Book Corner – The Wars of the Roses in 100 Facts by Matthew Lewis

The Wars of the Roses in 100 Facts by Matthew Lewis

The Wars of the Roses were a series of brutal conflicts between rival branches of the Plantagenet family – the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. The wars were fought between the descendants of Edward III and are believed to stem from the deposition of the unpopular Richard II by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. The wars were thought to have been fought between 1455 and 1487, and they saw many kings rise and fall as their supporters fought for their right to rule.

The Wars of the Roses in 100 Facts covers this dangerous and exciting period of political change, guiding us through the key events, such as the individual battles, and the key personalities, such as Richard, Duke of York, and the Earl of Warwick, known as ‘the Kingmaker’. Matthew Lewis takes us on a tour through the Wars of the Roses, fact by fact, in easy-to-read, bite-size chunks. He examines some of the most important aspects of this period, from the outbreak of the conflict at the First Battle of St Albans, to Henry VI’s insanity, and the character of Richard III and his final defeat at the hands of Henry Tudor.

What can I say? I love these little books. This book series – I have already reviewed The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts – is a fabulous introduction to some of the most fascinating events in history.

The Wars of the Roses in 100 Facts by Matthew Lewis is a wonderful little book giving details of 100 of the most important and significant events of the Wars of the Roses. From the deposition of Richard II to the death of Cardinal Reginald Pole, arguably the last Yorkist descendant, Matthew Lewis tells the tale of the most divisive conflict in English history in an entertaining and engaging manner.

20. King Henry Could Have Died at the First Battle of St Albans

During the First Battle of St Albans, as Warwick’s archers fired at the men defending the king, Henry VI was struck by an arrow that cut him on the neck. As the fighting grew closer, the king was taken into a tanner’s shop to receive treatment and to keep him out of the way of further harm.

Benet’s Chronicle records that once the battle was won, York, Salisbury and Warwick burst into the tanner’s shop and found Henry, wounded and at their mercy. Instead of finishing off the king, as York might have done had he truly wanted the crown at this stage, Benet’s Chronicle explains that the lords fell to their knees and pledged their allegiance to the king, ‘at which he was greatly cheered’.

Henry was escorted to the comfort of the abbey to continue his treatment and, although he was dismayed to learn of Somerset’s death, he was well treated and on the following morning he was escorted to London by the Yorkist lords. York might well have widened the wound at Henry’s neck and ensured that there were no witnesses. He could then have blamed the stray arrow for killing the king. This is possibly the clearest sign that at this point, Henry’s crown was safe and secure.

What I love about this book is it is a wonderful combination of the best known facts, the battles and the politics, and some little known facts and events that mean even a seasoned Wars of the Roses enthusiast will find something to engage their interest. The brief, 1-2 page chapters mean the reader can drop in and out of the book at their leisure, or whenever they have 5 minutes to spare.

These little snippets are utterly enthralling and informative. They combine to give a wonderful, universal picture of the conflict; the battles and the characters involved. The book is beautifully written and well researched. It is organised in a loosely chronological manner, with fabulous insights into the major players and events of the Wars of the Roses.

Although The Wars of the Roses in 100 Facts is restricted to 100 facts, it is not short on insight and analysis. Matthew Lewis does a great job of achieving a balance of facts with the analytical approach of the historian. It would be a wonderful addition to the library of anyone interested in the Wars of the Roses, or the later fifteenth century as a whole.

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Matthew Lewis is an author and historian with particular interest in the medieval period. His books include a history of the Wars of the Roses, a biography of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and two novels of historical fiction telling the life of King Richard III and the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth. He also writes a history blog, sharing thoughts and snippets. He can be found on Twitter @MattLewisAuthor.

The Wars of the Roses in 100 Facts is available from Amberley and Amazon.

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Heroines of the Medieval World:

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

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

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: 24 Hours at Agincourt by Michael Jones

24 hrsAgincourt was an astonishing clash of arms, a pivotal moment in the Hundred Years War and the history of warfare in general.

In August 1415, King Henry V claimed the throne of France and landed an army in Normandy. Two months later, outside the small village of Agincourt in Picardy, he was preparing for certain defeat. On 25 October his exhausted, starving and ailing troops faced a far larger French army, whose soldiers were fresh for combat and determined to destroy their opponents. But what was to take place in the following 24 hours, it seemed only the miraculous intervention of God could explain.

Interlacing eyewitness accounts, background chronicle and documentary sources with a new interpretation of the battle’s onset, acclaimed military historian Michael Jones takes the reader into the heart of this extraordinary feat of arms. He brings the longbowmen and knights to life, portrays the dilemmas of the commanders and shows the brutal reality on the ground, as archers seized swords, daggers and even mallets to beat their opponents, and heavily armoured men-at-arms sank into knee-deep mud in a bloody fight that astounded the courts of Europe.

Last October, at the Harrogate History Festival, I watched a panel entitled ‘600 Years of Beating the French’. Although it concentrated on the Battle of Waterloo – which was commemorating its 200th anniversary – there was one lone voice talking about Agincourt.

I have to admit, I’ve never really read much about Agincourt  until last year. I wrote a blog post to commemorate the battle’s 600th anniversary and it piqued my interest. I managed to corner the ‘lone voice’ in the book shop afterwards and told him I had little love for the Lancastrian king and didn’t understand the reverence held for him and his victory at Agincourt.

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Myself and Michael Jones

I asked Dr Jones what was so special about Agincourt and Henry V in particular. Michael Jones was passionate and intensely knowledgeable on the subject and, luckily, was more than happy to try to persuade me of the merits of Henry V.

As a result of the conversation I bought his book (which he very kindly signed), which turned out to be a fascinating read.

24 Hours at Agincourt: 25th October 1415 provides a detailed analysis of the battle, focussing on the immediate pre-battle preparations and on the action itself. The book covers all aspects of the campaign – and of campaigning in the early 15th century in general.

24 Hours at Agincourt is a full and frank account of Henry V’s 1415 campaign. Dr Jones analyses not only the leadership but also the propaganda, business transactions, the men themselves and even the religious undertones of the day. He discusses the requirements for a successful military campaign, such as good supply lines,  leadership and reconnaissance and analyses the effects of what happens when one or more of these goes wrong.

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Morning of the Battle of Agincourt

Michael Jones leads us through the story of Agincourt, from the launch of the campaign in England, through the Siege of Harfleur and the march to Agincourt to the battle itself and the aftermath. He discusses at length the value and quality of both the English and French commanders, and of their decisions of the day, analysing their weapons and tactics – and their overall effectiveness.

Henry’s own battle experience at Shrewsbury in 1405 demonstrated to him the terrible effectiveness of the English longbow, and it is likely that on the Agincourt campaign he wished to forge these bowmen into a formidable fighting force…

The book draws heavily on the primary sources from both sides of the battle. Dr Jones carefully evaluates these sources, analysing them for bias and discussing their proximity to the action. He also uses the examples of earlier battles of the Hundred Years’ War and the wars against Scotland to demonstrate and discuss the development of battle strategies.

The book offers a new interpretation of the battle which attempts to explain some of the confusion and ambiguity in the contemporary sources, providing new insights into the planning and prosecution of the battle. Dr Jones gives credit to Henry V’s impressive group of captains, his ‘Band of Brothers’, discussing the abilities of each and their contributions to the campaign and the battle itself.

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Agincourt

A major strength of the book is that Michael Jones looks at the battle from both sides, analysing the French contribution to its outcome as thoroughly as he does the English. The French tactics are explained and discussed, as are the strength and qualities of France’s allies, and the divisions among the commanders.

24 Hours at Agincourt is a lively, descriptive book which demonstrates Dr Jones’ passion and enthusiasm for his subject. The narrative is engaging and entertaining. Michael Jones is passionate about Henry V and the significance of his victory at Agincourt, and this shines through when talking to him and in his writing. He convincingly argues of Henry V’s qualities as a general and also rehabilitates Edward Duke of York as a key figure at the centre of the battle’s history. He explains how it was these two men, working together, who were pivotal to the success of the campaign.

I have to admit, for anyone interested in knowing more about Agincourt,  I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Dr Jones’ writing style is so easy and engaging – it was an absolute pleasure to read. I have a new-found admiration for Henry V – even if I still don’t like his father.

24 Hours at Agincourt is available from Amazon.

About the Author:

I did my history PhD at the University of Bristol and subsequently taught at the University of South West England, Glasgow University and Winchester College. I am a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the British Commission for Military History and now work freelance as a writer, tour guide and presenter.

Among my history titles I have written on the battles of Agincourt, Bosworth, Stalingrad and Leningrad, and in After Hitler, provided an account of the last days of the Second World War in Europe. I am also the author, with Malcolm Underwood, of The King’s Mother (a biography of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII), with Philippa Langley, The King’s Grave: the Search for Richard III and with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, The Women of the Cousins’ War.

I have been a consultant to a number of TV programmes, including Channel 4’s Richard III: Fact or Fiction, the History Channel’s Warriors series, the National Geographic’s Mystery Files and Russia Today’s The Children of Stalingrad. I have also been interviewed on the BBC’s Today programme and appeared on Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time.

I am fascinated by timeless themes of military history: leadership, morale and motivation at moments of crisis – and how people respond to challenges against the odds. I have worked closely with veterans of the battle of Stalingrad and siege of Leningrad – and their stories of fortitude and resolve in desperate circumstances remain deeply moving. In my medieval titles, most recently my biography of the Black Prince, I am drawn to the age of chivalry, and the remarkable esprit de corps and camaraderie that bound together its foremost fighters.

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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.

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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.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia; except Michael Jones and myself, ©SharonBennettConnolly2015

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner – Red Roses by Amy Licence

51V9Q+iXiyLRed Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort traces the story of the women of the House of Lancaster, from the children borne by Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt, in the fourteenth century, through the turbulent fifteenth century to the advent of Margaret Beaufort’s son in 1485 and the establishment of the Tudor dynasty. From the secret liaisons of Katherine Swynford and Catherine of Valois to the love lives of Mary de Bohun and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, to the queenship of Joan of Navarre and Margaret of Anjou, this book explores their experiences as women. What bound them to their cause? What real influence did they wield?

With this book, historian Amy Licence has excelled herself. Red Roses is a thorough and  comprehensive examination of the lives of the women of the House of Lancaster, from its inception with the marriage of Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt to its crowning glory, with the regency of Margaret Beaufort for her 17-year-old grandson, Henry VIII.

I have waited eagerly for this book, bringing together all the Lancastrian ladies in one volume was an incredible undertaking and has been achieved with great skill and tact. As I have researched several of these ladies myself over the last year I was keen to see if Amy Licence’s own opinions and theories differed greatly from my own. (And I was happy to see I hadn’t made any glaring errors in my own assessments).

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The birth of the Lancastrian dynasty: the marriage of Blanche of Lancaster and John of Gaunt

I was amazed at the detailed research involved in creating this book, and the little extra snippets of information which the author has found, but which had eluded earlier historians. There are several new pieces of information brought to light, which were previously unknown – and I will have to edit some of my own articles, including those on Blanche and Katherine Swynford in light of this new information.

This meticulously research is presented in a largely chronological format, detailing not only the lives of John of Gaunt’s 3 wives and of the major Lancastrian wives who came after, but also of women with less  obvious Lancastrian links, such as Joan Beaufort, queen of James I.

The author takes care to bring to light the struggles of some and the near obscurity of others; demonstrating how some women became the centre of attention, stepping into the limelight, while others remained influential only in the family sphere, bringing into the world the next generation of the dynasty – or dying in the attempt. She considers how some were bargaining tools in international diplomacy, while others were tainted by scandal, how some were countesses while others were queens; but they were all great and interesting ladies worthy of our attention.

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Margaret Beaufort

Amy Licence emphasises the deep sense of family and duty each woman felt towards the Lancastrian dynasty. She skilfully highlights the changes in the actions and responsibilities of the women over time; clearly demonstrating the differences in expectations from the marriage of Blanche of Lancaster to the marriages of Margaret Beaufort.

Ms Licence’s passionate narrative builds on the lives of these women, demonstrating how events impacted on them, and how they influenced those around them, not only in their close family spheres, but also on the international stage. The work analyses the effects on the fortunes of the dynasty and the lives of the women, caused by plague, war and political machinations and discusses the vulnerabilities and risks of being a woman in the later middle ages; from childbirth to accusations of witchcraft.

It appears that the ideal Lancastrian woman of the fourteenth century was essentially well bred and beautiful, an adored wife and mother, pious and dignified, devoted and loyal to the dynasty’s cause. Yet, as the fifteenth century advanced, women marrying Lancastrian husbands increasingly began to step outside this role, to challenge it and redefine concepts of femininity and rule…..

A great strength of the book, which spans a 150-year time period, is the way in which the author successfully maintains, throughout, the links between the various eras in which these women lived. She displays a deep understanding of how traditions and perceptions will have changed over time during the period under investigation. After all, how much has life changed for us since 1866?

The text provides thorough analysis of primary and secondary sources, and even includes assessments of popular fiction classics and arguments put forward by contemporary historians. These assessments are fair, persuasive counter-arguments professed with demonstrative respect for the authors in question. In the end, however, Ms Licence presents her own findings in a clear, convincing manner.

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Margaret of Anjou, the last Lancastrian queen

The only minor bug-bear I have with the book is the title. Blanche of Lancaster was never actually known as Blanche of Gaunt, but I guess it will make the book appear to a wider audience; as so many more people have heard of John of Gaunt than have heard of Blanche.

I love the way Amy Licence clearly explains the relationships between the disparate Lancastrian women, whether it is familial, chronological, or by experience. For example, Katherine Swynford is discussed not only in respect of her relationship with John of Gaunt, but also as governess to his children, companion to his daughter-in-law and as matriarch of the extended Lancastrian family.

This is a comprehensive and thorough analysis of the lives of the Lancastrian women, told in an engaging and entertaining manner. Amy Licence tells the story, not only of the individual women, but also of a dynasty; and how that dynasty was held together by the wives and mothers essential to its survival, continued existence and eventual success. She also takes care to demonstrate how responsibilities and perceptions changed through time, affected by events and changing circumstances.

I have to recommend Red Roses as a thoroughly enjoyable read. The author engages with the reader from the outset, drawing you in to the lives of these varied and remarkable women, demonstrating how they all fit together in the story of the House of Lancaster, like the individual pieces of a jigsaw.

In short, this is a wonderful book, telling the story of a dynasty and, in my opinion, Amy Licence’s best yet.

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10384680_10153841333263942_6977345604197683474_nAmy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.

Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort is available on Amazon in the UK from Monday 7th March and in the US from Monday 15th March 2016.

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

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

©2016 Sharon BennettConnolly

Agincourt 600th Anniversary

220px-King_Henry_V_from_NPGThis Sunday, 25th of October 2015, marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. One of the greatest battles in English history, it epitomises the pinnacle of English successes against their traditional enemy, France, during the epic struggle of the Hundred Years War. But what started it all?

The origins of the Hundred Years War go back 200 years before its outbreak, to Henry II. His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine meant he was not only Duke of Normandy in the north of France, but Duke of Aquitaine in the south. And his accession to the English throne in 1154 brought all these French possessions to the crown of England. This made for the awkward position that the sovereign of England was technically a vassal of the King of France, causing no end of squabbles and friction for years to come.

Wars broke out frequently and the French gradually ate away at England’s French possessions.

It all came to a head with a crisis in the French monarchy. When Philip IV, the Fair, of France, died in 1314, he was successively succeeded by each of his 3 sons; Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV. Only one of these kings produced a son, King John the Posthumous was born 5 months after the death of Louis X, his father, and lived – and ruled – for only 5 days. Following the death of the baby king Philip V seized the crown, effectively disinheriting Louis X’s daughter, Jeanne.

220px-Edward_III_of_England_(Order_of_the_Garter)Although Salic Law was known in France, it generally related to property and had never actually been used to decide the succession to the crown. However, Philip V made certain that it would be from now on, by having the Estates General declare that women were not eligible to succeed to the throne of France.

Unfortunately for the French royal family, both Philip V and his successor, his brother, Charles IV, only had daughters. Charles IV died in 1328, leaving his wife, Jeanne d’Evreux, pregnant; a regency council was set up to rule the country, until the child’s birth. However, Jeanne gave birth to a daughter, Blanche, and France had to find a new king.

One candidate was Edward III of England. Edward was the oldest grandson of Philip IV through his daughter Isabella of France, Queen of Edward II of England. However, Edward III was only 15 years old and England – and Edward – were controlled by Edward’s mother, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who had deposed and possibly murdered Edward’s father, Edward II. Edward’s claim came through his mother – and he was English.

The assembly of French notables, convened to decide who should be king, declared: “It had never been seen or known that the kingdom of France should be subject to the government of the King of England.

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As a result, they chose another as their king; the nephew of Philip IV, Philip of Valois, Count of Anjou and Maine. Philip was in his thirties, with a 9-year-old son, and had been Regent during Jeanne’s pregnancy.

Edward III initially agreed to pay homage to Philip VI, who was crowned in 1329, for his French possessions. However, he was still a minor and under the tutelage of his mother and Mortimer. When Edward took control of his kingdom, in 1330, he had a change of heart. Irked by Philip’s support for the Scots, and encouraged by local conflicts in Guyenne, Edward questioned the validity of his oath to Philip, made while he was still a minor. And in 1337 Edward III declared war.

Initial English successes devastated France: the  French fleet was destroyed at Sluys in 1340, and Edward III ravaged the French countryside, in a great chevauchee. In an attempt to bring the French to battle Edward’s ‘scorched-earth’ policy saw towns besieged, convents and monasteries ransacked and the people displaced. The French were eventually brought to battle at Crecy in 1346, where their cavalry was destroyed. The fall of Calais followed in 1347.

In 1356, at the Battle of Poitiers, the English, under the Black Prince (Edward, Prince of Wales) captured France’s king, John II the Good. John was sent to England – where he died in 1364, still awaiting the payment of his vast ransom.

The 1360 Treaty of Bretigny was the crowning success of England’s war, with Edward III taking possession of almost a third of France.

Although technically at peace, the two countries kept picking at each other – each supporting opposing factions in places of mutual interest, such as Brittany. In then end, with the failing health of the Black Prince, and and aging Edward III, a resurgent France emerged under Charles V; which saw English possessions reduced to a few ports and their environs by 1380.

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After 1389 truces between France and England were almost continuous. Richard II married Isabella of Valois, daughter of Charles VI, in 1396, as part of a 28 year truce.

Charles VI had suffered from madness since 1392 and France had started to implode. The king was surrounded by bad councillors and factions, such as the Armagnacs and Burgundians, had riven the country apart with their in-fighting. Many parts of France were ruled almost totally independent of central government.

However, with the turn of the century, the English had problems of their own and were unable to take advantage of France’s woes. Richard II was imprisoned and, later, murdered by the usurping Henry IV, who spent his reign preoccupied by troubles and rebellions in England.

Henry IV and his son, the future Henry V were divided as to which French factions they should support; Henry IV preferred the Armagnacs, while the Prince of Wales supported the Burgundians.

With the death of Henry IV, and the accession of Henry V, English ambitions turned to France yet again. Almost immediately, Henry laid claim to his inheritance in France. he made a pretense of negotiating for peace, while preparing for war. He would accept nothing less than the total reinstatement of the Plantagenet possessions in France.

There is an, almost certainly, apocryphal story  of Henry V taking up arms against the French after they jokingly sent him a set of tennis balls, suggesting that he stick to such ‘childish’ occupations, for which he had established a reputation during his father’s reign.

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Henry saw war with France as a way of diverting the interests of the great nobles away from internal conflicts, thus restoring and maintaining order at home. With peace negotiations faltering, and having dealt with several plots to displace him from his throne – the last of which, the Southampton Plot was foiled in the first week of August 1415 – Henry V and his army  arrived in Normandy on 13th August 1415 and laid siege to Harfleur.

Harfleur held until 23rd September, by which time Henry’s army of about 10,000 was greatly depleted by dysentery. He was making for Calais – and England – when, on 25th October, he came face-to-face with the French.

At Agincourt.

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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.

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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.

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Article originally published on The Review in October 2015.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly