Book Corner: Widows of the Ice by Anne Fletcher

As Captain Scott lay freezing and starving to death on his return journey from the South Pole, he wrote with a stub of pencil his final words: ‘For God’s sake look after our people.’ Uppermost in his mind were the three women who would now be widows: Kathleen, his own bohemian artist wife; Oriana, the devout wife of the expedition’s chief scientist, Ted Wilson; and Lois, the Welsh working-class wife of Petty Officer Edgar Evans.

When the news came that the men were dead, they became heroes, their story filling column inches in newspapers across the world. Their widows were thrust into the limelight, forced to grieve in public view, keeping a stiff upper lip while the world praised their husbands’ sacrifice. These three women had little in common except that their husbands had died together, but this shared experience was to shape the rest of their lives.

Each experienced their loss differently, their treatment by the press and the public influenced by their class and contemporary notions of both manliness and womanly behaviour. Each had to rebuild their life, fiercely and loyally defending their husbands’ legacies and protecting their fatherless children in the face of financial hardship, public criticism and intense press scrutiny. Widows of the Ice is not the story of famous women but of forgotten wives, whose love and support helped to shape one of the most iconic moments in British history. They have drifted to the outer edges of the Antarctic narrative, and bringing them back gives a new perspective to a story we thought we already knew. It is a story of imperialistic dreams, misogyny and classism, but also of enormous courage, high ideals, duty – and, above all, love.

A few years ago, I went to a talk at the Wakefield Archives, given by Anne Fletcher, about her book, From the Mill to Monte Carlo. As we were chatting afterwards, she told me a bit about her next project, writing about the wives of Scott’s doomed polar exhibition. I remember thinking at the time, ‘I didn’t even know they had wives’, and told Anne I thought it would be a fascinating project. How right I was!

Widows of the Ice tells the story of three remarkable and very different women, who had to stay at home and wait for news for months on end. They came from very different backgrounds and social classes, and their experiences, both in how they were treated and how their husbands were remembered, reflected that. But there was one thing they all had in common; they had lost their husbands in the race to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Kathleen Scott, Lois Evans and Oriana (Ory) Wilson deserve to remembered just as much as their husbands, Robert Falcon Scott, Edgar Evans and Edward (Ted) Wilson. They were the faces the public saw as news of their husband’s tragic deaths unfolded. They had to work through their grief under the gaze of the cameras, with journalists intruding on every aspect of their lives, as people tried to make sense of what had happened. Through their own letters, in their own words, and the national papers, Anne Fletcher has managed to rebuild their stories, to give the reader unparalleled insight into the lives and experiences of these three very different women.

For Kathleen and Ory, the final goodbyes were yet to come. As officers’ wives, they had the option to go to New Zealand with the expedition and both were determined to travel as far as they possibly could. Ory packed up and prepared to accompany Ted, but Kathleen’s position was a little different. She was the mother of a very young child. Sailing with Con [Robert Falcon Scott] would mean leaving nine-month-old Peter for four months. But she felt that she should; she needed to go with Con.

“… looking back over my life I can think of nothing that hurt more hideously than unlocking the sturdy fingers that clung round mine as I left the laughing, tawny-haired baby Hercules … (but) I had chosen, and joy never left me for long. In agonies and ecstasies of reciprocated love I followed my husband.”

Peter was left in the care of his grandmother Hannah Scott at her home in Henley, where three of Con’s sisters lived too. Rose, whose husband had died in 196, leaving her almost penniless, had moved into her mother’s home with her ten-year-old daughter Erica. Katherine had married Harry Lurgar Brownlow, a surgeon, in 1901 and lived in St Andrew’s Road. Grace, the only one of Con’s sisters not to marry, had also set up home in Henley. Peter would have the love and attention of his grandmother, aunts and cousins while his mother was away – but he would never see his father again.

As Ted sailed away from Cardiff’s harbour on board Terra Nova, Ory travelled to Southampton to board the ship that would reunite her with her husband on the other side of the world. She was to travel in greater comfort than he because RSS Saxon was a passenger liner, part of a fleet run by the Union Castle Line, which operated between Europe and South Africa. Ory was not the only Terra Nova wife aboard. Hilda Evans’s husband Teddy was commanding Terra Nova as it sailed to South Africa so she, like Ory, would see her husband again there. Kathleen was on board too, but she was not alone. Con had stayed behind to try to raise more of the funds that the expedition needed, and so she now shared a cabin with him, enjoying the last few precious weeks together.

Widows of the Ice was an emotional rollercoaster. It is not often that I find myself crying at a non-fiction book, but Widows of the Ice did it to me more than once. It is a heroic story, not just of the doomed polar explorers, but of their stalwart wives. In an age of instant communication and 24-hour news channels, it is hard to imagine the long months of waiting for news, hoping your husbands are alive, but knowing that they could have perished long ago. 

It is hard to imagine the thoughts that must have gone through these women’s minds, knowing that they had been widows for a year, all the time looking forward to a reunion that would never happen. The letters they wrote in this time are heart breaking, so full of a hope that you know is going to be dashed in the cruellest of ways. And then having to live out the grief in the glare of the public eye!

Widows of the Ice is a true story, beautifully told with sympathy and empathy, and always with an eye to the tragedy you are watching unfold. These women were so much more than wives and widows – their strength, their passion and their sacrifices are demonstrated on every page.

My congratulations to Anne Fletcher for writing such a unique, illuminating and heart wrenching book, for bringing the stories of these incredible women to life. If there is only one non-fiction book you read this year, read Widows of the Ice, you won’t regret it.

To buy the book:

Widows of the Ice is now available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK.

About the author:

Anne Fletcher is an historian and writer. She has a successful career in heritage and has worked at some of the most exciting historic sites in the country including Hampton Court Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Bletchley Park and Tower Bridge. She is the great-great-great niece of Joseph Hobson Jagger, ‘the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo’ and he is the subject of her book ‘From the Mill to Monte Carlo’ published by Amberley Publishing 2018. Her search for his story started with only a photograph, a newspaper article and the lyrics of the famous song. The story was featured in national newspapers.

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My Books

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

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Researching the Life of Sir Walter Raleigh by Tony Riches

It is a pleasure to welcome author Tony Riches to History…the Interesting Bits today. Tony is a fabulous storyteller who has just released the final book in his Tudor Adventurers series.

We have had Sir Francis Drake, the Earl of Essex and now we have the remarkable story of Sir Walter Raleigh. Tony is here to tell us a little bit about his research in Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer.

Researching the life of Sir Walter Raleigh

Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has been called the last true Elizabethan.

My books aim to be as factually accurate as possible, with the creative use of fiction reserved for breathing life into my characters, and adding a sense of the places where they lived. I like to spend the summer months visiting actual locations and tracking down primary sources. In the research for my new book, Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer, I also studied Raleigh’s surviving letters and papers.

Public Domain letter from Sir Walter Raleigh to Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Raleigh,
endorsed: “Sir W. Rawley to his wiefe.”

Raleigh was a prodigious letter writer, but his personal archive was scattered widely, with many of his papers thought to be lost. Fortunately, the late Tudor historians, Joyce Youings and Agnes Latham discovered over two hundred of Raleigh’s letters, and Agnes Latham also collected Raleigh’s poetry, adding her invaluable commentary.

As well as offering me an authentic sense of Raleigh’s ‘voice’, these letters were a great help in sorting out the often confusing timeline of events. I was of aware of Raleigh’s tendency to exaggerate, flatter and posture in his writing, but there is no better way to develop an understanding of his motives. Here is an example of a surviving letter from Raleigh to his wife, Bess, which shows how difficult they can be to transcribe.

The next main source of information on Raleigh’s life was the fascinating Folgerpedia resource, ‘The Elizabethan Court Day by Day,’ created by Marion E. Colthorpe. This searchable archive provided me with access to a wealth of invaluable details, and clues for deeper research. The archive began as an investigation into the people and places visited by Queen Elizabeth I on her ‘progresses’, and the entertainments presented before her. It gradually expanded to trace the whereabouts of the queen on every day throughout her long reign, what she was doing, often what she was saying, and who her companions were.

Raleigh’s cell in the Tower of London (author’s photo)

Finally, my travels have taken me to rural Devon and Dorset, and in Raleigh’s footsteps across the sea to Ireland, where I visited the city of Cork and the harbour of Youghal, where he was briefly Mayor and had a house named ‘Myrtle Grove. I also visited the Tower of London and the cell where Raleigh was imprisoned.

My research has revealed Sir Walter Raleigh’s strengths and weaknesses, as a courtier and failed politician, soldier and poet, a man ready to speak up for the poor and to honour his debts. My hope is that my new book, Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer, will help readers see beyond the myths and half-truths, and have a better understanding of the man who has been called the last true Elizabethan.

Reference:

‘The Elizabethan Court Day by Day,’ by Marion E. Colthorpe, is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license,m and can be found at https://folgerpedia.folger.edu/The_Elizabethan_Court_Day_by_Day

Book Links:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09Z98J183

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09Z98J183

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B09Z98J183

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B09Z98J183

About the author:

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of Tudor historical fiction. He lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the early Tudors. As well as his new Elizabethan series, Tony’s historical fiction novels include the best-selling Tudor trilogy and his Brandon trilogy, (about Charles Brandon and his wives). For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

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My Books

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Tony Riches

Guest Post: Playing the Lute by Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian and novelist Toni Mount to my blog, to talk about the latest instalment in her fabulous Seb Foxley mysteries, The Colour of Rubies. Which is released today. Toni is here to tell us all about her research into the lute. Over to Toni….

In my tenth and latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Rubies, the hero needs to get to know his fellow clerks in the King’s Scriptorium at Westminster Palace for one of them may be a murderer!

Queen Elizabeth I playing a lute, c.1580
A miniature by Nicholas Hilliard (c.1547 – 1619)
Trustee of the Will of the 8th Earl of Berkeley
Digital picture kindly supplied by Martin Shepherd

In the case of the Chief Clerk, Hal Sowbury, who plays the lute, Seb has his colleague give him a few basic beginner’s lessons on the instrument. Since I have no knowledge whatsoever of lutes, except that they’re stringed instruments something like a guitar, this aspect of the novel required some research. I discovered the most useful website was https://www.wikihow.com/Play-the-Lute because it comes with diagrams and written instructions. The YouTube videos were good but I couldn’t keep up, making notes, but they did show how the lute should be held correctly.

I learned the correct terminology: they’re not called ‘strings’, they’re ‘courses’ and come in pairs except for the single course at the bottom, known as the ‘chanterelle’, yes, just like the mushroom. Basic lutes have 6 or sometimes 8 courses but some can have quite a few more, may be up to 12. For Seb, I thought 6 was enough. The main body of the lute, the sound-box, is known as the ‘bowl’ and it should rest on your right thigh. The bowl has a central cut-out design, the ‘rose’, to let the sound out and this can be ornate and beautiful. The thin part is the ‘neck’ with frets for fingering, ending in the ‘peg-box’ with pegs to tune the courses.

This miniature of Queen Elizabeth I playing the lute is dated to exactly a century later than Seb’s lessons and, apparently, the sloping shoulders of the bowl and the long neck make this an English lute, not a Genoese instrument like Hal Sowbury’s which would have a more rounded bowl and shorter neck. There is much expert discussion about the lute in this image, whether there is French influence in the design and how accurate is the artist’s depiction of it. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth really could play the lute – and the virginals though, to her disgust, Mary, Queen of Scots, was said to be far more accomplished on this keyboard instrument – but it’s thought the processes and circumstances of the portrait make it unlikely that it was painted on an actual occasion of royal music-making. It’s more likely to be symbolic, suggesting the harmony of the English body politic [definitely a fiction in the 1580s] and a reference to the musical interests of the Carey family who commissioned it.

But for Seb’s lessons, like a modern guitarist, he has to learn the fingering of the basic chords with his left hand and how to play the courses with his right. Interestingly, one YouTube video stressed that the thumb must stroke downwards quite gently, brushing the courses, while the index finger plucks upwards. I hope that’s correct because that’s what Hal instructs Seb to do in his first attempt at making music on the lute.

The anatomy of a lute [https://sunnylazic.com/shawm/]

Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately for me with my meagre knowledge – Seb has the opportunity for only a couple of lessons with Hal before his employment in Westminster’s scriptorium comes to an end but, who knows, maybe one day he will have another chance to learn to play the lute. We are already familiar with Seb’s love of singing and choral talent, so he must have a musician’s ear and probably the gift of perfect pitch. With an artist’s dexterity, I’m sure his nimble fingers will soon master their positions on the frets and the brushing and plucking of the courses to make beautiful music.

So music gives a lighter side to the action in my new novel but if you want to join Seb, his family and friends on their exploits in medieval London and Westminster, stealing down dark alleyways, waiting nervously in opulent chambers and freezing their fingers off in the icy scriptorium where a murderer lurks, the spying and other dirty deeds aplenty, I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book: The Colour of Rubies, by Toni Mount, published 5th May 2022.

Follow the blog tour:

About the book:

Murder lurks at the heart of the royal court in the rabbit warren of the Palace of Westminster. The year is 1480. Treason is afoot amongst the squalid grandeur and opulent filth of this medieval world of contrasts. Even the Office of the King’s Secretary hides a dangerous secret.

Meeting with lords and lackeys, clerks, courtiers and the mighty King Edward himself, can Seb Foxley decipher the encoded messages and name the spy?

Will Seb be able to prevent the murder of the most important heir in England?

All will be revealed as we join Seb Foxley and his abrasive brother Jude in the latest intriguing adventure amid the sordid shadows of fifteenth-century London.

Praise for Toni Mount’s The Colour of Rubies

Tony Riches, author of The Tudor Trilogy “An evocative masterclass in storytelling.” Carol McGrath, author of the She-wolves trilogy “I was utterly transported – It’s superb”. “What a plot. What characters. Perfect pitch”.

“I loved the relationship between Seb and Jude”.

“The Colour of Rubies is a totally immersive experience as richly stitched as one of King Edward IV’s gorgeous tapestries. This cleverly plotted novel with its twists and turns will keep a reader page turning late into the night until the book’s final scenes. Sebastian and Jude are wonderfully realised personalities with similar emotions, concerns, fears and hopes we have have today. Their medieval London felt real and intriguing to me with unexpected dangers lurking in alleyways. I felt as if I was walking in Sebastian’s footsteps. With this thrilling novel Toni Mount has shown herself a master of medieval suspense. More please”.

Praise for Toni Mount’s Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Series

Tracy Borman, historian and broadcaster “An atmospheric and compelling thriller that takes the reader to the dark heart of medieval London.”

Matthew Lewis author of Richard III Loyalty Binds Me “Toni Mount continues to delight with the superbly crafted Seb Foxley mysteries. Impeccable research and sculpted characters combine with an engaging narrative to create another irresistible story. This series goes from strength to strength, and I’m already looking forward to the next instalment”

J.P. Reedman, author of the I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET series: “Sebastian Foxley is the Cadfael of the 15th century”.

“The Sebastian Foxley Medieval Mystery Series by Toni Mount is not only filled by dastardly murders and gripping intrigue but contains many well-researched historical facts from the Wars of the Roses era”

Samantha Willcoxson, author & historian “Toni Mount is simply brilliant”.

“If you love CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake (and I do) you will love Toni’s Sebastian Foxley”.

“From learning how a 15th century scrivener created illuminated manuscripts to venturing within the dank tunnels beneath the Tower of London, Toni is an artist who completely immerses the reader in another time and place and always leaves one eager for the next book.”

Stephanie Churchill, author of historical fiction and epic fantasy “Leave it to Seb to unravel another international spiderweb of intrigue, betrayal, murder, and deceit. Our flawed, loveable hero has done it again. And at the end of it all, his future is looking brighter than ever. I cannot wait to find out what happens to him next!”

Sharon Bennet Connolly, author and medieval historian “A beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.”

Rosalie Gilbert, medieval historian and author “The author’s knowledge of medieval history shines through the narrative in the small details which enhance the story woven into it. The details about the inside workings of medieval trade practices lent themselves perfectly for a background to murder and deceit”.

“Recommended for lovers of historic fiction.”

Joanne R Larner author of Richard Liveth Yet trilogy: “I always look forward to a new ‘Colour of…’ book. I can’t wait to see what escapades Seb Foxley and his brother, Jude, get up to next. They, and all the characters, are endearing and colourful. The books are always well written, conjuring 15th century London into the reader’s mind and the plots are excellent!’

Mel Starr bestselling author of the Hugh de Singleton chronicles: “If I believed in reincarnation I would be willing to think that Toni Mount lived a previous life in 15th century London. The scents, the sights, the tastes of the late Middle Ages are superbly rendered.”

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About the Author:

Toni Mount is the author of several successful non-fiction books including How to Survive in Medieval England and the number one best-seller, Everyday Life in Medieval England. Her speciality is the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages and her enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her medieval mysteries. Her main character, Sebastian Foxley is a humble but talented medieval artist and was created as a project as part of her university diploma in creative writing. Toni earned her history BA from The Open University and her Master’s Degree from the University of Kent by completing original research into a unique 15th century medical manuscript.

Toni writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, and is a popular speaker to groups and societies.

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My Books

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Ӕlfgyva: The Mysterious Woman in the Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is the famous pictorial depiction of the Norman Conquest of 1066, and of the events of the two years leading up to it. Commissioned in the 1070s, probably by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, rather than a woven tapestry, the work is in fact an embroidery. Started within ten years of the Norman Conquest it is a near-contemporary narrative of the events that changed England forever. It is told from the viewpoint of the victorious Normans, but with a sympathetic view of the English, at times. It begins in 1064 with Harold’s journey to Normandy, his meeting with Duke William and campaigning in Brittany, followed by the controversial oath-swearing; it then follows Harold’s return to England and his coronation following the death of Edward the Confessor, before concentrating on William’s preparations for invasion and the Battle of Hastings itself; the missing end panels may have included King William’s coronation.

As a prime example of how women have been given little or no part in the story of the Norman Conquest, out of 626 human figures, there are only three women who appear in the main narrative of the Bayeux Tapestry. One of these is easily identifiable as Edward the Confessor’s queen, Edith of Wessex, attending her husband on his deathbed. Another scene, as the Normans land on the shores of England, shows a woman and her child fleeing from a burning house, set alight by the invaders – possibly King Harold’s first wife, Edith Swanneck. The most intriguing woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, appears in one scene when Harold is in Normandy in 1064. She is identified as ‘Ӕlfgyva’, the name sewn into the tapestry above her head. However, the scene does not appear to be related in any way to the scenes either before or after and has therefore caused much discussion and theorising among historians.

Ӕlfgyva appears to be in a doorway, possibly as a suggestion that she was indoors, with a priest touching her cheek. Whether the touch is in admonishment or blessing is open to interpretation, some take it is a collaboration of some sort between the two. Written in Latin as ‘Ubi unus clericus et Ӕlfgyva’, the inscription simply reads, ‘Here a certain cleric and Ӕlfgyva’. Incomplete, the phrase fails to identify Ӕlfgyva or the priest, nor the context in which the two are together. In the borders, at Ӕlfgyva’s feet, is a naked man, imitating the stance of the cleric, perhaps placed there to indicate some kind of scandal associated with the lady.

