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

Book Corner: Wrath of the Picts by Steven A McKay

Princess Catia has gone missing and once again it falls to the legendary druid, Bellicus, to find her. Was the child taken by force, or did she go willingly with the Pictish warrior-woman, Aife?

Their trail leads far north to the windswept fortress of Dunnottar, so the druid must journey there with his companions, Duro, Eburus, and the fearsome wardog, Cai. Leaving Dun Breatann in the hands of Queen Narina and her enigmatic new husband, Ysfael, the friends ride out, but things are never as straightforward as they seem…
Violence and death follow Bellicus as he seeks to discover the fate of the princess. In doing so, he also finds himself on the trail of the swordsman, Lancelot, who disappeared months before when his warband was slaughtered by Saxons. Will the druid be in time to save them both? Or will their enemies, old and new,earn the bloody vengeance and glory they so desperately desire?
Ambition, lust, grief, and the power of the old gods combine in Wrath of the Picts as the druid and his companions are thrust towards a shocking finale that will leave Dun Breatann in turmoil and Northern Britain ravaged again by war.

Bellicus is back!

Wrath of the Picts is book no. 5 in Steven A. McKay’s magnificent series, Warrior Druid of Britain. Having spent some time campaigning with Arthur against the Saxons, Bellicus is called back north after Princess Catia goes missing, supposedly kidnapped by the warrior princess, Aife. But all is not as it seems…

Steven A. McKay once again draws his reader into a story chock full of adventure, treachery and a good few battles as Bellicus tries to make sense of events. It also a story of trust, friendship and loyalty that sees Bellicus and his good friends, Duro and Eburus, risking their lives in order to save the princess and discover the truth behind the uneasy atmosphere of his fortress home, Dun Breatann.

This is a story not to be missed.

“Where are all the Damnonii warriors?” Duro asked in a low voice. It was evening and Bellicus had joined them at last in the great hall. The cooking fires kept the chill of approaching autumn at bay and the homely orange glow would have made for a much more pleasant atmosphere if they weren’t surrounded by Ysfael’s men.

“Some of them are guarding the walls – you just haven’t seen them yet,” Bellicus replied, happily digging into the thick stew a serving girl had placed before him: beef, carrot, cabbage, onion and parsley had all gone into it and the druid couldn’t remember ever tasting, or smelling, much better. “The rest went out to deal with some Dalriadan raiders a few days ago. I expect they’ll return soon enough.”

Duro shook his head almost imperceptibly, glancing around as if spies were eavesdropping although, in truth, the Votadini warriors eating and carousing around them were making more than enough noise to mask what the centurion was saying. None of Ysfael’s men were paying them much attention other than to throw them the occasional curious glance. “It’s not right,” Duro opined. “Narina shouldn’t have let Gavo take her men off, leaving her alone with these … outsiders.”

Bellicus shrugged. He agreed completely, but Narina was her own woman and did things her way. She clearly trusted Ysfael.

Just then the door opened and Bellicus smiled, jerking his head for Duro to look over his shoulder for he was sitting with his back to the entrance. “What were you saying about Gavo?”

The centurion glanced back, mouth open as he chewed a piece of meat, and broke into a smile as he saw the Damnonii guard captain coming towards them. A bear of a man, Gavo had long hair and a grizzled beard which were both turning from brown to grey now that he was in his fortieth year. He wore reed checked trousers, a loose fitting blue tunic, and a bronze torc around his neck which marked his high rank, although it was obvious from his bearing he was a man used to command.

“Are you still here?” Gavo said, taking a seat beside Eburus and eyeing him with clear surprise. “I thought you’d have joined your kinsmen at the other benches.”
The Votadini shrugged, and said in his heavily accented tones, “These are my friends. I’m used to their company now. Ysfael will no doubt order me to join his ranks again soon enough, but until then I’lll sit with who I choose.”

“See?” Duro hissed. “Even he doesn’t trust the Votadini, and he’s one of them!”

The Warrior Druid of Britain series is set in the time after the Romans have left and the Saxon tribes are beginning to settle in England, causing conflict with the native Britons. The great warlord, Arthur, is attempting to hold them back. In the north, in Scotland, Bellicus is druid to the Damnoni tribe, but has been spending time fighting alongside Arthur. With Catia’s disappearance, he has been called home to lead the search for the lost princess. Set in the twilight of the Roman Empire and before the creation of the kingdoms of England and Scotland, Steve A. McKay has recreated the time that is often called the Dark Ages. His vivid imagination and impeccable research brings the period to life for the reader. The ancient landscapes, authentic weapons and tactics, all the way down to the textiles, halls and food, help to draw the reader into the story and allow them to suspend belief and travel back to a simpler, but more vicious time.

Steven A. McKay’s great skill is in the characters he creates. He makes the reader care about their stories and about their fate. Bellicus is a tall, likeable druid with an intelligent mind and a great aptitude for fighting and tactics. He has his weaknesses though, and a soft spot for the princess Catia and her mother, Narina. This gives the character a vulnerability that in turn leaves the reader wondering if he can see the big picture, and if he will succeed in his mission. Alongside his great friend, Duro, the heroes are tasked with saving the day, but not without great personal cost. And I love that Lancelot gets to play a part in Wrath of the Picts, away from teh Arthurian legend and forging his own path.

Wrath of the Picts draws thew reader in from the first page and keeps you hooked until the very last. Steven A McKay is such a skillful storyteller that you cannot wait for the book to finish – and yet, dread getting to the end. Whether it is the first book in the series, or the fifth, the stories are always fresh, new and engaging.

And Wrath of the Picts is just a fabulous adventure!

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To buy the book:

Wrath of the Picts by Steven A. McKay is now available from Amazon

About the Author:

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.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Guest Post: Alice Perrers, from Goldsmith’s Daughter to Lady of the Sun by Gemma Hollman

Today it is an absolute pleasure to welcome author and historian Gemma Hollman to History…the Interesting Bits as a stop on her blog tour for her latest book. The Queen and the Mistress: The Women of Edward III is a fascinating dual biography of Philippa of Hainault, queen of Edward III, and Alice Perrers, the king’s mistress.

Alice Perrers: From Goldsmith’s Daughter to Lady of the Sun

King Edward III

In the medieval period, a popular image came to be used to describe human life and society: that of the Wheel of Fortune. The idea was that the ancient goddess Fortuna was in control of a wheel which she would spin. People sat at various points on the wheel, and as Fortuna turned the wheel people would rise up to great heights, or drop to great lows. Medieval writers became enamoured with the symbolism of great people having a great fall because of the spinning of Fortune’s Wheel. One fourteenth-century courtier who epitomised the wheel was a woman named Alice Perrers, who was lucky enough to rise higher than her contemporaries could have imagined – but who also spun back down again.

Alice Perrers has been an enigma for centuries. Even many of her contemporaries did not really know who she was or where she came from, with chroniclers like Thomas Walsingham of St Albans Abbey making disparaging guesses to her lowly origins. Recent research has shown that Alice most likely came from a goldsmithing family in London, and so whilst she was not close to the upper echelons of society, when looking at the country as a whole she would have had a reasonable upbringing. The merchant classes had seen an upturn in their wealth during the reign of Edward III, who had been on the throne officially since 1327, and so Alice’s family probably enjoyed the benefits of this.

As the daughter of a trade family, Alice may have had some basic education, and her life initially followed the path of the majority of women of her time. She was married off, likely as a teenager, to another London goldsmith, and the couple found further wealth through the favour of the king; her husband was known to have supplied jewels to Edward III himself. But soon, Alice’s life took a turn when her husband died. The couple had no children, and her future was uncertain. Prospects for young widows were not always promising.

Queen Philippa of Hainault

Here, Fortuna turned her wheel and set Alice onto the path of greatness. She somehow found her way to court, in one of the most coveted positions in the kingdom as she became a damsel to Edward III’s wife, Queen Philippa of Hainault. Alice was catapulted into the wealth and glamour of the English monarchy. The court was filled with many of the greatest nobles of the period, including at times the captured French king, and it was a place filled with feasting, jousting, jewels, music, and writing. As one of the queen’s damsels, Alice had a place at centre stage to all that was going on. She would accompany the queen as she travelled across her various castles and attended events, and she was entitled to luxurious clothes. It must have seemed like life could not get better.

But Alice was an intelligent, ambitious, shrewd woman. Not content to simply receive the gifts afforded to her as a lady-in-waiting, Alice started to build up connections at court. She wined and dined with many powerful knights, merchants, and members of the nobility. She began to lend money and make property deals, extracting favourable terms for herself. Soon she had pieces of land of her own – quite a feat for a single woman of her status. But that was not all that Alice had obtained at court, for she had caught the eye of the king himself. Soon, a relationship began between them.

Edward III had been a loyal husband to his wife for over 30 years, but by the 1360s Philippa was severely unwell. It was clear she was not going to live for many more years, and this may have provided the impetus for Edward’s eyes to wander. Alice was a perfect choice for him. Young, likely beautiful, headstrong, it is easy to see why Edward found her attractive. But Edward had spent decades cultivating an image as a loyal, family man, and so the couple did their best to keep their relationship secret. If nothing else, to save the queen public humiliation.

The secrecy did not dampen their relationship, and within a few years Alice had given birth to 3 children with the king. At the end of the decade, the great queen died, and it was not long before Alice shifted to a more prominent place at court. Soon everybody knew that Alice had the king’s heart – and with it, a significant share of power. People were soon rushing to Alice to obtain favours with the king, offering her pieces of property and whatever else they thought she might like in the hope she may get them something in return. Even the Pope petitioned this mistress for help.

Alice Perrers and Edward III, painted by Ford Maddox Brown

As the 1370s wore on, Alice rose to the greatest heights of the wheel, almost taking on the position of unofficial queen. During the king’s jubilee year, Alice took centre stage in celebrations dressed as the Lady of the Sun. But as medieval writers loved to point out, the wheel also was fond of dropping people into a fall, and so too was this to happen to Alice. Eventually, the men at court got fed up with the undue influence of Alice and her friends on the king. They felt that those of old noble blood should be the only ones to advise the king, and finally the knights of the land gathered together at the Good Parliament to end their evil influence once and for all. Alice was banished from the king’s presence, and after his death the full weight of the law came for her. She was banished further – this time from the entire kingdom of England – and all of her hard-earned lands, jewels, and goods were taken from her.

But Alice was clever, and she had made contingency plans. She knew that her presence at court grated on those around her, and she had found powerful allies. It emerged that she had undertaken a secret marriage to a powerful knight, and he wasn’t going to give up Alice’s wealth. The couple fought for years to obtain the return of Alice’s possessions, and it was a fight that she carried with her to her death. Many of Alice’s female contemporaries had two paths in life: marriage or a nunnery. But Alice chose to forge one of her own, that of mistress and a powerful single woman. Was she as evil as her later reputation suggested? Or was there something more underneath the surface?

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About the book:

IN A WORLD WHERE MAN IS KING, CAN WOMEN REALLY HAVE IT ALL – AND KEEP IT?

Philippa of Hainault was Queen of England for forty-one years. Her marriage to Edward III, when they were both teenagers, was more political transaction than romantic wedding, but it would turn into a partnership of deep affection. The mother of twelve children, she was the perfect medieval queen: pious, unpolitical and fiercely loyal to both her king and adopted country.

Alice Perrers entered court as a young widow and would soon catch the eye of an ageing king whose wife was dying. Born to a family of London goldsmiths, this charismatic and highly intelligent woman would use her position as the king’s favourite to build up her own portfolio of land, wealth and prestige, only to see it all come crashing down as Edward himself neared death.

The Queen and the Mistress is a story of female power and passion, and how two very different women used their skills and charms to navigate a tumultuous royal court – and win the heart of the same man.

To buy the book: Amazon

About the author:

Gemma Hollman is a historian and author who specialises in late medieval English history. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, her first book ‘Royal Witches’ was published in 2019 and her second book ‘The Queen and the Mistress’ will be released in November 2022. She has a particular interest in the plethora of strong, intriguing and complicated women from the medieval period, a time she had always been taught was dominated by men.

Gemma also works full-time in the heritage industry whilst running her historical blog, Just History Posts, which explores all periods of history in more depth.

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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.

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Book Corner: Women of the American Revolution

Women of the American Revolution will explore the trials of war and daily life for women in the United States during the War for Independence. What challenges were caused by the division within communities as some stayed loyal to the king and others became patriots? How much choice did women have as their loyalties were assumed to be that of their husbands or fathers? The lives of women of the American Revolution will be examined through an intimate look at some significant women of the era. Some names will be familiar, such as Martha Washington who travelled to winter camps to care for her husband and rally the troops or Abigail Adams who ran the family’s farms and raised children during John’s long absences. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton is popular for her role in Hamilton the musical, but did you know she was also an early activist working tirelessly for multiple social causes? Decide for yourself if the espionage of Agent 355 or the ride of Sybil Ludington are history or myth. Not all American women served the side of the revolutionaries. Peggy Shippen gambled on the loyalist side and paid severe consequences. From early historian Mercy Otis Warren to Dolley Madison, who defined what it means to be a US First Lady, women of the American Revolution strived to do more than they had previously thought possible during a time of hardship and civil war.

I have to admit, I stepped right out of my comfort zone with Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson. And I know very little about the period – except there was something to do with tea and Boston Harbour – Boston, Massachusetts rather than Boston, Lincolnshire (I am definitely more familiar with the latter!). There was some chap called George Washington, too…

So I was going into this book with a very open mind, eager to learn all I could about the women who helped – or sometimes hindered – in the creation of the United States of America. Women of the American Revolution will certainly give readers a greater understanding of the American Revolution and War of Independence; it fills a gap in the study of the period and is long overdue.

Most books on the American Revolution concentrate on the politics or the military actions, but Samantha Wilcoxson has approached the familiar story from an under represented angle; the women. And what incredible women they were. Some are well known, such as Martha Washington Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison. Others less so famous, such as the mysterious Agent 355. And there is the story of Margaret Shippen Arnold, who was considered incapable of being complicit in her husband’s defection to the British – because she was a woman.

In addition to her household skills, Martha [Washington] was taught to be a lady while confined in corsets that helped form her figure and correct her posture. Virginia ladies of Martha’s time were trained to mimic British aristocracy in their manners and decorum. Simply walking and sitting could be a challenge in the full skirts that were the fashion. Martha apparently learned these skills well, because she flawlessly played the role of hostess as a married woman, even when thrust into the public world as America’s original First Lady (although that title was not used during her husband’s time in office). Her parents ensured that she could ride elegantly in a sidesaddle while maintaining perfect posture. Physical control and poise were also vital when learning to dance, a skill not to be underestimated in its importance in eighteenth century Virginia.

The objective would have been for her to eventually obtain a satisfactory husband, and in this Martha most certainly made her parents proud. Daniel Parke Custis belonged to the closest America had to an aristocracy. Rich and possessing thousands of acres of land, the Custis family was such a step up for Martha that Daniel’s father initially forbade his son to marry her. This is where one gains the first insight into the woman Martha would become. Though only eighteen years old, Martha courageously stood up to her future father-in-law. He had threatened to disinherit Daniel and throw the family silver into the street rather than allow Martha to use it, but she managed to charm him into giving his reluctant blessing. The couple was married when Martha was nineteen years old and her bridegroom was twenty years her senior. This age difference was not uncommon or a barrier to their happiness. The skills Martha had learned at the Dandridge home made her a competent manager of the larger Custis plantation, prophetically named White House.

A large enslaved population made it possible for Daniel and Martha to profitably run the Custis estate. Ne evidence exists that Martha believed owning slaves was immoral or wrong in any way. While she did not support cruel treatment or sales that broke up families, Martha also could not understand when enslaved people ran away from what she felt was a comfortable home. It was a lifestyle she had been born into and never questioned, even as the colonies strived toward their freedom.

Women of the American Revolution is a wonderful collection of the stories of the most remarkable women of the era. Through the historical record and their own letters Samantha Wilcoxson has brought these women back to life, their stories as vivid as they must have been over 200 years ago. The books combines the women’s involvement in the national and international politics and events of the day with their day-to-day lives as wives and mothers. It is an illuminating and informative book on so many levels.

Women of the American Revolution tells the story of these remarkable women, warts and all, but does not try to attach modern-day morals on people who lived so many generations ago. In this way, Samantha Wilcoxson does not ignore the women’s attitude to slavery, or to female emancipation, but explains them in the context of the time. The abundance of letters written by some of the women provide a unique insight into their minds, and into the times they lived in.

And I have to say Samantha Wilcoxson has written an eminently accessible book, whether you are knowledgeable of the era or not. Her research is thorough and impeccable and presented in a beautifully written volume that will stand proud in any library. By focusing on the women, Women of the American Revolution fills a gap in the history and study of the American Revolution. Without a study of the women of the time, no history of any period is complete.

This is Samantha Wilcoxson’s first foray into non-fiction but I truly hope she will write more!

Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson is an informative and entertaining read. I loved this book! And I learned so much! I cannot recommend it highly enough.

To Buy the Book:

Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson is available now from Amazon and Pen and Sword in the UK. It is available for pre-order on Amazon in the US and is now available worldwide from Book Depository.

About the Author:

Samantha Wilcoxson is an author of historical fiction and administrator of a history blog. She has written four full-length novels, three novellas, and two middle grade chapter books. Topics of her writing have ranged from the Wars of the Roses to America’s Civil Rights Movement. Samantha is passionate about history and exploring the personal side of events. In her writing, she urges the reader to truly experience what it might have felt like to live through a moment in history. Samantha’s most recent novel is biographical fiction featuring Catherine Donohue, one of America’s “radium girls.” She is currently working on a novelization of the life of Nathan Hale, and features in Hauntings, an anthology published by the Historical Writers Forum.

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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 stake 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.

Long Live the King….

What would have happened if King John had not died in October 1216…?

Would England have been lost?

Find out in ‘Long Live the King…

I have finally done it!

I’ve written a fictional short story, and it’s out this week.

Alternate Endings is a compilation of short stories published by the Historical Writers Forum. I wasn’t sure about trying my hand at fiction, but there are so many What ifs in history that it was hard to resist. Having spent the last two years writing Nicholaa de la Haye’s biography – which will be published in May 2023, I thought it would be quite fun to take one event in Nicholaa’s life and see what might change if that event didn’t happen.

Nicholaa’s greatest benefactor and – dare I say? – friend was King John. He had been an ally since at least the early 1190s, but his death on the night of 18/19 October 1216 was a godsend for England. John’s reign had been plagued by unrest, civil war and the paranoia of the king himself. He had murdered his nephew, Arthur, starved Matilda de Braose to death in a dungeon and stolen the lands of those he was meant to protect. His reputation for underhand dealing, seducing the daughters of nobles and reneging on Magna Carta has seen him go down in history as Bad King John. He is a strong candidate for England’s worst ever king.

It has often been said that John’s death saved England.

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for King John. Not because he was such a warm, cuddly human being – he really wasn’t! But because his reign was full of so much drama. It was a time of transition, when England was losing its continental positions, when the barons were flexing their muscles and when the relationship between king and baron was in flux.

It is a fascinating period of history. So, when I was asked if I wanted to write a short story, I immediately thought of King John, of Nicholaa de la Haye and the upheaval that was Magna Carta and the First Barons’ War. Nicholaa’s involvement culminated in her defending Lincoln Castle through a prolonged siege that ended with the Second Battle of Lincoln. And I wondered… Would events have played out as they did if John had lived?

So… what would have happened if he had survived his illness in October 1216.

Well, you will have to wait and see…

But here’s a teaser….

Newark Castle

28 October 1216

John opened his eyes to a black, empty void.

   Is this it? Is this Hell?

   Has death finally claimed me?

He had been hovering on the brink for so long now. For exactly how long, he did not know. He could barely remember anything beyond the excruciating pain in his gut and head. Lying there in the dark, John took a mental inventory of his body. His head felt clearer than it had in days. The feeling that it was held in a vice had gone, replaced by a dull ache. The stabbing pains in his abdomen had also receded and now there was just a gentle throbbing.

  This could be death…

A groan slipped from between his lips. There was movement, the striking of flint and suddenly a flash of light. The candle’s flame illuminated the features of William Marshal. The Marshal leaned in to examine him, then turned to a lad curled up on bedding in the far corner, just lifting his head, looking groggy from sleep.

‘Godfrey, fetch the doctor. The king is awake.’ Marshal ordered.

‘He’s awake? He’s alive?’ asked a voice from the dark. It was heavily accented. Italian. Cardinal Guala, the papal legate.

‘Aye, your grace, he’s awake. At last!’ Marshal replied.

‘Praise be!’ exclaimed Guala, approaching the bed.

John tried to speak, but barely a croak came out. His mouth was so dry. Marshal signalled Guala to aid the king from the far side of the bed and between them, they lifted John and adjusted his pillows so that he was sitting up. He felt as useless as a new-born baby, he had not the strength to resist, even if he wanted to. Marshal turned to the table beside the bed and poured out a cup of water from the pewter jug. He held the cup to John’s lips, so that he could take a long, thirst-quenching draught. Nothing had ever tasted so wonderful!

John sank back into the pillows, exhausted, as the door opened and his physician entered, striding over to the bed.

I don’t want to give anything away, but the biggest challenge was to consider whether John’s survival would be a blessing or curse for England. And at least William Marshal and Nicholaa de la Haye are there to steady the boat – what could possibly go wrong?

About the book:

We all know the past is the past, but what if you could change history?

We asked eight historical authors to set aside the facts and rewrite the history they love. The results couldn’t be more tantalizing.

  • What if Julius Caesar never conquered Gaul?
  • What if Arthur Tudor lived and his little brother never became King Henry VIII?
  • What if Abigail Adams persuaded the Continental Congress in 1776 to give women the right to vote and to own property?

Dive in to our collection of eight short stories as we explore the alternate endings of events set in ancient Rome, Britain, the United States, and France.

An anthology of the Historical Writers Forum.

Alternate Endings is now available worldwide from Amazon.

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

Book Corner: Edward I’s Regent by Michael Ray

Born at Christmas 1249 to Richard, Edmund of Cornwall was nephew to Henry III and cousin to Edward I. His eventful childhood took him to Germany when his father was elected king there. He was captured at the battle of Lewes and imprisoned for more than a year. Returning from crusade, he witnessed the brutal murder of his half-brother, which left him as heir to his father, the richest man in the kingdom. Throughout his life, Edmund played a crucial role in medieval England. As Regent of England, Earl of Cornwall and the richest man in the land, he was a leading force of the late-thirteenth century. This book considers Edmund’s life, his use of his wealth to lend to the king and others and to be a major benefactor of religious houses. His piety saw him found two new religious houses, rebuild another and bring the Holy Blood relic from Germany to Hailes abbey. His record as Regent of England for three years is assessed. The wide spread of his lands, which included 13castles and more than 800 places in 27 counties, and his tenants are set out as is his place in the local community. The basis of his wealth and its sources, including money from his lands but also from tin mining and marine dues in Cornwall, is explored and his knightly affinity and his close associates and officials are considered. On a personal level, the book examines his unsuccessful, childless marriage with the sister of the Earl of Gloucester. Edmund was a key figure throughout Edward I’s rein and the late-thirteenth century. In this insightful account, the man behind England’s ‘greatest king’ is at long last brought to the fore.

Edward I’s Regent: Edmund of Cornwall, The Man Behind England’s Greatest King by Michael Ray is a fascinating study of a little-known but highly significant noble of the reign of Edward I. Edmund of Cornwall was the son of Richard, Earl of Cornwall. Richard was the younger son of King John and Isabelle d’Angoulême, and brother to King Henry III. The second son of Richard of Cornwall, Edmund’s mother was Sanchia of Provence, younger sister of Henry III’s queen, Eleanor of Provence. Edmund may ever have become Earl of Cornwall, had his older brother, Henry of Almain, not been murdered by Guy de Montfort, son of the famous Simon de Montfort, in a church in Viterbo, Italy, in 1271.

With such a dramatic inheritance, it is no surprise that Edmund’s life and deeds were no less dramatic.

I do like this new tendency to look away from England’s monarchs and turn the spotlight on those who served them. It gives a more rounded approach to history and historical biography and greatly illuminates the reigns of the kings who are served. It also demonstrates how much is still left to study in history and how wide and deep historians can go in order to gain a greater understanding of the rule of medieval kings. The relationship between baron and king was, more often than not, one of mutual trust and reliance. Edward I’s Regent: Edmund of Cornwall, The Man Behind England’s Greatest King by Michael Ray serves to demonstrate just how deep and essential this relationship was.

On 29 November and December 1272, Edmund and Bishop Giffard sent letters requiring Llywelyn to come to the Ford of Montgomery, the traditional place for meetings between the English and Welsh rulers, to render his homage to the new monarch and to send the 3,000 marks he owed to the King by Christmas at the latest. The King needed the money for his crusade. Llywelyn neither came nor paid and the impasse continued until well after the new King’s return.

Meanwhile neither Edmund, or his officials, were not always well-behaved in the land of the absentee King. In January 1273, Edmund’s men were accused of occupying lands belonging to Peter de la Mare which led to the Chancellor, Walter de Merton, ordering the escheator to remedy the position. Despite this, in June, Edmund was still being obstructive. A long-running dispute with the Bishop of Exeter led to a threat of excommunication. Even though Edmund was at the heart of government, he was pursued by the Exchequer over his father’s debts. However, this did not prevent Edmund from being amongst those ready to go to France to meet and welcome back Edward I. Edmund was granted protection until August 1273 but he was still in Paris in December when he received 2,000 marks from the King. Whilst Edward I did not finally arrive back in England until 2 August 1274, it seems likely that Edmund had already returned as he asked Robert Burnell to summon a council in March. Edmund was present at the King’s coronation on 19 August 1274.

From the start of the reign, tasks were entrusted to Edmund by the King. At the beginning of 1275 Edmund was ready to resolve a dispute with Flemish merchants but was unable to act as the Count of Flanders had not sent a representative. In March, the King stayed at two of Edmund’s manors, Cippenham and Risborough in Buckinghamshire, and it can be assumed that Edmund was present. The first of many royal charters to be witnessed by Edmund was attested at Westminster on 22 October 1274.

Edward I’s Regent: Edmund of Cornwall, The Man Behind England’s Greatest King by Michael Ray is an in-depth study of a man who was an integral part of Edward I’s government, but whose life and career has often been overlooked. Michael Ray expertly examines every aspect of Edmund’s life and career in great detail. With the use of chronicles and charter evidence, the author demonstrates the extent to which Edmund of Cornwall was an integral part of Edward I’s administration and court,, both as a cousin to the king, an administrator and a soldier.

Thoroughly researched and with extensive footnotes and bibliography, this is an excellent book in every way. t is a pleasure to read.

Edward I’s Regent: Edmund of Cornwall, The Man Behind England’s Greatest King by Michael Ray is an eminently readable book that could only be an asset to the study of medieval history and the reign of Edward I in particular. Whether you are studying medieval history for academia or simply as a hobby, this is a book which is not to be missed. I can highly recommend it.

To buy the book:

Edward I’s Regent: Edmund of Cornwall, The Man Behind England’s Greatest King by Michael Ray is available in hardback and Kindle from Pen & Sword Books and Amazon.

About the author:

After school in Shropshire, Michael Ray read geography and town planning at King’s and University Colleges, London. Retiring early from a planning career, he returned to KCL and obtained a PhD after a study of aliens in thirteenth-century England. He has since been published in books, journals and on websites including Academia.

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 stake 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.

Book Corner: Diamond Hunter by Paul Fraser Collard

South Africa, 1871. Jack Lark no longer walks alone. With the worldly Anna Baker by his side, he travels to the Cape Colony diamond fields determined to seek their fortune – and an adventurous new life together.

The journey north soon turns violent as tensions erupt between other hopeful diggers and a gang of Boer men. Everyone has their eye on the same elusive prize – and some will stop at nothing to get it.

For Jack and Anna, unearthing a diamond is only half the battle. Getting out of the mines alive will prove far more difficult – and dangerous. And when the worst happens, Jack finds himself tested as no enemy, no man and no war has ever before.

Diamond Hunter by Paul Fraser Collard is the 11th book in the fabulous Jack Lark series. Jack Lark has made a career of being an imposter, finding his home and employment in the various wars of the 19th century. But what do you do when the guns fall silent? In the last book, Commander, Jack had followed the many adventurers of his era and joined an expedition to explore the River Nile. In Diamond Hunter he stays in Africa, but turns his hand to entirely different profession, though one that can be just as brutal and cut-throat as war.

In the opening pages of Diamond Hunter, we find Jack Lark content, with a woman who is his equal in every way, and with enough money to help him on to his next adventure. However, his constant search of adventure is still bubbling beneath the surface and he is now in southern Africa, ready to stake everything in the search for fortune, or at least a diamond big enough to see him comfortable, for now.

However, for Jack Lark, nothing is ever easy. The journey is always fraught with danger and trouble does seem to find him out! And I do wonder what Jack ever did for Paul Fraser Collard to give him such a hard time? Poor bloke. He really goes through it this time.

‘Shit.’ Jack gently moved Anna’s arm away, pushing himself to his feet with a groan as the action set off the pain in his spine, the persistent backache so much worse after hours of walking and periods riding in the jarring wagon. but it was not enough to stop him straightening up, then offering a hand to Anna to help her up too. It never occurred to him to leave her behind.

‘They’ve been drinking.’ She brushed down the seat of her trousers.

‘Probably. Ready?’ He gave her a moment to prepare.

She sucked down a deep breath. ‘Ready.’

Jack did not wait for more. The voices were getting louder. Whoever had been angered was making one hell of a fuss.

It took them no more than a dozen paces to round the wagon and see what was going on. The four Boers were squared up, facing three of the Cape colonists. The fourth was lying on his back, blood smothering his face like a mask.

‘What the hell is happening?’ Jack shouted as he came closer. It was not his fight, but it was his future that would be thrown into jeopardy if something happened to force JW to turn around. He would not allow that to happen.

‘Keep out of it.’ One of the colonists turned to snap at him.

It did not deter him, and he came closer, Anna just behind him. He could see Clarke and Goodfellow lurking on the far side of the wagon, watching what was going on while making sure they kept a safe distance from the fracas. JW and Fred were standing by as if readying themselves to pick up the pieces of whatever occurred, while JW’s wife was sitting at a campfire a good dozen yards away, her face set in a cherubic smile as she stared at the flames, seemingly blithely unaware of what was going on.

As Jack approached, the colonist who had been knocked to the ground slowly got to his feet, his hand lifting to smear the blood from his face.

Paul Fraser Collard is a fabulous storyteller. He transports not only his characters, but also his readers, to the most exotic and dangerous parts of the world of the nineteenth century. In Diamond Hunter he recrates the gritty, muddy and miserable landscape of the South African diamond fields. Honestly, you can practically taste the dust in your mouth!

Jack Lark is one of the best character developments in modern literature. In Diamond Hunter, he is finally comfortable in his own skin. Though that doesn’t mean his problems are over. He accepts who and what he is, but for Jack Lark, that will always mean facing trouble head on – it is one of his most endearing qualities! Jack is more affected by people and events than he likes to believe. He can’t help but help, which always leads him into trouble.

Diamond Hunter is gritty, harsh and sometimes hard to read. It also enjoyable, engrossing and absolutely fabulous. Diamond Hunter is a book you will not want to put down. A totally immersive and absorbing adventure, it leaves the reader as physically and emotionally drained as it does Jack Lark. I think it may be the best adventure yet.

To Buy the book:

Diamond Hunter by Paul Fraser Collard is now available from Amazon.

About the author:

Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. This fascination led to a desire to write and his series of novels featuring the brutally courageous Victorian rogue and imposter Jack Lark burst into life in 2013. Since then Paul has continued to write, developing the Jack Lark series to great acclaim. To find out more about Paul and his novels visit http://www.paulfrasercollard.com or find him on twitter @pfcollard

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS.

Book Corner: Lord of the Eyrie by Katerina Dunne

Love, War, and the Price of Loyalty

Transylvania, Kingdom of Hungary, 1440:

Finally home after five years away, warrior-nobleman Sándor Szilágyi is met by a dying father, a resentful younger brother, his child-bride all grown up and the family estate raided by the Ottomans. As he struggles to adjust to life as a landlord, Sándor’s authority is challenged by two strong-minded and fearless women: Margit, his faithful and righteous wife, determined to keep him on the straight and narrow; and Anna, his sister-in-law, a scheming temptress bent on ruining him in order to take his land.

After committing a mortal sin and desperate to win back the woman he loves, Sándor seeks absolution by accepting his overlord’s summons to fight the Ottomans. But his obsession with war will lead him down a perilous path.

Loyalties are tested, danger lurks around every corner, and Sándor’s struggle to balance his duty to protect his land and family from his relatives’ greedy hands, as well as his duty to defend his country on the battlefield, will come at a terrible cost.

Lord of the Eyrie by Katerina Dunne is a fabulous adventure set in medieval Hungary. It has all the ingredients for an exciting novel; love, betrayal, war and family disharmony. And it all combines to create a memorable story that will have the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

I have to admit, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Hungary before, so this was a refreshing change for me. Of course, it is still set in medieval times, so the weaponry, tactics and societal laws were still very familiar. I wasn’t familiar with Hungary’s role in medieval Europe, nor in her battles against the outside forces eager to trespass into the country’s vast landscape. Reading Lord of the Eyrie was as much an adventure for me as the story was for the characters involved. And it was a wonderful adventure.

Katerina Dunne has woven a beautiful story, built on remarkable characters and a lead protagonist for whom honour and duty is second nature. The story is fast-paced and entirely unpredictable, with many twists and turns that leave the reader shouting at the book when a character is being naive, or crying when tragedy strikes.

Margit’s keys and gilded prayer book jingled as she hurried back from church along the colonnaded portico of the great hall. The morning mass always felt too long to her, and she was looking forward to breaking her fast. But that would have to wait. Lajos Kendi stood at the entrance to the keep. His flushed and sweaty face, dishevelled eyebrows and raspy breath indicated that something was amiss.

He took his hat off and bowed to her. “I’ve bad news, my lady. I must speak with your husband, but I can’t find him anywhere. Was he in church with you? Is he still in the chapel?”

“No. I have not seen him.” Margit pondered. “Perhaps he is in the armoury building, practising with the soldiers. Let us go and look for him.”

She sent her maid to the house to supervise the preparation of the breakfast table and followed Kendi to the exercise hall. Their arrival did not alert the soldiers and knights for the thick layer of hay on the floor muffled their footsteps.

In the middle of the hall, Sándor, venturing to teach his brother how to defend himself with a sword and shield against multiple attackers, was engaging in a fight against not one, but three opponents.

He was wearing only his joined hose and a shirt, unlaced at the front and with the sleeves rolled up. Despite his height, he moved with the nimbleness of a lynx, shouting instructions at his training partners and showing off his combat skills and physical strength.

Margit’s jaw dropped. Her pulse quickened, and her breath became short and shallow. How could she forget that women were not allowed in the training hall? As it was a warm day, her husband was not the only one who had stripped down to his undergarments. Although the men did not seem troubled by her presence, she flushed and dropped her gaze to the floor.

“My lord!” Lajos called out.

Sándor stopped, and so did the soldiers. He tossed down the wooden sword and shield and approached Kendi and Margit. “Whats’ the matter?”

Kendi glanced about to make sure that no one was listening. He spoke in a whisper. “We’ve a problem at the mine.”

Lord of the Eyrie is set in medieval Hungary, a land which Katerina Dunne recreates in astonishing detail. The landscape, the settlements, castles and people help to draw the reader into the story. Hungary is a land rich in resources but beset by enemies, both within and without, and the hero, Sándor, must navigate not only national politics, international enemies but also his own family tensions. It is a wonderful, rich and absorbing story.

Lord of the Eyrie is a thoroughly entertaining read, one that will keep you gripped to the very end. You will find yourself invested in the characters, in tears at times and hesitant to read on when disaster strikes. But you cannot let go!

Lord of the Eyrie will take you through the full range of emotions.

The family drama, the battle scenes and the intricately woven plotlines all serve to keep the reader wanting more. It was an absolute pleasure to read.

I do hope there is a book 2!

To buy the book:

Lord of the Eyrie by Katerina Dunne is now available on Amazon.

About the author:

Katerina Dunne is the pen-name of Katerina Vavoulidou. Originally from Athens, Greece, Katerina has been living in Ireland since 1999. She has a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Athens, an MA in Film Studies from University College Dublin and an MPhil in Medieval History from Trinity College Dublin. While she used to write short stories for family and friends in her teenage years, she only took up writing seriously in 2016-17, when she started work on her first novel.

Katerina’s day job is in financial services, but in her free time she enjoys reading historical fiction and watching historically-themed movies and TV series. She is passionate about history, especially medieval history, and her main area of interest is 13th to 15th century Hungary. Although the main characters of her stories are fictional, Katerina uses real events and personalities as part of her narrative in order to bring to life the fascinating history of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, a location and time period not so well-known to English-speaking readers.

For any comments or further information, you can contact Katerina by email: katerinadunnewriter@gmail.com

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My Books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

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©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Guest Post: Revolutionary Female Friends by Samantha Wilcoxson

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Samantha Wilcoxson to History the Interesting Bits…. with an article about Mercy Otis Warren and her friend Catharine Macauley. Samantha’s new book Women of the American Revolution – her first non-fiction – provides a fabulous insight into the often-overlooked and severely underestimated women of the period. It is truly illuminating!

Revolutionary Female Friends: Mercy Otis Warren and Catharine Macaulay

Mercy Otis Warren by John Singleton Copley

In July 1784, Catharine Macaulay arrived in America where she visited Mercy Otis Warren. One wonders if those around them appreciated the historic value of this meeting between two early female historians. Catharine in England and Mercy in America had each written multiple works responding to events of the day in an era when women were not expected to discuss politics let alone write about it. Finally meeting after years of letter writing, it must have been an exciting introduction.

Catharine was outspoken and published in her own name, while Mercy’s satirical plays had been published anonymously. Boldly writing to American patriots to offer her support, Catharine initially corresponded with Mercy’s brother, James Otis Jr, who Catharine wrote was ‘the great guardian of American liberty.’

When James suffered from mental instability following a beating by British customs agents, Mercy took over the correspondence. Both women made astute observations on the evolving political situation. In 1767, Macaulay prophetically wrote that a democratic republic was the ‘only form of government….capable of preserving dominion and freedom to the people.’ The following year, Mercy foresaw that when British soldiers arrived in Boston ‘The American War may be dated from the hostile parade of this day.’

Catharine watched the Revolution from a distance, supporting the American colonies and encouraging members of parliament to consider their position and negotiate rather than losing them altogether. The opposite course was taken with British troops sent to Boston in 1768 and the Coercive Acts passed in 1774. Mercy had an insider’s view of the Revolution. Her husband, another James, served as Paymaster-General, was appointed to the Continental Congress, and sat on the Continental Navy Board. While Mercy was a patriot, she worried about her five sons ‘who must buckle on the harness. And perhaps fall a sacrifice to the manes of liberty.’

Catharine Macauley

When Mercy met Catharine in person for the first time in 1784, she had lost no sons to war, though one had been severely wounded. Perhaps it was not until this meeting that the women realized how different they were. Through letters which focused on their shared political ideas and observations, they may have been convinced that they held more in common that they did.

Catharine arrived in America with a new, young husband. William Graham was twenty-one when he married the forty-seven-year-old Catharine six years earlier. Mercy, who frequently gave her sons moral lectures in her letters, would have been shocked by this relationship and the rumors that Catherine also had an affair with her brother-in-law. The values of simplicity and frugality held by Mercy were not as closely held by Catharine, who patronized the Sans Souci, a fashionable club that Mercy believed was the sort of establishment that would lead the new nation into a rapid decline.

Despite a falling out over their differences on morality, Mercy and Catharine salvaged their friendship before Catharine left America. They continued their correspondence, debating the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed US Constitution as fervently as the men in congress.

Mercy opposed the ratification of the Constitution and attempted to influence state leaders with a pamphlet titled Observations on the New Constitution, and on the Federal and State Conventions by a Columbian Patriot. She was concerned that individual rights were not established in the Constitution. While some states requested the addition of a Bill of Rights, none made their ratification dependent upon it. In a moment of frustration over the course the country was taking, Mercy wrote to Catharine in 1789, ‘we are too poor for Monarchy, too wise for Despotism, and too dissipated, selfish, and extravagant for Republicanism.’

Mercy’s History

Catharine wrote a letter to George Washington, who she had met during her year in America, congratulating him ‘on the event which placed you at the head of the American government.’ She was also not afraid to share her opinions with him warning of growing inequality between two houses of legislature and the possibility of the ‘evils of Aristocracy’ which America had thus far been ‘exempt from.’

Mercy and Catharine, through their epistolatory relationship, discussed the French Revolution, the writing of Edmund Burke, women’s rights, and any number of topics that 18th century women were not meant to discuss. Their civil discourse came to an end with Catharine’s death on 22 June 1791. Mercy finally published her History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution at age seventy-seven in 1805. She died on 19 October 1814 during the War of 1812, which solidified the independent status of the United States of America.

Sources:

The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation by Nancy Rubin Stuart https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/catharine-sawbridge-macaulay-graham-1731-1791/ https://allthingsliberty.com/2019/10/catharine-macaulay-her-final-gifts-to-america-and-france-1787-1791

To Buy the Book:

Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson is available now from Amazon and Pen and Sword in the UK. It is available for pre-order on Amazon in the US and is now available worldwide from Book Depository.

About the book:

Women of the American Revolution will explore the trials of war and daily life for women in the United States during the War for Independence. What challenges were caused by the division within communities as some stayed loyal to the king and others became patriots? How much choice did women have as their loyalties were assumed to be that of their husbands or fathers? The lives of women of the American Revolution will be examined through an intimate look at some significant women of the era.

Some names will be familiar, such as Martha Washington who travelled to winter camps to care for her husband and rally the troops or Abigail Adams who ran the family’s farms and raised children during John’s long absences. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton is popular for her role in Hamilton the musical, but did you know she was also an early activist working tirelessly for multiple social causes? Decide for yourself if the espionage of Agent 355 or the ride of Sybil Ludington are history or myth. Not all American women served the side of the revolutionaries. Peggy Shippen gambled on the loyalist side and paid severe consequences. From early historian Mercy Otis Warren to Dolley Madison, who defined what it means to be a US First Lady, women of the American Revolution strived to do more than they had previously thought possible during a time of hardship and civil war.

About the Author:

Samantha Wilcoxson is an author of historical fiction and administrator of a history blog. She has written four full-length novels, three novellas, and two middle grade chapter books. Topics of her writing have ranged from the Wars of the Roses to America’s Civil Rights Movement. Samantha is passionate about history and exploring the personal side of events. In her writing, she urges the reader to truly experience what it might have felt like to live through a moment in history. Samantha’s most recent novel is biographical fiction featuring Catherine Donohue, one of America’s “radium girls.” She is currently working on a novelization of the life of Nathan Hale, and features in Hauntings, an anthology published by the Historical Writers Forum.

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My books:

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Femina by Janina Ramirez

The middle ages are seen as a bloodthirsty time of Vikings, saints and kings: a patriarchal society which oppressed and excluded women. But when we dig a little deeper into the truth, we can see that the ‘dark’ ages were anything but.

Oxford and BBC historian Janina Ramirez has uncovered countless influential women’s names struck out of historical records, with the word FEMINA annotated beside them. As gatekeepers of the past ordered books to be burnt, artworks to be destroyed, and new versions of myths, legends and historical documents to be produced, our view of history has been manipulated.

Only now, through a careful examination of the artefacts, writings and possessions they left behind, are the influential and multifaceted lives of women emerging. Femina goes beyond the official records to uncover the true impact of women like Jadwiga, the only female King in Europe, Margery Kempe, who exploited her image and story to ensure her notoriety, and the Loftus Princess, whose existence gives us clues about the beginnings of Christianity in England. See the medieval world with fresh eyes and discover why these remarkable women were removed from our collective memories.

When I wrote Heroines of the Medieval World five years ago, I said at the time that it was a book that needed to be written – I just wasn’t sure if I was the person to write it. If I had been asked who should write it, one of the top names on my list would have been Janina Ramirez. So I was not surprised when I discovered that Janina had written a book on medieval women, Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It.

I admit I was a little worried that Femina would make my Heroines obsolete or redundant, but I probably shouldn’t have been. After all, every writer has their own style and approach and every book – even if on the same topic – is written differently. And while the two books do overlap in places, we do not always reach the same conclusion and they really would complement each other on a book shelf (hint, hint!).

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It looks at some of the most remarkable women of the medieval period, including two women you will be familiar with if you have read Heroines of the Medieval World, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians and Jadwiga, ‘King’ of Poland. And the chapter on Jadwiga is particularly illuminating as Dr Ramirez applies her background in Art History to the symbolism and significance of Jadwiga’s reign, both on a political and spiritual level.

Janina Ramirez also provides great insight in to Emma of Normandy, who I looked at in detail for my own book, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest. Study is even made of Ӕlfgyva, the mysterious woman in the Bayeux Tapestry, though Janina and I come to very different conclusions – and I would dearly love to have a face-to-face conversation with her to thrash out our theories. That would be fun!

Hild moved from Hartlepool to the site known then as Strenaeshalch and now as Whitby, in AD 657. Here she was granted land to build a double monastery where both men and women could learn the scriptures and dedicate themselves to a monastic life. And engraved stone slab commemorates her successor as abbess, Ælfflæd, and the use of the Latin script and alphabet supports Bede’s suggestion that Whitby was a centre of learning and literacy. But like at Hartlepool, finds from Hild’s abbacy include many luxuries such as decorative hairpins, golden book covers and even a comb with a runic inscription. Runes were the alphabet of the pre-Christian English, but the inscription is clearly Christian: My God. May God Almighty help Cy …’ Again, we find an object which links the Germanic warrior world to the new Christina one. Like Hild herself it straddles ideologies and a time of transition.

Hild was at the top of the tree in terms of influence in seventh-century Northumbria. Bede states that ‘even kings and princes sought and received her counsel’, and she acted as mentor to the daughter of Oswui, King of the Northumbrians from 642-670. What’s more, it was under her rule, in the monastery she founded herself, that the leaders of the English church gathered for the famous Synod of Whitby in AD 664. With Hild in charge of proceedings, the good and the great, representatives of Rome and Ireland, argued which traditions the Northumbrian church should follow. The result went the way of Rome. The variety and uniqueness of Celtic monasteries was lost to the rigour and routine of the Benedictine Rule, and monasticism in the north was transformed forever. For a woman to be involved in such high-level synodal processes is something extraordinary even today. It is also significant that five men who trained under Hild were all made bishops; if there were king-makers in the medieval world, then she was the bishop-maker. Whitby was the training ground for a new, Roman Christian, learned and respected English church. From Hild’s northern headland, educated men and women would stretch out the length and breadth of the country, assuming the very highest positions within churches and monasteries, including the archbishop of York. Hild’s influence would permeate the fabric of Christianity in this part of the world and its effects were felt down the centuries.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It is a fabulous study of a number of medieval women – and medieval woman in general. Dr Ramirez manages to combine what it was like to be a woman in medieval times, including their rights and the dangers they faced, such as childbirth, with the histories of particular women – and not always women you would expect to see in history book. The most fascinating chapter is that which is devoted to the Cathars, a religious sect much misunderstood and persecuted to extinction by the church. Janina Ramirez highlights not only their suffering and personal testimonies, but also the strength and respect that women held within the community. It truly is illuminating.

From warrior Viking women, to the successes of Æthelflæd and the excessive crying of Margery Kempe, Janina Ramirez shines a light on the lives and experiences of a huge variety of medieval women. Archaeological discoveries, religious artefacts and medieval artwork are used to describe and illuminate the world in which these women lived and died.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It is an engaging, entertaining read, with Janina Ramirez’s unique and wonderful take on medieval history. Introducing her vast knowledge of Art History into the mix adds vibrancy to the individual stories and brings these incredible women to life. Dr Ramirez is fabulous writer and communicator and takes the reader on an incredible journey of discovery through the medieval world. Her enthusiasm and fascination for the topic shines through on every page.

Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It by Janina Ramirez is truly a pleasure to read.

About the author:

Dr Janina Ramirez is a Sunday Times bestselling author, an Oxford lecturer, BBC broadcaster and researcher. She has presented and written over 30 hours of BBC history documentaries and series on TV and radio, and written five books for children and adults.

My books

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

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

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

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

©2022 Sharon Bennett Connolly