Little Princess Gwenllian

Gwenllian was the only child of Llywelyn ab Gruffuddd, also known as Llywelyn the Last, Prince of Wales. Her mother was Eleanor de Montfort, who was the daughter of Eleanor of England, sister of Henry III, and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Llywelyn and Eleanor had married in Worcester Cathedral in October 1278, in a lavish ceremony attended by Edward I, King of England, and Alexander III, King of Scots.

Memorial to Gwenllian, Sempringham, Lincolnshire

Gwenllian, a descendant of both Welsh and English royalty, was born in June 1282 at the palace of Garth Celyn, Abergwyngregyn, near Bangor; her mother died giving birth to her. Shortly after her birth, Edward I concluded his conquest of Wales. Gwenllian’s father, Llywelyn, was killed in an ambush on 11 December 1282 – and just six months after her birth, Gwenllian was an orphan. Her uncle Dafydd, Llywelyn’s younger brother, became the little princess’s legal guardian. After his brother’s death, Dafydd continued the fight for Welsh independence but was betrayed to the English, in June 1283.

Dafydd, his wife, children and little Gwenllian were captured at Bera Mountain in Snowdonia, where they had been in hiding. At just one year old, Gwenllian was taken, by sea, probably to thwart any attempt at rescue, from Wales, the land of her birth. She would never see her homeland again. The baby girl was placed behind the high walls of the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham, in Lincolnshire, just south of the great city of Lincoln. Her female cousins, the seven daughters of Dafydd, were also placed in various nunneries, so it is possible some of her cousins were with her. Dafydd’s legitimate daughter, Gwladus, who was a similar age to Gwenllian, was placed in Sixhills, another Gilbertine priory, in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Statue of Gwenllian’s father, Llywelyn the Last at Cardiff City Hall

Dafydd’s two sons, Llywelyn and Owain, were imprisoned in Bristol Castle; the eldest, Llywelyn, died there in 1287, just four years after his capture. Owain was still living in 1325, every night securely incarcerated in a specially constructed timber cage within Bristol Castle. Dafydd himself suffered the horrendous ‘traitor’s death’; he was hung, drawn and quartered at Shrewsbury.

The Gilbertines were the only wholly-English monastic community. Their founder, St Gilbert, had some form of physical deformity, which prevented him from pursuing a career as a knight. He trained as a clerk in France, studying under Master Anselm at Laon. He eventually entered the household of the Bishop of Lincoln and, in 1129, was appointed Vicar of Sempringham and West Torrington. He established the first priory there in 1131, with seven local women vowing to live a life of chastity, poverty and obedience. Sempringham Priory was a double-house, housing both men and women in segregated quarters.

At its height, the priory housed 200 nuns and forty canons. The order followed strict rules, based on those of the Augustinian and Premonstratensian monasteries. By the time of Gilbert’s death in 1189 there were thirteen priories in England; this number had risen to twenty-five at the time of the Reformation. [1]

Gwenllian was a prisoner at the Gilbertine Priory of St Mary, at Sempringham, for the rest of her life. A prisoner of three English kings, Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, she was a rallying figure for the subjugated Welsh and too valuable to ever be freed. Edward I wrote to the Prior and Prioress of Sempringham of his decision to place Gwenllian in their custody, on 11 November 1283: ‘… Having the Lord before our eyes, pitying also her sex and her age, that the innocent may not seem to atone for the iniquity and ill-doing of the wicked and contemplating especially the life in your Order’. [2]

Memorial plaque to Gwenllian on the memorial at Sempringham

Although Edward wanted Gwenllian to be forgotten, he could not afford to forget about her himself, and four years after she was placed in the convent, Edward ordered Thomas Normanvill to ‘go to the places where the daughters of Llewellyn and of David his brother, who have taken the veil in the Order of Sempringham, are dwelling, and to report upon their state and custody by next Parliament’. [3] The extent of Gwenllian’s knowledge of her own history and homeland is far from certain. Having been taken from Wales at six months old, she is said not to have spoken a word of Welsh and may not have even known how to spell her name; she is referred to as ‘Wencillian’, in a document sent to Edward III at the time of her death, although spelling was far from uniform in the 14th century.

Gwenllian was probably well-cared for. Edward III endowed her with a pension of £20 a year, which was paid to the priory for her food and clothing. Whether Gwenllian was treated according to her rank at the priory is unknown; however, it is highly likely that she was aware of her importance and her family connections, especially when she was older, given the attention paid to her by subsequent kings. She is said to have received gifts from her cousin the king, and may have spent time in Edward III’s company, when he visited the priory at Easter-time in 1328; the young king issued a charter from Sempringham on 2 April of that year. [4]

St Andrew’s Church, Sempringham stands close to the site of the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham

Gwenllian may also have spent time in the company of Joan Mortimer, the daughter of Roger Mortimer, supposed lover of Isabelle of France, Edward III’s mother, and ruler of England after the deposition of her huusband, Edward II. Joan was held at Sempringham following her father’s downfall in 1330. She was only eighteen at the time, however, so may have had little in common, beyond their joint status as prisoners of the crown, with Gwenllian, who was a woman now in her late forties who had spent her entire life in conventual seclusion. The profound difference between Joan and Gwenllian, of course, is that Joan was released after a short time.

Gwenllian only found release in death. The on 7 June 1337, the same month as her fifty-fifth birthday. She was buried at the priory where she had spent all but eighteen months of her life. Her grave was lost at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, in the 16th century. However, a memorial plaque was placed near St Andrew’s Church in Sempringham in 1993, stating:

In memory of Gwenllian, daughter of the last Prince of Wales. Born at Abergwyngregyn 12.06.1282. Died at Sempringham 7.6.1337. Having been held prisoner for 54 years. [5]

Although she left very few physical marks on the world, a child whose very future was stolen by Edward I, Gwenllian’s remarkable story has not been forgotten. In 2009 a mountain in Snowdonia in Wales, formerly known as Carnedd Uchaf, was renamed Carnedd Gwenllian in the lost princess’s honour.

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Footnotes: [1] David Ross, editor, Sempringham Priory, Church and Holy Well, britainexpress.com; [2] englishmonarchs.co.uk; [3] ibid; [4] Calendar of the Charter Rolls. 1-14, Edward III; [5] The Princess Gwenllian Society, Princessgwenllian.co.uk

Sources: castlewales.com; snowdoniaheritage.info; Marc Morris A Great and Terrible King;David Williamson Brewer’s British royalty; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Oxford Companion to British History; The History Today Companion to British History; Derek Wilson The Plantagenets; britainexpress.com; englishmonarchs.co.uk; princessgwenllian.co.uk; Calendar of the Charter Rolls

Images: Photos of Sempringham Church and memorial copyright Sharon Bennett Connolly. Llywelyn the Last courtesy of Wikipedia.

My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The Cold Light of Dawn by Anna Belfrage

Giveaway!

Today I have a special treat for readers. Not only is there a review of a fantastic novel, but there is – for the fist time, ever, on the blog – a giveaway as well! Anna Belfrage has kindly offered an ebook of this fabulous, not-to-be-missed novel to accompany my review.

After Henry of Lancaster’s rebellion has been crushed early in 1329, a restless peace settles over England. However, the young Edward III is no longer content with being his regents’ puppet, no matter that neither Queen Isabella nor Roger Mortimer show any inclination to give up their power. Caught in between is Adam de Guirande, torn between his loyalty to the young king and that to his former lord, Roger Mortimer.

Edward III is growing up fast. No longer a boy to be manipulated, he resents the power of his mother, Queen Isabella, and Mortimer. His regents show little inclination of handing over their power to him, the rightful king, and Edward suspects they never will unless he forces their hand.

Adam de Guirande is first and foremost Edward’s man, and he too is of the opinion that the young king is capable of ruling on his own. But for Adam siding with his king causes heartache, as he still loves Roger Mortimer, the man who shaped him into who he is.

Inevitably, Edward and his regents march towards a final confrontation. And there is nothing Adam can do but pray and hope that somehow things will work out. Unfortunately, prayers don’t always help.

The Cold Light of Dawn  by Anna Belfrage is the 4th book in ‘The King’s Greatest Enemy series, spanning the final years of the reign of Edward II and the early years of the reign of Edward III. The story of Kit and Adam de Guirande started with Adam serving Roger Mortimer in In the Shadow of the Storm and has followed the young couple through thick and thin in Days of Sun and Glory and danger and adventure, and the fall of a king in Under the Approaching Dark. The series has been stunning from the very beginning, combining suspense, adventure, political intrigue and an old-fashioned love story to draw the reader into the heart of the 14th century.

It will be hard to justice to this fantastic novel in a review. The book not only tells you a story, but awakens your feelings and takes you on an emotional journey as well as a literary one. I enjoy reading – I always have – but I rarely come across a book, or series of books, that bring out all the emotions and will have me laughing and smiling in places, heart in my mouth in other places and leave me with tears streaming down my face at times. The action and excitement are constant, the dangers ever-present.

“What’s she doing here?” she whispered.

Beside her Meg gasped in admiration, eyes riveted to the figure clad in green and blue, the hood of her mantle thrown back to reveal a veil in the sheerest of linen.

“I am sure we will find out.” William set a hand to her back, sufficient support for Kit to stiffen her spine.

“Sister,” Kit offered reluctantly when the neat little mare came to a halt in front of her. Alicia Luytens and she shared a father, but where Alicia had been born in wedlock, Kit was the child of an illicit union, the damage further compounded – at least in Alicia’s eyes – by the fact that Kit’s mother was a salter’s daughter.

Alicia did not reply, narrow face set in an unreadable expression as she gazed at her surroundings. “My father was born here,” she said to her male companion as she dismounted. “Imagine that! Such humble beginnings.” She landed lightly on her feet, made as if to enter the manor house, but Kit blocked her way.

“I do not recall  inviting you,” Kit said

So what is it about Anna Belfrage’s writing that makes her stories so special? I wish I knew! I wish I could bottle it! She is the consummate story teller. She breathes life into her characters, brings the past right to you, and takes you back in time so the 21st century is a distant memory.  In The Cold Light of Dawn the author draws on her vast knowledge of the 14th century in order to transport the reader to the early reign of Edward III.

It is her knowledge and understanding of her characters, both historical and invented, that bring the era to vivid life. Edward III is the teenage king, trying to break the shackles of his mother and her lover, Isabella and Roger Mortimer. Edward and his young wife, Philippa, are depicted as both teenagers and royals – young people, at times, with a power they are unsure how to wield, while at other times chafing under the control of their elders. And they control the lives of Adam and Kit. Adam is the captain of Edward’s guard, while Kit is one of Philippa’s ladies. Both benefit and suffer from the pleasures  of the master and mistress.

Roger Mortimer is a wonderful character; I had never felt sorry for him and the road his life took him, until reading this series. Roger is a larger-than-life character, much as he must have been at the time, knowing the dangers he risks, but acting with a certainty that he is doing his duty, however misguided some of his actions appear to be. And even the minor characters are well researched, including one of my own Heroines, Alice de Lacey, who is sympathetically portrayed, despite the fact she has little more than a walk-on part.

The Cold Light of Dawn takes the story of Adam and Kit through personal challenges and national intrigues, their duties placing them at the heart of matters they don’t always want to have anything to do with, dividing their loyalties and endangering their lives. A fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing read, this is a book that is impossible to put down, continuing a series that has got stronger with every new story.

Giveaway!

If you would like to be in with a chance of winning an ebook copy of The Cold Light of Dawn, simply leave a comment below, or on the post on my Facebook page. The winner will be drawn on Friday 23rd February. Good Luck!

About the Author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her ongoing series is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.

If you would like to find out more about Anna and her books, visit her blog.

The Cold Light of Dawn is available from today in paperback or ebook from Amazon in the UK and US.

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My Book:

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

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Under the Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage

Adam de Guirande has cause to believe the turbulent times are behind him: Hugh Despenser is dead and Edward II is forced to abdicate in favour of his young son. It is time to look forward, to a bright new world in which the young king, guided by his council, heals his kingdom and restores its greatness. But the turmoil is far from over.

England in the early months of 1327 is a country in need of stability, and many turn with hope towards the new young king, Edward III. But Edward is too young to rule, so instead it is his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who do the actual governing, much to the dislike of barons such as Henry of Lancaster.

When it is announced that Edward II has died in September of 1327, what has so far been a grumble grows into voluble protests against Mortimer. Yet again, the spectre of rebellion haunts the land, and things are further complicated by the reappearance of one of Adam’s personal enemies. Soon enough, he and his beloved wife Kit are fighting for their survival – even more so when Adam is given a task that puts them both in the gravest of dangers.

Under the Approaching Dark is the third in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord, his king, and his wife.

Anna Belfrage is a master storyteller. She has the ability to weave a tale that draws the reader in from the very first word. But with Under the Approaching Dark she has surpassed herself. She has created a masterpiece of historical fiction. The story entices the reader in and takes them through the full range of emotions in this marvellous adventure, not letting up for one moment.

Under the Approaching Dark is the 3rd book in her King’s Greatest Enemy series telling the story of Kit and Adam Guirande, and of Roger Mortimer, the man who dethroned a king and became lover of a queen. With Kit as one of the queen’s ladies and Adam as Captain of the future Edward III’s guard, the couple are at the centre of events, juggling their public life with their family life. Kit and Adam are living in some of the most turbulent years of English history; they must stay together to survive against jealous rivals, vengeful enemies and the political machinations of the powerful elite.

This story had everything: love, war, suspense and intrigue – and a few twists along the way. One of my big questions before reading the book was how the fate of Edward II would be decided – and it didn’t disappoint. I won’t spoil it for you, but I love how the story unfolds; it is plausible, thoughtful and intriguing.

Anna Belfrage makes her characters human. They are not perfect, they have the same doubts, insecurities and complicated personalities and relationships as in real life. They develop, adapt and grow as events and the years unfold, their experiences sometimes weighing heavily upon them; their past, their future and their relationships.

The author really gets into the hearts and minds of her characters and takes her readers with her, taking them on a rollercoaster of emotions along the way.  A number of scenes will bring a tear to the eye, while others will have you reaching for your sword. Despite the momentous times in which they are living, the story revolves around Kit and Adam, their relationship and the trials they face, both together and apart. They are an impressive couple, but firmly placed within the boundaries that 14th century society dictate. You won’t see Kit wielding a sword, but, as a result, she has more subtle weapons at her disposal.

With each step, the coil of hair grew heavier, and when one of the older ladies gave her a long look accompanied by a pursed mouth and raised brows, Kit regretted having followed Lady Margaret’s advice. Too late. She swallowed. Adam was saying something but stopped mid-sentence when he saw her, and Kit felt her cheeks heat. Would he deem it inappropriate? Chide her? She made a reverence; his hand shot out to close around her elbow, steadying her as she straightened up.

“Sweeting.” he sounded hoarse.

“I…” She licked her lips. “Do you like it?”

“like it?” He traced the golden net with a finger. “It is becoming.”

Her shoulders relaxed.

“But I’ll not have my wife walk about unveiled,” he continued, guiding her back towards the door.

“But the queen -“

A firm finger on Kit’s mouth hushed her. “The queen is not my wife. You are.” He picked at a tendril of hair, tugging ever so gently. “This is for me to see, my lady. Only for me.”

Anna Belfrage is meticulous in her research and includes many of the often overlooked details of medieval life – such as the prohibitions against marital ‘relations’ during Lent, or the length of time it would take a rider to get from York to London. Her descriptions of the cities visited by characters, such as York and Lincoln, are incredible – you can almost feel yourself transported to Clifford’s Tower or standing in front of Lincoln’s imposing cathedral.

Under the Approaching Dark gets everything right. The interaction between the characters is stunning, each having their own traits and quirks which play out in the dialogue. The love scenes are tender and tasteful and the action scenes are fast, furious and full of tension. You never know what will happen next, or how things will play out; which makes the book a true page-turner right to the very end.

The author’s skills at storytelling are exquisite; she draws you in with her words, transporting you back in time and showing you a world that has long since disappeared, but has been brought back to vivid life by the words and imagination of this amazing author. The story grabs your attention from the very first sentence, and will not leave you, not even after the final page has been read.

The writing is impeccable. The story has everything. Under the Approaching Dark is just perfect in every sense.

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

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

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Days of Sun and Glory by Anna Belfrage

indexAdam de Guirande has barely survived the aftermath of Roger Mortimer’s rebellion in 1321. When Mortimer manages to escape the Tower and flee to France, anyone who has ever served Mortimer becomes a potential traitor – at least in the eyes of King Edward II and his royal chancellor, Hugh Despenser. Adam must conduct a careful balancing act to keep himself and his family alive. Fortunately, he has two formidable allies: Queen Isabella and his wife, Kit. England late in 1323 is a place afflicted by fear…. Tired of being relegated to the background by the king’s grasping favourite, Isabella has decided it is time to act – to safeguard her own position, but also that of her son, Edward of Windsor. As Adam de Guirande has pledged himself to Prince Edward he is automatically drawn into the queen’s plans … Once again, England is plunged into war – and this time it will not end until either Despenser or Mortimer is dead….

Days of Sun and Glory by Anna Belfrage is the 2nd book Anna’s latest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy. In the Shadow of the Storm saw Adam de Guirande, a trusted officer of Roger Mortimer, marry Kit de Monmouth and navigate the political climate of rising opposition to Edward II’s increasing infatuation with Hugh Despenser, while at the same time being 2 strangers negotiating the early tribulations and insecurities of married life. In Days of Sun and Glory the crisis in England is worsening; Mortimer is free and on the continent, leaving his supporters to face the suspicions and antagonisms of the king and Despenser.

Philip_iv_and_family
Isabella with her father, Philip IV, and brothers.

Days of Sun and Glory is a stunning read; full of action, love and suspense, it has the reader on the edge of their seat from the 1st page – and leaves you there right to the last.  This story will have you laughing, crying and biting your finger nails with anticipation throughout. It is a fascinating read that pulls you into the lives of, not only, the central characters, Kit and Adam, but also of the historical characters; Mortimer, Isabella, King Edward and his heir, the future Edward III.

Although we see new enemies the chief antagonist remains the same: Despenser. Anna Belfrage paints a picture of Despenser that makes you cringe every time he appears on the page. He is charmingly polite and clever; while being, at the same time despicable and slimy. He will stoop to anything to keep his position and influence with the king; using any weapon available – including children . This is one man everyone loves to hate – except the king and his wife.

As luck would have it, they ran into Lord  Despenser on their way back to their allotted chamber. Kit didn’t see him at first, she simply felt the muscles in Adam’s arm tense.

“If it isn’t my favourite traitor,” Despenser said with a smirk, stepping out to block their path. Adam bowed, as did Kit – protocol required that they do so, even if Kit would have preferred to spit Despenser in the face. This was the man who had threatened her and abused her, who had tortured her Adam, leaving him permanently crippled.

“No traitor, my lord,” Adam replied in a calm voice. “Despite your repeated attempts to smear me as such, I remain a loyal servant of my master, Edward of Windsor.”

Despenser’s mouth curled into a sneer….

And fighting against his schemes are Adam and Kit. The central characters have a love story to rival the greats. However, Anna Belfrage has cleverly placed them in their time and history. In stark contrast to the rebellious Queen Isabella, Kit is the obedient, dutiful 14th century wife – most of the time; while Adam is torn between duty to lord and obligation to family, constantly forced to balance his priorities and overcome his personal feelings. Their relationship makes the book – their love has overcome petty jealousies, personal tragedy, family feuds and the threats of the dastardly Despenser.

And behind it all lies Adam’s fears of what would happen if he or his family were to fall into Despenser’s clutches.

“It won’t happen,” she said.

“No,”  he [Adam] agreed in a shaky voice. “I’ll leap off a cliff rather than end up in his hands.”

Kit got down on her knees before him and prised his fingers off his face, cupping it and lifting it so that she could see his eyes. “It won’t,” she repeated. “I won’t let it happen.”

That made him smile. “My protective wife.” Adam stroked her cheek.

Kit had risked her life to save him from Despenser once, and she’d do it again if she had to…

Isabela_Karel_Eda
Edward III, as Duke of Aquitaine, paying homage to Charles IV, supported by his mother Queen Isabella

While Kit and Adam are becoming old-hands at the political balancing-act, thrown into the midst of it all is Adam’s new lord, Edward; son and heir of Edward II the 13-year-old prince is torn between his parents. While Adam and Kit see a desperate child forced to choose between love of his mother and duty to his father, each parent  sees that controlling the son as a means to controlling the future. Young Edward becomes a star of the book; likeable, mischievous and old beyond his years, Anna Belfrage hints at the hero-king to come, while ably depicting the fear and confusion of the child he is. Edward steals practically every scene he is written into.

Anna Belfrage has done her research well. From the historical characters to the marvellous castles and palaces in France and England, Anna brings the 14th century to life in vivid, entertaining and exciting language. The best and worst of human strengths and frailties are characterised within the magnificent castles of Vincennes and Windsor, in the sprawling cities of London and Paris; taking the reader on a wild ride through the French and English countrysides, with spies, poisoners and the possibility of ambush just around the corner.

While the reader may know the history, Anna Belfrage tells the story in a manner that will always leave you wondering what happens next. She gets under the skin of her characters, both historical and fictional. Her sympathetic portrayal of the characters and events takes the reader through a whole range of emotions; fear, anger, humour, awe … and love. Tears and laughter are never far from each other as the lives of Kit and Adam are revealed before us.

Engaging and entertaining, Anna Belfrage has created a masterpiece in Days of Sun and Glory, a book which is impossible to put down, but which you do not – ever – want to end.

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Anna Belfrage is the author of the extremely popular time-travelling series, The Graham Saga. To find out more about this incredible author and her books, please visit her website.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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

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

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: In the Shadow of the Storm, by Anna Belfrage

51FcCxVcaOL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_Adam de Guirande owes his lord, Sir Roger Mortimer, much more than loyalty. He owes Sir Roger for his life and all his worldly goods, he owes him for his beautiful wife – even if Kit is not quite the woman Sir Roger thinks she is. So when Sir Roger rises in rebellion against the king, Adam has no choice but to ride with him – no matter what the ultimate cost may be. England in 1321 is a confusing place. Edward II has been forced by his barons to exile his favourite, Hugh Despenser. The barons, led by the powerful Thomas of Lancaster, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, have reasons to believe they have finally tamed the king. But Edward is not about to take things lying down, and fate is a fickle mistress, favouring first one, then the other… The Welsh Marches explode into war, and soon Sir Roger and his men are fighting for their very lives. When hope splutters and dies, when death seems inevitable, it falls to Kit to save her man – if she can….

In the Shadow of the Storm is the first book in Anna Belfrage’s new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, and what a magnificent introduction to Anna’s new heroes and heroines! Set in one the most tumultuous periods of English history, the book expertly blends the personal lives of its heroic couple, Sir Adam and Kit, his new wife, with the national drama of the disintegrating reign of Edward II.

Seal_of_Edward_II-2
Seal of Edward II

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but this book is impossible to put down. The action and intrigue are, to put it simply, riveting. In the Shadow of the Storm has a great mix of love story and rebellion, and of heroes and villains and a heavy dose of adventure; it has you in tears one minute and on the edge of your seat with excitement the next.

Kit is my new hero! In a world where women’s rules were very specifically defined, Kit pushes the boundaries in order to achieve what she wants – but she never quite exceeds them. A young woman kidnapped from her sheltered life and thrown into a marriage to a man she has never met, and into the world of her new husband’s lord; where war, intrigue and a secret threatens to destroy the growing love the couple have for each other. However, not only does she manage to avoid sinking, Kit becomes a champion swimmer.

Adam went to the nearby table, sloshed wine into a goblet and drank deeply before passing it to her.

“I hadn’t expected to find you a virgin,” he said, eyes the colour of pewter raking her body up and down.

“What do you mean, my lord?”

“Don’t give me that.” He reclaimed the cup and leaned against one of the bedposts. “Do you think I don’t know about you and Lord Roger?” Not only was he tall, he was big, a thick, fair fuzz covering his chest, the hair darkening closer to his groin.

“Lord who?” Kit’s head ached.

“Mortimer,” he clarified with an edge to his voice. “Our lord and master.”

Adam is a knight sworn to Lord Roger Mortimer, balancing a burgeoning love for his wife and family with his duty to his lord. Kit and Adam are a very real, down-to-earth, young couple; newly married they are still discovering each other. Misunderstandings and insecurities lead to a married life that is anything but smooth. And in the midst of their developing love and trust, they are thrown into the middle of Mortimer’s rebellion against Edward II.

Isabella_of_France
Isabella of France, Edward II’s queen

Ranged against them are enemies aplenty. Adam’s own step-brother, Guy, has eyes on Kit – and on everything Adam possesses – and will go to extraordinarily vicious lengths to achieve his goal. While the most despicable of all is Hugh le Despenser the younger, Edward II’s favourite and a man with a particular hatred for Adam and his lord. Vindictive and cruel, Despenser is determined to destroy Adam; Kit has to use all her courage and skill to thwart him – and to save her husband’s life.

Anna Belfrage manages to weave a wonderful story around the very real history of a desperate time for England and her people. The threats and dangers of living in a divided, unstable realm, with forces polarizing between the king and queen, are vividly depicted, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the 14th century.

The author’s deep knowledge of the period serves to make the reader believe they are actually there, watching the action, weighing the choices and living the harsh reality of a realm on the brink of civil war. The history is impeccable, with Kit and Adam’s story slipping into the historical timeline so neatly that it is practically impossible to see the line where history ends and fiction begins.

450px-Tower_of_London_viewed_from_the_River_Thames
Tower of London

Anna Belfrage’s depiction of the historical characters is exquisite. Despenser is suitably heinous; he makes your skin crawl when he walks into a scene. Lord Roger Mortimer is determined, charming … and noble. The personalities are diverse and fascinating. The landscapes are so vividly describes as to be dramatic; you could almost imagine yourself riding along the rivers of the Welsh Marches, incarcerated in a dark, cold dungeon, or walking along the main thoroughfare of the ancient town of Shrewsbury.

In the Shadow of the Storm is a wonderfully exciting book; a clever blend of intrigue, romance and action. Anna Belfrage is a master story-teller and has done her homework well – she brings the 14th century to vivid, colourful life. It will be difficult to read anything better this year …. but I can’t wait to see if Book 2 in The King’s Greatest Enemy series, Days of Sun and Glory, proves me wrong……

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nna Belfrage is the author of the extremely popular time travelling series, The Graham Saga. To find out more about this incredible author and her books, please visit her website.

Pictures of Edward II and Isabella of France are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

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©2016 Sharon BennettConnolly