As this is the only scene in the entire Bayeux Tapestry in which the woman is the leading character and considering that she is only one of three women depicted in the whole embroidery, the story which is depicted must be of some significance to the story of the Norman Conquest. But who was the mysterious Ӕlfgyva? Unfortunately, we are not without a substantial number of potential candidates who could be identified as Ӕlfgyva; Ӕlfgyva and its variants, Ӕlfgiva, Ӕlfgyfu, Ӕlfgifu and Elgiva, were popular names in England in the eleventh century. Indeed, Emma of Normandy’s name was changed to Ӕlfgifu on her marriage to King Ӕthelred II (often referred to as ‘the Unready’) and, just to make matters more confusing Ӕthelred’s first wife was also called Ӕlfgifu. Many historians have their own favourite theories for the identity of Ӕlfgyva; the numerous possible candidates include Emma herself, a sister of King Harold and the first, handfast wife of King Cnut. Each possibility comes with her own reasons for being the mysterious Ӕlfgyva, and her own claim for inclusion in the tapestry that tells the story of the Norman Conquest.

Several theories can be easily discounted. In the 18th century, it was suggested that ‘Ӕlfgyva’ translated to mean ‘queen’ and the image was therefore of a clerk informing Queen Matilda that King William had promised one of their daughters as a bride for Harold of Wessex. Of course, in 1064, Matilda was not queen, and so ‘Ӕlfgyva’ would have to translate as ‘duchess’.  In the 19th century, it was suggested that the scene depicted the daughter of Matilda and William being informed of her betrothal. This theory ignores the fact that Matilda and William did not have a daughter with the name Ӕlfgyva. A final, easily discounted theory is that the lady is Ealdgyth, Harold’s future queen, receiving the news of Harold’s rescue, either from the shipwreck or from the clutches of Count Guy of Ponthieu, by Duke William. This is meant to demonstrate Harold’s dishonesty in agreeing to marry a daughter of Duke William while he has a betrothed waiting at home. The fact is that there is no evidence that Harold was betrothed to Ealdgyth any earlier than late 1065 or early 1066. In fact, we do not know when Harold and Ealdgyth were betrothed or married, but it is likely to have happened shortly before, or during, his kingship, when he needed the support of the Earls Edwin and Morcar, Ealdgyth’s brothers. 

Ӕthelred II’s second wife is a candidate who does merit closer investigation. Emma of Normandy was the wife of Ӕthelred from the spring of 1002 until his death in 1016. In 1017, however, she married Ӕthelred’s nemesis and eventual successor, Cnut. Emma had three children by her first husband, Alfred, Edward and Goda, or Godgifu. She had three further children by King Cnut; Harthacnut, Gunhilda and an unnamed daughter who died as a child, aged 8. Emma’s name had been changed to Ӕlfgifu on her marriage to Ӕthelred and she was a prominent figure at the English court, having been crowned and anointed queen after the wedding ceremony. Emma gained even more prominence in the reign of King Cnut, who married her soon after he took the crown. Cnut appears to have trusted Emma a great deal and is known to have left his treasury with her, as did her son, Harthacnut.

As Cnut’s wife, Emma served to provide a link between Ӕthelred’s ancient dynasty of Wessex, dating back to King Alfred and beyond, and the new Danish dynasty of Cnut. As Cnut’s queen, until his death in 1035, her position appeared unassailable. That changed, however, when Cnut died and was succeeded by his sons as co-regents. With Harthacnut fighting in Denmark, Emma was left isolated and Harold I Harefoot moved against her. Emma was banished from England, and Harold seized control of the whole country. Following Harold’s death in 1040, Emma and her son returned unopposed and Harthacnut finally claimed the crown. Her triumph was short-lived, however, as Harthacnut collapsed and died at a wedding in 1042, and was replaced as king by his older, half-brother, Edward. Edward was also a son of Queen Emma, but his relationship with his mother was far less cordial. Having been exiled in Normandy for twenty-five years, while his mother sat beside Cnut on the English throne for much of that time, Edward held a great deal of resentment for his Emma.

Emma’s lands and property were all taken from her. The Dowager Queen’s close friend and advisor, Stigand, newly consecrated as bishop of East Anglia, shared in Emma’s disgrace and was stripped of office and ‘they took all that he had into their hands for the king, because he was nighest the counsel of his mother; and she acted as he advised, as men supposed’. Taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, this shows that Edward thought that Stigand had encouraged Emma in her perceived maltreatment of her only surviving son. It was probably as a result of this incident that various legends arose over Emma’s disgrace.

One story, appearing only two centuries later, suggested that Emma’s relationship with Bishop Stigand was far more than that of a queen and her advisor and that he was, in fact, her lover. The story continues that Emma chose to prove her innocence in a trial by ordeal, and that she walked barefoot over white-hot ploughshares. Even though the tale varies depending on the source, the result is the same; when she completed the ordeal unharmed, and was thus proven guiltless, she was reconciled with her contrite son, Edward. Emma appears to have never recovered fully from the depredations placed on her. Both she and Stigand seem to have been reconciled, to some extent, with Edward’s regime by 1044 but she never again enjoyed the status to which she had become accustomed during the reigns of Cnut and Harthacnut.

If Emma were the Ӕlfgyva/Ӕlfgifu of the Bayeux Tapestry, this story could well explain her inclusion, especially if the touch of the cleric in the Ӕlfgyva scene is that of a tender lover, rather than an admonishing priest. However, there are several reasons for discarding Emma as the candidate. The first instance of the story of Emma and Stigand as lovers appears two or three hundred years after her death, and there is no contemporary evidence of an affair that would have been the scandal of the decade, if not the century. Given that many of the chroniclers of the time were not averse to including such stories, it seems strange that they were all silent on the subject; unless, of course, the whole incident was a 14th century fabrication. Another argument against the theory is that Emma’s affair with Bishop Stigand, even in the unlikely event that it happened, would have had little bearing on the Norman Conquest, and would therefore be unlikely to merit inclusion in the Bayeux Tapestry.

Another leading possibility for the identity of the Ӕlfgyva of the Bayeux Tapestry is Ӕlfgifu of Northampton. Ӕlfgifu was the first wife of King Cnut, whom he had married as a handfast wife, in the Danish fashion rather than in a church. She was born around 990, into a prominent and influential Midlands family. It was possibly as a love-match, but also as part of the policy of Cnut’s father, King Sweyn Forkbeard, to establish himself in the midlands, that Ӕlfgifu was married to Cnut sometime between 1013 and 1016. The couple had two sons, Swein and Harold Harefoot. Swein would later be sent by his father to rule Norway, with his mother as regent, but was driven out by the Norwegians following years of misrule. He died in Denmark and Ӕlfgifu returned to England and her only surviving son, Harold I Harefoot who was crowned as sole king in 1037.

If Ӕlfgifu is the woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, then she is probably there in reference to a scandal that was spoken about even in her lifetime, in that Ӕlfgifu was so desperate to have a son by Cnut that she, with the help of a monk, passed off the new-born son a serving maid as her own child; Swein. Similar was said of Ӕlfgifu’s second son by Cnut, Harold I Harefoot, in the Anglo-Saxon Chonicle, which reported that, ‘some men said of Harold that he was son of King Cnut and Ӕlfgifu, daughter of Ealdorman Ӕlfhelm, but to many men it seemed quite unbelievable’. The scandalous stories arose after Cnut’s death in 1035, when Ӕlfgifu was back in England, working to establish the rule of her son, Harold Harefoot, as king. In another version of the tale, the monk had fathered the children himself. The stories may have been mere propaganda used to discredit Ӕlfgifu and cast doubts on the legitimacy of Harold and, therefore, his right to rule as Cnut’s successor.

The main question arising from the theory that Ӕlfgifu of Northampton is the Ӕlfgyva of the Bayeux Tapestry would be the relevance of a scandal that had arisen more than thirty years earlier. It has been argued that both William and Harold would view the scandal as propaganda, to discredit any claims by the Norwegians, such as Harald Hardrada, to the English throne. The naked men in the margins of the scene, one of whom is swinging an axe, are used as further evidence that it was Ӕlfgifu’s scandalous behavior to which the tapestry is referring. However, the fact that both of Ӕlfgifu’s sons died without heirs and that, therefore, there were no claimants descended from her to contest the throne in 1066, makes Ӕlfgifu’s inclusion – if, indeed it is Ӕlfgifu – rather redundant.  

My own leading candidate for Ӕlfgyva is a woman of a different name, but whose story included a scandal that would have been relevant to Harold of Wessex and his hostages. This lady was Eadgifu, or Eadgyva, who was Abbess of Leominster in 1046. Eadgifu’s story is told in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when she came under the power of Swein Godwinson, oldest son of Earl Godwin and Countess Gytha. Swein, had been given an earldom made up from lands in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Somerset in 1043. In 1046 he had been campaigning in south Wales alongside Gruffydd, King of Gwynedd. The military campaign had ended successfully, with Swein receiving hostages for the good faith of the Welsh. On his return homeward, Swein stopped at Leominster, which was owned by the abbey of Leominster and administered by its abbess, Eadgifu. Swein abducted Eadgifu, probably in order to gain control of Leominster’s vast estates in Herefordshire. However, the king refused to give his permission for Swein and Eadgifu to marry; the pious King Edward the Confessor was understandably horrified at the idea of Swein marrying an abbess, a woman who had dedicated her life to God. Thwarted in his plans, Swein released Eadgifu after he had held her for some considerable time, possibly as long as a year.

As a result of his actions, which were considered not only criminal but sacrilegious in the eyes of the church, Swein was forced to flee England. A few months later, Swein returned to England, but was exiled again for the murder of his cousin, Beorn Estrithson. He was eventually forgiven and allowed to return home. When the feud between Earl Godwin’s family and the king arose in 1051, Earl Godwin and Swein were forced to give up hostages to the king, each handing over a son, Wulfnoth for Godwin and Hakon for Swein. Rather than face the witan, Godwin and his family chose to go into exile at the end on 1051 and only returned to England in the spring of 1052. Swein would never return as he had left on barefoot pilgrimage to Jerusalem and died on his homeward journey. The two hostages, however, were not restored to the family and are thought to have been sent to Normandy, possibly as a way to guarantee the future cooperation of the Godwin family.

It is possible that the union between Eadgifu and Swein resulted in a son, Hakon. It is not entirely certain that Hakon was the son of Eadgifu, but it does seem likely, as no other wife or concubine of Swein’s is mentioned in the chronicles. If he was the son of Eadgifu and Swein, the child would have been five or six years old when he was taken as a hostage to Normandy in 1052. If Eadgifu was the mother of Hakon it would not only explain her presence in the Bayeux Tapestry, but also the inclusion of Ӕlfgyva (Eadgifu) and her cleric in that part of the tapestry. Although there is no direct mention of these hostages in the tapestry, the scene immediately before the Ӕlfgyva scene is that of Harold arriving at Duke William’s court; and one of the possible reasons for Harold’s presence at William’s court was the recovery of the hostages, Eadgifu’s son included. Given the disgrace that Eadgifu must have faced, as an abbess having given birth to an illegitimate child, and the fact the child was only five years old when he was taken to Normandy as a hostage, it is not implausible that his mother accompanied him, and therefore is included in the Bayeux Tapestry as Hakon, no longer a valuable hostage given that his father had been dead for over ten years, was allowed to return to England with Earl Harold.

There is one major flaw in this argument, and that is the confusion of names, Eadgifu and Ӕlfgyva are similar but very different names and it is hard to imagine that someone would make such a big mistake on so important an undertaking as the Bayeux Tapestry; although not implausible, given that Harold’s brother, Leofwine, is identified as Lewine on another portion of the tapestry. We do not know, moreover, that Eadgifu ever accompanied her son to Normandy, or visited him there while he was a hostage. However, Eadgifu’s story, the scandal associated with her abduction by Swein and the presence of her son in Normandy, still makes her a contender. The scene with the cleric could well be him giving her a blessing on her return to England, or an admonition on the fact she had a child out of wedlock – and while she was an abbess who had given her life to God. Despite the disparity in names, the fact that she had links to Normandy through her son, and that her story was associated with Harold’s visit to Normandy and the request for the hostages to be freed, gives her a relevance to the tapestry and makes her one of the most plausible candidates for Ӕlfgyva.

Despite the many possibilities and theories surrounding Ӕlfgyva and her cleric, their identities and the reason for their inclusion in the Bayeux Tapestry, one fact remains; no definitive explanation is forthcoming. It is not beyond reason that the Ӕlfgyva of the Bayeux Tapestry is none of the ladies I have suggested, but someone else entirely who, in the passage of nearly a millennium, has been lost in the fogs of time. The story may well have been a familiar one at the time the tapestry was created, and no explanation beyond ‘Here a certain cleric and Ӕlfgyva’ may have been needed to identify the protagonists to viewers in the eleventh century.

Today, however, the story and the identity of the players continues to elude us…

Historical Writers Forum hosted a fabulous debate on ‘Ӕlfgyva’: The Mysterious Woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, which is available on YouTube. Hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson, it features myself, Pat Bracewell, Carol McGrath and Paula Lofting.

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Images:

Courtesy of Flickr and Wikipedia

Sources:

A Historical Document Pierre Bouet and François Neveux, bayeuxmuseum.com/en/un_document_historique_en; The Mystery Lady of the Bayeux Tapestry (article) by Paula Lofting, annabelfrage.qordpress.com; Ӕlfgyva: The Mysterious lady of the Bayeux Tapestry (article) by M.W. Campbell, Annales de Normandie; The Bayeux Tapestry, the Life Story of a Masterpiece by Carola Hicks; Æthelred II [Ethelred; known as Ethelred the Unready] (c. 966×8-1016) (article) by Simon Keynes, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxforddnb.com; Britain’s Royal Families; the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Queen Emma and the Vikings: The Woman Who Shaped the Events of 1066 by Harriet O’Brien; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by James Ingram; On the Spindle Side: the Kinswomen of Earl Godwin of Wessex by Ann Williams; Swein [Sweyn], earl by Ann Williams, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxforddnb.com, 23 September 2004; Ӕlfgifu [Ӕlfgifu of Northampton (fl. 1006-1036) (article) by Pauline Stafford, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxforddnb.com; The Chronicle of John of Worcester, translated and edited by Thomas Forester, A.M; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles edited and translated by Michael Swanton.

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My Books

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

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Robin Hood Trilogy by Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer

England, 1154-1194:

A kingdom under assault.

A conspiracy born of anarchy.

A hero standing against tyranny.

Falsely convicted of a shocking crime, Robin Fitzooth, the Earl of Huntingdon, finds refuge in Sherwood Forest and becomes Robin Hood.

Leading a band of men against the injustices of a malevolent sheriff and his henchmen, Robin begins to unravel a web of treachery threatening the English royal family.

As shadowy forces gather to destroy the future of a nation, Robin faces deceit, betrayal, and the ravages of war as he defends his king, his country, his people, and the woman he loves from a conspiracy so diabolical, so unexpected, that the course of history hangs in the balance.

From the mists of an ancient woodland, to lavish royal courts teeming with intrigue, to the exotic shores of the Holy Land – Robin Hood leads the fight in a battle between good and evil, justice and tyranny, the future and the past.

Part one of an exciting three-part retelling of the Robin Hood legend!
Also Available:
Book 2, Robin Hood’s Widow
Book 3, Robin Hood’s Return

I have to admit that I am a sucker for a good Robin Hood story. However, having grown up close to Sherwood Forest and played around the Major Oak as a child, I have to admit that I can be quite picky when it comes to Robin Hood. It has to be a good story, or I will not read it. I have had The Robin Hood Trilogy on my kindle for a while, but only actually picked up the first book 3 weeks ago. I was suffering from a heavy cold and wanted some comfort reading. And what a choice for comfort reading. I read all 3 books, one after the other, in a week. I couldn’t get enough of them!

The story opens in 1154 with the death of King Stephen and a betrayal by certain nobles who had promised to put Stephen’s son, William of Blois, Earl of Warenne and Surrey, on the throne. As a regular reader of this blog will understand, my interest was most certainly piqued. So, now we have a novel series with 2 of my favourite topics; Robin Hood and the Warennes. And I got worried. What if I don’t like the way this book goes with the Warennes? I do have quite a soft spot for them, after all.

I need not have been concerned. This Robin Hood trilogy is a fabulous adventure, with well developed characters, a story thread that will keep you gripped to the very end – and some marvellous twists in the tale.

They had left Sherwood Forest and were now traversing rolling hills and pastures, but Marian could not appreciate the lovely scenery. The closer they were to Conisbrough, the more nervous she felt.

She was riding next to Constance, and they were protected by an escort of twenty of Earl de Warenne’s mounted men-at-arms. At the front, Robin rode with Lionel and the earl’s son, Guillaume. All three were the same age, and Marian observed them as they enjoyed a friendly, animated conversation.

Robbie, as usual, was riding with his father.

Although Marian was apprehensive about staying at Conisbrough, Constance was elated. She was enthusiastically telling Marian what she knew about the de Warenne family.

Once again, Marian was lamenting her lack of interest in politics during her youth. She had never paid much attention to stories about the royal family or the elaborate familial web of royals, near royals, and distant relations to the king’s family.

In contrast, Constance was very knowledgeable. Marian knew her friend had traveled to London with her father and brother every year to attend court and celebrate Midsummer.

Marian’s father had never taken her to court, or even to London. Perhaps it was his own aversion to politics and big cities. And it’s likely that he considered it unnecessary, since it was always understood that Marian would wed Robin, so there had been no need to search for a suitable husband among the nobility of England.

“Constance, I’m confused,” she reluctantly confessed.

“About what?”

“Didn’t you say that Earl Hamelin was illegitimate? How did he inherit his title/”

Constance smiled indulgently. “Every time I’ve tried to explain this, I can see your mind wandering. Please concentrate on what I’m saying.”

“My mind is wandering because so much of this seems like pointless court intrigue. I just want to go back home and stay there.”

“You’re the wife of an earl. I think you can learn a lot by spending time with Countess de Warenne. You can’t hide at Locksley and Lenton. You have duties to perform at Huntingdon.”

Marian released a noisy sigh of defeat. “Tell me again.”

“Hamelin is the illegitimate son of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. He’s the older half-brother of the late King Henry, God-rest-his-soul, and he’s King Richard’s uncle. Of course, he’s Prince John’s uncle, too.”

“But instead of Count of Anjou, he’s the Earl of Surrey?”

“Now I’m certain that you weren’t listening,” Constance chided. “He married Isabel de Warenne, the Countess of Surrey, who was the only child of her father. So, she inherited the earldom. When Hamelin married her, he took her family name and became earl by right of his wife.”

Robin Hood’s Dawn sets the scene beautifully, charting a youthful Robin’s journey into becoming an outlaw in Sherwood Forest, and his realisation that not everyone is honourable. His arrogance and connections get him into more trouble than he realises, almost losing the woman he loves – Marian. In Robin Hood’s Widow, we discover that Marian herself is more than capable of holding her own under the canopy of Sherwood Forest. Which makes for a fantastic finale in Robin Hood’s Return, where Robin and Marian, united in their common goals, must unite to fight their enemies and find a way to accept each other’s abilities and weaknesses.

My personal favourite of the 3 books is Robin Hood’s Return, but that may be because both Hamelin and Isabel de Warenne both play prominent roles – as does my ‘local’, Conisbrough Castle. Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer did their research and have done an amazing job of recreating the castle and the Warenne family dynamic. Their depictions, I believe, are spot on! And it was so nice to see the people I have spent so long researching brought to life on the page.

As to the other characters, Robin Hood, Little John, the sheriff of Nottingham, Guy of Gisborne are all there – though some not as you would ordinarily recognise them. I love the way the authors of the Robin Hood trilogy have taken the legend and made it their own, weaving an incredible story of betrayal and king-making into the existing legend, so that you are at once familiar with the characters, and yet discovering new dimensions along the way.

The Robin Hood Trilogy is a fabulous, engrossing read that you will never want to end – and yet can’t wait for it to finish.

What a fabulous adventure! I cannot recommend the series highly enough.

Robin Hood’s Dawn, Robin Hood’s Widow and Robin Hood’s Return are available from Amazon.

About the authors:

Olivia Longueville is a European author whose first book was Between Two Kings, a story set in Tudor England. J.C. Plummer is an American author and historian living in Texas. They are long distance friends who share a passion for writing and history, and this is their first collaboration. Learn more at their website: http://www.AngevinWorld.com

My Books

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Commander by Paul Fraser Collard

A true leader serves his men.

The Jack Lark series is historical military fiction at its finest, for fans of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, Matthew Harffy and Patrick O’Brian. This is the tenth adventure featuring Jack Lark: soldier, leader, imposter.

Egypt, 1869. Jack Lark has reinvented himself once more. Working as an unofficial agent for the Consul-General, he moves among the most powerful men in Cairo. But when the opportunity arises to join legendary explorer Sir Samuel White Baker on his expedition into the Sudan, Jack can’t resist a new adventure.

Jack assumes command of an elite cadre to protect the fleet of vessels. But, as they move down the Nile, Jack and his men soon find themselves in a land where the rule of law means nothing, and those who wield power will do anything to keep it. And when a new friend seeks Jack’s help, Jack must decide where his loyalties truly lie . . .

Paul Fraser Collard‘s Commander is the 10th instalment of the exploits of Jack Lark. Jack first made his appearance in the Crimean War and seem to have gone around the world, looking for a fight ever since. I always wondered what would happen to him when the wars finally ended and Commander answers that question; he’d keep fighting, sort of.

Commander is set in 1869 at a time of colonial expansion for the British, which saw a rise in exploration of the more remote regions of Africa. Jack Lark joins one such expedition, that aims to go deep into central Africa, into the Sudan. Jack’s military expertise is called upon to train and lead the company of soldiers that will protect the expedition. Despite still leading a military contingent, he is definitely out of his comfort zone and facing challenges from various quarters, from the environment, the expedition leaders and those out to exploit Africa itself, slavers and big game hunters alike.

As ever, Paul Collard weaves a gripping story as Lark’s adventure into the unknown, both in his career and his personal life, takes a twisting, turning path. Commander confronts the ideas of slavery and the ivory trade within the context of the time, as he does the concept of colonial expansion; this is counterweighted with the sense of adventure and discovery that motivate such vast expeditions. The chance to go where no on has gone before.

Dozens of servants flowed around the room carrying silver platters covered with black velvet cloths embroidered with emeralds and pearls. Every platter bore a large number of drinking vessels no bigger than an egg cup, each one containing a liquid so dark that it was an inky black.

‘Coffee, Lark?’ Stanton reached for a cup from a passing waiter, his free hand held ready to take one for Jack.

‘No, thank you.’ Jack had no taste for the bitter liquid.

‘You are probably wise. I prefer tea myself, but there is no way in hell we can expect the frog to know how to serve it properly, so I suspect we are better off being spared the attempt.’

‘Indeed.’ Jack straightened his back. It always ached by this hour of the day. It was time to make an excuse and head for the buffet. He had delivered the notebook to his master. Nothing else was keeping him there.

‘You look like a hound waiting to be let off the leash.’ Stanton raised his eyebrows over the rim of the tiny coffee cup, which looked incongruous in his large hands. ‘You want to be off, I’ll wager.’

‘Something like that.’

‘Well, you can’t. I hate these bloody things as much as you plainly do, and now you’re here, you can damned well keep me company.’

Jack did his best to keep his expression neutral. The pit of his spine was beginning to hurt with a vengeance, and he wanted nothing more than to return to the cool quiet of his hotel suite and enjoy some peace. It appeared that ambition was to be denied, at least until he could shake off Stanton’s attention and slip away, something he would do at the earliest opportunity. ‘I’d be delighted,’ he lied smoothly.

‘No, you wouldn’t, but I pay your wages so you will just have to endure, as must I.’ Stanton snorted. ‘Sometimes I wish I’d stayed in the army. What about you Lark?’

Paul Fraser Collard’s Jack Lark has one of the best character developments that I have ever read. He is flawed, damaged and does not always make the right decision. But that is what makes him fascinating. He is a fabulous, colourful character, full of life! He is not your typical everyday hero, which makes him unpredictable, which makes the story’s outcome unpredictable. The many twists in the book leave the reader on the edge of their seat throughout, eager to discover the outcome of the converging threads.

In Commander Jack Lark is not only up against an enemy, a former French soldier who he quite likes, who is exploiting the treasures of Africa – it’s animals and people – for his own personal gain. In another life, he may have been Jack’s friend, but in this life, their ideals are diametrically opposed. Jack is also fighting against nature; the unrelenting landscape of Africa, where their boats are hampered by the weeds choking the River Nile and the relentless heat makes work, drill and marching harder.

Commander by Paul Fraser Collard is a triumph in storytelling, taking the reader back to colonial Africa, on an amazing adventure. It recreates the landscape of an Africa untouched by modern development, contrasted with the hustle and bustle of Cairo and the ancient, established, cities of Egypt. It is a pleasure to read – a journey of discovery for reader and character alike. A must read.

I do hope we get to see more of his adventures!

Commander by Paul Fraser Collard is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. At school, Paul was determined to become an officer in the British army and he succeeded in winning an Army Scholarship. However, Paul chose to give up his boyhood ambition and instead went into the finance industry. Paul stills works in the City, and lives with his wife and three children in Kent. 

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My Books

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

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

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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

10 Facts About Women and Magna Carta

Magna Carta

Magna Carta is probably the most significant charter in English history and, today, its importance extends beyond England’s shores, holding a special place in the constitutions of many countries around the world. Despite its age, Magna Carta’s iconic status is a more modern phenomena, seen in the influence it has had on nations and organisations throughout the world, such as the United States of America and the United Nations, who have used it as the basis for their own 1791 Bill of Rights and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respectively.

Originally called the Charter of Liberties, it was renamed Magna Carta, or Great Charter, in 1217, when the Charter of the Forest (see Appendix C) was issued. Sealed (not signed) in the meadow at Runnymede in June 1215, the legacy of Magna Carta, down through the centuries, has enjoyed a much greater impact on history and the people of the world than it did at the time of its creation. As a peace treaty between rebellious barons and the infamous King John, it was an utter failure, thrown out almost before the wax seals had hardened, not worth the parchment it was written on.

The Magna Carta of 1215 reflects the needs and events of the time in which it was issued; an England on the brink of civil war, disaffected barons demanding redress, the Church and cities such as London looking for protection. It was not a charter that was intended to form the protection and legal rights of every man, woman and child in the land; though it has come to be seen as just that in subsequent centuries. Indeed, the common man does not get a mention, and of the sixty-three clauses, only eight of them mention women as a gender. Only one clause uses the word femina – woman – and that is a clause which restricts the rights and powers of a woman, rather than upholding them.

10 Facts About Women and Magna Carta

1. As queen, Isabelle d’Angoulême is mentioned in Clause 61, the security clause of Magna Carta:

Seal of Isaballe d’Angoulême

…And if we or our justiciar, should we be out of the kingdom, do not redress the offence within forty days from the time it was brought to the notice of us or our justiciar, should we be out of the kingdom, the aforesaid four barons shall refer the case to the rest of the twenty-five barons and those twenty-five barons with the commune of all the land shall distrain and distress us in every way they can, namely by seizing castles, lands and possessions, and in such other ways as they can, saving our person and those of our queen and our children, until, in their judgement, amends have been made; and when it has been redressed they are to obey us as they did before…

2. Other than Isabelle d’Angoulême, only 2 women can be positively identified in the text of Magna Carta. Though they are not named, the Scottish princesses, Isabella and Margaret appear in clause 59 as the ‘sisters’ of Alexander II, King of Scots:

We will treat Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages and his liberties and rights in the same manner in which we will act towards our other barons of England, unless it ought to be otherwise because of the charters which we have from William his father, formerly king of Scots; and this shall be determined by the judgement of his peers in our court.

3. Magna Carta restricts the right of women to accuse others of murder. Clause 54 states: 

‘No one shall be taken or imprisoned upon the appeal of a woman for the death of anyone except her husband.’

King John

In a time when a man had the right to face his accuser in trial by combat to prove his innocence, this right would be automatically removed if his accuser was a woman; women were not allowed to use force of arms. A female accuser was seen as being able to circumvent the law, and therefore the law was open to abuse. It was merely that a woman may make a false accusation, rather that a woman may be manipulated by her menfolk to make an accusation, knowing that she would not be required to back it up by feat of arms. Whereas her husband, father or brother may have been challenged to do just that.

Clause 54 was used on 5 July 1215, when King John ordered the release of Everard de Mildeston, an alleged murderer. Everard had been accused of the murder of her son, Richard, by Seina Chevel. The charge was therefore forbidden under the terms of Magna Carta, and the accused released.

4. The experiences of Loretta de Braose are believed to have inspired Clauses 7 and 8, which sought to protect the rights of widows. Clause 7 established that:

After her husband’s death, a widow shall have her marriage portion and her inheritance at once and without any hindrance; nor shall she pay anything for her dower, her marriage portion, or her inheritance which she and her husband held on the day of her husband’s death; and she may stay in her husband’s house for 40 days after his death, within which period her dower shall be assigned to her.’

6. Clause 8 allowed that a widow was to be free to choose whether or not to remarry, so long as she paid for the privilege:

No widow shall be compelled to marry so long as she wishes to live without a husband, provided that she gives security that she will not marry without our consent if she holds of us, or without the consent of the lord of whom she holds, if she holds of another.’

The clauses protecting widows were intended to protect the inheritances of underage heirs, rather than the rights of the women themselves.

7. Clause 11 protects a wife from having to repay the debts of her dead husband from her dower:

And if a man dies owing a debt to the Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing of that debt; and if he leaves children under age, their needs shall be met in a manner in keeping with the holding of the deceased; and the debts shall be paid out of the residue, saving the service due to the lords. Debts owing to others than Jews shall be dealt with likewise.’

8. Clause 12 allows the king to raise a ‘reasonable’ aid or scutage (taxes) to pay towards the first marriage of his eldest daughter:

Joan of England, King John’s oldest daughter

No scutage or aid shall be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our realm, unless it is for the ransom of our person, the knighting of our eldest son or the first marriage of our eldest daughter; and for these only a reasonable aid is to be levied. Aids from the city of London are to be treated likewise.’

9. Clause 15 allows that no lord could raise a tax from his free men except to ransom his person, knight his eldest son and marry his eldest daughter once:

Henceforth we will not grant anyone that he may take an aid from his free men except to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight and to marry his eldest daughter once; and for these purposes only a reasonable aid is to be levied.’

10. The fate of Matilda de Braose, left to starve to death in John’s dungeons, is thought to have influenced clauses 39 and 40 of Magna Carta. Clause 39 states;

No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.

Clause 40 promised:

To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’

Clause 39 could not prevent the perpetual imprisonment of women of royal blood, such as Eleanor of Brittany and Gwenllian of Wales. Their royal blood made them a focus for rebellion and opposition and therefore a threat to the throne and the stability of the kingdom.

11. Ela of Salisbury used clause 8 of Magna Carta to support her rejection of an unwelcome offer of marriage:

No widow is to be distrained to marry while she wishes to live without a husband.’

12. Clause 6 of Magna Carta dictated that

Heirs shall be given in marriage without disparagement, yet so that before a marriage is contracted it shall be made known to the heir’s next of kin.’

This clause should have effectively protected women from being forced to marry below their station.

13. Isabel d’Aubigny famously invoked Magna Carta when Henry III commandeered land and rights that were rightly hers, proclaiming; 

‘Where are the liberties of England, so often recorded, so often granted, and so often ransomed?’

14. The Rt. Hon. Fiona Woolf, C.B.E., called Magna Carta

the single most important legal document in history. The foundation for global constitutions, commerce and communities. The anchor for the Rule of Law.’ 

You may have noticed that there were 14 facts, rather than the 10 as advertised – my apologies. I got carried away!

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Sources:

Rich Price, King John’s Letters Facebook group; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made EnglandThe Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of BritainOxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Ralph of Diceto, Images of History; Marc Morris, King John; David Crouch, William Marshal; Crouch and Holden, History of William Marshal; Crouch, David, ‘William Marshal [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c. 1146–1219)’, Oxforddnb.com; Flanagan, M.T., ‘Isabel de Clare, suo jure countess of Pembroke (1171×6–1220)’, Oxforddnb.com; Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight; Chadwick, Elizabeth, ‘Clothing the Bones: Finding Mahelt Marshal’, livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com; Stacey, Robert C., ‘Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk (c. 1212-1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com.

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My Books

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

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

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Lancaster Sisters

Although they had the same start in life, the two daughters of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster led very different lives as adults. While Philippa would become the mother of the Illustrious Generation of Portuguese princes, Elizabeth would have to overcome scandal and the taint of treason before finding love in the last of her three marriages.

John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

Philippa of Lancaster was born at Leicester on 31st March 1360. She was the eldest daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and 4th son of Edward III, and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, great-great-granddaughter of Henry III. Philippa’s father was one of the richest men in the country – and one of the most powerful. Her life as a child would have been one of luxury and privilege, with a glorious dynastic marriage awaiting her in the future. Philippa was raised alongside her younger sister, Elizabeth, who was born in 1363/4, and her baby brother, Henry of Bolingbroke, born in 1367.

The children lost their mother when Blanche died at Tutbury on 12th September 1368, from the complications following the birth a daughter, Isabella, who did not survive. The children’s father was with Blanche when she died but departed on campaign to France soon after; although it is doubtful the children’s care was interrupted.

Philippa and her sister were raised together in one household, with Blanche Swynford, the daughter of their mother’s lady-in-waiting, Katherine Swynford. John of Gaunt provided his daughters with an annual allowance of £200. The Lancaster household was well-organised and run by Katherine, now the girls’ governess. She became mistress to their father, John of Gaunt, in early 1371. Despite his relationship with Katherine, in September 1371 the Lancaster children gained a stepmother in their father’s new bride, Constance of Castile. Constance was the daughter and heir of Pedro the Cruel, the deceased King of Castile who had been murdered by his half-brother, Henry of Trastámara, in March 1369. A new sister arrived when Constance gave birth to Catherine (Catalina) of Lancaster, in 1372/3.

Despite several dynastic marriage propositions, by 1385 and at 25 years old Philippa was still unmarried. However, in the following year her father took all three of his daughters on his military expedition to Spain, hoping to claim the kingdom of Castile in right of his second wife, Constance. Philippa’s marriage to John – or Joao – I of Portugal was agreed as part of an alliance made with her father at Ponte do Mouro in November 1386. Philippa was married to King John at Oporto on 2nd February 1387, before they had even received the required papal dispensation. Philippa was 26 – about 10 years older than the average age for a princess to marry. John of Portugal was three years her senior and had been king for just short of two years.

Philippa of Lancaster, Queen of Portugal

Almost immediately after the wedding John returned to the war. In July 1387 Philippa miscarried their first child while visiting John at Curval, where he lay seriously ill. However, after what appears to have been a bumpy start, the couple seem to have been well-matched. John had had two illegitimate children before his marriage, but was demonstrably faithful to Philippa after the wedding. In fact, when court gossip reached the queen with rumours that he had been unfaithful, John went to great lengths to convince Philippa of his innocence. He even went so far as to commemorate the event by having a room in the royal apartments at Sintra decorated with chattering magpies as reference to the court gossips.

Philippa became known as ‘Dona Fillipa’ in Portugal and would be one of the country’s best-loved queens. Her natural disposition to austerity and piety was endearing to the Portuguese people. Philippa reformed the court and encouraged courtly games among her ladies. French poet Eustace Deschamps characterised her as the chief patron of the order of The Flower of England, casting her at the centre of the court and the May Day celebrations.

Instrumental in fostering links between England and Portugal, Philippa had been made a Lady of the Garter in 1378. She was on good terms with both Richard II and his successor – her brother, Henry IV. In 1399 she wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, asking him to intervene with Henry on behalf of her friend, Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich, who had angered the new king by defending Richard II at the time of Henry’s invasion of England and seizure of the throne. Philippa also had a hand in persuading Henry to arrange the marriage of her stepdaughter, Beatriz (John’s illegitimate daughter) to the earl of Arundel in 1405.

Philippa and John were to have a large family, which they brought up with great care. Of their 9 children, five sons and a daughter survived infancy and would later be known in Portugal as ‘the Illustrious Generation’ (a Ínclita Geração).

Their eldest surviving son, Edward, was born in 1391 and would succeed his father as King of Portugal in 1433. Peter, Duke of Coimbra, was born in 1392 and would act as regent for his nephew, Afonso V, following Edward’s death in 1438. Their most famous son was Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’, Duke of Viseu, who was renowned for financing and researching great explorations. Another son was John, Duke of Beja and Constable of Portugal, who married Isabella, the daughter of Alfonso I, Duke of Braganza. And the baby of the family was Ferdinand, Grand Master of Aviz. He was born in 1402 and was later known as ‘the Saint Prince’ following his death as a prisoner of the Moors. John and Philippa’s one daughter, Isabella, was born in 1397 and would go on to marry Philip III the Good, Duke of Burgundy; she was the mother of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

Tomb of John and Philippa, Batalha Abbey

By 1415 Philippa’s oldest sons were itching to prove their martial prowess. Scorning their father’s offer to hold a magnificent tournament for them, they persuaded him to mount an attack on the port of Ceuta in North Africa. It was as they were about to set sail that Philippa fell ill with the plague. She died at Odivelas, near Lisbon, on 18/19th July 1415, aged 55. On her deathbed she gave her three eldest sons a jewel encrusted sword, each, in anticipation of their impending knighthoods. She also gave them a piece of the true cross and her blessing for the forthcoming military expedition, exhorting “them to preserve their faith and to fulfil the duties of their rank”.

Described as pious, charitable, affable and obedient to her husband, Queen Philippa was held up as a model queen. She was buried in the Dominican Priory at Batalha Abbey, which had been founded by King John, who would be laid beside her after his death in August 1433. Their sons, Ferdinand, John, Henry and Peter, were laid to rest along the south side of the same chapel.

Philippa’s sister, Elizabeth, was not to have such a glittering international marriage. She was also made a Lady of the Garter in 1378 and, in 1380, when she was seventeen years old, her future appeared to be decided when she married John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, at Kenilworth Castle. However, the young Earl was only about seven years old at the time, being Elizabeth’s junior by ten years, and the princess soon tired of waiting for her bridegroom to grow up. The unconsummated marriage was eventually dissolved around the same time that it was discovered that Elizabeth was pregnant by Sir John Holland, half-brother of Elizabeth’s cousin, King Richard II. John already had a bit of a reputation and was rumoured to have been having an affair with Elizabeth’s aunt, Isabella of Castile, wife of Edmund, Duke of York, and there was a possibility that he was the father of Isabella’s youngest son, Richard of Conisbrough.

Arms of John Holland, Duke of Exeter, Elizabeth’s second husband

Whether Elizabeth was seduced by John Holland, or whether they fell in love, we cannot be certain. However, once the affair was discovered, Elizabeth and Holland were hurriedly married, near Plymouth, on 24 June 1386. Within two weeks, the couple were aboard ship with John of Gaunt, his wife Constance, and daughters, Philippa and Catherine; ninety ships and thousands of men were taking part in an expedition aimed at winning the throne of Castile for Constance and John. Elizabeth gave birth to her daughter Constance, in early 1387. She would have been nursing the infant throughout the disastrous campaign in Castile, which saw the army decimated by a combination of sickness, the unfriendly climate and dwindling supplies. By May 1387, John of Gaunt and his ally, John I of Portugal, the husband of Elizabeth’s older sister Philippa since February, had agreed peace terms with Castile.

At the end of May 1387, Elizabeth, her husband and their baby girl left the army and returned to English soil, after receiving a safe-conduct to travel through Castile. On 2 June 1388 John was created Earl of Huntingdon by his half-brother, the king; he would be elevated to Duke of Exeter on 29 September 1397.

The marriage produced at least four children, three sons and a daughter. Constance, the oldest, married Thomas Mowbray, 4th Earl of Norfolk. Of the sons John, Richard and Edward, John eventually succeeded to his father’s title of Duke of Exeter. The late 1390s proved turbulent times for Elizabeth. Her brother Henry of Bolingbroke was banished from England by their cousin, Richard II, in 1398; the sentence was extended to life following the death of their father, John of Gaunt, on 3 February 1399. When Henry retaliated by invading England and taking the king prisoner, it must have been a difficult time for Elizabeth. Her brother was now King Henry IV, but she was married to the former king’s half-brother.

Coat of arms of Sir John Cornwall, 1st Baron Fanhope and Milbroke, Elizabeth’s third husband

Her youngest son, Edward was not yet a year old when John Holland joined the conspiracy to restore his brother to the throne, the Epiphany Rising. Holland and his fellow conspirators, the earls of Salisbury, Kent and others, planned to kill the usurping king and his sons at the New Year jousts. However, Henry IV learned of the plot and the conspirators were arrested. John Holland was executed at Pleshey Castle on 9 January 1400, his head placed on London Bridge and his body buried in the Collegiate Church at Pleshey. He was attainted by parliament, his honours and lands forfeit to the crown. However, Elizabeth, as sister of the king, would not suffer for her husband’s treason, and was granted 1,000 marks a year for her maintenance. John and Elizabeth’s eldest surviving son, John, would eventually become Duke of Exeter, in a new creation, in 1444.

Within months of John Holland’s execution, it seems that Elizabeth, now in her late thirties, had an experience that few medieval women were ever privileged to. She fell head over heels in love with Sir John Cornwall, after watching him defeat a French knight in a joust at York. Cornwall was a career soldier who had fought in Scotland and Brittany, and would soon be fighting to defeat Owain Glyn Dwr’s revolt in Wales. Although considerably younger than Elizabeth, he also fell for the Lancastrian princess and within months the couple were secretly married. When he discovered the marriage, the king had Cornwall arrested and thrown into the Tower of London. However, Cornwall’s considerable charm, and most likely the pleas from his sister, soon persuaded the king to release the knight and restore him to favour. A widely respected soldier and one of the great chivalric heroes of his day, Cornwall was accepted into the Order of the Garter in 1409 and was one of Henry V’s most formidable captains during the Agincourt campaign of 1415.

Tomb of Elizabeth of Lancaster, St Mary’s Church, Burford

The couple were to have two children – a daughter, Constance and a son, John, who was born before 15 February 1405, when King Henry IV stood as his godfather. Young John would come to a tragic end in 1421, when the teenager was killed at the Siege of Meaux, his father a devastated witness to the tragedy. Elizabeth died at her husband’s estate of Burford, in Shropshire, on 24 November 1425. She was buried in Burford Parish Church, where her magnificent effigy, showing a tall, slender princess in colourful robes, can still be seen today. Sir John Cornwall was created Baron Fanhope in 1432 and Baron Milbroke around 1441; he died at his great estate of Ampthill in Bedfordshire on 11 December 1443 and was buried in a chapel he had founded, in the cemetery of the Friars Preacher near Ludgate in London. His two children having died before him, Cornwall bequeathed 800 marks to be divided between two illegitimate sons, and his estate at Ampthill was sold to his friend Ralph, Lord Cromwell.

While Philippa and Elizabeth led contrasting lives, the former as a queen on the international stage and the latter a noblewoman on the national stage, they both found contentment in their marriages. Elizabeth of Lancaster had led an eventful life, following her father to war, with an infant daughter on her hip and married for love at least once. Philippa is best remembered for her piety, her patronage and the Illustrious Generation of children that she raised in Portugal, the model image of a model queen.

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An earlier version of this article first appeared on the blog hosted by Kyra Kramer.

Sources: The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson;  englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com; annvictoriaroberts.co.uk.

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My Books

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: A Night of Flames by Matthew Harffy

In the wild lands of Norway, Hunlaf must quell a vicious slave uprising in Matthew Harffy’s new historical adventure.

A wild land. A lethal fanatic. A violent revolt.

Northumbria, AD 794. Those who rule the seas, rule the land. None know the truth of this more than the Vikings. To compete with the seafaring raiders, the king of Northumbria orders the construction of his own longships under the command of oath-sworn Norseman, Runolf.

When the Vikings attack again, the king sends cleric turned warrior, Hunlaf, on a mission to persuade the king of Rogaland into an alliance. But Hunlaf and Runolf have other plans; kin to seek out, old scores to settle, and a heretical tome to find in the wild lands of the Norse.

Their voyage takes them into the centre of a violent uprising. A slave has broken free of his captors and, with religious fervour, is leading his fanatical followers on a rampage – burning all in his path. Hunlaf must brave the Norse wilderness, and overcome deadly foes, to stop this madman. Can he prevent a night of flames and slaughter?

News of a new Matthew Harffy novel has become one of the highlights of my year. Luckily, Harffy is quite a prolific writer, so I never have to wait too long for such news. A Night of Flames is Matthew Harffy’s 11th book in 6 years – that’s quite an achievement!

Especially as his storytelling keeps getting better and better.

The sequel to A Time for Swords, the story begins where the last book left off, with Hunlaf of Ubbanford having forsaken the monk’s cowl for the sword and determined to go in search of his cousin, Aelfwyn, carried off during the raid on Lindisfarne that heralded the Viking era in England. The erstwhile monk comes up with a plan to rescue his cousin and retrieve the highly influential and heretical book, The Treasure of Life, which will lead himself and his friends into the heart of Norway and a heretical band of marauders, made up of former slaves, fanatical warriors and women and children who are killing and spreading devastation wherever they go.

The story has all the ingredients for an exciting adventure. And I have to say, I loved the references to Matthew Harffy’s other series, The Bernicia Chronicles, and the story of Beobrand, with mention of a ballad to Beobrand and his love, Sunniva, or the fact that young Hunlaf was raised in Beobrand’s settlement of Ubbanford, thus interlinking the two very different series with a shared origin.

“I do not wish to slay you,” I hissed at him. “Drop your weapon. End this.”

“There is only one way to end this now,” he yelled. His face was pallid, his eyes glimmering in the bright early morning sun.

Unless he turned away from this course, he was right. I could not defend against him indefinitely. If I waited too long, his brawn and rage would overcome me at last. He was unarmoured, so I had not donned my byrnie. One strike from Wistan could easily prove fatal.

Springing at me again, he attempted a feint, but he signalled his intention with his eyes and his footwork, so my shield was there to parry the attack. This time, I flicked out my sword and opened up a gash on his side, beneath his shield. I skipped away, seeing the pain reach his eyes.

Behind him, Runolf met my gaze. The huge Norseman was grinning, clearly enjoying the excitement of a duel, or hólmgang, as he called it. He had paced out and marked the fighting area with hazel stakes, smiling wolfishly all the while at the prospect of a fight. Beside Runolf, the shorter Gwawrddur was sombre. At my look, he shook his head. I saw the disappointment on the Welshman’s features. There was no honour in defeating a foe who is not able to defend himself. The night before, Gwawrddur had told me to do all in my power to dissuade Wistan from fighting.

“I cannot flee, if he wants to fight,” I had said.

“No, you cannot,” he’d replied. His eyes were sad as he sipped his ale. “But when you laid with his girl, you surely knew this could happen.”

I nodded. I had been flattered by Cwenswith’s attentions, and of course I had enjoyed our fumbling, panting trysts in the store hut, but I had never thought our actions could lead to someone’s death, and certainly not at my hand.

“What if he refuses to step aside?”

“Then you must answer for your actions, just as Wistan must answer for his.”

Wistan now stood breathless before me. He looked down and seemed shocked to see the blood soaking through his kirtle. I had not cut him deeply, hoping the stinging pain would bring him to his senses.

At the sight of blood, someone in the crowd gasped.

Cwenswith screamed, “Finish him!”

Wistan’s eyes narrowed at the shrill sound of her voice. His shoulders tensed and I knew he was preparing to attack once more.

“Don’t,” I said, but too late.

He ran at me, and I retreated. He beat his sword against my shield over and over until the hide covering was tatters and the linden wood splintered.

With a growl, I pushed him back. There was nothing for it. I could not dissuade him, and if I waited any longer, I would be the one to lose my life that day. I sprang forward, holding his blows away from me on my splintering shield and lunging beneath his guard. I felt my sword blade make contact. Wistan grunted and staggered. The morning air was filled with the sudden screaming of women. The men quickly added their voices to the din. I recognised Runolf’s booming voice over the clamour of the crowd, but I could not make out his words.

A Night of Flames is another fabulous rip-roaring adventure from Matthew Harffy, where not everything goes as planned for the heroes and the fight comes close to disaster. It is edge-of-the-seat drama that will keep the reader engrossed late into the night. The battles are vicious, the losses devastating and the outcome uncertain – this is Matthew Harffy at his best.

As has come to be expected with a Matthew Harffy book, the historical research is impeccable; the author’s knowledge of weapons, battle tactics and even sailing the whaleroad is woven into the story so that it is impossible to know where facts end and the author’s imagination begins. The extent of Matthew Harffy’s knowledge and research helps to draw the reader in and makes for a thoroughly engaging book.

The best bit, however – as always with Matthew Harffy – is the story! A Night of Flames is a fascinating, thrilling adventure.

If you like to lose yourself in a book, A Night of Flames by Matthew Harffy is perfect for you!

About the author

Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Pre-order links

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3sOTmAe

Follow Matthew

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Website: www.matthewharffy.com

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Twitter: @AriesFiction

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Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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My Books

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Mysterious Knight in the Graveyard

The imposing keep of Conisbrough Castle

Whilst I was researching the Warenne earls of Surrey my cousin, who lives in Conisbrough, passed on to me a story of the accidental discovery of a long-dead knight during road-widening work in the village. Whether he has any relation to the Warenne family is open to conjecture, of course, although it is entirely possible. His identity is a mystery…

The story starts in 1955, with a road widening programme that was carried out along Church Street in Conisbrough. Conisbrough was a tightly packed village, with the road so narrow in places that cars had to mount the pavement if they met oncoming traffic. The ‘pinch’ was outside the parish church of St Peter’s. As a consequence, Conisbrough Urban District Council set to work to widen the road where Church Street meets Church Yard. As this was church property, and graves would have to be disturbed, strict rules were put in place to allow the work to proceed. The then vicar, Rev. G.F. Braithwaite allowed that the boundary wall could be removed and rebuilt a metre further into the churchyard. It was stipulated, however, that no photographs or archaeological examinations could be undertaken during the works. They expected to find twelve lots of human remains in the area to be excavated, and these were to be removed and reinterred speedily, and with reverence and solemn prayer, elsewhere within the churchyard.

When the boundary wall was removed, the stones were carefully stacked for reuse. One stone proved particularly interesting. It was a large stone which had been situated close to the base of the wall, was about a metre long and half a metre wide, with the image of a sword blade carved into the façade; the part of the stone which would have shown the hilt was missing. Work then began on excavating that area of the church yard that was to make way for the widened road. It was expected that twelve graves, dating from Victorian times, would need to be removed. The remains were removed only a short distance and reinterred in an area which is now the memorial garden. As work continued, however, the number of graves had been sorely underestimated, and several dozen graves were uncovered. It was discovered that graves had been stacked, one on top of another, going back through the years.

The Warenne coat of arms

Among the remains found was one who had been buried with a small shield. The shield was about 60cm long and 50cm wide, decorated with a lion rampant (where the lion is stood on his two back legs). It was, therefore, assumed that the remains were that of a knight; although the stipulation that there could be no archaeological investigation, nor photographs taken, means that we know nothing beyond this. We do know that the knight did not belong to the household of the Warenne earls, who had owned Conisbrough and its castle since the time of the Normans; their coat of arms was a shield of blue and gold checks, adopted by the second earl in the first half of the twelfth century.

Although the colour of the lion on the shield was black, this is unlikely to have been the original colour; several hundred years in the ground had erased any indication of the colours of the lion or the background of the shield, thus making it impossible to identify the coat of arms. The remains were reinterred along with the others, according to the conditions imposed for the road widening scheme. The work was then continued, the road widened and a new boundary wall built, with steps into the church yard and a memorial park marking where the disturbed remains had been reburied.

St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough

The incident was then forgotten about with the passage of time. Indeed, when I came to look into it, few had heard of the mysterious knight buried in Conisbrough church yard. Internet searches brought up nothing. The story re-emerged in 1990, when Conisbrough Castle installed new floodlights and hosted a grand ‘switch on’ ceremony for the residents of Conisbrough. An article sent to me by a Conisbrough resident talks of meeting re-enactors at the ceremony, who were dressed as knights of the Earl of Norfolk, with a lion rampant on their shields.

It was then suggested that Earl Hamelin’s daughter Isabel had married Roger Bigod, the first Earl of Norfolk, who died in 1221. Unfortunately, this relationship is not supported by history; Earl Roger was, in fact, the second earl of Norfolk and married to Ida de Tosny, former mistress of Henry II. However, Earl Roger’s son, Hugh, who died in 1225, was married to Matilda Marshal, the eldest daughter of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent for Henry III. On Hugh’s death, Matilda had married William de Warenne, Earl Hamelin’s son and fifth Earl of Warenne and Surrey. It is entirely possible that Matilda was accompanied by knights of her first husband when she visited Conisbrough, or was visited there by a Norfolk knight who then perished and was buried in the church yard of St Peter’s at Conisbrough. However, the emblem of the earls of Norfolk, in Matilda’s time, was a red cross on a yellow background. The red lion rampant, on a field of gold and green, was only adopted until 1269, when Roger Bigod, fifth earl of Norfolk and Matilda Marshal’s grandson, inherited the title of Marshal of England, which had passed to the family through his grandmother. This also means that it is just as likely, or even more so, that the shield belonged to a Marshal retainer who was visiting Matilda, or in Matilda’s employ.

The coat of arms of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke

There are several other possibilities for a Warenne connection to the knight in the churchyard. The emblem of the lion rampant was not an uncommon feature among medieval heraldry in England and Scotland. The royal arms of Scotland, for example, are of a red lion rampant on a yellow field. Edward Balliol, King of Scotland at various points in the 1330s, was a grandson of John de Warenne, sixth Earl of Warenne and Surrey, through his mother, Isabella de Warenne. Edward did not officially relinquish his claim to the Scottish throne until 1356 and died near Doncaster in around 1367. The mysterious knight may have been one of his household retainers. Another daughter of the sixth earl, Eleanor, married Henry Percy, the son of a cadet branch of the earls of Northumberland. The Percy family arms are a yellow lion rampant on a blue field. Other families associated with the Warennes also used the lion rampant on their shields, not least being the d’Aubigny earls of Arundel, whose arms were a yellow lion rampant on a red field; Isabel, daughter of William, the fifth Earl of Warenne and Surrey, married Hugh d’Aubigny, the fifth Earl of Arundel.

One final possibility is that the knight was a natural son of the last earl. John de Warenne, seventh Earl of Warenne and Surrey, had no legitimate children with his wife Joan of Bar, a granddaughter of Edward I but fathered a number of illegitimate children by his mistress, Maud Nerford. Maud was from a knightly family in Norfolk; their coat of arms was a lion rampant. It is known that at least one of their sons, —–, used the Nerford arms as his own. Further, the arms of John’s last mistress, Isabella Holland, who he called ‘ma compaigne’ in his will, was a white lion rampant of a blue field, surrounded by white fleur de lys.1

As to the stone, mentioned earlier, with the carving of a sword blade upon it, it was suggested that this stone was previously a grave marker for the mysterious knight and was found lying in the church grounds sometime in the early 1800s. There was extensive building going on in Conisbrough between 1800 and 1810 and it is assumed that stone was used to rebuild the boundary wall of the churchyard. The fact that the two were found in the vicinity of each other is no suggestion of a link. As archaeologist James Wright explained to me, such stones were often used to decorate churches, castles and important buildings, then repurposed elsewhere once those buildings fell into disuse. The stone could have come from anywhere, and not necessarily a grave marker at all. The stone in question can still be seen at St Peter’s church, to the side of the church porch.

Scotland’s King John Balliol with the arms of a red lion rampant on his surcoat

Although we have no definitive answers as to the identity of the mysterious knight who rests in the grounds of St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough, there are many possibilities that suggest a familial link with the Warenne family. As we have no archaeological survey or photographs to aid the investigation, definitive identification is impossible. Indeed, we do not even have any useful dates through which we can narrow down the possibilities. Although the last earl of Warenne and Surrey died in 1347, it seems unlikely that the knight is from a later period and had no relationship whatsoever with the Warenne earls. Conisbrough Castle passed into royal hands after the earl’s death and was given to Edward III’s fourth surviving son, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York; although the arms of Edmund and his sons were derived from the royal arms of England, which are three lions passant quartered with the fleur de lys of France.

It seems likely, therefore, that although we do not know the identity of century of the knight, he died sometime during the 300 years that the Warenne family held the castle and honour of Conisbrough; and there are several possible explanations for his association with the family, through their many and varied prestigious marriage alliances. There is also a chance that the knight was a Warenne himself, as the illegitimate son of the seventh and final earl, John de Warenne, and his mistress, Maud de Nerford.

The possibilities may not be endless, but they are numerous; without further information, however, it is impossible to narrow it down.

Footnotes:

1 Warner, Kathryn, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation

Images:

Conisbrough Castle and Warenne coat of arms by Sharon Bennett Connolly, St Peter’s Church, Conisbrough by Andrea Mason, John Balliol and Marshal arms courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources:

Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8 Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I; Alfred S. Ellis, Biographical Notes on the Yorkshire Tenants Named in Domesday Book (article); The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Conisbrough Castle Giudebook by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadraei; F. Royston Fairbank, ‘The Last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the Distribution of his Possessions’, The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. XIX; Scott L. Waugh, ‘Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne’, ODNB; Kelcey Wilson-Lee, Daughters of Chivalry: The Forgotten Children of Edward I; Kathryn Warner, Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation; Vincent, Nicholas, ‘William de Warenne, fifth earl of Surrey [Earl Warenne] (d. 1240)’, Oxforddnb.com; Marc Morris, King John; David Crouch, William Marshal; Crouch and Holden, History of William Marshal; Crouch, David, ‘William Marshal [called the Marshal], fourth earl of Pembroke (c. 1146–1219)’, Oxforddnb.com; Flanagan, M.T., ‘Isabel de Clare, suo jure countess of Pembroke (1171×6–1220)’, Oxforddnb.com; Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight; Chadwick, Elizabeth, ‘Clothing the Bones: Finding Mahelt Marshal’, livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com; Stacey, Robert C., ‘Roger Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk (c. 1212-1270)’, Oxforddnb.com; finerollshenry3.org.uk.

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My Books

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly