Book Corner: Reading Round up 2

As I said the other day, I am well behind on the list of book reviews I still have to write up, so the second article to include mini-reviews of several books that I have read and enjoyed over the last few months, to clear the backlog and give you some fabulous ideas if you’re looking for that next read (or a last minute Christmas pressie).

Four Queens and a Countess by Jill Armitage

When Mary Stuart was forced off the Scottish throne she fled to England, a move that made her cousin Queen Elizabeth very uneasy. Elizabeth had continued the religious changes made by her father and England was a Protestant country, yet ardent Catholics plotted to depose Elizabeth and put Mary Stuart on the English throne. So what was Queen Elizabeth going to do with a kingdomless queen likely to take hers? She had her placed under house arrest with her old friend Bess of Hardwick, then married to her fourth husband, the wealthy and influential Earl of Shrewsbury. The charismatic Scotswoman was treated more like a dowager queen than a prisoner and enjoyed the Shrewsbury’s affluent lifestyle until Bess suspected Mary of seducing her husband. But for sixteen years, with the never-ending threat of a Catholic uprising, Bess was forced to accommodate Mary and her entourage at enormous cost to both her finances and her marriage. Bess had also known the doomed Jane Grey and Mary Tudor, Queen of France. She had been in service in the Grey household and companion to the infant Jane. Mary Tudor had been godmother to Bess’s fifth child. Four Queens and a Countess delves deep into the relationships of these women with their insurmountable differences, the way they tried to accommodate them and the lasting legacy this has left. The clash of personalities and its deadly political background have never been examined in detail before.

Jill Armitage looks at the second half of the Tudor period through the lives of the four queens that shaped it and one remarkable countess. The flowing narrative tells the stories of Lady Jane Grey – the queen for 9 days – Mary I, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots alongside that of Bess of Hardwick, jailer of the Scottish queen. Four Queens and a Countess is a wonderful study of these remarkable women; women who, between them, influenced the direction of England for generations to come.

Jill Armitage investigates their various characters, relationships and disagreements, and explains how their relationships with each other affected the nations as a whole, and each other on an individual basis. Four Queens and a Countess is a thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing read, providing new insight and a refreshing change of focus on the Tudor era.

I highly recommend it!

Katherine Parr: Oppportunist, Queen, Reformer by Don Matzat

Don Matzat here provides a new perspective on the life of Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of the infamous Henry VIII. While most biographers suggest that Katherine chose to marry the obese, irascible monarch in order to further some reformation or obey a divine imperative, the author goes against the tide and concludes that Katherine was an opportunist who married the king in order to enjoy the comforts of being the Queen of England, proven by her sumptuous lifestyle. But everything changed for Katherine when she had a dramatic conversion experience, embracing the primary tenets of the Protestant Reformation as described in her seminal work, The Lamentation of a Sinner. Her newly found belief placed her in a precarious position, not only with her husband but with the heresy hunters who, with the king’s blessing, beheaded those who held such beliefs. Yet Katherine had the courage to discuss her faith with her dangerous husband during the final months of his life. The life of Katherine Parr was one of drama, intrigue, danger, deceit, clandestine romance, scandal, tragedy and mystery. She came to a tragic end, and for three hundred years her burial site remained unknown. Katherine ruled England while Henry went to war against France. She was the first woman published in England under her own name. Her Lamentation of a Sinner is a little-known gem of the Protestant Reformation. Her influence upon the children of Henry, the future monarchs Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, would affect English history for many years to come.

I think, out of all Henry VIII’s queens, Katherine Parr’s story fascinates me the most. And its not just because she lived at Gainsborough Old Hall – one of my favourite haunts – for a time. Henry VIII was Katherine’s third husband – and she was his sixth wife. But Katherine Parr was so much more than Henry VIII’s wife. She was an intelligent woman and a proponent of the new Protestant faith – indeed, she almost met the fate of her predecessors, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, when Henry suspected her of heresy.

Author Don Matzat looks at Katherine’s life and her religious outlook using The Lamentations of a Sinner, written by Katherine herself, to give him an insight into Katherine the woman and Katherine the queen.

In Katherine Parr: Opportunist, Queen, Reformer Don Matzat uses Katherine Parr’s own writings and letters to paint a vivid picture of this remarkable queen. Beautifully written, engaging and thoroughly researched, this book is a wonderful addition to any Tudor library.

The Bastard’s Sons by Jeffrey James

“William the Conqueror’s intellect is said to have remained clear right up to his death. He would have questioned whether any of his three sons individually had the ability to rule the troublesome amalgam of England, Normandy and Maine once he was gone. The Bastard’s Sons is the story of those three men: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy.

Of Robert, the dying king is said to have claimed he was ‘a proud and silly prodigal’, adding that ‘the country which is subject to his dominion will be truly wretched’. Yet Robert became a great crusader. William got on better with his namesake, known to us as William Rufus for his florid looks. He was, like his father, of kingship material, and might have gained the throne of England on his father’s nod, but, equally plausibly, orchestrated a coup. The youngest of the Bastard’s sons, Henry, inherited money from his father, but not land. To placate Henry, the Conqueror is alleged to have told him that one day he would gain both England and Normandy.

The stage was set for an epic power struggle between the three men and their barons, who held lands on both sides of the Channel and were thus caught in a difficult position. A mysterious death in the forest, a crusading hero’s return and the tenacity of an overlooked third son would all combine to see this issue settled once and for all.”

The Bastard’s Sons: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy by Jeffrey James is a wonderful book telling the story of the post-Conquest years through the power struggles of William the Conqueror’s three surviving sons. In a wonderful, engaging narrative, Jeffrey James provides a unique insight into these three, very different brothers.

By looking at their relationships with each other, at the nobles who surrounded and supported them, and at the events of the latter part of the eleventh century and beginning of the twelfth, Jeffrey James shows us how these three brothers influenced each other’s lives, and the lives of those around them; as well as the politics of England and Normandy and of Europe in general.

The Bastard’s Sons: Robert, William and Henry of Normandy is an absorbing read, offering a new perspective on the post Conquest years and demonstrating the far reaching influences of all three of William the Conqueror’s surviving sons. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the post Conquest years of England and Normandy, and in the establishment of the Norman dynasty.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Sara Cockerill

“In the competition for remarkable queens, Eleanor of Aquitaine tends to win. In fact her story sometimes seems so extreme it ought to be made up.

The headlines: orphaned as a child, Duchess in her own right, Queen of France, crusader, survivor of a terrible battle, kidnapped by her own husband, captured by pirates, divorced for barrenness, Countess of Anjou, Queen of England, mother of at least five sons and three daughters, supporter of her sons’ rebellion against her own husband, his prisoner for fifteen years, ruler of England in her own right, traveller across the Pyrenees and Alps in winter in her late sixties and seventies, and mentor to the most remarkable queen medieval France was to know (her own granddaughter, obviously).

It might be thought that this material would need no embroidery. But the reality is that Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life has been subjected to successive reinventions over the years, with the facts usually losing the battle with speculation and wishful thinking.

In this biography Sara Cockerill has gone back to the primary sources, and the wealth of recent first-rate scholarship, and assessed which of the claims about Eleanor can be sustained on the evidence. The result is a complete re-evaluation of this remarkable woman’s even more remarkable life. A number of oft-repeated myths are debunked and a fresh vision of Eleanor emerges. In addition the book includes the fruits of her own research, breaking new ground on Eleanor’s relationship with the Church, her artistic patronage and her relationships with all of her children, including her family by her first marriage.”

Sara Cockerill’s Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires was one of the most anticipated history books of 2019 and it did not disappoint. Dispelling many of the rumours and stories that float around whenever Eleanor of Aquitaine is mentioned, Sara Cockerill looks for the real woman behind the legend.

Mainly using primary sources, Sara Cockerill re-examines every aspect of Eleanor’s life. The research is impeccable and Sara Cockerill’s arguments and analysis are well reasoned and compelling. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires is essential reading for anyone interested in the era in general and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s story in particular.

This is one of those books that should sit in all medieval history lovers’ libraries, to be read and devoured.

The Anarchy by Teresa Cole

When the mighty Henry I died in December 1135, leaving no legitimate son, who was to replace him on the throne of England? Would it be Stephen, nephew to the king and showered with favours that maybe gave him ideas above his station? Or could it be a woman, Henry’s own choice, his daughter Matilda, who had been sent away when eight years old to marry the Holy Roman Emperor, widowed, then forced into a hated second marriage for political reasons? Stephen was the first to act, seizing the throne that had been promised to Matilda, but he would find taking a crown far easier than keeping it. The resulting struggle became known as ‘the Anarchy,’ a time when fortune changed sides as frequently and dramatically as in any page-turning thriller, and with a cast of characters to match – some passionately supporting Stephen or Matilda, others simply out to grab what they could from the chaos. These supporting players are not overlooked here: Henry of Blois, brother of Stephen, Bishop of Winchester, and largely orchestrator of the church’s response to the conflict; Robert of Gloucester, illegitimate son of Henry I and chief supporter of his half-sister; and Geoffrey of Anjou, husband of Matilda, determined to secure Normandy (traditional enemy of Anjou) for himself. Covering all the twists and turns of this war between cousins, as first one side then the other seemed within touching distance of total victory, The Anarchy blends contemporary, sometimes eyewitness accounts with modern analysis to describe a period of England’s history so dark and lawless that those who lived through it declared that ‘Christ and his saints slept.’

When I told Amberley I wanted to do a book about the Anarchy, they were reluctant, saying that Teresa Cole had a book coming out about the Anarchy, and they were worried the books would be too similar. So I promised to concentrate on the Women of the Anarchy (my book’s working title), but was – from that moment – curious to read Teresa Cole’s take on the events. Luckily I got the chance.

The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England is an intelligent, engaging study of the 19 years of English history during which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle bemoaned that ‘Christ and his Saints slept’. Told in a chronological narrative, Teresa Cole examines every aspect of the period; the personalities involved and the extent of devastation and destruction caused by the conflict – both in England and Normandy.

Using eyewitness accounts and contemporary chronicles, Teresa Cole examines the motives behind the two protagonists, King Stephen and Empress Matilda, looking at their reasons for wanting the throne – and for wanting to keep it. The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England also provides insight into the leading supporters on both sides of the conflict and demonstrates that though war was waged over a 19 year period, the main battles were fought in the early years and by 1147 the nobles were getting so tired of war they were looking to make mutual protection treaties between themselves, or go on crusade, rather than continue a war that had been fought to a stalemate.

The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England is an interesting, enjoyable read offering new insight and perspective on an often overlooked period of English history, the only time that a woman led a faction to war on English soil.

All these books are available from Amberley Publishing.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Reading Round-up 1

I am well behind on the list of book reviews I still have to write up, so I though I would do a couple of articles that include mini-reviews of several books that I have read and enjoyed over the last few months, to clear the backlog and give you some fabulous ideas if you’re looking for that next read.

A Hidden History of the Tower of London by John Paul Davis

Famed as the ultimate penalty for traitors, heretics and royalty alike, being sent to the Tower is known to have been experienced by no less than 8,000 unfortunate souls. Many of those who were imprisoned in the Tower never returned to civilisation and those who did, often did so without their head! It is hardly surprising that the Tower has earned itself a reputation among the most infamous buildings on the planet. There have, of course, been other towers. Practically every castle ever built has consisted of at least one; indeed, even by the late 14th century, the Tower proudly boasted no less than 21. Yet even as early as the 1100s, the effect that the first Tower had on the psyche of the local population was considerable. The sight of the dark four-pointed citadel – at the time the largest building in London – as it appeared against the backdrop of the expanding city gave rise to many legends, ranging from the exact circumstances of its creation to what went on within its strong walls. In ten centuries what once consisted of a solitary keep has developed into a complex castle around which the history of England has continuously evolved. So revered has it become that legend has it that should the Tower fall, so would the kingdom. Beginning with the early tales surrounding its creation, this book investigates the private life of an English icon. Concentrating on the Tower’s developing role throughout the centuries, not in terms of its physical expansion into a site of unique architectural majesty or many purposes but through the eyes of those who experienced its darker side, it pieces together the, often seldom-told, human story and how the fates of many of those who stayed within its walls contributed to its lasting effect on England’s – and later the UK’s – destiny. From ruthless traitors to unjustly killed Jesuits, vanished treasures to disappeared princes and jaded wives to star-crossed lovers, this book provides a raw and at times unsettling insight into its unsolved mysteries and the lot of its unfortunate victims, thus explaining how this once typical castle came to be the place we will always remember as THE TOWER.

What a wonderful read!

Packed to the brim with the best stories from the Tower, and almost 1,000 years of history – some you will know and some you won’t. John Paul Davis tells the remarkable story of the Tower of London through the lives of the people who have resided under its roofs – some of them most unfortunate indeed! We hear the stories of those fortunate people who escaped – and the not-so-fortunate who died in the attempt. John Paul Davis examines every aspect of the Tower of London, its role as a royal fortress, prison and place of execution; and the national events in which it played apart, such as the Peasants’ Revolt and the executions of 2 of Henry VIII’s queens. Written in 23 chapters, the story of the Tower as a prison is told from its foundation in 1066 to the present day.

With these incredible and often heart breaking stories, John Paul Davis clearly demonstrates how the fortress acquired its sinister reputation.

A Hidden History of the Tower of London is a thoroughly enjoyable read, and impossible to put down.

Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown by J.F. Andrews

When William the Conqueror died in 1087 he left the throne of England to William Rufus … his second son. The result was an immediate war as Rufus’s elder brother Robert fought to gain the crown he saw as rightfully his; this conflict marked the start of 400 years of bloody disputes as the English monarchy’s line of hereditary succession was bent, twisted and finally broken when the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, fell at Bosworth in 1485.

The Anglo-Norman and Plantagenet dynasties were renowned for their internecine strife, and in Lost Heirs we will unearth the hidden stories of fratricidal brothers, usurping cousins and murderous uncles; the many kings – and the occasional queen – who should have been but never were. History is written by the winners, but every game of thrones has its losers too, and their fascinating stories bring richness and depth to what is a colourful period of history. King John would not have gained the crown had he not murdered his young nephew, who was in line to become England’s first King Arthur; Henry V would never have been at Agincourt had his father not seized the throne by usurping and killing his cousin; and as the rival houses of York and Lancaster fought bloodily over the crown during the Wars of the Roses, life suddenly became very dangerous indeed for a young boy named Edmund.

With Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown, author JF Andrews provides a fascinating study of the also-rans and almost-made-its of medieval history; those children of the kings of England who died before they could claim their birth-right, or were passed over due to the dynastic squabbles of the Norman and Plantagenet dynasties that ruled England from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the advent of the Tudor age.

From the battles of Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror, to the tragic lives of the Yorkist heirs, Edward V, Edward of Middleham and Edward Earl of Warwick, Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown is a thoroughly engaging read, examining the lives of the heirs who were unable to claim their birthright, imprisoned for their royal blood, died before their time, or died in the attempt to claim the throne. Each individual story is brought into one volume, and demonstrates the struggle for power and supremacy in medieval England.

Beautifully written and well researched, it is an engaging read.

Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry by Arthur C. Wright

For the first time, a scholar reveals the meaning of the marginal images on the Bayeux Tapestry, unlocking a completely new meaning of the work.
 
The story of the Norman Conquest and the Battle of Hastings as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry is arguably the most widely-known in the panoply of English history, and over the last 200 years there have been hundreds of books on the Tapestry seeking to analyze its meanings. Yet, there is one aspect of the embroidery that has been virtually ignored or dismissed as unimportant by historians—the details in the margins.
 
The fables shown in the margins are neither just part of a decorative ribbon, nor are they discontinuous. They follow on in sequence. When this is understood, it becomes clear that they must relate to the action shown on the body of the Tapestry. After careful examination, the purpose of these images is to amplify, elaborate, or explain the main story.
 
In this groundbreaking study, Arthur Wright reveals the significance of the images in the margins. Now it is possible to see the “whole” story as never before, enabling a more complete picture of the Bayeux Tapestry to be constructed. Wright reexamines many of the scenes in the main body of the work, showing that a number of the basic assumptions, so often taught as facts, have been based on nothing more than reasoned conjecture.
 
It might be thought that after so much has been written about the Bayeux Tapestry there was nothing more to be said, but Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry shows how much there is still to be learned.

Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry: The Secrets of History’s Most Famous Embroidery Hidden in Plain Sight by Arthur C. Wright is a wonderful, engaging study of this most famous of embroideries, retelling the Norman Invasion in stunning, colourful needlework. Arthur C. Wright studies every aspect of the Tapestry, from the beasts in the margins to the story being played out in dramatic detail in the main part of the Tapestry. The author demonstrates how the images in the tapestry, even the animals and mystical creatures in the margin, serve to tell the story of the tapestry and the Norman Conquest.

An entertaining read and thoughtful study of the most famous of tapestries Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry is an illuminating work, beautifully illustrated along the way with images from the famous needlework.

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich

Peek beneath the bedsheets of Stuart Britain in this frank, informative, and captivating look at the sexual lives of the peoples of the British Isles between 1603 and 1714. Popular Stuart historian Andrea Zuvich, The Seventeenth Century Lady , explores our ancestors’ ingenious, surprising, bizarre, and often entertaining beliefs and solutions to the challenges associated with maintaining a healthy sex life, along with the prevailing attitudes towards male and female sexual behaviour. The author sheds light not only on the saucy love lives of the Royal Stuarts, but also on the dark underbelly of the Stuart era with histories of prostitution, sexual violence, infanticide, and sexual deviance. What was considered sexually attractive in Stuart Britain? At which ages would people be old enough for marriage? What were the penalties for adultery, incest, and fornication? How did Stuart-era peoples deal with infertility, sexually-transmitted illnesses, and child mortality? Find out the answers to these questions – and more – as fashion, food, science, art, medicine, magic, literature, love, politics, faith and superstition of the day are all examined, leaving the reader with a new regard for the ingenuity and character of our seventeenth and early eighteenth-century ancestors.

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich is a wonderful study of the bedroom exploits of the Stuart dynasty of the seventeenth century. Andrea Zuvich examines all aspects of Stuart sexual life, from attitudes to rape and pornography, to the notions of love and marriage. Zuvich also looks at the lives of the Stuart monarchs, examining the rumours around them, the various mistress and lovers and the perceptions they gave to their people and to history. This is a truly fascinating study of a part of life that is important to all of us – and necessary for our continued existence – but so rarely talked about. Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain is so much more than a study of sexual practices in Stuart Britain, it also analyses the effects of child mortality, the dangers of childbirth. It also looks at the seedier side of society, such as infanticide and sexually transmitted diseases.

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain is fascinating! It is a book that needed to be written and provides a wonderful contrast to the usual books on Stuart Britain, which concentrate on the Civil Wars, rather than the lives, loves and desires of the people. Andrea Zuvich has written a marvelous study of Stuart attitudes towards sex and sexuality, leaving no stone unturned to give the reader a comprehensive view of Stuart life, including the legal, social and personal aspects and implications.

The Peasants Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

Today we are aware of how the rich and privileged have lived in the past because historians write about them endlessly. The poor have largely been ignored and, as a result, their contributions to our modern world are harder to unearth. Skilled raconteur TERRY DEARY takes us back through the centuries with a poignant but humorous look at how life treated the common folk who scratched out a living at the very bottom of society. Their world was one of foul food, terrible toilets, danger, disease and death the last, usually premature. Discover the stories of the teacher turned child-catcher who rounded up local waifs and strays and put them to work, and the thousands of children who descended into the hazardous depths to dig for coal. Read all about the agricultural workers who escaped the Black Death only to be thwarted by greedy landowners. And would you believe the one about the man who betrothed his 7-year-old daughter to a Holy Roman Emperor, or even the brothel that was run by a bishop? On the flip side, learn how cash-strapped citizens used animal droppings for house building and as a cure for baldness; how sparrow s brains were incorporated into aphrodisiacal brews; and how mixing tea with dried elder leaves could turn an extra profit. And of the milestones that brought some meaning to ordinary lives, here are the trials and tribulations of courtship and marriage; the ruthless terrors of the sporting arena; and the harsh disciplines of education all helping to alleviate the daily grind. The Peasants Revolting Lives celebrates those who have endured against the odds. From medieval miseries to the idiosyncrasies of being a twenty-first-century peasant, tragedy and comedy sit side by side in these tales of survival and endurance in the face of hardship.

Terry Deary’s The Peasants’ Revolting Lives is a fun and fascinating read for all the family. Whenever a Terry Deary book arrives on the doorstep, there is an inevitable squabble between myself and my son as to who should read it first – I tend to lose!

With stories that are often amusing, sometimes gruesome and all true, Terry Deary examines every aspect of the life of the peasant – throughout history – from work and religion, to sport, entertainment and education. The book is packed full of facts, each story or anecdote intended to inform and entertain – and they do!

The Peasants’ Revolting Lives is a wonderful reading experience for adult and child alike. The stories are so engaging and interesting that you don’t even realise you are learning about the trials and hardships of life as a peasant down the centuries. It is a must-read for any history lover.

All these books are available from Pen & Sword, with 30% off throughout December.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Empress Hermine and the Tragic Wedding

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Moniek Bloks to History … The Interesting Bits on the first stop of her book tour. Moniek is the author of a new biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s second wife, Hermine Reuss of Greiz. The book, Hermine; An Empress in Exile will be released in the UK on Friday 11th December.

So, it’s over to Moniek:

Hermine

Empress Hermine and the tragic wedding

Caroline and her husband

Hermine Reuss of Greiz was one of the five daughters of Heinrich XXII, Prince Reuss of Greiz and his wife Princess Ida of Schaumburg-Lippe. Her childhood was overshadowed by the death of her mother in childbirth and the incurable disability of her only brother.  A 13-year marriage to Prince Johann Georg of Schönaich-Carolath produced five children before her husband’s death of tuberculosis. However determined never to be married again, Hermine ended up meeting the exiled German Emperor Wilhelm II, and soon fate had other plans.

But before Hermine had even married her first husband, she met the Emperor as a 15-year-old girl. In 1903, her elder sister Caroline was destined to marry Wilhelm Ernst, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Hermine and Caroline were especially close, and Caroline was only three years older than her. On 30 April 1903, Caroline married the Grand Duke at Bückeburg Palace, but Caroline was deeply unhappy; she hardly knew the man she was going to marry and abhorred the life that was waiting for her in Weimar.

Though faced with the separation of her much-beloved sister, Hermine’s memories of that day also focused on a man who towered above everyone else, the Emperor. Her uncle and guardian, who was hosting the wedding, promised to introduce her to him and young Hermine dutifully curtseyed to him. It was an unforgettable experience for her, but the Emperor paid little attention. She later said, “How could he have foreseen that this blushing little girl was his future wife? I stood there, frozen on the spot where the Emperor had received my greeting. The Emperor went on and chatted with my uncle.”

Caroline

It wasn’t just Caroline who had doubts about the wedding. Wilhelm Ernst received a stern talking to from the Emperor, and he said, “Only love can turn a palace into a home. Caroline is like a little bird, fallen out of its nest. She will miss the sisters who loved her. It will take her some time before she learns to be at home on the cold parquet floor of your castle.” He then raised his voice and said, “You have given me an Oath of Allegiance, and I order you to marry tomorrow.” The wedding went ahead as planned.

Caroline remained deeply unhappy, took up smoking and barely ate. The unhappiness of her marriage consumed her body, and she was soon emaciated. On 17 January 1905, Hermine sat by her dying sister’s bedside. On top of everything, Caroline had fallen ill with influenza, and her weakened body simply could not fight the disease. Hermine wrote, “The attack was so violent that there was no hope of her recovery from the first. She received the tenderest care, but all effort was in vain. In her heart of hearts, she did not wish to live.”

Hermine would always remember that she first met her future husband at her sister’s wedding but mostly, she would remember the dear sister she lost.

Many thanks to Moniek for a wonderful post and my very best wishes on her latest release. Please do follow the rest of the blog tour.

The book Hermine: An Empress in Exile will be released on 11 December 2020 (UK) and 1 January 2021 (US).

About the book:

Hermine Reuss of Greiz is perhaps better known as the second wife of the Kaiser (Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany) whom she married shortly after the death of his first wife Auguste Viktoria and while he was in exile in the Netherlands. She was by then a widow herself with young children. She was known to be ambitious about wanting to return to power, and her husband insisted on her being called ‘Empress’. To achieve her goal, she turned to the most powerful man in Germany at the time, Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, her dream was not realised as Hitler refused to restore the monarchy and with the death of Wilhelm in 1941, Hermine was forced to return to her first husband’s lands. She was arrested shortly after the end of the Second World War and would die under mysterious circumstances while under house arrest by the Red Army.

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About the author:

Moniek Bloks

Moniek Bloks is the editor of the successful blog History of Royal Women. She lives in the Netherlands and has a background in law.

Her interest in historical royal women and writing began at an early age, and she has been glad to share the stories of often little-known royal women.

When she isn’t writing, she is visiting castles and palaces around Europe with her trusty camera.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Moniek Bloks

Jolabokaflod – the Christmas Giveaway

Competition Closed

And the winner is …. Sue Barnard.

Thank you to everyone who entered. If you do get a copy of any of my books, either for yourself or others, please get in touch via the ‘contact me’ page and I will send you out a signed book plate to pop in the front.

My very best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and amazing New Year!

It is my pleasure to be the one to kick of the Historical Writers’ Forum Christmas Advent Blog Hop. And what better way to celebrate the end of 2020 with a book giveaway or special offer for practically every day of advent – so be sure to follow the blog hop through our Facebook page.

You could be a winner!

This year we are celebrating with Jolabokaflod as our Christmas blog hop theme! If you are not familiar with Jolabokaflod, it is the wonderful Icelandic tradition of giving books as gifts on Christmas Eve – except we are doing it for Advent.

And my contribution to Jolabokaflod is a signed paperback copy of my first book, Heroines of the Medieval World – either for yourself or as a gift for a friend or loved one – the dedication is entirely up to you!

Heroines of the Medieval World Giveaway!

Heroines of the Medieval World looks at the lives of the women who broke the mould: those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history. Some of the women are famous, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a duchess in her own right but also Queen Consort of France through her first marriage and Queen Consort of England through her second, in addition to being a crusader and a rebel. Then there are the more obscure but no less remarkable figures such as Nicholaa de la Haye, who defended Lincoln Castle in the name of King John, and Maud de Braose, who spoke out against the same king’s excesses and whose death (or murder) was the inspiration for a clause in Magna Carta. Women had to walk a fine line in the Middle Ages, but many learned to survive – even flourish – in this male-dominated world. Some led armies, while others made their influence felt in more subtle ways, but all made a contribution to their era and should be remembered for daring to defy and lead in a world that demanded they obey and follow.

The Jolabokaflod Giveaway!

The giveaway is a signed and dedicated – for you or someone you love – paperback copy of my first book, Heroines of the Medieval World. The giveaway is open worldwide – and I will do my best to get the book to you in time for the big day, wherever you are.

Here is a taster:

From Chapter 3: Medieval Mistresses

The most successful of mistresses must be Katherine Swynford, the one mistress who defied the odds and eventually married her man, thus spawning a multitude of novels and love stories. Katherine was born around 1350; she was the younger daughter of Sir Payn Roelt, a Hainault knight in the service of Edward III’s queen, Philippa of Hainault, who eventually rose to be Guyenne King of Arms. Unfortunately, the identity of her mother has never been established, not an unusual situation when you think Katherine was born to an obscure knight and her significance only became evident later in life. Katherine and her older sister, Philippa,
appear to have been spent their early years in Queen Philippa’s household. Philippa de Roelt (or Rouet) joined the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, wife of Lionel of Antwerp, where she met her future husband, the literary giant of his age, Geoffrey Chaucer.

By 1365 Katherine was serving Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, the first wife of John of Gaunt. John was the third surviving son of Edward III and Queen Philippa, and had married Blanche, co-heiress of Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster, in 1359. Soon after joining Blanche’s household, Katherine was married to Sir Hugh Swynford of Coleby and Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire. Sir Hugh was a knight and tenant of John of Gaunt, who would serve with his lord on campaigns in 1366 and 1370. The couple had two children, Thomas and Blanche, who was named after the duchess. John of Gaunt stood as little Blanche’s godfather and she was raised alongside his own daughters by Duchess Blanche. Following the duchess’s death in September 1368, Katherine became governess to the duke’s three children: Elizabeth, Philippa and Henry. Three years after the death of Blanche, in September 1371, John married again, this time to a Spanish princess, Constance of Castile, the daughter of Pedro the Cruel, King of Castile, and Maria de Padilla, the king’s concubine-turned-wife. The marriage was a dynastic move, with Constance being heiress to the kingdom of Castile there was a distinct chance of John becoming King of Castile, if only John could wrest it from her father’s killer and illegitimate brother, Henry of Trastámara. From January 1372, he assumed the title of King of Castile and Leon, though in name only as he was never able
to consolidate his position.

Shortly after the marriage of John and Constance, in November 1371, Sir Hugh Swynford died while serving overseas, leaving Katherine a widow with two very young children; the youngest was probably less than two years old. It was not long after Sir Hugh’s death that Katherine became John of Gaunt’s mistress; although some sources suggest the couple were lovers even before Sir Hugh’s death, which has brought into question the paternity of Katherine’s eldest son by John of Gaunt. However, the majority of historians agree the relationship between John and Katherine started in late 1371 or early 1372 and was developing well in the spring of that year, when Katherine received rewards and a significant increase in her status within Gaunt’s household….

It’s easy to enter!

The competition is open to everyone, wherever you are in the world. To win a signed and dedicated copy of Heroines of the Medieval World, simply leave a comment below, on the Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop Facebook Page or on my own Facebook page and I will include you in the prize draw.

The draw will be made on Sunday 6 December 2020.

Good Luck!

And don’t forget to follow the rest of the blog hop!

Dec 4th Alex Marchant; Dec 5th Cathie Dunn; Dec 6th Jennifer C Wilson; Dec 8th Danielle Apple; Dec 9th Angela Rigley; Dec 10th Christine Hancock; Dec 12th Janet Wertman; Dec 13th Vanessa Couchman; Dec 14th Sue Barnard; Dec 15th Wendy J Dunn; Dec 16th Margaret Skea; Dec 17th Nancy Jardine; Dec 18th Tim Hodkinson; Dec 19th Salina Baker; Dec 20th Paula Lofting; Dec 21st Nicky Moxey; Dec 22nd Samantha Wilcoxson; Dec 23rd Jen Black; 24th Lynn Bryant

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia by Samantha Morris

Myths and rumour have shrouded the Borgia family for centuries – tales of incest, intrigue and murder have been told of them since they themselves walked the hallways of the Apostolic Palace. In particular, vicious rumour and slanderous tales have stuck to the names of two members of the infamous Borgia family – Cesare and Lucrezia, brother and sister of history’s most notorious family. But how much of it is true, and how much of it is simply rumour aimed to blacken the name of the Borgia family? In the first ever biography solely on the Borgia siblings, Samantha Morris tells the true story of these two fascinating individuals from their early lives, through their years living amongst the halls of the Vatican in Rome until their ultimate untimely deaths. Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia begins in the bustling metropolis of Rome with the siblings ultimately being used in the dynastic plans of their father, a man who would become Pope, and takes the reader through the separate, yet fascinatingly intertwined, lives of the notorious siblings. One tale, that of Cesare, ends on the battlefield of Navarre, whilst the other ends in the ducal court of Ferrara. Both Cesare and Lucrezia led lives full of intrigue and danger, lives which would attract the worst sort of rumour begun by their enemies. Drawing on both primary and secondary sources Morris brings the true story of the Borgia siblings, so often made out to be evil incarnate in other forms of media, to audiences both new to the history of the Italian Renaissance and old.

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family by Samantha Morris is a fascinating look at two of the most famous villains in history; a brother and sister renowned for murder, intrigue and incest. Or are they? Samantha Morris’s beautifully written dual biography of these siblings aims to peal away the centuries of rumour and accusations and find the real people beneath the legend.

Samantha Morris combines a lively, engaging narrative with keen historical analysis, uncovering the facts embedded in the legends, rumours and scandals. She demonstrates a deep understanding not only of her subjects and their motivations but of the political theatre of Italy, the papacy and Europe in general at that time.

In Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family, Samantha Morris expertly separates rumour from fact to provide a balanced appraisal of these famous siblings; their strengths and weakness. Using creditable sources, papal records and even family letters, she clearly establishes the facts behind the lies of the incest accusation, whilst demonstrating how such accusations came about and the various efforts to sully the name of the Borgia family.

The careers of the Borgia children were decided and laid out before them before they could even waalk. Juan was chosen as the son who would be the military leader, the great Duke who would go on to continue the Borgia line; Cesare was destined for a life in the Church; Lucrezia would be forced into diplomatic marriages and Gioffre would do the same. The children were their father’s pawns, important chess pieces but Cesare in particular did not like the career path that was chosen for him.

When Cesare was just six years old, the Pope granted a dispensation that allowed him to hold Church benefices despite his illegitimacy and the following year, 1482, King Ferdinand of Aragon exempted him from a law that would stop him from holding lordships in Spain due to his illegitimacy. Being bastard born would not get in the way of raising Cesare Borgia to the heights that his father so wanted for him.

By the age of just fifteen, Cesare had already been given a vast number of Church benefices including the Bishopric of Pamplona, the ancient capital of Navarre. This caused particular outrage as the young man had not yet taken his holy orders and Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia did his best to calm down the populace, telling them that Cesare’s elevation was simply down to his merits and hard work. Cesare, on a break from the University of Perugia and busy on a hunting trip, found himself having to write a letter to the people of Navarre to try and soothe their anger. But it didn’t work and the Pope had to intervene to halt the rebellion.

From tracing their origins in Spain, to the spectacular heights to which the family rose, to the politics that brought about the demise of Cesare and meant the family were embroiled in constant struggles for land and power, Samantha Morris charts the successes and failures – and underhand dealings of the infamous family. The siblings’ father and family patriarch, Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI is depicted as a scheming but capable man and pope who loved his children dearly. He sought to establish his illegitimate children in lives and careers appropriate to their rank as the children of a reigning pope.

Lucrezia Borgia comes across as an intelligent, passionate woman, far removed from , the poisoner of legend conducting a love affair with her own brother. She proved herself capable of ruling and was loving and loyal to her family. She pursued an active political career despite her almost constant pregnancies, and suffered incalculable griefs and family loss. Lucrezia, however, is not depicted as a pure, innocent virgin, but a well educated, politically astute woman who may also have conducted certain indiscretions, or at least platonic love affairs, during her lifetime. She is a woman who made the best of the life that was mapped out for her.

Cesare, on the other hand, is a ruthless man not cut out for the career in the church to which he appeared destined. The untimely murder of his older brother meant he went from cardinal to soldier, a job to which he was much better suited and a thousand times more capable and dedicated. Cesare is a complex character; accused of numerous murders, including those of his own brother and Lucrezia’s second husband, he is remembered to history as a ruthless, scheming murderer and seducer of his own sister. While he may have been ruthless and scheming – and a murderer to some extent, Samantha Morris goes on to prove that not all the murders laid at Cesare’s door were his responsibility.

As an aside, the reader cannot fail to notice the prevalence of syphillis in Italy at the time. A countless number of the protagonists in the story suffered from this disfiguring disease, Cesare Borgia among them. The French, attempting to conquer Italy at the time, called it ‘the Italian disease’, though in England it was known as ‘the French disease’ – those same invading French soldiers took the dreadful disease with them when they returned home.

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family is an engaging narrative of the history of not only these most famous Italian siblings, but also Italy, the papacy and wider European politics at the time when the world was moving from the Medieval era into the Early Modern, when the Renaissance was in full swing and the Reformation was just around the corner. Samantha Morris demonstrates the power of the papacy, of Pope Alexander VI in particular, and how papal factions caused the rise – and fall – of the Borgia family.

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family is an entertaining and enthralling read – one not to be missed!

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family by Samantha Morris is available from Pen & Sword Books and Amazon.

About the author:

Samantha Morris studied archaeology at the University of Winchester and it was there, whilst working on a dissertation about the battlefield archaeology of the English Civil War that her interest in the Italian Renaissance began. Her main area of interest is the history of the Borgia family and the papacy of Pope Alexander VI, however she also has a keen interest in the history of other Renaissance families. Samantha has previously written on the Borgia family and runs a successful blog based mainly on the history of the Italian Renaissance, but with snippets of other eras thrown in too.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Mary of Woodstock, Royal Nun

Mary of Woodstock

To many noble women, the religious life was a career that had been decided for them by their parents when they were still children, as with Mary of Blois. However, for some, this did not necessarily mean they spent their entire lives in the seclusion of the convent. This was the certainly case with Princess Mary, daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile.

Mary of Woodstock was born on 11 or 12 March 1279, the 6th daughter of King Edward and Queen Eleanor. Edward and Eleanor were quite a nomadic couple, travelling among their domains, so their children were raised in the royal nursery, based largely at the royal palaces of Woodstock and Windsor; visits from their parents were quite infrequent and from Edward, their father, even less so.

Eleanor of Castile endured a remarkable number of pregnancies, the first was when she was about 13 or 14, resulting in a child who was stillborn or died shortly after birth. The fact that several children died before they reached adulthood has been suggested as a reason for her keeping her distance from her children when they were young; however, it is just as likely that the simple fact Edward and Eleanor ruled a vast kingdom, including their lands in France, meant their responsibilities necessitated long absences.

Eleanor’s almost-constant pregnancies, resulting in a total of sixteen children, meant there were regular additions to the nursery, which also housed a number of children from noble families, sent to be raised alongside the king’s children. Mary would have had many companions, including her brother Alphonso, who was heir to the throne and 5 years her senior, and her sister Margaret, who was 4 years older than Mary. She would be joined by another sister, Elizabeth of Rhuddlan, 3 years later.

Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Lincoln Cathedral

In 1285, a year after the death of Prince Alphonso, the king took his family on a progress into Kent. Edward went on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas Becket, at Canterbury, before spending a week at Leeds Castle with his family, followed by some hunting in Hampshire. It was at the end of this family holiday that they arrived at Amesbury priory in Wiltshire, where little Mary, still only 6 years old, was veiled as a nun; much to the delight of her grandmother, Eleanor of Provence, but to the consternation of her mother, the queen. Indeed, the Chronicle of Nicholas Trivet emphasises that Mary’s veiling was done by her father, at the request of her grandmother, but only with the ‘assent’ of her mother.1

It may well be that Eleanor had reservations about her daughter’s vocation being decided at such a young age, or that she feared it was only being done so Mary’s grandmother, Eleanor of Provence, would have a companion in the abbey. After a long and eventful life, and with her health failing, the dowager queen took her own vows at around the same time and retired to Amesbury Priory for her final years, dying there in June 1291. Mary’s veiling had been in the planning for some years; Edward I had been in correspondence with the abbey at Fontevrault, the mother house of Amesbury, since 1282, when the little princess was barely 3 years old.

Eleanor’s reluctance, therefore, was probably more to do with when Mary was to become a nun, rather than the vocation itself; after all, the conventual life was considered a good career for a noble lady. The timing of her veiling may have been advanced not only by the failing health of Eleanor of Provence, but also by the imminent departure of Mary’s parents. Edward and Eleanor were about to embark for the Continent and were expecting to be in France for a considerable time, years rather than months.

The Priory Church, now the parish church, Amesbury

The actual veiling ceremony must have been very moving. It took place at Amesbury Abbey on 15 August 1285, where Mary was one of 14 high-born girls who took their vows together. It may well be that her cousin, Eleanor of Brittany – another granddaughter of Eleanor of Provence – took her vows at the same time; Eleanor would later demonstrate a great dedication to the religious life and, eventually, become Abbess of Fontevrault.

Mary’s life at the abbey was probably a very comfortable existence; in the year she was veiled, Mary was awarded an annual income of £100, rising to £200 a year in 1292, following the death of Eleanor of Provence. As she was still only a child, the nuns at Amesbury would have been responsible not only for Mary’s spiritual life, but also for her education. However, the cloistered life by no means meant that Mary was confined and separated from her family for any length of time. She made frequent visits to court throughout her life, and was present for most family occasions.

Having taken the veil in August 1285, Mary returned to be with her family in the autumn, to see the unveiling of the newly created Winchester Round Table and the creation of 44 new knights by her father, the king. She visited her family again in March and May of 1286, each visit lasting about a month. These visits also meant Mary had the chance to bid farewell to her parents, who departed for an extended stay in France in 1286. On 13 August
1289, Mary, her 4 sisters and little brother Edward were at Dover to welcome their parents home, after a 3-year absence.

King Edward I

Mary visited court again in 1290 and stayed for the wedding of her older sister, Joan of Acre, to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford; Joan and Gilbert were married in a private ceremony at Westminster on 30 April. It is likely that she was back at court later in the year for another wedding, this one at Westminster Abbey in July when her sister, Margaret, married John, the future Duke of Brabant.

Mary would have seen quite a lot of her parents in the spring of 1290 as her father chose Amesbury as the location for a special meeting, convened to settle the arrangements for the English succession. Edward may have chosen the abbey so that his ailing mother could be present for the discussions. The Archbishop of Canterbury and 5 other bishops, in addition to Edward, Eleanor of Castile and Eleanor of Provence, were all present to formalise the settling of the succession on Edward’s only surviving son, 6-year-old Edward of Caernarvon. Should Edward of Caernarvon die without heirs, it was decided that the succession would then pass to Edward I’s eldest daughter, the newly married Countess of Gloucester and Hereford, Joan of Acre.

Eleanor of Castile was a distant mother when her children were young, but she seems to have developed closer relationships as they grew older, so it is not hard to imagine her taking the opportunity to spend time with 12-year-old Mary while they were staying at the abbey. It was probably one of the last times that Mary spent any real time with her mother, who died at Harby, near Lincoln, on 28 November 1290.

The viscera tomb of Eleanor of Castile, Lincoln cathedral

Indeed, it may well have been one of the last times they saw each other; Eleanor was at the king’s palace of Clipstone in Nottinghamshire when it was realised that her illness was probably fatal. Some of her children, Joan, Edward and Elizabeth, were summoned to the queen’s bedside; although Mary is not mentioned, it does not mean that she did not visit her mother one last time.2 Mary’s deep affection for her mother was demonstrated in 1297 when she and her younger sister, Elizabeth, jointly paid for a special Mass in their mother’s honour.

Mary’s career in the Church was far from spectacular; although her high birth gave her some influence, she never made high office and was never given a priory or abbey of her own. However, she was given custody of several aristocratic nuns at Amesbury, trusted to oversee their education and spiritual training. Convent life seems to have held few restrictions for her. Mary was regularly away from the cloister. She was frequently at court, or with various members of her family. In 1293 Mary spent time with her brother, Edward, and in 1297 she spent 5 weeks at court, taking the opportunity to spend some time with her sister, Elizabeth, who had been recently married to John, Count of Holland, and was preparing to join him there. In the event, news of John’s death arrived before her departure and Elizabeth never left England.

Nicholas Trivet

Mary had many cultural interests and was a patron of Nicholas Trivet, who dedicated his chronicle, Annales Sex Regum Angliae, to her. Mary was probably Trivet’s source for many of the details of Edward I’s family and the inclusion of several anecdotes that demonstrated Edward’s luck, such as the story of the king’s miraculous escape from a falling stone while sitting and playing chess. He had stood up to stretch his legs when the stone from the vaulted ceiling landed on the chair he had just vacated.3 The stories that Mary passed on to Trivet also serve to demonstrate that she was at court on a regular basis. The financial provisions settled on her by Edward I meant that Mary did not have to suffer from her vows of poverty.

In addition to the £200 a year she received from 1292, Mary was also granted 40 cocks a year from the royal forests and 20 tuns of wine from Southampton. In 1302, the provision was changed and she was given a number of manors and the borough of Wilton in lieu of the £200, but only for as long as she remained in England. Given that a proposed move to Fontevrault had been dropped shortly after the death of Eleanor of Provence, the likelihood of Mary leaving England seems to have been only a remote possibility.

Mary had a penchant for high living; she travelled to court with an entourage big enough to require 24 horses. By 1305, despite her income, she was substantially in debt, with the escheator south of the Trent being ordered to provide her with £200 in order to satisfy her creditors. Mary also had a taste for gambling, mainly at dice, and her father is known to have paid off at least one gambling debt.4 Following her father’s death in 1307, her younger brother, now King Edward II, continued to support Mary financially and she continued to make regular visits to court.

Mary died sometime around 1322 and was buried where she had lived, at Amesbury Priory. She was a princess whose future was decided for her at a very young age. She doesn’t seem to have excelled at the religious life, in that she never achieved significant office, but she did make the most of the life chosen for her, making frequent pilgrimages and taking charge of the young, aristocratic ladies who joined the convent. Despite her dedication to the Church, she found her own path within it and seems to have achieved a healthy (for her) balance between the cloister and the court.

The Warenne coat of arms

There was, however, one moment of scandal; although it did not arise until more than 20 years after Mary’s death. In 1345, in a final, desperate attempt to escape an unhappy marriage John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, claimed that he had had an affair with Mary and that, therefore, his marriage to her niece, Joan of Bar, was invalid due to the close blood relationship of the 2 women. Although it is highly unlikely that the claim was anything more than Surrey’s desperate attempt to find a way out of his marriage, it cannot be ignored that Mary was frequently at court and such an opportunity may have arisen; Mary was only a few years older than John de Warenne. The ecclesiastical court, however, refused to believe the earl’s claims and Mary’s reputation remains – largely – intact.

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Footnotes:

1 Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill; 2 A Palace for Our Kings by James Wright; 3 Annales Sex Regum Angliae by Nicholas Trivet; 4 Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill

Images

Courtesy of Wikipedia except the statues of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile and Eleanor’s viscera tomb at Lincoln Cathedral, which are ©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Sources:

Edward I A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, The Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; OxfordDNB.com; findagrave.com; susanhigginbotham.com; womenshistory.about.com; Daughters of Chivalry by Kelcey Wilson-Lee; Nobility and Kingship in Medieval England by Andrew M. Spencer; Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volumes I and II by Rev. John Watson; Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen by Sara Cockerill; A Palace for Our Kings: The History and Archaeology of a Medieval Royal Palace in the Heart of Sherwood Forest by James Wright

My Books

Coming 31st May:

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 will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: Betrayal

“Loyalty breaks as easily as a silken thread.”

Misplaced trust, power hunger, emotional blackmail, and greed haunt twelve characters from post-Roman Britain to the present day. And betrayal by family, lover, comrade can be even more devastating.

Read twelve tales by twelve accomplished writers who explore these historical yet timeless challenges.

AD455—Roman leader Ambrosius is caught in a whirlpool of shifting allegiances
AD940—Alyeva and cleric Dunstan navigate the dangers of the Anglo Saxon court
1185—Knight Stephan fights for comradeship, duty, and honour. But what about love?
1330—The powerful Edmund of Kent enters a tangled web of intrigue
1403—Thomas Percy must decide whether to betray his sovereign or his family
1457—Estelle is invited to the King of Cyprus’s court, but deception awaits
1483—Has Elysabeth made the right decision to bring Prince Edward to London?
1484—Margaret Beaufort contemplates the path to treason
1577—Francis Drake contends with disloyalty at sea
1650—Can James Hart, Royalist highwayman, stop a nemesis destroying his friend?
1718—Pirate Annie Bonny, her lover Calico Jack, and a pirate hunter. Who will win?
1849/present—Carina must discover her ancestor’s betrayer in Italy or face ruin.

Betrayal: Historical Stories is a wonderful anthology of 12 short stories exploring the concept of betrayal, either of country, family or lovers. Featuring some of the best authors of the moment, Betrayal: Historical Stories features stories from post-Roman Britain to an alternative reality in modern times, where the Roman Empire never fell but continued under powerful, influential women in Roma Nova.

There is something in this book for everyone. There are kings and queens, knights, pirates and cavalier highwaymen. There are stories of love, loyalty and friendship combined with implacable enemies, broken promises, family secrets and – above all – betrayal!

The remarkable diversity of the stories make this anthology a gripping read. You never know what story you are going to come across next, whether its the exploits of Sir Francis Drake, the heartbreaking story of 13-year-old Edward V’s journey to London, from his proclamation as king to his deposition and imprisonment in the Tower of London. Each story is written by a different author; their voices are as distinct as their characters.

In a book of short stories, it is impossible to pick an extract that shows the full range of writing on offer. However, it is possible to choose and extract that highlights the high standard of writing throughout the book. So here’s an excerpt from Honour of Thieves by Cryssa Bazos:

A panicked rider appeared from around the bend, twisted in the saddle, his attention fixed behind him as though the hounds of hell snapped at his feet. When he finally turned to face the road ahead, he saw James barring his way and screamed. the rider yanked hard on teh reins, and his horse skidded to a bone’jarring halt. He fought to keep himself from launching over his horse’s head.

James levelled his pistol at him. ‘Stand and deliver!’

A bead of sweat trickled down the man’s brow. ‘Ah, Master Highwayman. Do you not remember me? I passed this way before. You afforded me a free pas through Moot Hill.’ When he received no acknowledgement, he pressed on, his voice cracking, ‘I’m the pauper you took pity on. Do you not recall?’

James studied the man. Same battered hat and frayed cloak, a nearly broken horse better suited for the pasture than the road. True, he had last taken the man for a beggar, as he was meant to, but since then he had learned the truth. ‘A thrice of days ago; I haven’t forgotten. I allowed you the freedom of the highway.’

‘Blessed be the day.’ The man beamed and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. ‘Naturally, there’s no profit accosting me.’ His smile faded when he realised that the pistol was still trained on him. ‘I’m not even a Parliamentarian – I’m a good Royalist still mourning his fallen king … like yourself.’

James lifted a brow, satisfied to see the man squirm. Lying sod. Many travellers had passed this way over the last year pretending to share the highwayman’s abhorrence for their Parliamentarian usurpers in order to save their purse. James had seen through their ruses, but this one had somehow rooked him. That set his teeth on edge. ‘You pled your case well, claiming to be a half-starved hare.’ He swept his gaze to the man’s new leather boots. Clearly, the man’s subterfuge did not extend to the discomfort of ill-fitting shoes. ‘I took pity on you – instead of taking, I gave you a goodly sum to keep you well and a few coins besides to drink my health.’

‘God save you -‘

‘Did you have that drink?’ James asked.

‘Of course! I sang your praises at a public house that night.’

‘Are you certain?’

Silence.

I have read some of the authors before. Derek Birks, Tony Riches, Annie Whitehead, Cryssa Bazos and Anna Belfrage are among my favourite authors and I have reviewed their books before. These short stories allowed me to revisit some of their best characters, from Ambrosius Aurelianus to Captain James Hart, Sir Stephan de l’Aigle and Kit and Adam de Guirande of Anna Belfrage’s The King’s Greatest Enemy series.

Reading Betrayal: Historical Stories was a combination of spending a few hours with old friends and meeting new ones. Elizabeth St John, Judith Arnopp and Alison Morton were authors I was familiar with, but had not read before. I am now going to rectify that and go through their back catalogue to catch up. Alison’s Roma Nova short story provided an intriguing alternative to the modern day, showing us how the world might be, had a Roman Empire survived and flourished into the modern world, under the auspices of 12 ruling families.

The stories are beautifully written, enjoyable diversions. It is impossible to choose a favourite! Betrayal: Historical Stories showcases some of the best writing in historical fiction today. It is a pure pleasure to read.

What a fabulous way to discover new authors and new adventures!

The Betrayal: Historical Stories anthology is available for free from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Cover and Title reveal – Defenders of the Norman Crown

Here it is!

The finalised cover for Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, coming out next year.

Huge thanks to designer Paul Wilkinson at Pen & Sword for making my book look sooo good!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey

In the reign of Edward I, when asked Quo Warranto? – by what warrant he held his lands – John de Warenne, the 6th earl of Warenne and Surrey, is said to have drawn a rusty sword, claiming ‘My ancestors came with William the Bastard, and conquered their lands with the sword, and I will defend them with the sword against anyone wishing to seize them.’

John’s ancestor, William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He was rewarded with enough land to make him one of the richest men of all time. In his search for a royal bride, the 2nd earl kidnapped the wife of a fellow baron. The 3rd earl died on crusade, fighting for his royal cousin, Louis VII of France…

For three centuries, the Warennes were at the heart of English politics at the highest level, until one unhappy marriage brought an end to the dynasty. The family moved in the most influential circles, married into royalty and were not immune to scandal.

Defenders of the Norman Crown 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.

Warenne arms

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you will have noticed that I have a fondness for the Warennes. The family were earls of Surrey from 1088 until the death of the last Warenne earl in 1347. They possessed lands throughout England, stretching from Lewes in Sussex to Castle Rising in Norfolk and on to Conisbrough and Sandal Castles in Yorkshire.

Growing up close to the Warenne castle at Conisbrough in South Yorkshire, I developed a fascination for the castle’s history, for its connections to royalty, and for the family which built this amazing stronghold – the Warennes. As a student, I worked at the castle as a volunteer tour guide and started researching the story of the family. Many, many years later, when Pen & Sword asked me for some book ideas, I suggested writing a biography of the family, not really expecting them to say ‘yes’ – but they did. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is a book I have always wanted to write, but never expected I would get the chance.

From the time of the Norman Conquest to the death of the seventh and last earl, the Warenne family was at the heart of English politics and the establishment, providing military and administrative support to the Crown. In the years following 1066 William I de Warenne, who became the first Earl of Surrey in 1088, was the fourth richest man in England and the richest not related to the royal family – he ranks at number 18 in MSN.com’s Top 20 Richest People of All Time.

Conisbrough Castle

The earls of Surrey were at the centre of the major crises of medieval England, from the Norman Conquest itself to the deposition of Edward II and accession of Edward III. Strategic marriages forged links with the leading noble houses in England and Scotland, from the Marshals, the FitzAlans, the d’Aubignys and Percys to the Scottish and English royal families themselves. Indeed, it is from Ada de Warenne, daughter of the second earl, married to the oldest son of the king of Scots, that all the leading competitors for the Scottish throne, after the death of Margaret, Maid of Norway in 1286, are descended. Queen Elizabeth II, herself, can trace her own lineage back to Ada and, through Ada, to the second earl of Warenne and Surrey.

In the 14th century, one unhappy marriage brought the dynasty to an end, the family’s influence and achievements almost forgotten…

Writing Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey and researching this incredible family has been an amazing experience – a dream come true – and I will be eternally grateful to Pen & Sword for allowing me to tell their story.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the story of this remarkable dynasty. It is a story of power, ambition, loyalty and – above all – family!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword Books.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Mary, Reluctant Countess of Boulogne

Mary’s mother, Matilda of Boulogne

Mary of Blois was the youngest daughter of Stephen of Blois and his wife, Matilda of Boulogne, herself the granddaughter of St Margaret, queen of Scotland. Mary was born in Blois, France around 1136. She was destined for the cloister from an early age and, while still a young girl, was placed in a convent at Stratford, Middlesex, with some nuns from St Sulpice in Rennes.

Mary’s lineage and the quirks of fate, however, meant that Mary’s peaceful convent life would be violently cut short.

Mary’s father Stephen was the nephew of Henry I, and his closest, legitimate, male relatives. Following the death of his only legitimate son, William Adelin, in the White Ship disaster of 1120, and with his only other legitimate child, Empress Matilda, living in Germany, it seems that Henry looked at Stephen as a possible successor. However, when Matilda’s husband died in 1125 and the empress returned to her father’s court, Stephen’s position was left undetermined. Stephen remained prominent at the English court, always present as a viable alternative to the succession of a woman – Empress Matilda.

In the confusion following Henry’s death in December 1135, it was Stephen who acted quickly and decisively. As he claimed the crown in England and his adherents secured Normandy in Stephen’s name, Empress Matilda was home in Anjou with her husband Geoffrey, Count of Anjou and two young sons, Henry and Geoffrey. She was pregnant with her third and youngest son, William.

What followed was a period known as the Anarchy, almost 20 years of conflict and bloodshed as Stephen and the Empress Matilda battled for supremacy of England and Normandy. Ultimately, Stephen managed to retain control of England but lost Normandy to Count Geoffrey, who passed it on to his and Matilda’s eldest son, Henry FitzEmpress. Henry, was eager to win back his birthright and following several incursions by Henry – whilst still in his teens – he and Stephen came to an agreement.

King Stephen

Stephen and his wife Matilda had five children in total, but only three, including Mary, who survived infancy. Of Stephen and Matilda’s three children, Eustace IV, Count of Boulogne, was the eldest to survive into adulthood, and was groomed as his father’s heir. He was married to Constance of France, daughter of King Louis VI and sister of Louis VII, in 1140 and knighted in 1147. He died in August 1153, after suffering some form of seizure. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle said of him

‘he had little success, and with just cause, because he was an evil man, because wheresoever he came he did more evil than good; he robbed the lands and laid great taxes on them.’

Anglo_Saxon Chronicles, edited by Michael Swanton

The Gesta Stephani, however, paints a picture of

‘a young man of high character … his manners were grave; he excelled in warlike exercises and had great natural courage … he was courteous and affable … and possessed much of his father’s spirit … ever ready to draw close the bands of peace’ but ‘never shrank from presenting a resolute and indomitable front to his enemies.’

Gesta Stephani

Stephen’s youngest son was William, who was born around 1134/5. In 1149 he married Isabel de Warenne, sole heiress to William de Warenne, third earl of Surrey, in order to bring the vast Warenne lands within the influence of the crown. William would succeed to the County of Boulogne in 1153, on the death of Eustace. Shortly after his brother’s death, and with the help of the clergy, William made an agreement with Henry of Anjou, whereby he waived his own rights to the crown in return for assurances explicitly recognising his rights to his lands, as Count of Boulogne and Mortain and Earl of Surrey.

Romsey Abbey

Mary, who had been in the convent in Stratford, Middlesex, was moved around 1150-52 after some discord with the nunnery. Her parents founded a new convent for her at Lillechurch (Higham) in Kent, making it a sister convent with Rennes’ St Sulpice. Mary does not appear to have been given the title of prioress. However, a charter of Henry II, dated around 1155-58, confirmed Lillechurch to Mary and her nuns, suggesting she held some position of authority. Before 1160 Mary had become abbess of the great abbey at Romsey, an older and more prestigious institution than her little foundation at Lillechurch.

Mary’s brother William died without issue in 1159 during the Siege of Toulouse. Though a nun, Mary succeeded him in the County of Boulogne. In 1160 Mary’s life was turned upside down. She was suddenly a great heiress, countess of Boulogne in her own right and too great a marriage prize to be allowed to remain secluded in the cloisters. She was abducted from Romsey Abbey by Matthew of Alsace, second son of the Count of Flanders, and forced to marry him. This may well have been a political move; although there does not appear to be any proof that Henry II sanctioned it, most sources imply that the marriage was forced on her by the king and he certainly benefited from Mary being safely married to a loyal vassal. She was, after all, not only a great heiress but, through her father, she had a strong, rival claim to the throne of England.

Henry II and his mother, Empress Matilda, from a 12th century manuscript

There was great outrage among the clergy; marriage with a nun was a breach against canon law and opposed by the leading ecclesiastical figures of the day. One source suggested the pope had granted a dispensation for the marriage. However, given that Pope Alexander III expressed great disapproval in a letter to the archbishop of Rheims, his consent seems highly unlikely. The pope imposed an interdict on Matthew of Alsace and pressed the claims of the wife of Mary’s brother, Eustace, to the Boulogne estates; even though Constance had died some fourteen years before. The furore seems to have died down eventually, and the marriage was allowed to stand.

Unfortunately for Henry II, Matthew turned out to be a not-so-loyal vassal and rebelled at least twice. The first occasion arose when Matthew tried to press his claims to Mortain, land that should have been part of Mary’s inheritance but was now held by Henry II. The king was not too accommodating. An agreement was eventually reached whereby, in return for £1,000, Matthew would renounce all claims to those parts of his wife’s estates that were still in royal hands.

Mary seems to have had little love for Henry II, possibly due to his involvement in her abduction and marriage, or simply because of the fact their respective families had spent many years at war. With so much bad history, you wouldn’t expect them to have an affectionate relationship, but Mary appears to have actively worked against Henry. Following a meeting with the ambassadors of the emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, she wrote to King Louis of France. In the document, she describes Henry II as ‘the fraudulent king’, while informing Louis of Henry’s manoeuvring against him.

Mary and Matthew had two children, daughters Ida and Mathilde; and it was after the birth of Mathilde that the couple were divorced, in 1170. There is some suggestion that Matthew was pressured to agree to the divorce by his dying father and the emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, probably in the hope of having the interdict – placed on Matthew on his marriage to Mary – lifted. After the divorce, Matthew would continue to rule Boulogne and was succeeded by Ida on his death in 1173.

Mary’s younger daughter Mathilde, Duchess of Brabant

Ida (b. c1160) married three times; her first husband, Gerard III, count of Gueldres, who died in 1183. Her short marriage to her second husband, Berthold IV, Duke of Zehringen, ended in his death in 1186. Ida’s last marriage was to Reginald, or Renaud, de Tree, Count of Dammartin, who was a childhood friend of France’s king, Philip Augustus. It seems Renaud abducted Ida and forced her into marriage. He died in 1227, outliving Ida, who died in 1216, by eleven years. It was Matilda, the daughter of Ida and Renaud, who inherited Boulogne from Ida, and would also become Queen of Portugal through her marriage to Alfonso III of Portugal.

Born in 1170 Ida’s younger sister, Mathilde, married Henry I, duke of Louvain and Brabant, when she was nine-years-old. She would have seven children before her death sometime in 1210 or 1211; she was buried in St Peter’s Church, Leuven.

The interdict, which had been placed on Matthew on his marriage to Mary, was finally lifted when she returned to the convent life, becoming a simple Benedictine nun at St Austrebert, Montreuil. Mary died there in July 1182, aged about forty-six, and was buried in the convent. A woman who obviously believed that her life should be devoted to God, she is remarkable in that she managed to fulfil her dynastic duties in a forced marriage, and yet asserted herself so that she was able to return to the secluded life she so obviously craved.

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Sources:

Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Robert Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; David Williamson, Brewer’s British Royalty; the History Today Companion to British History; Dan Jones, the Plantagenets; englishmonarchs.co.uk; The Oxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens; Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy; S.P. Thompson, Oxforddnb.com, Mary [Mary of Blois], suo jure countess of Boulogne (d. 1182), princess and abbess of Romsey; Anglo_Saxon Chronicles, edited by Michael Swanton; Gesta Stephani.

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Guest Post: Joan, Lady of Wales by Danna R. Messer

Today it is a distinct pleasure to welcome Danna R. Messer to History … the Interesting Bits to talk about her favourite medieval heroine, Joan, Lady of Wales. I recently review Danna’s new, excellent, biography of Joan and now Danna is here to shine some light on Joan.

Joan, Lady of Wales by Danna R. Messer

When Sharon invited me as a guest she happily told me I could write on ‘any subject relating to Joan’. In theory, given such free range to write about one aspect of my long-lived preoccupation with this true ‘heroine of history’ was a blessing and should have been a cinch. In practice, it stumped me. I have just spent almost three years cobbling together my research to write a book about Joan, never mind the seven years spent using her activities and status as a centrepiece for my PhD research on the wives of native Welsh rulers, or the numerous years before and after exploring as many avenues as I could to find out more about her. What more is there to cover, especially on a woman whose presence only peaks through the evidence and events on what sometimes seems the rarest of occasions? Well, it turns out the answer to that is, there’s plenty. And that is what has stumped me.

By nature, my inclination was to either 1) lean further into her role as a ‘Welsh queen’ and try to continue unpack any of those layers that might still be pliable or 2) think more about her role and expectations as a wife. Old habits are hard to break – especially when these two factors combined have already helped in painting a portrait of her. But, I had to really ask myself, what is missing? What are the things that should be given further, serious consideration when it comes to understanding such a complicated woman as Joan – and by complicated I mean the complications of not only her general life circumstances, but the complications also related to lack of sources.  

After much pondering and reflection, I have decided that the largest part of the answer to ‘what is missing’ is the most obvious and lies in Joan’s experiences and the human emotions that dictated every moment of her life. The study of emotions and their impact on how we react to our own worlds, the world at large and during ‘historical’ events has grown in importance over the past thirty years. The understanding of human emotions and how they make us tick as sentient beings should not, and does not, simply fall under the sole remit of psychologists or neuroscientists. It is also an understanding that should be embraced, or in the least, accepted by historians when writing about the past. As I have often said students taking my medieval history courses, ‘Nothing happens in a vacuum, right?’

Of course, I am aware of the debates surrounding the study of and emphasis on emotions when it comes to constructing a better understanding of history: the argument that emotions are culturally constructed and carry their own specific meanings in context to period and place and are therefore variable over time versus the more universal argument that people in the past felt the same way we do, about their lives, themselves, their relationships, their situations, simply because they, too, were people, human beings just like us. Whether emotions themselves have a history is a mute discussion here. The point is emotions play a role in every situation – for every one of us, in every waking moment of every day. For Joan and the characters that surrounded her, from Llywelyn to John, to Susanna to Dafydd, to her ladies in waiting and her own priest, this was also the case.

Although I do touch on aspects of Joan’s emotions and those of her loved ones, as a trained historian, that is all I felt I could allow myself to do. The human part of me wanted, and still wants to, throw them into the fray and exclaim, ‘Look! Can’t you see? She was [insert] angry/sad/stressed/annoyed/happy/excited/eager. That’s why she did what she did when she did it’. She was human after all. Perhaps this is why historical fiction is such a popular genre. An astute and attentive author like Sharon Penman can give, and has given, a woman such as Joan real depth, a personality, a visceral humanness that by nature is missing from any biography or history written on any individual whose own voice seldomly speaks from the grave.

Having researched Joan for well over twenty years, I often wonder what she thought, how she reacted, how she felt. I envision her as trepidatious – perhaps scared, excited or both — on her initial journey to Wales. I imaging frustration and annoyance at not being able to understand the language of her new home on arrival. The anxiety of ensuring she fulfilled her roles as Llywelyn’s consort and wife; the pressure she felt to learn and adopt the new customs at an accelerated speed. The desire to be accepted, the shame or anger at being rejected as a foreigner. As a bastard. An incomprehensible fear of looming death in 1211 for husband or her father, or even herself and her children. A sense of determination to do right by both her natal and martial families over her long career. A growth in her self-esteem from her younger years as a ‘political princess’ to a deeper sense of empowerment and prerogative as political diplomat, based on knowledge, experience and wisdom as she aged.

What about a sense of freedom? Did she have any, either carrying out her role as a ‘queen’, perhaps on circuit, or managing her own English lands? Or did she simply feel trapped deep down, but made the most of her situation? Undeniably, Joan understood her status and position with both her families and within Anglo-Welsh politics. I suspect moments of real pride in herself and her own achievements could be found in attaining legitimacy (including a sense of spiritual security and, I assume relief), and above all, her witnessing her son’s homage at Westminster, where she was there as a mother, but embracing and imbuing the real power of her status as a ‘queen’. From bastard to ‘queen’, not a bad climb up the social ladder. Perhaps all the more empowering with the thought that such an event essentially placed her publicly on par with a number of her female relatives scattered across Britain and the Continent, who themselves were queens.     

Above all, I often wonder about love, the joys and sorrows it brought her. How long did it take for her and Llywelyn to build a relationship? Was there real love involved? What about William de Braose? Did Joan really experience the anguish of losing someone she loved because of her love? How difficult was it for her to love her father and face his cruelties? What about the worry and love that define motherhood, or parenthood in general? How did she feel watching her daughters leave, one by one, to pastures generally unknown, facing an uncertain future? What about her son, knowing full well that his position, his life, was forever in a precarious balance being Llywelyn’s chosen successor?

Such musings easily occupy the time, but should not be deemed frivolous. They really are important to take into consideration when thinking about Joan, Lady of Wales and her impact on history, evidence or no. Her emotions impacted her and influenced the decisions, actions and outcomes we write about and talk about when it comes to Britain in the early thirteenth century. In the words of one of my favourite writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘Life is a tram of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they proved to be many colored lenses which paint the world in their own hue.’

Thank you so much to Danna for a fascinating article. Danna R. Messer’s book Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter is now available in the UK from Pen & Sword and Amazon.


About the Author:

I am a medieval historian by training and trade. My BA history honours thesis, many moons ago, at the University of Denver was, unsurprisingly, about Joan as a ‘political princess’. Researching her at that time, and over the pond, wasn’t terribly easy. I vividly recall asking a librarian for help when searching the (literal) card catalogue, telling her I was researching medieval Wales to which she responded with utter disbelief, ‘The things that live in the sea?!’ That may have unconsciously propelled my move to Britain after graduation. I earned my MA from the University of York, again using Joan as a centre-piece on the role of illegitimate daughters in England’s royal family. Whilst working full time at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, I taught classes on medieval and women’s history for the Centre for Life Long Learning and studied for my PhD, via long distance, at Bangor University. My doctoral thesis is on the uxorial agency of the wives of native Welsh rulers, yet again, where Joan features as a case study.

Over of the past few years I have worked in publishing as an editor for medieval history. I am Acquisitions Editor at Arc Humanities Press, the academic publishing arm of the medieval network CARMEN. Part of my role with Arc includes being the Executive Editor for the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages, an online encyclopedia run in partnership with Bloomsbury Academic and their Medieval Studies Digital Resource. I am also the Series Editor for both Medieval History and Women’s Studies, with Pen and Sword Books.  

My other publications relating to Joan, Welsh queenship and medieval consorts to date include:

‘Volume 1: Norman to Early Plantagenet Consorts’, English Consorts: Power, Influence, Dynasty, edited by Aidan Norrie, Carolyn Harris, Joanna Laynesmith, Danna Messer and Elena Woodacre, 4 vols. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022)

‘A Model of Welsh Queenship: Joan of England and the Medieval Court of Gwynedd’, Special Edition on Medieval and Early Modern Queenship, edited by Louise Wilkinson, Women’s History Review (2020)

‘Welsh Queenship in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages: Core Case Study (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), Bloomsbury Medieval Studies, Web

‘Joan (d. 1237), princess and diplomat’, Dictionary of Welsh Biography Online (2018, revised article), http://wbo.llgc.org.uk/en/s-JOAN-TYW-1237.html

‘Impressions of Welsh Queenship in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, in A Companion to Global Queenship, edited by Elena Woodacre (ARC Humanities Press/CARMEN, 2018), pp. 147-58

‘Medieval Monarchs, Female Illegitimacy and Modern Genealogical Matters, Pt. 2: Joan of England, c.1190–1236/7’, Foundations: Newsletter of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, 1:4 (2004), 294-8

Filia Notha or Filia Regis?: Kinship and the Acquiescence of Royal Illegitimate Daughters, c.1090–1440’, Foundations: Newsletter of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, 1:1 (2003), 51-3

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Danna R. Messesr