus, Gerry Cottle’s autobiography.

After reading history at Cambridge, Helen studied journalism at Cardiff University. She went on to become a producer and director at the BBC. She now works as a writer and psychotherapist. She lives in West London with her three daughters.

To buy the book:

The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene: Actress, Writer, and Rebel is available from Allison & Busby, Waterstones and Amazon.

*

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Roman Conquests: Britain by Simon Elliott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A must for anyone with interest in Roman Britain.

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

About the author:

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

*

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Six Misunderstandings About the Vikings by Grace Tierney

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Grace Tierney to the blog, with a fascinating article on what we know – and what we get wrong – about the Vikings. Over to Grace:

Horned helmet

The Vikings were the people of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden and from 750-1100 they changed everywhere they landed in their longships. They settled from America to Russia and travelled from the Arctic to Africa, not bad for a bunch of lawless raiders. By 1000 A.D. Old Norse (or the Danish tongue as it was called) was the most widely spoken language in Europe and modern English retains many of their words – several of which you use in almost every sentence. We have Vikings to thank for them, they, thing, get, take, time and sky, for example.

1. Vikings Word Horned Helmets, or Did They?

Every Viking you’ve ever seen in a cartoon had horns on his helmet but this stereotype is simply not true. Also, many of those warriors were female.

No horned helmets have been discovered in Viking digs. They wore simple skullcap helmets. How did this misconception arise?

In 1874, Richard Wagner composed “The Ring Cycle”. It’s a group of four operas which he loosely based on the Norse sagas and they’re still popular. The costume designer for the original production, Carl Emil Doepler, designed horned helmets for the Viking characters. His designs have influenced artists, filmmakers, and cartoonists ever since.

Vikings loved horns though. They were astute traders who sold spiral narwhal tusks as unicorn horns. Traders from the rest of Europe hadn’t seen the horned whale themselves as only the Vikings had reached the Arctic at that point. Medieval Europeans believed such a horn had magical properties, especially against poisons and melancholy. “Unicorn horns” were literally worth their weight in gold and the Vikings, who originally bought them from the Inuit and later hunted for them, were happy to bolster the stories.

In the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth I of England received a carved and jewel-encrusted narwhal tusk as a gift which would be worth about £5 million sterling today. It was claimed as being from a sea unicorn and was named the Horn of Windsor.

2. Columbus Discovered North America in 1492

Recent discoveries show the Vikings got there first.

The Viking Sagas tell us that a famous Viking explorer called Leif Erickson sailed to a land west of Greenland (settled by the Vikings) and created a colony called Vinland around the year 1000, almost five centuries before Columbus reached the New World. Historians believe Vinland was in modern-day Canada in the Newfoundland, Gulf of St. Lawrence, and New Brunswick areas. It wasn’t a single location, but a series of settlements along the same coast, many of which had wild grapevines, hence the name.

In 1960 this idea moved from historical theory to reality with the excavation of L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland. The area didn’t have vines, but definitely showed the idea of a Vinland Viking colony was feasible and gave us clear proof that Vikings landed in North America.

The site was explored during the 1960s and 1970s and carbon-dating of timbers confirmed the date (990-1050) of what appears to be a Norse base probably used for timber gathering (wood was in very short supply in Greenland despite the name) and ship repair. Some items founds in the camp came from other areas of North America and show the Vikings had landed there too. Significant levels of Viking artefacts have also been found on Baffin Island and Labrador, Canada.

3. Vikings Traded on the Silk Roads

Vikings were skilled traders. Their trade network, including centres at Hedeby, Birka, and Kiev, helped the European economy recover after the demise of the Roman Empire. They traded Arab coins, Chinese silks, and Indian gems. They used silver, and sometimes gold, as a weighed trading currency. Viking coins, for example, are a common find in digs in Dublin and elsewhere. At a time when trade via bartering was common, the Vikings introduced the idea of coins for use as payment to Northern Europe.

The Viking settlements around the Baltic Sea used that waterway for trade but they also traded along the Rivers Volga and Dnieper in Russia to connect with Constantinople, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and the Caspian Sea. Even the name Russia comes from Old Norse. The waterways linked them to the Silk Roads (a selection of trade routes connecting Europe to Asian silk supplies, only named silk roads quite recently).

4. Vikings Didn’t Leave a Lasting Legacy

This one can be disputed on many levels but I dare you to mention it to a Dane. King Gorm the Old was a Viking who ruled Denmark from 936 to his death in 958. Before King Gorm’s reign, according to the sagas, the land was ruled by the Norse Gods and semi-legendary figures like Ragnar Lothbrok and Ivarr the Boneless (whose stories are told in the TV series “Vikings”). Ragnar did exist, but the sagas about him may refer to more than one person.

Gorm is perhaps best known for fathering three sons – Toke, Knut, and Harald. His son Harald, who ruled after him as King Harald Bluetooth, moved Vikings toward Christianity.

Harald Bluetooth Gormsson was King of Denmark and parts of Norway from 958 until 987 when he was murdered on the orders of his son. He is most famous for bringing together various Danish tribes into a united nation with Norwegian neighbours. It was this ability to bring people together that inspired the naming of bluetooth technology in his honour when it was developed by the Swedish company Ericsson in 1994. The bluetooth symbol is a monogram of the two runes of King Harald’s initials.

Historians are not certain how King Harald got his nickname but most guess he had a prominent blackened tooth. The word used in the old texts to describe his tooth as blue has over-tones of black as well as blue.

King Gorm is officially claimed as an ancestor to the current Danish royal family. The Danish monarchy is one of the oldest in the world and the current queen can trace her line back more than a thousand years, so technically Denmark is still ruled by Vikings.

5. Romans Ruled Britain, the Vikings Just Raided

The Scottish will point at Hadrian’s Wall and proudly explain the Romans never subdued them. The Irish (part of Britain in Roman times) will explain the Romans didn’t bother to invade. It’s more accurate to say the Romans conquered part of Britain (England and Wales) and ruled there for nearly four centuries from 43 to 410 A.D.

Viking ship prow, Wexford

The Vikings settled larger swathes of the British Isles (during the Dane Law years) than the Romans, as they also settled Ireland and Scotland. They didn’t create roads and villas, but as discussed in my book “Words the Vikings Gave Us” they helped form the English language.

Perhaps the most startling example of prolonged Viking rule in the British Isles comes from the Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland.

The Orkney islands, held a central position in the Viking world for centuries. 60% of modern Orkney islanders are genetically linked to Norway but that’s not surprising as Vikings ruled Orkney and Shetland for nearly 700 years – three centuries longer than Roman Britain.

Vikings settled Orkney in the late 700s as a base to raid into Scotland, England, and Ireland. The islands were finally returned to Scotland in 1468 when they formed part of the dowry of the daughter of King Christian I of Denmark upon her marriage to King James III of Scotland.

The first written accounts of the Shetlands are in the Norse sagas. They were conquered by the Vikings around 800. Again being traded away for a princess’s dowry many centuries later. On Norwegian National Day the island is draped in Norwegian flags despite being an oil-rich part of Great Britain. If you visit on the last Tuesday of January to celebrate Up Helly Aa, watch them burn a longship in costume, led by a Jarl, and wonder if the Vikings ever left Britain.

6. Vikings were Lawless

Despite having a reputation for being lawless raiders, Vikings gave the English language words like bylaw, ombudsman, and law. In fact they also gave us parliaments. Iceland’s national assembly is called the Althing. Its the oldest parliament in the world, having been founded in 930, and it originally met in the Thing Fields outside Reykjavik. This is where the English language gets the word thing. The first English representative parliament was established in 1265, in case you’re wondering.

Give the Vikings a second look, they might surprise you. Just don’t wear a horned helmet.

Many thanks to Grace for such a wonderful post. Words the Vikings Gave Us is available now in ebook and paperback.

About the author:

Grace Tierney is a columnist, author, and blogger writing on Ireland’s coast. Since 2009, she explores unusual English words every Monday at http://wordfoolery.wordpress.com, and on Irish radio. Her latest book, “Words the Vikings Gave Us”, launches this month and is a light-hearted look at the horde of words the English dictionary stole from the Vikings. From akimbo to yule Old Norse merged with Anglo-Saxon to form the start of the English language. The book unearths the history of words like kiss, ombudsman, bluetooth, frisbee, thing, and hustings. More than 300 words and phrases are featured – drawn from ship life, Viking food, farming, Norse romance, myths, politics, modern Vikings, anatomy, place names, daily life, and of course how to fight like a Viking.

Her earlier books about words include “How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” (the extraordinary lives of those who gave their names as eponyms to English) and “Words The Sea Gave Us” (nautical nouns and phrases from fishermen, pirates, and explorers).

Her favourite Viking words are hug (so unexpected from a gang of plunderers) and attercop because it’s from her favourite childhood book.

Social Media Links

Blog: http://wordfoolery.wordpress.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Wordfoolery
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/gracetierneywriter
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/wordfoolery/

Buy Links

Paperback and ebook editions are available on Amazon, Kindle, Kobo with signed copies available directly. All the links are at https://wordfoolery.wordpress.com/my-books/

“Words The Sea Gave Us” and “How To Get Your Name In the Dictionary” out now on AmazonKindleApple BooksKobo and signed copies

*

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Grace Tierney

Guest Post: John, Lord Lovell and Holland, also called ‘the Great Lord Lovell’ by Monika E Simon

Portrait of John Lovell VII
(British Library, Harley 7026, fol. 4, verson © Bridgeman Images)

When John Lovell VII, Lord Lovell and Holland died on 10 September 1408 at the age of about 66 he had lived not only a long but also a very active and occasionally turbulent life.

John Lovell VII, who is generally referred to as the fifth Lord Lovell, came of age in 1363 and on 8 June the escheators of several counties were ordered to give him seisin of his lands. At this point, the fortunes of his family were at a distinctly low point. His great-grandfather John Lovell III had been the first Lovell to be summoned to parliament and once had been the marshal of Edward I’s army in Scotland. It was the death of his son, John Lovell IV, at the battle of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314, only four years after his father died, that started the long time of decline. First came the long minority of his posthumous son John Lovell V. John Lovell V died at the young age of 33 on 3 November 1347. Another long period of guardianship followed as his eldest son, John Lovell VI was only six years old when his father died. Isabel, the wife of John Lovell V, died two years after her husband in 1449 only a year after the death of Joan de Ros, the grandmother of John Lovell V. This meant that all the Lovell estates were in the hands of guardians. The long periods of guardianship must have surely have a detrimental effect on the profitability of the Lovell estates. Additionally, the lands were also devastated by the Plague. In Titchmarsh, for example, only four of the eight tenants survived the Plague. John Lovell VI died a minor on 12 July 1361 and his younger brother, John Lovell VII, who was also underage, inherited his lands.

Though John Lovell VII was able to look back to a long line of distinguished ancestors, when he was declared of age in 1463, for thirty-nine years of the previous 49 years, the head of the Lovell family had been a minor. His father had never been summoned to parliament, nor had, needless to say, his elder brother. John Lovell VII certainly could not rely on family influence to make his way to promotion and it was even uncertain whether he would receive an individual summons as his great-grandfather and grandfather had done.

The coats of arms: Lovell (left), Burnell (top), and Holland (bottom). (© Gill Smith)

Fortunately John Lovell VII was an ambitious young man, who would prove himself to be an able military commander and administrator. He was also, as far as we can tell, able to make fast friends and allies. Last but not least, he was also lucky.

He first appears in records serving on several military campaigns including in Brittany and was in the company of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, when he was travelling to Milan to marry Violante Visconti. It was most likely in this early period of his life that he went on crusade to Prussia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Though we do not know exactly when he married Maud Holland, the granddaughter and heiress of Robert Holland, but it was probably in 1371, when Maud was about 15. As an heiress of her grandfather large estates, this was an exceptionally good match for a young man with few connections. Interestingly, this marriage not only approximately doubled the lands John Lovell was holding, it also created a link, if only a tenuous one to the royal family. Maud Holland’s grandfather Robert Holland was the older brother of Thomas Holland, who in turn was the husband of Joan of Kent. Maud Holland’s father Robert, who had predeceased his father, therefore had been the cousin of Thomas, John, Maud, and Joan Holland, the half-siblings of Richard II.

Thanks to his marriage to Maud Holland, John Lovell VII held both the Lovell and the Holland barony. John Lovell certainly seems to have appreciated the significance of this marriage: he was the first noblemen who used a double title, calling himself Lord Lovell and Lord Holland. He also combined the Lovell coat of arms with that of the Holland. On their seals, John Lovell VII, his wife Maud Holland, and their sons John Lovell VIII and Robert Holland showed the quartered Lovell and Holland coat of arms. The design can also be found in the cloister of Canterbury Cathedral to the present day.

It is perhaps no accident that the first parliament John Lovell VII was summoned to was the first parliament to be held after his wife’s grandfather had died and he had taken control of his wife’s inheritance. Significant though this boost to his wealth no doubt was, John Lovell VII had also demonstrated his willingness and ability to serve in the military in the years since he came of age. His period as a crusader certainly must have added to his fame as well. The fact that his ancestors had already received individual summonses alone may not have been enough to ensure his inclusion in the House of Lords, but a combination of all these factors made certain of it.

Over the following 33 years John Lovell VII served in a variety of functions, both in military service and increasingly also in the royal administration. Like all noblemen he was appointed to commissions in the areas where his estates were concentrated. He was also placed on commissions that were appointed to deal with more general problems. In 1381, in the aftermath of the Peasants’ Revolt, John Lovell served on a commission to deal with crimes committed during the uprising. John Lovell must have got to know several of his fellow commissioners quite well, as he met them frequently both in the localities and at court. Whether this acquaintances also became his friends is difficult to impossible to say.

In 1385, the war between England and Scotland broke erupted again, and John Lovell VII joined the exceptionally large army that Richard II led north. It was during this campaign that John Lovell started a dispute with Thomas, Lord Morley about the right to bear the arms argent, a lion rampant sable, crowned and armed or. Disputes about who was the rightful owner of a particular coat of arms were quite common in this period. However, only in three of these cases substantial records of the proceedings have survived to this day. One is the Lovell-Morley dispute, the other two are the contemporary controversy between Richard Scrope and Robert Grosvenor, and the slightly later case of Reginald, Lord Grey of Ruthin and Sir Edward Hastings. The Lovell-Morley dispute is an interesting case, as the coat of arms that John Lovell claimed were not in fact the Lovell coat of arms (barry nebuly or and gules). The arms John Lovell claimed were those that his (half-)uncle Nicholas Burnell had fought over with the grandfather of Thomas Morley, Robert Morley, during the Crécy-Calais campaign almost forty years earlier. A considerable part of the testimony collected in the records of the Morley-Lovell dispute is therefore about the earlier proceedings.

Old Wardour Castle (author)

The question that this case raises is of course why John Lovell VII claimed to be the rightful owner of the Burnell coat of arms. The most likely explanation is that he used the claim to the Burnell coat of arms to also stake his claim on the Burnell barony. His grandmother Maud Burnell had settled most of these estates on her sons from her second marriage with John Haudlo. By claiming the Burnell coat of arms, he showed he considered himself the rightful heir of the Burnell barony.

Unfortunately, the outcome of this case cannot be found in the records of the court case. Later depictions of the coat of arms used by Hugh Burnell, John Lovell VII (half-)cousin, shows them differenced with a blue border. John Lovell VII himself continued to use the quartered Lovell and Holland arms as before.

In the course of the 1380s John Lovell VII became a well-placed courtier and administrator. He was made a king’s knight and banneret of the royal household. He also received rewards for his service. When the disagreements between Richard II and several high-ranking members of the nobility worsened at the end of the decade, John Lovell was at first trusted by both sides of the conflict and was employed as an intermediary. But by the time of the Merciless Parliament, he had lost the trust of the king’s critics. He was expelled from court alongside 14 other men and women during the Merciless Parliament and had to swear not to return. Though the exact charges against the men and women thus removed from court are not known, they were considered to have had only undue influence over the king. John Lovell VII exile from court was short as he had returned by the following year. It is possible that his friendship to Bishop Thomas Arundel, the brother of one Richard II’s fiercest critics, eased his way back.

Far from discourage John Lovell VII became even more influential at court during the following decade. He became a member of the king’s council and the number of royal charters he witnessed increased. In 1395, Richard II retained him for life.

It was in 1393, John Lovell VII received a licence to crenellate his manor in Wardour (Wiltshire). The castle he built, now Old Wardour Castle, is of an unusual hexagonal design and despite its appearance are that of a fortress, it was mainly built for comfort and entertainment. Though the building was severely damaged during the Civil War, the ruins are still impressive and give an impression on the amount of money, John Lovell spent on its building.

John Lovell accompanied Richard II on both his expeditions to Ireland. When Richard’s cousin Henry of Bolingbroke invaded England while Richard was in Ireland in 1399, John Lovell stayed with the king even after he had sent most of the army back to England. By the time Richard, his remaining troops and household finally sailed for Wales, it was already too late.

Unfortunately, what exactly happened next cannot be pieced together with certainty as the chronicles describing the events are too vague. We know that soon after landing in Wales, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, Edward, Duke of Aumale, John Stanley, controller of the royal household and John Lovell VII left Richard II and met up with Henry of Bolingbroke, either in Shrewsbury or Chester. Here they ‘put themselves at his mercy’. Considering that all four men had been favoured and promoted by Richard II, this looks like a case of blatant ungratefulness. However, at this time everybody vividly remembered what had happened during the last crisis of Richard II’s reign: all of his supporters that had not managed to escape abroad or were clergymen had been executed. It seems likely that John Lovell and the others tried to escape a similar fate.

Whatever his personal feelings were, John Lovell VII quickly made his peace with the new government. He did not participate in the Epiphany Rising that tried to place Richard II on the throne again and was quickly back in his old position at court. That he had gained the

trust of Henry IV was soon obvious, as John Lovell was one of the four men who were considered to become the tutor of Henry, Prince of Wales. Though he was not appointed in the end, he retained his place on the council. In February 1405 his long service to the Crown was rewarded when he was made Knight of the Garter. Though he was getting on in years, he still participated in the campaign in Wales in the same year. He died three years later on 10 September 1408.

The writs to hold the inquisitions post mortem about the estates he held were sent out to the various counties from Westminster a day later, on 11 September. The only exception is the writ to the escheator of Rutland, which was only written on 16 February 1409, presumably because it had been unknown John Lovell held land there.

The Lovell coat of arms (centre) in the cloister of Canterbury Cathedral (author)

It has been argued, though unfortunately I cannot remember where, that this quick response to his death meant that he had been ill for some time and his death was expected. The one record that specifies where John Lovell died, the inquisition taken in Lincoln on 25 September, state that he died at Wardour Castle in Wiltshire. I have to say that I have serious doubts that it was physically possible for the news of his death to travel the distance of over 100 miles from Wardour to Westminster in a single day. Even if John Lovell’s death had been expected it would still be necessary for someone to inform the administration that he had died so that the inquisitions post mortem could be sent out. It seems more likely to me that the information taken by the escheator in Lincoln was faulty, perhaps it was assumed that John Lovell would have been in Wardour Castle. The quickness with which the writs were issued, suggests to me that John Lovell died in London, probably at Lovell’s Inn in Paternoster Row.

John Lovell VII was buried in the church of the Hospital of St James and St John near Brackley. The church had had no previous connection to the Lovell family, but it was the burial place of Robert Holland, the grandfather of John Lovell’s wife Maud, and her great-grandfather, another Robert. This decision was another indication of how important his marriage was for John Lovell.

John Lovell VII had taken the fortunes of the Lovell family from a rather low point to a new height. He achieved this by luck, through his marriage to the heiress Maud Holland, dedicated service in war and peace, and through his skill to survive turbulent times like the Merciless Parliament or the usurpation of Henry IV. He could be accused of being a ruthless opportunist, but, to quote Mark Ormrod (in his masterful biography of Edward III): ‘the men who survived and thrived in the prince’s service, were precisely those who had the wit and judgement to adjust to the dramatic shifts in political fortunes.’ Though this refers to the last years of the reign of Edward II it also holds true for the turbulent times John Lovell VII lived through.

About the Author:

Monika E. Simon studied Medieval History, Ancient History, and English Linguistics and Middle English Literature at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, from which she received an MA. She wrote her DPhil thesis about the Lovells of Titchmarsh at the University of York. She lives and works in Munich.

Links:
https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/From-Robber-Barons-to-Courtiers-Hardback/p/19045
https://www.facebook.com/MoniESim
http://www.monikasimon.eu/lovell.html

*

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Monika E Simon

Book Corner: A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick

England, 1238

Raised at the court of King Henry III as a chamber lady to the queen, young Joanna of Swanscombe’s life changes forever when she comes into an inheritance far above all expectations, including her own.

Now a wealthy heiress, Joanna’s arranged marriage to the King’s charming, tournament-loving half-brother William de Valence immediately stokes the flames of political unrest as more established courtiers object to the privileges bestowed on newcomers.

As Joanna and William strive to build a life together, England descends into a bitter civil war. In mortal danger, William is forced to run for his life, and Joanna is left with only her wit and courage to outfox their enemies and prevent them from destroying her husband, her family, and their fortunes.

What a marvellous adventure!

A Marriage of Lions is another fabulous, character-driven historical novel from Elizabeth Chadwick. An enjoyable and entertaining read, it will take you through the full range of emotions; it will have you in tears in one moment and shouting at the characters in the book the next. Beautifully written, it is a wonderful reading experience.

As I have come to expect with Elizabeth Chadwick, A Marriage of Lions transports you back through the centuries, so expertly that you can almost imagine yourself in the midst of Henry III’s court and the battle of wills between Henry and Simon de Montfort. In a change of focus to most books of the time, Elizabeth foregoes telling de Montfort’s story to concentrate on the remarkable relationship of William de Valence and his wife, Joanna de Munchesny, granddaughter of the great William Marshal.

Having just written a biography of the Warenne family, who were the earls of Surrey from the time of the Norman Conquest to the death of the 7th and last earl in 1347, I took particular interest in Elizabeth’s portrayal of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, who was brother-in-law to both King Henry III and William de Valence. He was also a cousin to William’s wife, Joanna, through their Marshal mothers. And I have to say, I think Elizabeth got John spot on. He was a loyal, noble character with his friends and family – a trait that ran through his family. Though he could be ruthless to his enemies and was not a benevolent lord to his tenants. 

A Marriage of Lions is not just a fascinating read, it is an experience not to be missed, shining a light on the 13th century, on not only the complex political manoeuvring, but also on the family dynamics that coloured the politics of all those involved, from inheritance disputes to political reform and financial management. Elizabeth manages to weave all these different threads into one fabulous, addictive story.

Elizabeth Chadwick seamlessly combines the history with the fiction.

‘Did you know my mother well?’ Joanna ventured, hoping for crumbs.

Her aunt held out her empty cup to a passing servant to be refilled. ‘I was married with a child before she was born, but I saw her sometimes and I grew to know her better when our father was dying. We sang to him, your mother and me. She was young and shy, but he took great delight in it and it was a moment of light and blessing amid his pain.’ a shadow crossed her face. ‘Our mother died less than a year later and I cared for your mother until she came to be wed. That is why I say you are like her for I knew her well when she was your age. I miss her. I miss all of my sisters. I am the last one. None have made old bones.’

‘I am sorry, madam,’ Joanna said. Her aunt Isabelle, Mahelt’s sister, had died bearing the child she had been carrying at the Queen’s churching – a stillborn son. Her husband, the King’s brother, Richard, had since departed on crusade with Simon de Montfort who was making good use of his exile. ‘I am sorry for the loss of your husband too.’

‘Him I do not miss,’ her aunt said brusquely. ‘Marriage is a bargain and you make the best of your circumstances. If you are fortunate you will bear sons and daughters to nurture and shape, who will be your consolation and make you proud.’

She beckoned to a junior squire who had been attending on the newly knighted Peter of Savoy.

The boy joined them and bowed. Joanna eyed him curiously. He had glossy crow’s wing hair and dark-brown eyes set under slanted brows. He was of about her own age and she recognised his guarded expression from her own repertoire. Her aunt introduced him as her son, John de Warenne, who was entering the household of the newly knighted Peter of Savoy as his squire and ward, where he would be trained to knighthood.

The boy bowed again and gave Joanna an evaluating, slightly wary look. She could almost see prickles bristling on him like a defensive hedgehog. She understood his tension for she had reacted in the same way when she first arrived at court.

‘I will be glad to have another cousin to talk to,’ she said.

Elizabeth Chadwick demonstrates a deep understanding of the politics and nuances of the royal court of Henry III, showing how factionalism and court favourites led to the Second Barons’ War and how it was Henry’s Lusignan siblings suffered from the fallout of Henry’s mounting disagreements with Simon de Montfort. A Marriage of Lions also shows readers how women, despite their inability to take to the field of battle, could use their own skills and abilities to not only protect their family, but also further the interests of their husbands and children. Through Joanna de Munchesny, Elizabeth Chadwick emphasises that medieval women were no more meek and defenceless in the 13th century than they are today. Joanna was intelligent and resourceful – and a force to be reckoned with! She is a character than any reader can admire and get behind.

I have written about many of the historical personages in A Marriage of Lions, either as research subjects or peripheral subjects of my books and I found myself nodding along to Elizabeth Chadwick’s own assessments of these characters, from Simon de Montfort to John de Warenne, from Matilda Marshal to de Montfort’s wife, Eleanor of England – I think Elizabeth and I must read many of the same books for research. This also serves to demonstrate how much knowledge and research the author has accumulated over the years, and how deeply she comes to understand her characters. While this isn’t essential in a historical fiction book, it does help to add authenticity to a novel, and draws the reader in deeper, so that they become totally immersed in the story and its characters.

While I have enjoyed many an Elizabeth Chadwick novel, A Marriage of Lions stands on a level with The Greatest Knight as one of her very best. If you are an Elizabeth Chadwick fan, this is a must read. If you have never read Elizabeth, then I suggest you start with this one – you will definitely want to read the rest afterwards. It is one of the best historical fiction novels that I have read this year. I did not want it to finish and yet – at the same time – could not wait to get to the end!

Elizabeth Chadwick has a knack of getting into the heads and hearts of her characters, so that they jump off the page and insinuate themselves into the thought of the reader. The book is impossible to put down – until the very last page. And finishing the book – especially this book – leaves the reader bereft.

To buy the book: Amazon

About the author:

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick lives in a cottage in the Vale of Belvoir in Nottinghamshire with her husband and their 3 dogs. Her first novel, The Wild Hunt, won a Betty Trask Award and To Defy a King won the RNA’s 2011 Historical Novel Prize. She was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Award in 1998 for The Champion, in 2001 for Lords of the White Castle, in 2002 for The Winter Mantle and in 2003 for The Falcons of Montabard. Her sixteenth novel, The Scarlet Lion, was nominated by Richard Lee, founder of the Historical Novel Society, as one of the top ten historical novels of the last decade. She often lectures at conferences and historical venues, has been consulted for television documentaries and is a member of the Royal Historical Society.

For more details on Elizabeth Chadwick and her books, visit http://www.elizabethchadwick.com, follow her on Twitter, read her blogs or chat to her on Facebook.

*

My Books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings by Sarah Bryson

Four generations of Brandon men lived and served six English kings, the most famous being Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, best friend and brother-in-law to King Henry VIII. Yet his family had a long history tied closely to the kings of the Wars of the Roses back to Henry VI. Charles Brandon’s father, Sir William Brandon, supported Henry Tudor’s claim on the throne and became his standard bearer, dying at the Battle of Bosworth. Charles’s uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon, was Henry VII’s Master of the Horse, one of the three highest positions within the court. Charles’s grandfather had ties with Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. These men held important offices, made great sacrifices, walked the fine line between being loyal courtiers and traitors, and even gave their lives, all in the name of loyalty to the king they served. No more shall the Brandon name be an obscure reference in archives. It is time for them to emerge from the shadows of history.

I have been looking forward to reading The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings by Sarah Bryson ever since I heard that Sarah was working on it. I loved her first book, La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters, and was hoping this one would be as good. I was wrong!

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is even better. In telling the story of Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, and Charles’ forebears, Sarah Bryson writes with a passion that draws the reader in from the very first pages. Sarah Bryson starts the story at the beginning, with the first known head of the Brandon family, Sir William Brandon, born in around 1425. The Brandons rose to prominence during the unsettled times of the Wars of the Roses, their fortunes turning with the tug-of-war between York and Lancaster. Sir William Brandon’s son – also William – was killed at the Battle of Bosworth while protecting the future king, Henry VII. It was this William whose son, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, took the family to its greatest heights, going so far to marry Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France and King Henry VIII’s beloved baby sister.

While the rest of the family had a no-less dramatic story, it is Charles Brandon’s which catches the attention. Brandon pursued a thriving career at court, as one of Henry VIII’s closest friends and jousting partners, while at the same time he chased after wealth and land through several scandalous marriages and betrothals. His marriage to Mary Tudor, however, was the icing on the cake; it brought him a beautiful bride, a love story that would last the ages, and the title of Duke of Suffolk as the brother-in-law to the king. It also brought him more trouble than even he could have imagined; whilst Brandon did not lose his head, he got heavily in debt trying to placate the king for his presumption in marrying the king’s sister.

Charles Brandon’s life was also tinged with family scandal, with one daughter being publicly shamed for her extramarital affair, and tragedy; two of his sons died during the duke’s lifetime, with two mores, his sons by Katherine Willoughby, dying within half an hour of each other before either reached their majority. It was Charles Brandon’s granddaughter by Mary Tudor, the tragic Lady Jane Grey, who became Queen of England for Nine Days. The Brandon story is one of the highs and lows of ambition and family; the veritable wheel of fortune that was so popular in medieval culture.

Lacking experience in military action, Henry Tudor appointed the veteran Earl of Oxford to command his troops and to lead the vanguard. Sir Gilbert Talbot took the right wing and was ordered to defend the archers and keep an eye on the battle line, while John Savage was to lead the left wing. Henry Tudor was positioned to the rear of the troops with several French mercenaries whom he had brought with him from France. Standing close to Henry was Sir William Brandon II.

Brandon had been appointed Henry’s standard-bearer. It is unclear exactly why Brandon was chosen to carry one of Henry Tudor’s standards; perhaps it was due to his unfaltering loyalty to the man he hoped would become king, or perhaps it was down to his physical toughness. We have no description of what Sir William Brandon II looked like, but his son Charles grew up to be tall, handsome, well built and extremely suited to physical pastimes such as hunting and jousting – all qualities that he may have inherited from his father.

Facing them, on King Richard’s side was John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, with Sir Robert Brackenbury leading the Yorkist vanguard. Next came a force commanded by Richard III and comprised of his bodyguard and others. In the rear was the Earl of Northumberland and his men.

When the battle cry went up, arrows flew and the roar of Richard III’s artillery filled the air. Oxford’s men clashed with the Duke of Norfolk’s, the two being old foes. Both sides paused to reorientate themselves. Oxford formed his men into a wedge and charged forward. At this second charge, Henry’s French troops attacked Norfolk’s vanguard. Soon Norfolk’s men were in trouble. Many were killed, including the duke. Others fled while some defected to fight on Henry Tudor’s side.

Northumberland and his men did not move into the fight, and it is believed that at some point the earl decided to leave the battle without throwing any of his men into the fray. Amid this chaos, some of Richard III’s supporters begged him to flee, but he declared that he would live or die as a king. Oxford’s men had pushed forward, leaving a gap, and Richard III now saw an opportunity to get to Henry Tudor directly. He charged with his men, aiming to strike Henry down.

As he advanced, Richard III’s lance pierced through Henry’s standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon II, and broke in half. History records that William Brandon ‘hevyd on high [the Tudor standard] and vamisyd it, tyll with deathe’s dent he was tryken downe.’ What was racing through Sir William’s mind in those last few moments as Richard III and his men came thundering towards him? He had given up his property, his land, his wealth, everything he had to support Henry Tudor. He had bid his wife and infant son farewell to follow Henry to England in the hopes of a better life, not just for himself or his family but for England. It was his sworn duty to protect Henry Tudor with his life, and as Richard III’s lance pierced his armour and threw him from his horse, he gave up his life to save the man he believed to be the rightful king of England. Sir William Brandon II had been loyal to his last breath.

In The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings, Sarah Bryson puts flesh on the bones of history; she brings the family, their actions, hopes and dreams, back to life. Concentrating on the human side of their story, Sarah Bryson expertly recreates the world in which the Brandon men and their families lived, from the violence, suspicion and betrayal that personified the Wars of the Roses, to the glamour, intrigue and fear of the court of Henry VIII. Neither does she shy away from the more questionable actions of the family, such as Charles Brandon’s dislike of Anne Boleyn and complicity in her downfall. Sarah Bryson examines the evidence and arguments with a neutral, if passionate, eye, giving us a wonderful portrait of Charles Brandon as a fallible human being whose ambition sometimes gets in the way of his own success. However, and above all, Charles Brandon knew where his loyalty – and his prospects – lie; with the king. He did everything to ensure that his relationship with Henry VIII, and therefore his family’s security, remained paramount in his career.

I was surprised to see that the Brandon story overlaps a little with my own research on the Warennes. Two hundred years after the demise of John de Warenne, the 7th and last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, it seems that some of the Warenne lands, notably Bromfield and Yale in Wales, found themselves in the hands of Charles Brandon – a little serendipity there.

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is a beautifully written non-fiction biography of a family that most people have heard of, but of which few know the particulars. Meticulously researched, with substantial notes and an excellent bibliography, it tells the story of the Brandon family and their rise to heights that none of them could have predicted in their wildest dreams. It is a story of war and conflict, love and feuds, with family ambition tempered by family tragedy. It is, above all, a story of service to the crown.

Sarah Bryson is a wonderful writer of non-fiction, whose love of the Brandons’ story comes through on every page, drawing the reader in; engaging, entertaining and enlightening you on every page. It is, in short, a thoroughly enjoyable investigation into the rise of one of the greatest families of the Tudor court, from the origins in later medieval England and the discord of the Wars of the Roses; from humble Suffolk landowners, to the great Duke of Suffolk who owned most of Lincolnshire. The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is definitely worth reading!

To buy the book:

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon

About the author:

Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She has run a website dedicated to Tudor history for many years and has written for various websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and “QueenAnneBoleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade. She is the author of books on Mary Boleyn, Charles Brandon and La Reine Blanche. She lives in Australia. –This text refers to the hardcover edition.

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

*

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly