Cover Reveal: King John’s Right-Hand Lady

I am so excited!

It’s finally here!

King John’s Right-Hand Lady: the Story of Nicholaa de la Haye is now available for pre-order on Amazon in the UK (I will hopefully have a US release date shortly)

So, here is the stunning cover, designed by the fabulous cover design team at Pen & Sword.

And what a cover!

About the Book;

In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Not once, but three times, earning herself the ironic praise that she acted ‘manfully’. Nicholaa gained prominence in the First Baron’s War, the civil war that followed the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215.

Although recently widowed, and in her 60s, in 1217 Nicholaa endured a siege that lasted over three months, resisting the English rebel barons and their French allies. The siege ended in the battle known as the Lincoln Fair, when 70-year-old William Marshal, the Greatest Knight in Christendom, spurred on by the chivalrous need to rescue a lady in distress, came to Nicholaa’s aid.

Nicholaa de la Haye was a staunch supporter of King John, remaining loyal to the very end, even after most of his knights and barons had deserted him. A truly remarkable lady, Nicholaa was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of the lowest points in its history. Nicholaa de la Haye is one woman in English history whose story needs to be told…

About me:

Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history her whole life. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Sharon has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. Sharon writes her own blog, http://www.historytheinterestingbits.com, researching and writing about the stories that have always fascinated, concentrating on medieval women. Her last book, Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey, was released in May 2021, is her fourth non-fiction book. It tells the story of the Warenne earls over 300 years and 8 generations. She is also the author of Heroines of the Medieval World, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest and Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England. Sharon regularly gives talks on women’s history; she is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’

To pre-order:

King John’s Right-Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye is now available for pre-order from Amazon UK.

My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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.

©2023 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Isabel and Hamelin de Warenne: Marriage and Partnership

Seal of Isabel de Warenne, Conisbrough Castle

Isabel de Warenne was the only surviving child of William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and his wife Adela, or Ela, de Talvas, daughter of William III of Ponthieu. When her father died on the Second Crusade to the Holy Land, in around 1148, Isabel became 4th Countess of Surrey in her own right and one of the most prized heiresses in England and Normandy, with large estates in Yorkshire, Norfolk and Sussex.

Isabel was born during a period of civil war in England, a time known as The Anarchy (c.1135-54), when King Stephen fought against Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, for the right to rule England. Isabel’s father, William, was a staunch supporter of the king and had fought at the Battle of Lincoln in February 1141, though without distinction; his men were routed early on in the battle and William was among a number of earls who fled the field. He later redeemed himself that summer by capturing Empress Matilda’s brother and senior general, Robert Earl of Gloucester, at Winchester.

The earl appears to have tired of the civil war in 1147 and departed on Crusade with his half-brother, Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, and their cousin, King Louis VII of France. In the same year, as part of King Stephen’s attempts to control the vast de Warenne lands during a crucial time in the Anarchy, Earl Warenne’s only daughter, Isabel, was married to Stephen’s younger son, William of Blois, who would become Earl by right of his wife, following the 3rd earl’s death on Crusade in 1148; he was killed fighting in the doomed rearguard at the Battle of Mount Cadmus near Laodicea in January 1148.

It has been suggested that William of Blois was some 7 or 8 years younger than his wife, Isabel. However, this seems improbable and it appears more likely that the young couple were of similar ages. Isabel’s father had been born in 1119 and was no older than 29 when he died; his wife, Ela de Talvas, was a few years younger than her husband. This means that, even if the couple married as soon as they reached the ages allowed by the church to marry, 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy, and Ela fell pregnant on her wedding night, Isabel could have been no older 13 in 1147. Given the danger associated with girls giving birth before their teens, it seems plausible that Isabel was not born until the late 1130s and may have been between 10 and 12, or younger when she married William of Blois.

The Warenne coat of arms at Trinity Church, Southover

Even before it was known that Earl Warenne had died on crusade, William of Blois was already being referred to as earl in a number of charters relating to Warenne lands, one such charter, dated to c.1148, was issued by the earl’s brother with the proviso ‘that if God should bring back the earl [from the crusade] he would do his best to obtain the earl’s confirmation, or otherwise that of his lord earl William, the king’s son.’1 During the 3rd earl’s absence, and while the new earl and countess were still only children, the vast Warenne lands were administered by the 3rd earl’s youngest brother, Reginald de Warenne, Baron Wormegay, who was a renowned and accomplished administrator and estate manager. We do not know when news reached England of the earl’s death, the tidings may have arrived before the return of the earl’s half-brother, Waleran, later in the year. However, the future of the earldom was already secure with the succession of Isabel and her young husband, carefully watched over by Isabel’s uncle, Reginald.

In 1154 the young couple’s future prospects could have changed drastically when William’s elder brother Eustace, their father’s heir, died. As a consequence, William inherited his mother’s County of Boulogne from his brother, adding to his already substantial domains. He may also have expected to inherit his brother’s position as heir to the throne – or not. It seems that William’s ambitions did not extend to the lofty heights of the throne, or he was not considered suitable for the crown. Either way, the young man was removed from the succession by his own father. Stephen made a deal with Empress Matilda’s son, Henry of Anjou, that the crown would go to him on Stephen’s death, thus returning the crown to the rightful line of succession.

William seems to have accepted this, on the whole. Although there is some suggestion of his involvement in a plot against Henry later in 1154, during which William suffered a broken leg. William served Henry loyally, once he became king, until his own death, returning from the king’s campaign in Toulouse, in 1159.

Now in her mid-20s, and as their marriage had been childless, Isabel was once again a prize heiress. Although she seems to have had a little respite from the marriage market, by 1162 Henry II’s youngest brother, William X, Count of Poitou, was seeking a dispensation to marry her. The dispensation was refused by Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on the grounds of consanguinity; the archbishop’s objection was not that Isabel and William were too closely related, but that William and Isabel’s first husband had been cousins. William died shortly after the archbishop refused to sanction the marriage – it is said, of a broken heart.

Contemporary illustration of the murder of Thomas Becket

King Henry was not to be thwarted so easily in his plans to bring the Warenne lands into the royal family, and his illegitimate half-brother, Hamelin, was married to Isabel in 1164. The illegitimate son of Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, Hamelin was born sometime around 1130, when Geoffrey was estranged from his wife, Empress Matilda. His mother was, possibly, Adelaide of Angers, though this is by no means certain. Geoffrey had a second illegitimate child, Emma, who was possibly Hamelin’s full sister. Emma married the Welsh prince, Davydd ap Owain of Gwynedd. Geoffrey of Anjou was the second husband to Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England and would be the mother of the future Henry II, Hamelin’s half-brother.

In an unusual step, Hamelin took his wife’s surname and bore the titles Earl of Warenne and Surrey in her right. Hamelin was incredibly loyal to Henry and his marriage to an heiress was reward for his support, whilst at the same time giving him position and influence within England. Hamelin and Isabel married in April 1164, Hamelin even taking the de Warenne surname after the marriage; Isabel’s trousseau cost an impressive £41 10s 8d. Hamelin became Earl of Surrey by right of his wife, though was more habitually called Earl Warenne. In some references, he is named as the 5th Earl of Surrey and in others the 4th: this confusion arises from the fact that the earldom belonged to Isabel, and her two husbands both held the earldom, sometimes being numbered the 4th and 5th earls to avoid confusion. They were, in fact, both, the 4th Earl of Surrey.

Hamelin supported his brother the king in the contest of wills that Henry was engaged in with his archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. When Henry called for the archbishop to appear at a great council at Northampton Castle on 12 October 1164, to answer to the charges laid against him, Hamelin was at the trial and spoke in support of his brother. Indeed, the new earl and the archbishop appear to have started a war of words; Hamelin defended Henry’s dignity and called Becket a traitor. The archbishop’s retort was ‘Were I a knight instead of a priest, my fist would prove you a liar!’ Ironically, it is thought that Hamelin’s denunciation of Becket was motivated by the injury caused to the royal family in Becket’s refusal to allow Henry’s brother, William – Hamelin’s half-brother – to marry Isabel de Warenne; who was now Hamelin’s wife.

Henry II

Hamelin’s animosity to Becket was not to survive the archbishop’s martyrdom and he actively participated in the cult that grew up around Thomas Becket after his violent death. In later life, the earl claimed that the cloth covering Becket’s tomb had cured his blindness, caused by a cataract, in one eye.

Hamelin was an influential and active member of the English barony. He supported Henry during his sons’ rebellion in 1173 and formed part of the entourage which escorted Princess Joanna (daughter of Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine) to Sicily for her marriage to King William. Joanna’s escort was ordered not to return home until they had seen ‘the King of Sicily and Joanna crowned in wedlock’. Hamelin remained close to the crown even after Henry’s death, supporting his nephew, Richard I. Hamelin was among the earls present at Richard’s first coronation in September 1189; and carried one of the three swords at his second coronation in April 1194.

During Richard’s absence on Crusade, Hamelin sided with the Regent, William Longchamp, against the intrigues of Richard’s brother John. Hamelin held great store in the rule of law, attested by the legend on his seal, ‘pro lege, per lege’. This adherence to the law explains Hamelin’s support for Longchamp against that of his own nephew, John, and even as the justiciar’s overzealous actions alienated others. Hamelin was one of only two magnates entrusted with the collection and storage of the king’s ransom, when he was held captive by Duke Leopold of  Austria, appointed by Eleanor of Aquitaine; the other was William d’Aubigny, Earl of Arundel. Hamelin’s involvement with the court continued into the reign of King John; he was present at John’s coronation and at Lincoln when William, King of Scots, Isabel’s cousin, gave his oath of homage in November 1200.

The keep of Conisbrough Castle

Away from court, Hamelin appears to have been an avid builder; he built a cylindrical keep at his manor of Mortemer in Normandy. He then constructed a larger and improved version, using all the latest techniques of castle design, at his manor of Conisbrough, South Yorkshire. He may also have been the one to build Peel Castle at Thorne, a hunting lodge which had a 3-sided donjon that was of smaller, but similar, design to Conisbrough. Hamelin spent a lot of time and money on Conisbrough Castle, which took almost 10 years to complete, and it appears to have been a favourite family residence. King John visited there in 1201, and two of Hamelin’s daughters married landowners from the nearby manors of Tickhill and Sprotborough. His son, William de Warenne, the 5th earl, would complete the castle, rebuilding the curtain wall in stone.

Hamelin was also involved in a famous dispute with Hugh, abbot of Cluny, over the appointment of a new prior to St Pancras Priory, Lewes. Abbot Hugh was known as a man of great piety and honour; he had been prior of Lewes but was elected as abbot of Reading in 1186 and became abbot of Cluny in 1199. In 1200, Abbot Hugh appointed one Alexander to the vacant position of prior of Lewes, but Hamelin refused to accept the nomination. In establishing the priory at Lewes, the abbots of Cluny had apparently reserved the right to appoint the prior, and to admit all monks seeking entry into the order; however, Hamelin claimed that the patronage of the priory belonged to him, and it was his right to appoint the prior.

The dispute dragged on, and it was only after intervention from King John that agreement was eventually reached whereby, should the position of prior become vacant, the earl and the monks should send representatives to the abbot, who would nominate two candidates, of whom the earl’s proctors should choose one to be appointed prior.

Peel Castle, Thorne

The marriage of Hamelin and Isabel appears to have been highly successful. They had four surviving children. Their son and heir, William, would become the 5th Earl of Surrey and married Maud Marshal, daughter of the great William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and regent for King Henry III. Ela married twice, firstly to a Robert de Newburn, of whom nothing else is known, and secondly to William Fitzwilliam of Sprotborough, a village just a few miles from Conisbrough. Isabel was married, firstly, to Robert de Lascy, who died in 1193, and secondly, no later than the spring of 1196, to Gilbert de Laigle, Lord of Pevensey.

Matilda, or Maud, married Henry, Count of Eu, who died around 1190; by Henry, she was the mother of Alice de Lusignan, who struggled to maintain her inheritance during the reign of King John. Matilda then married Henry d’Estouteville, a Norman lord. It was once thought that Matilda was the daughter of Hamelin by an earlier relationship, due to the supposed death date of Matilda’s husband, Henry, Count of Eu. There was a mistaken belief that Henry had died in 1172, which would mean that Matilda could not have been a daughter of the marriage of Isabel and Hamelin, who were married in 1164, as she would have been too young to have married and borne children with Henry. The Chronicle of the Counts of Eu records Henry’s death as 1183, which also appears to be an error as Henry was assessed for scutage for Wales at Michaelmas 1190; with this later death date it was entirely possible, and indeed likely, that Matilda was the legitimate daughter of both Hamelin and Countess Isabel.

St Pancras Priory, Lewes

One of the daughters – although it is not clear which – bore an illegitimate son, Richard Fitzroy, Baron Chilham, who was born, possibly, around 1190, by her cousin, John (the future King John). This must have caused considerable family tensions!

Hamelin died on 7th May 1202, in his early 70s and was buried in the chapter house at Lewes Priory, in Sussex. Isabel died in her mid-60s, in 1203, and was buried at Lewes Priory, alongside Hamelin. In 1202, Countess Isabel had granted ‘for the soul of her husband earl Hamelin, to the priory of St Katherine, Lincoln, of similar easements for 60 beasts, namely for 40 as of his gift and 20 as of hers.2 Together, Hamelin and Isabel had played important roles in English politics for almost 40 years, whilst raising a family and, literally, building a home at Conisbrough Castle.

Footnotes: 

Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenneibid

Sources:

Robert Batlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Dan Jones, The Plantagenets; Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Medieval Lands Project on the Earls of Surrey, Conisbrough Castle; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; doncasterhistory.co.uk; A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2 edited by William Page; W.H. Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory, and its Seals, with extracts from a MS. Chronicle, Sussex Archaeological Collections; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I;  Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem; magnacharta.com; Cokayne, G.E., The Complete Peerage, Vol. XII; Henry of Huntingdon, The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon.

Images:

All images ©Sharon Bennett Connolly except Henry II and the illustration of Becket’s murder which is courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Eight Interesting Discoveries on writing 11th century non-fiction

Ooh, I have just time to sneak in one more post for 2022!

First, though, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all my readers, near and far, for sticking with me and helping me to make History…the Interesting Bits a blog that people want to read.

I would like to wish each and every one of you a Happy and Healthy New Year. May 2023 be kind and generous to you all!

So, on with the article…

Following on from my 10 Facts About Women and Magna Carta, I thought I would revisit the Norman Conquest and started thinking about I found most interesting when writing about 1066 and the years either side. And here’s what I discovered:

1. Not all primary sources are contemporary.

Emma of Normandy

Let me explain. Of course, all sources written in the 11th century are primary sources, but you do find people quoting sources as primary sources – only to discover that they were written 100 or even 200 years after the events.

One such legend, appearing two centuries after the events, suggested that Emma of Normandy’s relationship with her good friend, Bishop Stigand, was far more than that of her advisor and that he was, in fact, her lover – although the legend did get its bishops mixed up and named Ælfwine, rather than Stigand, as Emma’s lover. The story continues that Emma chose to prove her innocence in a trial by ordeal, and that she walked barefoot over white-hot ploughshares. Even though the tale varies depending on the source, the result is the same; when she completed the ordeal unharmed, and thus proven guiltless, she was reconciled with her contrite son, Edward.

However, there is no 11th century source for this event and it seems to have been created to explain Emma’s estrangement from her son, Edward the Confessor.

2. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the most famous source of 11th century news. 

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives wonderful snippets of information about life in Anglo-Saxon England – and the weather! If you have ever wondered where the English get their obsession with the weather, read the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It is also very dramatic.

For example, the year 1005 starts with; ‘Here in this year there was the great famine throughout the English race, such as no-one ever remembered on so grim before…’

1032 relates; ‘Here in this year appeared that wild-fire such as no man remembered before, and also it did damage everywhere in many places.’

And 1039 opens with ‘Here came the great gale…’

In 1053 we read, ‘Here [1052] was the great wind on the eve of the Feast of St Thomas, and the great wind was also all midwinter…’

And, of course, in 1066 we read about the appearance of Halley’s Comet; ‘Then throughout all England, a sign such as man ever saw before was seen in the heavens. Some me declared that it was the star comet, which some men called the ‘haired’ star; and it appeared first on the eve of the Great Litany, 24 April, and shone thus all the week….’

3. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a fabulous source of news about church leaders.

Don’t get me wrong, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is invaluable to anyone studying the history of Anglo-Saxon Britain, but you can tell it was written by monks. There are some years where you learn little more than which church leader died, and who replaced him.

For example, the entry for 1023 from the E chronicle; ‘Here Bishop Wulfstan passed away, and Ælfric succeeded…’

And in 1032; ‘In the same year Ælfsige, bishop in Winchester, passed away, and Ælfwine, the king’s priest, succeeded to it.’

The only entry in the E Chronicle in 1033 was; ‘Here in this year Merehwit, bishop in Somerset, passed away, and he is buried in Glastonbury.’

And again in 1034; ‘Here Bishop Æthelric passed away.’

4. Not all inheritance was based on primogeniture.

King Harold II, Waltham Abbey

Primogeniture, where the eldest son inherited from his father, was not unusual in 11th century England; when Earl Godwin of Wessex died, his eldest surviving son, Harold, succeeded him. However, it was not yet established as the definitive rule of inheritance of later centuries. When Siward, Earl of Northumbria, died in 1055 his heir, Waltheof, was still a child and too young to hold such a formidable position on the borders of Scotland. The earldom was given to Tostig Godwinson, the favourite brother of Edward the Confessor’s queen, Edith. Though he didn’t do a great job with it…

And in the opening days of 1066, when Edward the Confessor died, the ætheling, Edgar was only a teenager, and so was passed over as king for the more mature and militarily experienced Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, who became King Harold II.

5. Travel to distant places was not uncommon for the nobility.

At different times in the 11th century, both King Cnut and Tostig Godwinson are known to have travelled to Rome; indeed, during his trip to Rome in 1027, Cnut was present at the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor, Conrad II and arranged for the marriage of his daughter by Emma of Normandy, Gunhilda, to Conrad’s son, the future King Henry III of Germany.

As for Tostig, travelling to Rome was not without its dangers, and shortly after leaving the city, his travelling party was caught up in a local dispute between the papacy and the Tuscan nobility; they were attacked. Tostig was able to escape by the ruse of one of his own thegns, a man named Gospatric, who pretended to be the earl.

Tostig and Harold’s brother, Swegn Godwinson, who had murdered his own cousin, even went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem – barefoot – he died on the journey home.

And when I started writing Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest I discovered that there are several links to the story of 1066 with the Russian principality of Kyiv. The baby sons of England’s short-lived king, Edmund II Ironside, who reigned and died in 1016, were given sanctuary and protection in Kyiv, saving them from the clutches of Edmund’s successor, King Cnut. The first wife of Harald Hardrada, the third contender for the English throne in 1066, Elisiv, was a Kyivan princess. And after the Conquest, Harold II Godwinson’s own daughter by Edith Swanneck, Gytha, would make her life in Kyiv as the wife of Vladimir II Monomakh and as the mother of Mstislav the Great, the last ruler of a united Kievan Rus. Vladimir was the nephew of Harald Hardrada’s first wife, the Kyivan princess, Elisiv.

6. Having 2 wives at the same time was not THAT unusual.

Elisiv of Kyiv

In the story of 1066 there were not one BUT three men who had two wives simultaneously.

Harold Godwinson is known for having been in a relationship with the famous Edith Swanneck for 20 years before becoming King, and then marrying Ealdgyth of Mercia without divorcing Edith. Edith is often referred to as Harold’s concubine, but most historians agree that she was his ‘hand-fast’ wife and had undergone a Danish – rather than Christian – style of wedding with Harold. Edith was no ignorant peasant, she was a wealthy woman in her own right and it is highly doubtful she would have accepted being Harold’s mistress, and raising his children, without some kind of marital protection.

Harald Hardrada also married a second ‘wife’, whilst still being married to Elisiv. Elisiv had given the Norwegian king two daughters, but his second wife, Thora, gave him two sons, Magnus and Olaf, who each succeeded their father as King of Norway.

King Cnut was the first to take two wives; he had two sons by Ælfgifu of Northampton before marrying Emma of Normandy and producing a second family. The chronicles, however, claim that Ælfgifu’s sons were not the children of Cnut, with John (also known as Florence) of Worcester saying, ‘Ælfgiva desired to have a son by the king, but as she could not, she caused the new-born child of a certain priest to be brought to her, and made the king fully believe that she had just borne him a son’. And the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claimed ‘[King] Harold [I Harefoot] also said that he was the son of king Canute and Ælfgiva of Northampton, although that is far from certain; for some say that he was the son of a cobbler, and that Ælfgiva had acted with regard to him as she had done in the case of Swein: for our part, as there are doubts on the subject, we cannot settle with any certainty the parentage of either.’

7. There were some incredible, strong women in the 11th century.

Lady Godiva

The story of the Norman Conquest invariably revolves around the men involved, Edward the Confessor, Harold II, William the Conqueror, Harald Hardrada, and so on. However, there were some amazing women whose strength and perseverance helped to steer and shape the events of the era.

There were, of course, the queens, Emma of Normandy, Edith of Wessex and Matilda of Flanders, who supported their husbands and helped to shape and – even – preserve history, with Emma and Edith both commissioning books to tell the stories of their times and Matilda being the image of queenship that all future queens of England modelled themselves on.

There was also the notorious Lady Godiva, who was probably a lot less scandalous than the legend, of her riding naked through Coventry, leads us to believe. And the incredible Gytha of Wessex, a woman whose story is entwined with every aspect of the period. From the reign of Cnut to that of William the Conqueror, Gytha and her family were involved in so many aspects of the 11th century, from the rise of her sons, through the Battle of Hastings itself, to the English resistance in the years immediately following the Conquest. Gytha was not one to give up easily, despite the horrendous losses her family suffered (three of her sons died in one single day at Hastings), she encouraged her grandsons to lead the opposition against the Conqueror in the west, but her eventual failure saw her seek shelter in Flanders, where she disappears from the pages of history.

8. There is still so much we don’t know!

Ӕlfgyva, the mysterious woman in the Bayeux Tapestry

What you discover when researching the 11th century and the Norman Conquest is that there are gaps in our knowledge. For instance, we do not know why Harold was travelling to Europe in 1064, when he was shipwrecked and became a guest at the court of William, Duke of Normandy (the future William the Conqueror). The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Harold swearing an oath during his stay there. Was Harold promising to support William’s claim to England when Edward the Confessor died?

The Bayeux Tapestry has another tantalising mystery. That of Ӕlfgyva. Ӕlfgyva is depicted in a doorway with a priest touching her cheek. Whether the touch is in admonishment or blessing is open to interpretation. Above her head, written in Latin, is the incomplete phrase  ‘Here a certain cleric and Ӕlfgyva’. But who was the mysterious Ӕlfgyva? Will we ever know?

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

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support and encouragement over the years, and to wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year.

May 2023 be generous to you.

All my love, Sharon xx

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A version of this article was first published on Carol McGrath’s website in December 2018

Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia, except King Harold II, which is ©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

Sources:

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

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

William and Gundrada de Warenne and the Foundation of a Dynasty

William de Warenne, Holy Trinity Church, Southover

William de Warenne, first earl of Surrey, was a younger son of Rodulf de Warenne and his wife Beatrix. It is possible that Beatrix was a niece of Duchess Gunnor of Normandy, making young William a cousin of William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy. The family name is probably derived from the hamlet of Varenne, part of the Warenne lands in the modern French department of Seine-Inférieure, Normandy. William’s older brother, Rodulf or Ralph, would inherit the greater part of the Warenne family estates in Normandy.

William’s date of birth is unrecorded; a younger son of the minor nobility does not tend to get a mention until he does something remarkable or becomes someone notable. Although still young William was considered a capable and experienced enough soldier to be given joint command of a Norman army, by the mid-1050s. His first recorded military action is in the 1054 campaign against the French. He was one of the commanders who fought against the King of France’s brother, Count Odo, at the Battle of Mortemer.  

De Warenne was rewarded with some of the lands of his kinsman, Roger (I) de Mortemer, who had fought for the French. William managed to retain some of these lands even after Mortemer was restored to favour, including the castles of Mortemer and Bellencombre. Bellencrombe would become the capital of the de Warenne estates in Normandy. De Warenne had also received some of  the confiscated lands of William, count of Arques in 1053. Duke William’s confidence in de Warenne is demonstrated in the fact he was one of the barons consulted during the planning of the invasion of England in 1066.

In fact, William de Warenne is one of only a handful of Norman barons who can be positively identified as having fought at the Battle of Hastings on 14th October, 1066. De Warenne was rewarded with vast swathes of land throughout the country. According to the Domesday survey his lands extended over 13 counties: stretching from Conisbrough in Yorkshire to Lewes in Sussex. His territories were acquired over the course of the reign of William I and elevated him the highest rank of magnates. By 1086 his riches were only surpassed by the king’s half-brothers and his own kinsman, Roger de Montgomery. He still ranks in the Top 20 of the richest people in the world – ever!

Lewes Castle

Throughout his career, William de Warenne acquired lands in numerous counties, sometimes by nefarious means. Much of the property, such as Conisbrough, had formerly belonged to the late king, Harold. In Norfolk he is said to have asserted lordship over freemen not necessarily assigned to him. He had disputes with neighbouring landowners in Conisbrough, over which properties were sokelands and he is said to have stolen lands from the bishop of Durham and the abbot of Ely. Some acquisitions were obtained peacefully, such as the manor of Whitchurch in Shropshire, which was left to him by his kinsman Roger de Montgomery. William was an energetic and attentive landowner and improved the economy of most of his estates; more than tripling his sheep flock at Castle Acre and doubling the value of his Yorkshire estates in just 20 years (at a time when the county was devastated by the Harrying of the North).

In 1067 William de Warenne was one of 4 prominent Normans appointed to govern England during William the Conqueror’s absence in Normandy. Following the Conquest, he continued to support the king and – subsequently – his son, William II Rufus – as a military commander for over 20 years. In 1074 he was with his father at the abbey of Holy Trinity in Rouen, where he was a witness to his father’s last known charter, and in 1083-85 he fought with the king on campaign in Maine, being wounded at the siege of the castle of Sainte-Suzanne.

In 1075, along with Richard de Clare, his fellow justiciar, he was sent to deal with the rebellion of Earl Ralph de Gael of East Anglia. De Gael had failed to respond to their summons to answer for an act of defiance and so the 2 lords faced and defeated the rebels at Fawdon in Cambridgeshire, mutilating their prisoners afterwards. Ralph withdrew to Norwich Castle; besieged for 3 months he managed to escape his attackers by boat, while the castle surrendered and was occupied by de Warenne.

William de Warenne was married to a Flemish noblewoman, Gundrada; her brother Gerbod was sometime earl of Chester and another brother, Frederic, held lands in Norfolk which eventually passed to Gundrada. Frederic, appears to have jointly, with Gundrada, held lands in England even before the Conquest, when two people named Frederic and Gundrada are mentioned as holding four manors in Kent and Sussex. It would indeed be a coincidence if there were two other related people, named Frederic and Gundrada, very distinctive foreign names, in England at that time. Gundrada’s brothers, it seems, were deeply involved in the border politics between Flanders and Normandy; indeed, it is thought that Gerbod resigned his responsibilities in Chester in order to return to the Continent to oversee the family’s lands and duties there, following the death of an older brother, Arnulf II of Oosterzele-Scheldewindeke.

Gundrada de Warenne, Holy Trinity Church, Southover

Frederic was murdered by English freedom fighter, Hereward the Wake; his murder giving rise to a personal feud between Hereward and William de Warenne:

‘Among his other crimes, by trickery [Hereward] killed Frederick, brother of Earl William of Warenne, a man distinguished by lineage and possessions, who one night was surrounded in his own house. On account of his murder, such discord arose between Hereward and the aforesaid William that it could not be settled by any reparation nor in any court.’1

There has been considerable debate among historians over the theory that Gundrada may have been the daughter of William the Conqueror, but the confusion appears to have come from an unreliable charter belonging to Lewes Priory and Gundrada being part of the household of King William’s wife, Matilda. The confirmation charter of the foundation of the priory has King William naming ‘William de Warenne and his wife Gundrada, my daughter.’2 In the same charter, William de Warenne pleads ‘for the health of my mistress Queen Matilda, mother of my wife.’3  However, this is a confirmation of an earlier charter and in the original, while the king and William de Warenne, both, mention Gundrada, neither refer to her as being related to the king or queen.

Historian Elisabeth van Houts argues that Gundrada was most likely a distant relative of Queen Matilda and the counts of Flanders, as asserted in her epitaph as ‘offspring of dukes’ and a ‘noble shoot’. Indeed, had her father been William the Conqueror, her epitaph would surely have referred to her as the offspring of kings. Even if she had been the daughter of Matilda by an earlier marriage, off-spring of kings would have still been appropriate, given that Queen Matilda was the granddaughter of King Robert II of France. Though it does seem likely that Matilda and Gundrada were related in some way, perhaps distant cousins.

The ‘dukes’ referred to in Gundrada’s epitaph, although naturally assumed to be of Normandy, could well refer to a kinship with the house of Luxembourg, to which Queen Matilda’s paternal grandmother, Orgive, belonged. Moreover, Frederic was a familial name within the house of Luxembourg. This kinship via the House of Luxembourg with Queen Matilda would also explain the queen’s gift to Gundrada, of the manor of Carlton, which is usually given as evidence that Gundrada belonged to the queen’s household; an association which would be entirely consistent with kinship.

De Warenne coat of arms, Holy Trinity Church, Southover

Gundrada and William were married sometime around the time of the Conquest, either before or after the expedition to conquer England. They had 3 children together. Their eldest son, William, would succeed his father as Earl of Surrey and Warenne. He married Isabel de Vermandois, widow of Robert de Beaumont, earl of Leicester; with whom he had, according to one chronicler, been having an affair even before the earl’s death. Young William had a chequered career, he supported the claims of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, to the English throne against the duke’s younger brother, Henry I, but changed sides and fought for Henry at the Battle of Tinchebrai in 1106. Duke Robert lost and was captured and imprisoned by Henry. William remained in the king’s favour for the rest of the reign, fighting alongside Henry at the Battle of Bremule in 1119. William, his son and stepsons were at Henry’s deathbed at Lyons-la-Foret when he died in 1135.

William and Gundrada’s second son, Rainald de Warenne, led the assault on Rouen in 1090, for William II Rufus, in the conflict between the English king and his older brother, Duke Robert. However, by 1105 Rainald was fighting for the duke against the youngest of the Conqueror’s sons, Henry I, defending the castle of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives for the duke. He was captured by Henry the following year but had been freed by September 1106. It is possible he died shortly after but was certainly dead by 1118 when his brother issued a charter, in which he gave 6 churches to Lewes Priory, for the soul of deceased family members, including Rainald.

Gundrada and William also had a daughter, Edith, who married Gerard de Gournay, son of the lord of Gournay-en-Bray. Gerard also supported William II Rufus against Duke Robert and took part in the Crusade of 1096. Edith later accompanied him on pilgrimage back to Jerusalem, sometime after 1104, where he died. Gerard was succeeded by their son, Hugh de Gournay, whose daughter Gundreda would be the mother of Roger de Mowbray. Edith then married Drew de Monchy, with whom she had a son, Drew the Younger.

Castle Acre, Norfollk, where Gundrada died

Sadly, Gundrada died in childbirth at Castle Acre in Norfolk on 27th May 1085. She was buried in the chapter house of the couple’s own of foundation Lewes Priory.

William’s second wife was a sister of Richard Guet, who was described as ‘frater comitissae Warennae’ when he gave the manor of Cowyck to Bermondsey Abbey in 1098.3 Guet was a landowner in Perche, Normandy, but his sister’s name has not survived the passage of time. All we know of her is that, a few days after her husband’s death, she attempted to gift 100 shillings to Ely Abbey in restitution for damage caused by William de Warenne. The monks refused the donation, hoping that Warenne’s departing soul had been claimed by demons.4

Despite this reputation at Ely, William de Warenne and his wife, Gundrada, had a reputation for piety. At some point in their marriage, probably 1081-3, they went on pilgrimage to Rome. Due of war in Italy they only got as far as the great abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, where they were received into the fellowship of monks. On their return to England, they founded a priory at Lewes, following the Cluniac rule and a prior and 3 monks were sent from Cluny to establish the foundation. It was the first Cluniac foundation in England.

St Pancras priory, Lewes, founded by William and Gundrada

Following the Conqueror’s death, William fought in support of the late king’s second son, William II Rufus against his older brother, Robert Curthose, who had inherited the dukedom of Normandy. He was rewarded in early 1088 with the earldom of Surrey. The new earl fought for William II Rufus during an invasion by Robert’s supporters and was badly wounded at the siege of Pevensey Castle, East Sussex, in the spring of 1088. He was taken to Lewes, where he died of his wounds on 24th June of the same year. Earl Warenne was buried beside his first wife, Gundrada, in the chapter house of Lewes Priory.

Following the dissolution of Lewes Priory in the 16th century, Gundrada’s tombstone was first moved to Isfield Church; it was moved again in 1775 to the parish church of St John the Baptist at Southover in Lewes. The remains of Gundrada and William, themselves, were discovered in 2 leaden chests in 1845, when the railway line was excavated through the priory grounds. They were laid to rest, for a final time, at the Southover church, in 1847, in a chapel dedicated to Gundrada de Warenne.

William and Gundrada de Warenne had founded a dynasty that would survive for almost 300 years, dying out in the reign of Edward III following the disastrous marriage of John de Warenne, 7th and last Earl of Warenne and Surrey

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Footnotes:

¹ The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle edited and translated by Elisabeth M.C. van Houts and Rosalind C. Love; 2 My translation from quote in George Floyd Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda, the Daughter of William Duke of Normandy, and Wife of William de Warenne; 3 ibid; 4 Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; 5 ibid

Images:

All images ©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Sources:

Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert BartlettBrewer’s British Royalty by David WilliamsonBritain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; british-history.ac.uk; kristiedean.com; English Heritage Guidebook for Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadrei; oxforddnb.com; George Floyd Duckett, Observations on the Parentage of Gundreda, the Daughter of William Duke of Normandy, and Wife of William de Warenne; Elisabeth M.C. Van Houts and Rosalind C. Love (eds and trans), The Warenne (Hyde) Chronicle; C.P. Lewis, ‘Warenne, Gundrada de (d.1085)’, ODNB; Elisabeth Van Houts, ‘The Warenne View of the Past’, in Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2003, edited by John Gillingham

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

*

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

Book Corner: Forest of Foes by Matthew Harffy

AD 652. Beobrand has been ordered to lead a group of pilgrims to the holy city of Rome. Chief among them is Wilfrid, a novice of the church with some surprisingly important connections. Taking only Cynan and some of his best men, Beobrand hopes to make the journey through Frankia quickly and return to Northumbria without delay, though the road is long and perilous.

But where Beobrand treads, menace is never far behind. The lands of the Merovingian kings are rife with intrigue. The queen of Frankia is unpopular and her ambitious schemes, though benevolent, have made her powerful enemies. Soon Wilfrid, and Beobrand, are caught up in sinister plots against the royal house.

After interrupting a brutal ambush in a forest, Beobrand and his trusted gesithas find their lives on the line. Dark forces will stop at nothing to seize control of the Frankish throne, and Beobrand is thrown into a deadly race for survival through foreign lands where he cannot be sure who is friend and who is foe.

The only certainty is that if he is to save his men, thwart the plots, and unmask his enemies, blood will flow.

He’s done it again!

Magnificent adventure!

Forest of Foes by Matthew Harffy is the author’s 12th book and the 9th instalment of his magnificent Bernicia Chronicles. Beobrand is once again journeying over the Narrow Sea into Frankia. This time he is on his way to Rome, escorting a novice monk on his pilgrimage. Unfortunately, as with all Beobrand’s adventures, things don’t quite go to plan…

Beobrand and his loyal gesiths first save the wife of Clovis II, Queen Balthild, from an ambush in the woods and is then drawn into the world of the Frankish court and the conspiracies and controversies that surround it.

“What is he saying?” Beobrand asked Halinard in a quiet voice. The woman’s eyes flicked to him as he spoke, her expression questioning, no doubt surprised by his use of the Anglisc tongue. Beobrand marvelled at her apparent lack of fear.

“He says he will kill her, if let him go we do not,” said Halinard, his words clumsy yet clear.

“I hardly need you to tell me that,” replied Beobrand.

“I tell you what he says,” said Halinard, shaking his head. “He says nothing interesting.”

Brocard spoke to the man in the same calming tone he had used before. The brigand shouted more loudly, his voice cracking with his anger and fear. Behind him the maidservant looked ready to swoon.

Beobrand stepped closer to Brocard, beckoning for Halinard to follow him.

“Ask him his name,” he said in a low voice. Halinard translated. Brocard looked askance at Beobrand, then, with a shrug, he spoke to the brigand.

“Omer,” replied the brigand, narrowing his eyes as though he expected a trick.

Beobrand nodded.

“Offer him a horse,” Beobrand said. Halinard whispered his words in Frankish.

Brocard hesitated. One of his men, the one with the great bleeding wound on his face, growled something. Brocard held up his hand for patience and offered Omer a steed.

Omer replied and Beobrand understood enough to know that he wanted two mounts, one for him and one for his hostage.

“No,” Beobrand said in Frankish. He held up a single finger. “One horse.”

Omer shook his head and began to shout. Beobrand could not make out all the words, but it was clear Omer was not happy with the answer. Beobrand watched the knife blade waver at the woman’s lovely throat. Omer must know that if he killed her, he would surely follow the woman to the afterlife in moments. And yet men under such pressure do not always act reasonably and Beobrand became increasingly worried that the brigand might yet cut her throat by accident.

“Tell him he can have two horses,” he said. Halinard translated for him. Omer again looked as though he suspected he was being lured into a trap. He spoke quickly, urgently, but Beobrand could barely make sense of any of it. He was pleased though, to see that some of the tension had left Omer’s shoulders. The knife had lowered slightly from the lady’s neck. Brocard spoke up in anger at Beobrand’s offer. But before Beobrand could respond, the lady being held hostage moved with the speed of a striking serpent and Omer’s speech came to a sudden, choked halt. For a couple of heart beats he stood there, unmoving and silent, mouth opening and closing without sound. Then his hand fell, the knife tumbling from lifeless fingers.

Matthew Harffy has written yet another cracking Beobrand adventure. Changing the location to France has opened up a world of opportunities, which includes integrating the remarkable story of Balthild, the slave girl who became queen of the Franks as the wife of Clovis II. It also see Beobrand facing new challenges, including that of language. Matthew Harffy could have made life so much easier for himself by having Beobrand pick up the language of the Franks easily, but it makes for a better story, and a more credible one, that he struggles like the rest of us. No one is perfect.

As has come to be expected from Matthew Harffy’s writing, the character development is paramount and it is interesting to see how Cynan continues to grow into the role of war leader and confidant. There is tragedy along the way and, as with any great story, a few surprises that will leave the reader reeling. But it all makes for a fabulous story.

Do not expect your emotions to escape unscathed.

Forest of Foes by Matthew Harffy is an adventure not to be missed!

About the author:

Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD.

Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Pre-order link

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3U5eD43

Follow Matthew Harffy

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Instagram: @beobrand

Website: matthewharffy.com

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

*

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 FRHistS

Book Corner: Tudor Places

Tudor Places Magazine

A new magazine exploring all the sites and buildings of the Tudor world – then and now.

·         Feature articles by expert contributors

·         Interviews with historians, archaeologists, curators, authors, houseowners and managers

·         Itineraries for weekends away exploring Tudor places, with recommendations on places to eat and stay

·         Regular column about living in a Tudor manor house today

·         Plus news, book listings and more………….

It is not every day that a new magazine hits the shops. And certainly not one devoted to Tudor history. As you may know, I am deep in the midst of writing Heroines of the Tudor World. So, when Tudor Places came along, I thought I should take a look. For research purposes, of course….

Tudor Places very kindly sent me their first 3 issues, so that I could see what I think. And I have to say I’m impressed!

The magazine is beautifully and professionally presented. With a varying range of articles and peppered throughout with colourful images, the magazine is vibrant and attractive to the reader’s eye.

But what of the content?

Well, if you are a Tudor fan, you won’t be disappointed – to be honest, if you are a history fan, you will not be disappointed. Each magazine has a wealth of content, including recent news about Tudor-related discoveries and events, interviews with historians and others working in the heritage industry and articles on Tudor-related historical sites and the Tudors themselves. Moreover, Tudor Places has turned to the experts we are familiar with in order to get the best content available. With contributions from Tracy Borman, Elizabeth Norton, Julian Humphreys, Nathen Amin and a host of others, the reader can trust that the articles are well researched and expertly presented.

Regular articles include ‘Living at the Old Hall’ where Brigitte Webster regales the reader with her experiences in renovating Old Hall in Norfolk and hosting the Tudor and 17th Century Experience. Brigitte vividly describes the highs and lows of living in a 500-year-old manor house. And though there are lows, you get the impression that she wouldn’t change a thing!

Another regular is from Sarah Morris, of the Tudor Travel Guide, who offers the reader itinerary suggestions for visits throughout the UK, from York to Monmouthshire and beyond. Sarah’s guides help you to guarantee that you won’t miss that ‘must-see’ Tudor manor house or monastery wherever you visit.

Tudor Places uses the knowledge of Tudor experts to bring to the reader a magazine which is accessible, entertaining and totally engrossing. My dinner hour lasted two hours because I could not put issue 3 down until I had read every word. The fact it ended with an image of Gainsborough Old Hall (one of my ‘go to’ Tudor places) didn’t hurt – it was recommended as a ‘hidden gem’ by Linda Porter.

Other articles in the first three issues included the lost Tudor palaces of Oatlands and Richmond from Elizabeth Norton, a fascinating insight into the Markenfield family of Ripon from Emma Wells, and the Building Projects of Cecily Bonville by Melita Thomas. I could go on…. Each article in the magazines has been carefully selected to give the best content and reading experience. The articles are well researched and very informative – and beautifully presented amidst colourful images and illustrations.

The mixture of regular articles, interviews and features, helps to create a lively, engaging magazine in which there is something for everyone. The only thing that is missing is a crossword or word search – but maybe that is just me?

It is certainly a magazine I would want to read regularly – or maybe even write for (hint, hint, winky face).

Whether you are reading about the Tudors for pleasure or research, you will find something of interest and value in every magazine. Tudor Places is crammed full of quality content and beautifully presented.

I cannot recommend it highly enough.

And just for my readers, Tudor Places has a very special offer…

Special Offer

Tudor Places is available in print and digital format.  Print copies posted worldwide.

Tudor Places has kindly offered a 10% discount on all purchases for followers of History… the Interesting Bits

Go to www.tudorplaces.com and use discount code HIB10 at checkout.

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Eleanor, daughter of a king, Countess of Pembroke

King John with his children Henry, Richard, Joan, Isabella and Eleanor

There was one daughter of King John for whom the legacy of Magna Carta and the struggle for political reform held particular significance. The life of Eleanor of England, and her husband Simon de Montfort, stands as the epilogue of the Magna Carta story. Although democratic government was still many centuries in the future, Magna Carta was the first step. The political movement led by Simon de Montfort was the second step …

However, had fate not stepped in, Eleanor may never have married Simon. From an early age, she had been the wife of another, until tragedy struck.

Eleanor of England was the youngest child of John and Isabelle d’Angoulême; she is said to have inherited her mother’s beauty and feisty temperament.1 Eleanor was thought to have been born at the height of her father’s troubles, in the midst of the Magna Carta crisis in 1215. However, historians are now inclined to the theory that she was born posthumously, sometime after the death of King John, either in late 1216 or early in 1217. She was named for her famous grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. As a baby, little Eleanor was placed in the household of the bishop of Winchester, where her eldest brother, Henry, had been living since 1212.2 Eleanor’s father had died whilst the country was riven by war, on the night of 18/19 October 1216 at Newark. He was succeeded by Eleanor’s eldest brother Henry – now King Henry III. Eleanor’s mother, frozen out from any role in her son’s regency or life, returned to her native Angoulême and in 1220 married Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche.

In 1224 Eleanor’s future was decided when she was married to William (II) Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. The younger Marshal was the son of the first earl of Pembroke who had been regent in the early years of Henry III’s reign, and who had driven the French out of England following his victory at the Battle of Lincoln in May 1217. The first earl had a reputation for integrity and loyalty, having remained unwavering in his loyalty to King John during the Magna Carta crisis. The second earl, Eleanor’s husband, had been a hostage of the king between 1207 and 1213, as a guarantee of his father’s good behaviour. He later joined the baronial rebellion and was appointed marshal of the forces of the invader, Prince Louis. However, he returned to the Royalist cause when Louis refused him possession of Marlborough Castle, which had previously belonged to the younger Marshal’s grandfather.3

William (II) Marshal fought alongside his father at the Battle of Lincoln. On his father’s death in 1219, Marshal had succeeded him as earl of Pembroke and marshal of England; when his mother died in 1220, he succeeded to her lordships of Leinster and Netherwent. His younger brother, Richard Marshal, succeeded to the Clare lands in Ireland. In 1214 Marshal married Alice, the daughter of Baldwin de Béthune, Count of Aumâle, to whom he had been betrothed in 1203. The marriage was short-lived, however, as poor Alice died in 1216.

On 23 April 1224, William (II) Marshal was married to Eleanor; born in the 1190s, he was some twenty-or-so years older than his bride, who was no more than 9 years old on her wedding day, and may have been as young as 7.4

Eleanor of England, Countess of Pembroke

The marriage was agreed at the behest of the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, and the papal legate, Pandulf, as a way of guaranteeing Marshal remained firmly in the justiciar’s camp, and to prevent the marshal making a foreign marriage. The match put an end to three years of indecision, as to whether Eleanor should marry a foreign prince or an English magnate. The king settled ten manors, confiscated from a French nobleman and already administered by Marshal, on his sister as her marriage portion.5

For the first five years of her marriage Eleanor continued to live at court, under the guardianship of Cecily of Sandford.6 In 1229, when she was 13 or 14, she went to live with her husband, and would spend her time travelling with him in England, France and Ireland. In May 1230, Marshal had taken twenty knights with him on Henry III’s expedition to Poitou. He also took his wife, probably at the behest of the king. Eleanor became seasick during the voyage to France and Henry had his ship drop anchor at the nearest landfall to give her time to recover, ordering the fleet to continue without them.7

Henry was probably hoping that Eleanor’s presence would help to secure the support of his mother and her second husband, Hugh de Lusignan, to his expedition against the French. Mother and daughter had not seen each other since Eleanor was a baby. Isabelle’s maternal affection for the children of her first husband, however, was practically non-existent, or deeply hidden, and Eleanor’s presence failed to persuade her mother and stepfather to remain loyal to Henry III. As we have seen in a previous article, Isabelle d’Angoulême‘s priorities as a French countess often clashed with those of her English family.

Marshal and Eleanor returned from France in the spring of 1231, with William handing over command of the English forces to Ranulf, Earl of Chester. Shortly after their return, the couple attended the wedding of Marshal’s widowed sister, Isabel, to the king’s brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Family happiness turned to grief, however, when William (II) Marshal died suddenly in London a week later, on 6 April. He was buried beside his father at the Temple Church on 15 April 1231.

At the still very tender age of between 14 and 16, Eleanor was a now childless widow.

The arms of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke

The earldom of Pembroke passed to William’s younger brother, Richard, and Eleanor would spend many years fighting unsuccessfully to get the entirety of her dowry from the Marshal family, which amounted to one third of the Marshal estates, according to the guarantees established by Magna Carta. The Great Charter stipulated a widow should receive the allocation of a dower within forty days of her husband’s death.

A year after William’s death Richard Marshal offered Eleanor £400 a year as her settlement. Henry III persuaded his sister to take it, wanting to be done with the business and probably well aware that it was as much as Eleanor was likely to get, despite the Marshal holdings amounting to an income of £3,000 a year.8 Henry stood as guarantor for the settlement but the payments would always be sporadic and unreliable, not helped by the fact that the earldom passed through four successive Marshal brothers between 1231 and 1245, each with differing priorities and more Marshal widows to assign their dowers.

In the midst of her grief, and influenced by her former governess, Eleanor took a vow of chastity in the presence of Edmund of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1234. Although she did not become a nun, the archbishop put a ring on her finger, to signify that she was a bride of Christ; she was, therefore, expected to remain chaste and virtuous for the rest of her life. As a result, the king seized her estates and Richard Marshal, as her husband’s heir, took many of her valuable chattels.

Knowing how teenagers see lost love as the end of the world, even today, one can understand Eleanor’s decision to take a vow of chastity, even if we cannot comprehend anyone giving such advice to a grieving 16-year-old. Eleanor may also have seen taking such a vow as a way of staving off her brother, the king, forcing her to remarry in the interests of the crown. Moreover, it put Eleanor’s life in her own hands and also served to appease the Marshal family, who would have seen their own lands, which made up Eleanor’s dower, controlled by another magnate or foreign prince had she remarried.

Eleanor’s seal as Countess of Leicester

The widowed Eleanor retired to the castle of Inkberrow in Worcestershire. King Henry III continued to watch over his sister throughout the 1230s; he sent her gifts of venison and timber for her manors. Throughout her life, Eleanor was known for her extravagant spending, which led to substantial debts; Henry lent her money and made sporadic payments to reduce the debts. And in 1237 her brother granted her Odiham Castle in Hampshire, which would become her principal residence.9

Although Eleanor spent the 7 years after William Marshal’s death as a young widow sworn to chastity, most people may have predicted that such a life would not last. And at some point after the mid-1230s, possibly at the wedding of Henry and Eleanor of Provence, Eleanor met Simon de Montfort, the man who would dominate English politics in the mid-thirteenth century.

The couple fell in love.

But that story is for another time…

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Footnotes:

1. Carol, ‘Eleanor of Leicester: A Broken Vow of Chastity’, historyofroyalwomen.com, 28 February 2017; 2. Elizabeth Norton, She Wolves; 3. R.F. Walker, ‘William Marshal, fifth earl of Pembroke (c. 1190–1231)’, oxforddnb.com; 4. Ibid; 5. Darren Baker, With All For All; 6. Elizabeth Hallam, ‘Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke and Leicester (1215?–1275)’, Oxforddnb.com; 7. Darren Baker, With All For All; 8. Ibid; Elizabeth Hallam, ‘Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke’.

Sources:

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

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Book Corner: The Pedlar’s Promise by Steven A. McKay

Medieval England, December

A pedlar has been sent to Wakefield with an unexpected and apparently quite valuable Christmas gift for John Little and his friend Will Scaflock. Unfortunately, the pedlar likes his ale a little too much and somehow gets lost and ends up in the wrong town. With no other work to do, or any strange mysteries to solve for a change, the pair of bored former outlaws decide to ride out and track down their gift. Of course, things don’t quite go as smoothly as hoped and they experience a series of hair-raising adventures on the snowy roads and villages of Yorkshire before their quest finally ends with a surprise…

Will our heroes ever find their quarry? What is the mysterious gift their friend Robert Stafford has sent to them from Brandesburton? And who the hell thought it was a good idea to go riding around northern England in the depths of winter searching for a drunk old pedlar?
Pour yourself a warm glass of wassail and settle in beside the fire to find out!

The Pedlar’s Promise continues the series of short winter stories including Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil, Faces of Darkness, The House in the Marsh, and Sworn To God, and brings some much-needed cheer to the gloomy winter months.

It must be nearly Christmas because there’s a new novella out featuring Little John, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck.

Steven A. McKay is becoming a master of the mystery thriller. The Pedlar’s Promise is yet another intriguing adventure involving the former outlaws Little John and Will Scarlet takes the reader on an entertaining, muddy journey through Yorkshire.

These novellas follow on from Steven’s The Forest Lord series, telling the story of Robin Hood. They provide a little insight into the adventures of Robin’s leading men – Little John, Tuck and Will – after their lives as outlaws come to an end. The three remain firm friends, reminisce about their time with Robin, and get into some interesting scrapes. The Pedlar’s Promise is one such mini-adventure, when Will and John go in search of an errant pedlar in the depths of winter.

Suddenly the door burst open, snow whirling into the room as a dark, hooded figure forced his way through the icy gale and into the ale house. Muttering, the newcomer shut out the gale, making sure the latch was firmly in place before stamping towards Alexander Gilbert, the purple-nosed owner of the alehouse, and demanding a drink.

Once furnished with an ale the stocky figure turned towards the hearth and grinned, seeing the two men framed by the flickering orange flames.

“Tuck!” John cried, and Will Scaflock laughed, gesturing for the friar to come and join them at their small circular table.

“God’s blood,” Tuck growled as he planted his hefty behind on the stool next to Little John. “It’s freezing out there.”

“Maybe,” the bailiff conceded. “But that just makes it all the more enjoyable to drink an ale or three in here, beside the fire and in the company of good friends, eh, Will?”

Scaflock hoisted his mug aloft, smiling, but Tuck just rolled his eyes and pulled the collar of his brown cassock tighter around his neck.

“Cheer up.” John laughed. “You’re just hungry.”

“How d’you know that?” Tuck demanded, wiping foam from his upper lip and eyeing the bailiff suspiciously.

“You’re always hungry,” John replied sardonically, gesturing for Alexander to bring them some of his fabled broth. That was always a favourite on a night such as this, even if the amount of actual meat and other ingredients in it varied depending on the year’s harvest. Providing ale and warm food was a sure way to cheer Friar Tuck, and the bailiff knew it.

The innkeeper soon bustled over, placing a bowl and some bread in front of Tuck, who happily accepted. “Thank you, Alexander,” he said, lifting the bread and dipping it into the thick, steaming liquid. “Did you get the gift I sent you from Brandesburton?” he asked, turning his attention back to his friends.

“What gift?” John asked with a frown.

As I say with every one of Steven A. McKay’s novellas, this book was too short. It’s not that the story was rushed or shallow. It’s just that, the story ends way too soon. I really do think Steven should write a full-length mystery with Will Scarlet and Little John. These novellas are tantalising but they always leave me wanting much, much more. (Are you listening Steven?)

Having said that, The Pedlar’s Promise is a perfect little read that you can get through in one or two sittings. The story is fast-flowing and draws the reader in from the very beginning, as I have come to expect from Steven A. McKay. His characters are consistent in their actions and it is like reading about the adventures of old friends. Where the previous two novellas, The House in the Marsh and Faces of Darkness were quite dark and broody, and had me hiding under the covers at various points, The Pedlar’s Promise has a different tone and can be quite light-hearted in places. And has a brilliant twist at the end!

I don’t want to tell you too much and ruin the experience, but The Pedlar’s Promise by Steven A. McKay is well worth a read!

I cannot recommend it highly enough!

To Buy the Book:

The Pedlar’s Promise is now available from Amazon.

From Steven A. McKay:

I was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born.

My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write.

In 2021 the Xbox/Playstation/PC game HOOD: Outlaws and Legends was released, featuring my writing. I did the character backstories and the lore for the maps and collectables and it was such a fantastic experience!

I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.

Check out my website at stevenamckay.com and sign up for the email list – in return I’ll send you a FREE short story, as well as offering chances to win signed books, free audiobooks and other quite good things!

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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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 FRHistS

Book Corner: Dark Waters Rising by Cassandra Clark

A storm is coming . . . Can nun sleuth Hildegard solve the murder of a lay sister before the rising flood waters trap her with a cunning killer?

Autumn, 1394. All is not well at Swyne Priory. Dissension has arisen amongst the nuns. The new novices whisper in corners, spreading malicious rumours and sharing dark secrets.

The Prioress gives Hildegard an order: search out the cause of this unrest, and put a stop to it. But before Hildegard can investigate, she’s forced to deal with a new problem: the arrival of a mysterious stranger in the middle of the night, claiming his life is in danger.

Hildegard isn’t sure whether to believe him, but when a body is discovered near the priory, she’s soon plunged into a dark and dangerous puzzle where nothing is as it seems. All she knows for certain is that a storm is coming, threatening to cut the priory off from the outside world and trap them with a killer . . .

Dark Waters Rising is the twelfth and final novel of Cassandra Clark’s fabulous series charting the adventure of her nun-turned-sleuth Hildegard of Meaux. Deep in the wilds of Yorkshire, amidst a storm that threatens to drown everything and everyone, Hildegard is thrown into yet another mystery when a court musician appears at the gates of her abbey, just as one of the abbey’s servants is viciously murdered. Coincidence?

Dark Waters Rising is set in the turbulent reign of King Richard II, when the king’s own relatives are always looking to their own advantage – to the detriment of the king and those who support him. It is a thrilling murder mystery, tinged with court intrigue, despite the distance between Yorkshire and London. The political connotations are never far from the minds of Hildegard and her colleagues. Hildegard has to consider the motives of the major players on the national stage, and of those closer to home if she is to uncover the murderer and keep her fellow nuns safe.

Cassandra Clark is the consummate story teller and draws the reader in from the very first pages, taking them on a journey of deceit and discovery as the tale unravels and the villains – and friends – are unmasked.

Hildegard took charge. ‘He’s going to wake the entire priory. Keep the beam in place.’

Speaking through the peephole she demanded, ‘Who’s there?’

From the lane a voice gasped something and Hildegard had to ask again. ‘Who is it? Declare yourself.’

‘I beg you – please, sister, for the love of God, let me in – I beg you, let me inside or I’m a dead man!

‘Your name, sir?’

‘Master Leonin, King’s musician, and I beg entry to your convent. Sister, I mean you no harm – I am alone. One man only. Help me!’

‘Are you armed?’

A pause followed.

Hildegard repeated the question. Eventually a hesitant voice replied, ‘Only with my one knife, for eating and practical purposes while travelling.’

‘That could mean anything, ‘ whispered Blanche the porteress.

Hildegard whispered back. ‘Fear not. I have my own knife, equally practical.’

She gave a glance towards several nuns who, roused from their beds, had crowded into the lodge. She noticed one or two looking as formidable as ever and decided to take a risk.

Peering back through the peephole she could just about discern a hooded figure move into view. Behind him was the short bridge over the moat and beyond that only the dense black of the thicket at the edge of the woods. Apart from this one fellow battering at the door there was no sign of anyone else, no band of cut-throats, nothing but the swish of rain and the gurgling in the gutters as it spewed down through the waste pipes.

She whispered to Blanche, ‘Go on. Open it slowly.’ She gave a last hurried glance outside before stepping back as the bar slid out, the door flew open, and the stranger fell inside.

He was clawing for breath and gasping, ‘I thank you with all my heart, dear sisters! Thank you, thank you!’

His hood fell back and they saw he had black hair plastered to his skull and a clean-shaven face washed by rain. Kneeling in the puddle he brought in he seemed incapable of rising to his feet. With hands clasped he lifted his face to them, eyes stark with something liker terror. He was no more than a boy, a very handsome, exotic-looking boy, wearing filthy but expensive velvet and worn-out embroidered Spanish-leather boots.

‘My blessed saviours – my dear angels of mercy,’ he whispered in a strange accent, then he astonished them all by leaning forward to kiss the flagstones in front of them.

‘Can you stand on your feet, young fellow?’ Hildegard demanded. ‘Come, get up. You’re safe from whatever threatens you outside our precinct.’

‘A moment.’ He was gasping for air. With what seemed like fear, head bent over his clasped hands as a prayer issued from his lips, he broke off with a sob then took another gulping breath before slowly subsiding to the floor in a dead faint.

In Dark Waters Rising Cassandra Clark evokes an atmosphere of desolation and isolation within a storm-swept Yorkshire of the 14th century. Her knowledge of the landscape and its people adds to the authenticity of the story and the history. All is intricately woven into the story to draw the reader into the world of late 14th century England – and the intrigues that abounded.

The reign of Richard II is woefully underrepresented in fiction and non-fiction alike, so it is refreshing to see an entire series of stories set in the period. It s even more refreshing to see them sympathetic to Richard II, rather than championing the Lancastrian cause of Henry of Bolingbroke, the future King Henry IV.

I like Hildegard. She is a no-nonsense, practical nun who just gets on with things. You can imagine that she is the one everyone goes to for advice. The sensible one. Cassandra Clark manages to include a wide range of diverse and individual characters, both in the religious houses and those around them, creating a rich tapestry of personalities for this medieval tale.

If you haven’t met Hildegard of Meaux, yet, I suggest you acquaint yourself with this amazing series.

Beautifully written and expertly told, the story and plot reveals itself gradually, building to the inevitable climax, and the ending of a fabulous series of stories.

Hildegard of Meaux will be sorely missed!

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To Buy the Book:

Dark Waters Rising by Cassandra Clark is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

Cassandra Clark is an award-winning scriptwriter for theatre, radio and television, and the author of nine previous novels in the Hildegard of Meaux medieval mystery series. Running wild near the ruins of the Abbey of Meaux in the East Riding as a child became her inspiration for the series while the discovery in a dusty archive of the Chronicle of Meaux written in 1395 is the secret source for her research.

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly, FRHistS

Book Corner: Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage

Blood is not always thicker than water…

At times a common bloodline is something of a curse—or so Robert FitzStephan discovers when he realises his half-brother, Eustace de Lamont, wants to kill him.  

A murderous and greedy brother isn’t Robert’s only challenge.  He and his wife, Noor, also have to handle their infected relationship with a mightily displeased Queen Eleanor—all because of their mysterious little foundling whom they refuse to abandon or allow the queen to lock away.

Eustace is persistent. When Robert’s life hangs in the balance, it falls to Noor to do whatever it takes to rip them free from the toothy jaws of fate. Noor may be a woman, but weak she is not, and in her chest beats a heart as brave and ferocious as that of a lioness. But will her courage be enough to see them safe?

Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage is yet another fast-paced adventure that is impossible to put down. I read it in 3 days!

Her Castilian Heart is the third in the series, set in the reign of Edward I, which follows Robert FitzStephan, an illegitimate son of a lord who has risen on his own merit to become a knight and landowner. He is married to the incomparable Noor, a relative of the queen, Eleanor of Castile. After being exiled to Spain for a short period, Noor and Robert are back in England, facing the anger and suspicions of the queen, and the jealousy of Robert’s brother.

As ever, Anna Belfrage has woven a tale of love, betrayal and intrigue that will leave the reader absorbed from beginning to end. Set with the backdrop of border skirmishes with Wales and the queen’s failing health, Noor and Robert are once again forced to negotiate the English court and its rivalries, intrigues and jealousies.

At present, she did not look much like a mother or wife: her hair had escaped its braid and the confines of the veil, long dark locks floating round her face. There was a smudge of something on her nose – ointment, he’s hazard, given the fragrance – and her brown skirts were covered with straw. He reached over and stroked her cheek with his maimed hand. She leaned into his touch, half closing her eyes.

‘Why is he here?’ she asked, moving close enough that she could stand on her toes and kiss his cheek.

‘Why?’ To drag me along to Wales.’

‘Now?’ She frowned. ‘This time of the year?’

‘I’ve campaigned during the winter before.’ He tapped her nose. ‘I’ll survive.’

She paled, and he regretted his choice of words.

‘It is a scouting expedition.’ he said. ‘We will keep to the shadows.’ He did not quite believe that. The moment Rhys of Maredudd had decided to raise the banners of rebellion yet again instead of disappearing into a hole somewhere, he’d effectively unleashed the vindictive rage of the English king. There’d be little scouting, more killing, as they encircled the rebel.

She snorted. ‘Mortimer is about as adept at staying in the shadows as I am at swimming.’

As his wife did not know how to swim, that was not an accolade. But it made him smile. He shook his head at her. ‘Roger is quite skilled at melting into the background when it suits him.’

‘Hmph! Then he can go himself.’

‘The king requires I accompany him.’ And as the king’s knight, Robert could not deny him.

‘The king is here? In England?’

He heard the quaver in her voice. Once the king and queen were back, there would be no putting off the audience with the queen, and they both feared Queen Eleanor’s reaction to the fact that they’d returned without that jewel she so desired. Or abandoning their foster son in foreign lands as instructed, but hopefully she’d never find that out. Upon returning home, Robert had sent an extensive account of their time abroad to the king, and despite being home for a year, he’d not heard from his liege until now, and then only indirectly via Roger Mortimer.

‘He remains in Gascony.’

Anna Belfrage’s storytelling is second-to-none and her research impeccable. She transports the reader to the court of Edward I, to the Europe of the 13th century. Meticulously recreating the sights, sounds and smells of the era, Anna rebuilds a lost world and immerses the reader entirely within its confines.

Her characters are full of life and vigour, having an energy of their own. They are not untouched by events, and grow and mature through their experiences. Neither Noor nor Robert forget the past and this informs their future. Anna Belfrage has created a hero and heroine that the reader can relate to, and empathise with.

Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage will leave the reader breathless!

Anna Belfrage is a wonderful storyteller. She draws you into the book from the very first page, takes hold of your emotions, twists them around, puts them through the ringer and then – maybe – gives them back to you, battered, bruised and in tears. And you’ll want to go back for more! What an incredible experience!

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To buy the book:

Her Castilian Heart is available now from: http://myBook.to/HEART

About the author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. No luck there, so instead she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests; history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. Plus she always finds the time to try out new recipes, chase down obscure rose bushes and initiate a home renovation scheme or two.

Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga , set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy.

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty and love set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the late 13th century.

Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time , is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands.

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of several Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com 

Social Media Links:

Website: www.annabelfrage.com; Amazon Author Page: http://Author.to/ABG; Twitter: https://twitter.com/abelfrageauthor; Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/anna-belfrage; Instagram: https://instagram.com/annabelfrageauthor; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/annabelfrageauthor; Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6449528.Anna_Belfrage

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly, FRHistS