Guest Post: Song of the Centurion by Steven A. McKay

One of my favourite books of 2018 was The Druid by Steven A. McKay. Having completed his Robin Hood series, Steven had turned his hand to the Dark Ages with a new story set in the time of King Arthur and Merlin, but with characters of his own creation. Bellicus, the eponymous druid, journeyed the length of Britain to rescue a young princess from the clutches of her kidnappers, and return her to her desperate parents. This month, Steven is back with a much-anticipated second instalment in Bellicus’ story

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Northern Britain, Autumn, AD 430

“Get down! Their slingers are attacking!”

There was a horrific rattling as dozens of stones battered against the walls and the defending Damnonii soldiers crouched low to avoid being struck. A slinger’s missile could do severe damage if it hit someone in the right place, as a few of the men had discovered to their cost during the previous days.

“Now!” Gavo roared as the attack ended without injuring any of the defenders. “Give them some back!”

Instantly, his men stood up and launched a volley of their own fist-sized rocks down onto the enemy below. The captain grinned as cries of anger and pain filtered up to him. It was much easier to hit people when they were beneath you, especially when they didn’t have walls to hide behind.

Not all the enemy slingers were crouching under their shields though, and a sharp-edged, flat rock careered past Gavo, hammering into the neck of a young soldier at his side. The warrior reeled back, a terrible gurgling sound coming from his ruined, bloody throat as he dropped onto the wooden platform they were standing on and Gavo knew the lad would be dead within moments.

Thank the gods though, the enemy were taking casualties of their own beneath the hail of Damnonii missiles, and the besieging army pulled back now, out of range, heralding another in a long line of stand-offs.

“That’s it,” Gavo shouted in fury. “Run, you bastards!”

Dun Breatann, ancient capital of Alt Clota, was under siege, and had been for almost a week, the Picts from the far north led by King Drest having finally grown tired of the attacks on their raiding parties by King Coroticus’s soldiers.

For generations, livestock theft from neighbouring tribes was an accepted part of life – part of a young warrior’s coming-of-age. Unwritten rules made it clear that any captured during such an action could be beaten, but then sent on their way home, to try again another day.

Now, though, Coroticus, outraged by his daughter Catia’s recent abduction, was slaughtering every such raider he could find in his lands and displaying their severed heads as ghoulish trophies – warnings – on the towering rock of Dun Breatann. It wasn’t just Pictish thieves suffering such violence either – Dalriadans, Selgovae and Votadini tribesmen had all been killed by the Damnonii king’s forces. In response, Drest had formed an alliance with the other kings and led them here for vengeance.

To Queen Narina it was a ludicrous situation to be in – a war started over the execution of a few cattle thieves. Yet her husband had broken with tradition, despite her protestations, and now Alt Clota was paying the price. Standing high on the eastern peak of the fortress, she looked away from the guard captain, Gavo, commanding the defending warriors on the walls, and turned her attention to the tents, cooking-fires and massed, undisciplined, ranks of the enemy camping at the foot of her home.

Standing two hundred and forty feet high, and surrounded on three sides by the river Clota, Dun Breatann had never been taken by a besieging army. The queen shook her head sadly and turned to her maidservant, Enica, whose downcast expression mirrored her own.

“They’re wasting their time,” Enica muttered, shifting her gaze back to the tiny figures on the ground so far below them. “King Drest must have known that when he embarked on this foolish course.”

Narina didn’t answer for a while. She could see Drest’s tent, grander and more colourful than the others surrounding it, and she wondered what was going through his mind at that moment.

“I don’t think their siege is so foolish,” the queen finally said. “Coroticus pushed them all too far and they’re within their rights to strike back. Besides, they might say they’re here to avenge their dead warriors, but there’s more to it than that. Drest, and Loarn in particular, would like to make our lands their own. This is merely their first move towards that end.”

“They’ll never take this place though, my lady,” Enica said and her voice was full of conviction. “We have fresh water from the spring that comes up between the two peaks and enough men to rebuff any attempts to scale the gatehouses. Food is plentiful too, since your husband stockpiled it when he heard of the approaching army.”

Enica was correct in her assessment and Narina wondered if the woman surreptitiously listened at Coroticus’s door when he met with his advisors. It wouldn’t surprise her. Enica was a canny servant, which was why Narina liked her.

“They’ll need to leave soon enough,” the maid went on as if she’d spent many hours thinking this over.

“Their men will be needed at home to bring in the harvests and so on, yes, I know that,” Narina nodded. “But what of our people whose homes Drest’s soldiers destroyed? The people he killed on his way here, and those he’ll no doubt kill on his way back north again?”

“At least he didn’t destroy our crops,” Enica said and Narina peered at her thoughtfully. There was no way the servant could have known that unless she had truly spent a long time listening to Coroticus’s private councils or…Narina took in the woman’s unlined, pretty face, full lips, and firm, shapely figure and resolved to find out if Enica had taken a lover amongst the king’s advisors. That kind of information could come in very handy.

“No, he hasn’t destroyed our crops,” said the queen with a wave of her hand. “Yet. Probably because he hoped they would belong to him once he defeated us.” The queen turned away from the depressing sight on the ground far below and walked slowly back towards the royal chambers. They were located within the building in the very centre of the rock, flanked by birch trees and the rising twin peaks, one of which was gently rounded while the other, the higher one, was narrow and so steep that it was a challenge for many people to climb. Indeed, it was so narrow no proper buildings could be erected upon it and, other than a single sentry watching the Clota for invading ships, only a giant raven could be seen there most days, its strange cry—almost like the bark of some weird dog—heard pealing out across the ancient rock.

The thought of that majestic bird, black with a white tuft on its neck, brought Bellicus to mind. The druid had somehow trained the raven to speak—it could say ‘hello’ and cough like a person thanks to Bel’s tutelage—and she felt an ache in her heart just as she always did when the druid came to mind. Was he dead?

Was her beautiful, sweet daughter?

A feeling of anxiety swept through her and she almost stumbled like one of the many people who grew dizzy when looking down from the lofty summit of Dun Breatann. What if Bel returned today, with Catia? They would walk straight into Drest’s besieging army and be torn to pieces!

Enica noticed her lady’s discomfort and placed a steadying hand on her upper arm as Narina pulled herself together. Bellicus was no fool, and besides, he knew Drest well; there would be no danger there.

If only the giant warrior-druid would return. It had been such a long time since he left to hunt the princess’s kidnappers, with no word coming to them from any who had seen him on the road, and it was hard not to give up hope.

Or go mad, rather like Coroticus seemed to have done in starting this insane war that no-one could ever truly win.

Song of the Centurion comes out as an ebook on Thursday 12 September 2019 and is available from Amazon UK.

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About the author:

Steven McKay was born in 1977 near Glasgow in Scotland. He live in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children. After obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree with the Open University he decided to follow his life-long ambition and write a historical novel.

He plays guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.

You can check out his website here. Steven also has an Amazon Author page and can be found on Twitter and Facebook

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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, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Steven A. McKay

Book Corner: the Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick

Her father’s only daughter.
Her country’s only hope.
Ireland, 1152

The King of Leinster, awaiting news of his newborn child, is disappointed to hear he has a daughter. Diarmait MacMurchada wanted another strapping son to shoulder a spear, wield a sword, and protect his kingdom. But the moment Diarmait holds tiny Aoife in his arms, he realised she would be his most precious treasure.

1166

Forced into exile Aoife and her family find themselves at the mercy of Henry II. Aoife – aware of her beauty but not its power – intrigues and beguiles Henry in equal measure. He agrees to help her father, an alliance that leads the MacMurchadas to the charistmatic Richard de Clare, a man dissatisfied with his lot and open to new horizons.

Diarmit promises Richard Aoife’s hand in marriage in return for his aid in Ireland, but Aoife has her own thoughts on the matter. She may be a prize, but she is not a pawn, and she will play the men at their own game. For herself, for her family, and for her country.

From the royal halls of scheming kings, to staunch Welsh border fortresses and the wild green kingdoms of Ireland, The Irish Princess is a sumptuous, journey of ambition and desire, love and loss, heartbreak and survival.

Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Irish Princess is one of the most anticipated historical fiction novels of the year. I was lucky enough to receive and advance copy from NetGalley – and it more than lives up to expectation. Telling the story of the marriage of Richard de Clare (Strongbow) and his Irish princess, Aoife MacMurchada, against the backdrop of the Norman invasion of Ireland it seamlessly weaves together the various strands to make an engaging and utterly engrossing story.

Aoife is a proud and precocious princess who has grown up amid the brutality of the power struggles of the Irish clans. She has seen brothers maimed and murdered, the heads of her father’s enemies decorating her home and had to flee into exile, all before she had left what should have been the innocence of childhood. Her marriage to Richard de Clare, Earl of Striguil, is a political necessity in the strategies of her father, to recover his lost kingdom of Leinster.

Richard de Clare, on the other hand, is a man on the outside; not trusted or employed by King Henry II, he sees helping Aoife’s father as an opportunity to gain a wife and heirs, lands and influence. He still has to play the courtier, however, and has to walk a fine line with Henry, deferring to the king whilst protecting his own interests – not an easy path to walk.

The entrance to the castle was above ground level with steps leading to a doorway decorated with a patterned arch of zig-zags and painted chevrons. A man stepped from the darkness of the arch and came down the steps to greet them. Tall and well proportioned, he moved with confident grace. His tunic was grey, topped by a cloak of a darker, charcoal hue, lined with squirrel fur, creating a strong but subtle contrast. His hair was the same rich auburn as the squirrel pelts.

Welcome to Striguil, sire.’ He bowed his head in courtesy and extended his hand to clasp her father’s. ‘I trust you have journeyed well?’ his voice was light, but the words were clearly spoken and his smile showed a flash of white teeth. he sent a brief glance in her direction, as he encompassed everyone in his greeting.

‘Well enough, my lord,’ her father answered in accented French. ‘But glad to arrive. You have a fine castle.’ His gaze roved the walls.

‘It serves its purpose well,’ de Clare replied, still smiling. ‘Will you come within?’

Diarmait presented Aoife’s mother and her brothers to de Clare, and then spread his arm in a flourish. ‘And this is my daughter Aoife.’

Aoife swallowed and held her ground as she had held it before King Henry. De Clare’s eyes were clear with a glassy mingling of sea-colours, utterly striking against the dark contrast of his pupils. His stare was as intense as Henry’s had been but assessing her rather than predatory.

‘My lady, you are indeed welcome,’ he said, speaking slowly and clearly to help her understand him. ‘Word of your great beauty has carried, and it is not exaggerated.’

Elizabeth Chadwick wonderfully combines the history of the conflict with the private lives and experiences of her leading characters. The personal stories are what make this book truly a incredible read. I wasn’t keen on Aoife at first, but she grows on you as she grows up and is a courageous heroine, who has to use all her attributes as a woman in order to survive and prosper. No shrinking violet and no meek, biddable child, she is well versed in the politics of Ireland and England, but knows her place as a woman of the times; advising and steering policy in private and charming the English king to gain his protection.

From Aoife herself, to her sister-in-law Basilia, from Richard de Clare to King Henry, it is the characters in The Irish Princess that serve as the backbone of the novel. They drive the direction of the story and the empathy and engagement of the reader, even more so than the action and intrigue of the times.

Elizabeth Chadwick, as always, has done extensive research and the historical story comes across in each page, even as she weaves in the recreated words and emotions of the characters, adding a sense of having a fly-on-the-wall view of events as they happened. The sweeping landscapes of Ireland, the bloody battlefields, the warmth and comfort of the lord’s hall and the intimacy of the lady’s private quarters are beautifully recreated and woven into the story to draw the reader into the world of Ireland at the time of the Norman invasion.

And to top it all, a cameo appearance by … (not saying, I don’t want to spoil the surprise!)

Fans of Elizabeth Chadwick – old and new – will not be disappointed by this wonderful novel. The author has lived up to every expectation in this wonderful novel. The story and characters are beautifully crafted to bring the reader an epic tale of love, war betrayal … and family.

The Irish Princess by Elizabeth Chadwick will be released on 12 September 2019 and is available from Amazon UK.

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About the Author:

Myself and Elizabeth Chadwick at the Newark Book Festival, 2018

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick lives in a cottage in the Vale of Belvoir in Nottinghamshire with her husband and their 3 dogs. Her first novel, The Wild Hunt, won a Betty Trask Award and To Defy a King won the RNA’s 2011 Historical Novel Prize. She was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Award in 1998 for The Champion, in 2001 for Lords of the White Castle, in 2002 for The Winter Mantle and in 2003 for The Falcons of Montabard. Her sixteenth novel, The Scarlet Lion, was nominated by Richard Lee, founder of the Historical Novel Society, as one of the top ten historical novels of the last decade. She often lectures at conferences and historical venues, has been consulted for television documentaries and is a member of the Royal Historical Society.

For more details on Elizabeth Chadwick and her books, visit http://www.elizabethchadwick.com, follow her on Twitter, read her blogs or chat to her on Facebook.

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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, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Robert de Breteuil, the Crusader Earl

Arms of Robert de Breteuil, 4th Earl of Leicester

Robert de Breteuil, also known as Robert de Beaumont, was a remarkable individual whose adventures in the Holy Land would make a wonderful novel. A renowned warrior and a powerful magnate, he was a companion to the Plantagenet princes, both Richard the Lionheart and King John. Robert was the son-in-law of Matilda de Braose, whose horrific persecution by King John led to her death by starvation in one of John’s dungeons – and the inclusion of clause 39 in Magna Carta:

“No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Magna Carta, magnacartaresearch.og

Robert was the second son of Robert de Breteuil, 3rd earl of Leicester, and his wife, Petronilla de Grandmesnil and the great-grandson of Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan and 1st Earl of Leicester, and his wife, Elizabeth de Vermandois. Robert was probably born in the early-1160s and was closely associated with his elder brother William. As they grew up and entered public life they were linked with the household of their cousin, Robert, Count of Meulan, and they regularly appeared on their father’s charters together. Their younger brother, Roger, was bishop of St Andrews. William died in 1189, sometime after the accession of King Richard I. A later legend suggests he suffered from leprosy, though there is no contemporary evidence to corroborate this. William’s death meant Robert therefore became heir to their father’s earldom of Leicester.

Both Robert and his father were at the royal court at Verneiul on 2 January 1190 and joined the Third Crusade of Richard the Loinheart. Robert’s father took an overland route to the Holy Land, while it appears that Robert travelled with the king. Robert was with the king at Messina, Sicily, when news reached him of his father’s death. The 3rd earl had died on 31 August or 1 September 1190 and so Robert was invested as earl by the king on 2 February 1191, in Sicily.

During his time in the Holy Land, Robert was one of the leaders of the assault on Acre on 11 July 1191 and fought in the battle of Arsuf on 7 September. In November he rescued some ambushed Templars at Ibn-Ibrak and then was himself surrounded, with his knights, by a party of Turks outside the camp at Ramlah. Robert was rescued by his cousin Robert de Neubourg; in the process he nearly drowned in a river and had two horses killed under him.

Seal of Robert de Breteuil

Robert and his men were prominent among the forces who stormed Deir al-Bela on 22 May 1192 and on 5 August 1192 he was one of the ten knights who helped to thwart an attempt to kidnap the king from his tent at Jaffa and the king himself rescued Robert when he was thrown from his horse. He probably set out for home in September or October 1192, having distinguished himself and earned the king’s eternal goodwill.1

Following his return from the crusade, Robert was occupied with the defence of Normandy, but was captured by King Philip Augustus’ forces in June 1194, after a skirmish outside Gourany. He was imprisoned at Étampes for more than a year and only freed after surrendering his castle and lordship of Pacy-sur-Eure to King Philip. His freedom was achieved sometime around February 1196 and in the same year he was married to the teenage Loretta de Braose. Loretta de Braose, was probably born in the early-to-mid-1180s,. She was one of the sixteen children of Matilda and William de Braose. Four of her sisters married prominent Welsh Marcher lords, but Loretta was married to Robert de Breteuil, 4th earl of Leicester.

The marriage was an alliance of two of the leading Anglo-Norman families of the Plantagenet world. He was a powerful earl who had made a name for himself on the crusades, whilst she was a daughter of one of the most powerful barons of the Welsh March. As her marriage portion, Loretta was given Tawstock, near Barnstaple in Devon.

Robert de Breteuil was back campaigning in 1197 and 1198 and was with King Richard when he was mortally wounded at Châlus in April 1199. He had had a long association with Richard’s brother since John had been Count of Mortain, and so was a firm supporter of John’s succession, acting as steward at his coronation on 27 May 1199, claiming the office his grandfather had relinquished in 1153. Robert was highly influential in the early years of John’s reign. He also fought for John in Normandy, being one of the major landholders in the duchy, and was rewarded generously for his support; he was granted Richmondshire in Yorkshire in September 1203. The following year he suffered the loss of his Continental estates when Normandy fell and was the biggest loser of the Anglo-Norman barons.

Although he was one of the two barons (the other being William Marshal) who was given a year to decide whether to pay homage to King Philip of France to try to retain his Norman estates, Robert was not punished by John. Indeed, he was given more lands in England, English lands that had belonged to families who had chosen to remain in Normandy, such as the Harcourts. Robert died before King Philip’s deadline, and so never did have to decide where and how to share his allegiances in order to keep all his lands.

The ruins of Leicester Abbey, where Robert de Breteuil is buried

Robert died on 20 or 21 October 1204; the life of St Hugh of Lincoln reported that he died a leper, although this seems highly unlikely.1 He was buried in the choir of the Augustinian Abbey in Leicester. Robert and Loretta had remained childless, so Robert’s lands were divided between his two sisters. The earldom and the town of Leicester went to his eldest sister, Amice, the wife of Simon de Montfort and therefore grandmother of the Simon de Montfort who would marry King John’s daughter, Eleanor, and claim the earldom of Leicester for himself. Half of the old earldom, centred around Brackley in Northamptonshire, went to Robert’s younger sister, Margaret, wife of Saher de Quincy, Earl of Winchester.

It is a sad legacy that Robert’s death before John began the persecution of Loretta’s family meant that she was without her husband’s powerful protection when she needed it most. King John’s pursuit of the family did not end with the deaths of Matilda, who died in custody in 1210, and William de Braose, Lord of Bramber, who died in exile in France in 1211. In November 1207 John extracted a promise from Loretta that she would not remarry without the king’s permission and her lands were taken from her. She probably left for France shortly afterwards and only returned to England in 1214.

Once in England, Loretta was allowed to recover her confiscated estates after again to only marry as the king directed. The restoration of Loretta’s estates were complicated by the king’s desire to keep happy those who had benefited from tehir confiscation, such as the powerful Saher de Quincy, earl of Winchester. Loretta’s experiences in this respect may well have inspired clauses 7 and 8 of Magna Carta, which guaranteed that widows should have their marriage portions without hindrance and that they could remarry at their own pleasure, so long as it was with the king’s consent.

Arms of William de Braose, Loretta’s father

Loretta took her future into her own hands, however, and in early 1221, took a vow of chastity and became an anchorite in Hackington, near Canterbury. An anchorite was a religious recluse who lived in a small cell within a church, allowed on the briefest of contact with others, although she was allowed attendants to help with her daily needs. Loretta’s influence was still in evidence, however, in that she obtained a pardon for a man who had accidentally killed another and helped to establish the Franciscan order in England. She died on 4 March, probably in 1266, and was buried at the church of St Stephen, Hackington.

It is a fact of life that whilst researching one particular person, you come across several others who spark your interest. I stumbled upon the stories of Robert de Breteuil and Loretta de Braose while researching for my new book, Ladies of Magna Carta, which will be out in Spring 2020.

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Footnote: ¹Oxforddnb.com

Sources: sussexcastles.com; genie.com; steyningmuseum.org.uk; berkshirehistory.com; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 by Robert Bartlett; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; The Life and Times of King John by Maurice Ashley; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Oxforddnb.com; magnacartareseearch.org; Magna Carta by David Starkey; King John by Marc Morris; King John, England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant by Stephen Church; 1215, the Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham; Women in Thirteenth Century Lincolnshire by Louise J. Wilkinson.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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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, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: The Battle of Tippermuir by Mark Turnbull

Today marks the 375th anniversary of the Battle of Tippermuir and it is a pleasure to welcome author Mark Turnbull to History…the Interesting Bits with an article of the English Civil War battle. Over to Mark….

British Civil War cavalry (The English Civil War Society) 
Montrose only had three horses at the Battle of Tippermuir

Three hundred and seventy-five years ago a son of Scotland secured his first victory in the name of King Charles I. The Battle of Tippermuir produced the famous ‘highland charge’ as well as the legend of the Earl of Montrose, but a matter of days prior, it seemed like none of this could be borne from a few seeds of resistance.

When three Scotsmen crossed the border in August 1644, they did not look back. Carlisle Castle was barely visible; nothing more than a red-stoned pimple on the top of a hill in the distance. William Rollo was a horseman par-excellence, honed through being entirely lame. Colonel William Sibbald rode alongside Rollo, both ignoring the groom trailing behind and leading a spare horse.

The trio left an England riven apart by civil war. King Charles I and his Parliament had been battling it out for two years, but eight months ago, Scotland had stepped from the side-lines and thrown their bonnets into the ring with Parliament. Scotland’s army of covenanters had marched into England and just won a stunning victory outside of York. Sibbald and Rollo intended to assist the King by beginning a guerrilla war in their homeland to draw back the covenanter army.

British Civil War Pikemen. Montrose’s men were poorly armed and he suggested they take stones from the earth and bash the enemies’ brains out.

Sewn into the saddle of the riderless horse was King Charles’s commission and his royal standard; two instruments essential to the plan. The man entrusted with securing the nation and restoring their Scottish-born King’s authority, was none other than the pretended groom himself; James Graham, Earl of Montrose. One fact remained in keeping with his disguise – Montrose only had one measly horse to lead and just Sibbald and Rollo to assist him. However, Montrose was banking on the Earl of Antrim’s promise to assemble an army of twelve thousand Irishmen to serve the King. But this readymade army was delivered with missing components – it turned out to number only sixteen-hundred. Led by Alasdair MacColla, they landed on the west coast and headed east to Aberdeen, but finding no royalist support there, turned south, meeting Montrose, Sibbald and Rollo in Blair Athol.

The English Civil War Society. Montrose unfurled the King’s Royal Standard in August 1644 which saw many clans join him.

On 28 August 1644 Montrose unfurled the King’s standard. In answer, the Scottish Parliament conscripted local Stewarts, Robertsons and Grahams to put the insurgents down. Having discarded his groom’s garb, Montrose emerged from his chrysalis, donned highland dress and broadsword, and encouraged his men to insert strands of oats into their bonnets as a means of signifying their allegiance. Much success was harvested when the clans sent against Montrose actually joined him and boosted his numbers to two thousand. Yet his troops remained untrained, armed only with dirks and swords and with just three horses between them.

Montrose was well aware that their impetus could be scattered by even so much as a biting highland wind. He had to strike now, before his men melted away, and as such, he marched them to Perth, gathering a few hundred more recruits on the way. On 1 September 1644 at Tippermuir, Montrose met a covenanter army hastily sent by the Scottish Parliament under the command of Lord Elcho.

The two sides were relatively equal in numbers, but the covenanters possessed cavalry. Montrose placed McColla and his Irishmen in the centre, and promptly took his own position on the right wing, opposite the only experienced officer in the enemy army. Each of his men had ammunition for only a single gunshot, therefore it was imperative that every last one found their marks. Devastating it was then, when the covenanters sent skirmishers forward with the cry ‘Jesus and no quarter,’ to draw and expend royalist firepower. Nevertheless, the covenanter skirmishers were sent packing and pushed back to their own front lines. Montrose had thinned the troops on his army’s left and right to three-deep, and as a result these longer lines prevented any attempts to outflank him.

Montrose crossed into Scotland in August 1644 disguised as a groom, with only two other men. At one point it’s said that a man bid the groom, “Good Morning, my lord.”

To his troops, Montrose was characteristically honest, suggesting a novel way to counter their shortage of arms and ammunition; pick stones out of the ground, bash the enemy’s brains out and then seize theirs. Without his charisma, these words would have rung hollow, but his men heeded them like the gospels and he led them against the enemy cavalry throwing missiles, roaring and rampaging down the slope. This tirade of aggression and fervour sent the enemy horsemen fleeing from the field. Not used to such unbridled determination, the covenanters clattered through their own infantry and a rot began which ate through their entire resolve.

The furious highland charge proved its efficiency long before the days of Culloden, still one hundred years off. Tippermuir was Montrose’s first battle of many. The start of an immense cat and mouse chase with superior covenanter forces that would make him, in the words of The Montrose Society, one of Scotland’s most noble and militarily gifted leaders. Against all odds, this lifelong admirer of Alexander the Great would come tantalisingly close to securing the whole of Scotland for the King.

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More about Mark: I became hooked on the English Civil War at the age of 10. We’d visited Helmsley Castle and my parents bought me a pack of ‘top trump’ cards featuring the monarchs of England. The minute I saw Van Dyck’s portrait of King Charles I at the hunt, I wanted to know more. The painting, costumes and the King’s image were fascinating and then turning over, I read how he was executed. I’d started trying to write stories at a young age (earliest was my own plot for a children’s television show called Thomas the Tank Engine!) so as my interest grew in the English Civil War, my interest in writing automatically seemed to go hand in hand. 

The first civil war book I bought was Christopher Hibbert’s ‘Cavaliers and Roundheads’ and I decided that I also wanted to keep the history and its characters alive in writing, so eventually I began creating my own historical novel. I’ve made sure I have kept true to historical events and characters and ‘Allegiance of Blood’ is due out later this year. 

It opens at Edgehill and follows a fictional character, Sir Francis Berkeley, whose life and family are turned upside down by the twists and turns of this momentous period. The story also features many historical characters along the way, allowing the reader a fly-on-the-wall view of the deadly allegiances that threaten Francis.

I’m also writing articles at the moment about various civil war battles, seeing as there are many 375th anniversaries coming up. 

I have re-enacted before and would love to again, but at the minute writing takes up my spare time.
To buy Mark’s books: www.allegianceofblood.com
Join Mark on his Facebook page: ttps://m.facebook.com/markturnbullauthor

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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, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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.

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Mark Turnbull

Book Corner: The Last of the Romans by Derek Birks

Northern Italy.

Dux Ambrosius Aurelianus has served the Roman Empire with distinction.

His bucellarii, a small band of irregular soldiers, have helped to bring a fragile peace to the beleaguered empire in the west. But, with the empire now at peace, his master, Flavius Aetius, decides to chain up his dogs of war.

Ambrosius and his men are left to idle away their days in a rural backwater, but Ambrosius’ boredom is brutally swept aside when old rivals seize the opportunity to destroy him.

Pursued as a traitor by the imperial guard, Ambrosius takes his loyal band, along with other dissident soldiers and a Saxon girl, Inga, into the mountains.

Since nowhere is safe, Ambrosius travels north, across the crumbling ruins of the empire, to his estranged family in Gaul. But there too, he finds nothing but conflict, for his home town is now besieged by a small army of rebellious Franks.

Freedom and peace seem a world away. 

Whatever course the soldier takes, Ambrosius and his bucellarii will need to muster all their strength and skill to survive.

At the twilight of the empire, they may be the Last of the Romans…

I have to admit that I loved Derek Birks‘ books on the Wars of the Roses, but was a little dubious about this excursion into the late Roman era. I enjoy reading some Roman novelists, such as SJA Turney and Gordon Doherty, but I do prefer the medieval and I was concerned that I might not enjoy The Last of the Romans as much as other Roman stories or, indeed, Derek’s Wars of the Roses series. I needn’t have worried.

The Last of the Romans opens as the Roman Empire is falling apart and follows one man, Ambrosius Aurelianus, and his small band of soldiers as they try to escape the clutches of vengeful assassins. We follow the small cohort of soldiers as the escape northern Italy across France, with the constant threat of attack nagging their every step. The reader is drawn into their desperate fight to survive and escape, the bucellarii’s loyalty to their dux tested to the limit.

Ambrosius Aurelianus has always been a personal favourite of mine – he has links to my ‘local’ – Conisbrough Castle – and is a contender for the legendary King Arthur. The Last of the Romans tells the story of Ambrosius’ career in the Roman army, before his arrival in Britain. The book draws a portrait of the man as a great warrior and leader, driven by a need to survive and protect those who follow him and trust him.

For the past three years Rome’s supreme military commander, the Magister Utriusque Militiae, Flavius Aetius, had sent Ambrosius wherever trouble erupted across the failing empire. Wherever an army was too many, or an assassin too few, he and his band of disparate bucellarii were despatched – and death went along for the ride. They slew every zealot, every ambitious politician, every fool and murderer, across the empire from the west coast of Galicia to eastern Thrace. In truth, Ambrosius and his comrades did little else but send men to an early grave.

Since he was recruited in Gallia, he reflected that his own fortunes had become inextricably harnessed to those of Magister Aetius. He could not resist a grim smile of admiration for the man who, against all the odds, still held the fate of the western empire in his firm grip. Without him, Ambrosius would still be a renegade bandit living among the Franks in north-western Gallia. Instead he was the commander of an elite band of mounted warmongers and carried the rank of dux. He was both feared and despised by his enemies – and very likely by some of the imperial guard as well.

Thus, Ambrosius slept alone; yet, there she lay… half-covered by the coarse blanket. So, yes, he was getting soft. But then, after the sudden demise of the Hun king, Attila, everything had changed. Peace had come to Rome – albeit a fragile peace brokered by exhausted combatants, but a peace all the same. And, in the wake of peace, it seemed that the wolf must remain caged. So, Ambrosius found himself marooned in this shabby caupona on the shores of a lake far from the imperial court. While he preferred to remain at the inn, most of his bucellarii made frequent visits to nearby Verona where they were no doubt even now exhausting whatever coin they had left.

“Even you need to stop killing eventually,” Aetius had told him. “Believe me, you need a rest from it; I know that better than anyone: killing eats into your soul…”

The Last of the Romans is a departure from Derek Birks’ usual era, the Wars of the Roses. And as a consequence, he has moved away from a period of history that is constantly discussed and analysed, to one where the sources are few and far between. He has had to reconstruct a world that has not existed for 1,500 years. the landscape and architecture of late-Roman era France is described in fabulous detail, transporting the reader to the time and place where Roman law was breaking down, and native leaders were battling – against each other and the Roman regional commanders – to fill the void.

As you would expect from Derek Birks, the action is never-ending. The story moves at a fantastic pace, leaving the reader little time to catch their breath. The battles are meticulously choreographed, while appearing totally chaotic; the battle to survive only rivaled by the relentless pursuit of their enemies. The Last of the Romans brings the fall of the Roman Empire into vivid, colourful perspective.

What makes this book impossible to put down are the characters, the heroic Aurelius Ambrosius, loyal Marcellus and Inga, the freed slave whose bravery earns her a special place in the heart of the bucellarii. There is love, loss, confusion, courage and hatred. Through Ambrosius Aurelianus and his small band of men, we see the individual struggle to survive amidst the greater catastrophe and upheaval that always accompanies the end of a civilisation.

The Last of the Romans is a gripping adventure. Exciting, enthralling and fast-paced it is an amazing novel for the author’s first excursion into the era. It works perfectly as a standalone novel, but I truly hope Derek Birks decides to continue the story – I am desperate to know where Ambrosius and his bucellarii go next!

The Last of the Romans is now available on Kindle from Amazon and will be released in paperback shortly.

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About the author:

Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. 

On his return to England, he read history at Reading University and for many years he taught history in a secondary school. Whilst he enjoyed his teaching career and it paid the bills, he found a creative outlet in theatrical activities, stage-managing many plays and outdoor Shakespeare performances.
Derek always wanted to write and began, aged 17, writing stories, songs and poetry – in fact virtually anything. Inevitably, work and family life took precedence for a long period of time but in 2010 Derek took early retirement to indulge his passion for history and concentrate on his writing. He is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. 

Derek writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. He also produces podcasts on the Wars of the Roses for those interested in the real historical background to his books. Check them out on his website at: https://www.derekbirks.com/history-podcasts/

His historical fiction works include: 
Rebels & Brothers – a 4-book series set during the fifteenth century, which follows a fictional family, the Elders, through their struggle to survive the Wars of the Roses up to 1471.  The Craft of Kings – a sequel series which finds the Elder family ten years later in 1481. The latest book in this series is book 3, Echoes of Treason, which is set during the short and turbulent reign of Richard III.

He has recently embarked upon a new Post-Roman series and the first book is out now: The Last of the Romans

Apart from his writing, he enjoys travelling – sometimes, but not always, to carry out research for his books. He also spends his time walking, swimming and taking part in archaeological digs.

He was a regular presence at the Harrogate History Festival, is an active member of the Historical Novel Society and you will also find him each summer signing books – and selling them – at the Chalke Valley History Festival outside Salisbury in Wiltshire.

His books are available on Amazon in the UK and US.
You can find Derek at;
Amazon
Blog
Facebook
Twitter 

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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, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Guest Post: Katharina by Margaret Skea

It is with great pleasure that I welcome author Margaret Skea to the blog today, talking about her latest book, Katharina: Fortitude, the history behind it and giving you a little teaser from the book itself.

As crazy ideas go, thinking of writing what could best be described as a fictionalized biography of Katharina von Bora, the escaped nun who married the reformer Martin Luther, ranked highly.  It had popped into my head, seemingly from nowhere, but once there, as crazy ideas so often do, it burrowed its way in so far no amount of rational thinking would dislodge it.

There were plenty of good reasons not to write her story.

Reason 1. I knew almost nothing about her, and it seemed that nobody else knew much about her either.

I did find a slim volume, of some 89 pages, written by a native German within the Luther Foundation, Martin Treu, well placed to have found any information there was to find. But the opening words were hardly encouraging.

It is impossible to write a biography of Katharina von Bora. The scanty and often enough fragmentary nature of the evidence allows for only a biographical sketch…’ Hmm.

Katharina

Reason 2.  I didn’t speak or read German, so whatever ‘fragmentary evidence’ existed, I couldn’t even read it for myself. Not the best start.

Reason 3. I was in the middle of writing my third Scottish novel, and there was a publisher waiting for it to be delivered, so the timing wasn’t exactly ideal. However, the Luther 500 anniversary was only just over one year away, so I knew if I was going to write about her it had to be immediately.

And there she was, hovering at my shoulder, shadowy and insubstantial, but refusing to go away. So the Scottish book set aside, I began to plan how I could make this crazy idea a reality. I read and re-read the 89 pages of the little book until I knew them almost by heart and scoured every other source I could find (in English) that made any reference to her at all.  Treu had also set me a challenge – he wrote: 

The lacunae in the sources have tempted authors and authoresses to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.’

Well, yes, that is, after all,  what historical fiction writers do. But he went on:

The result is frequently a picture that says more about the writer and their time than about the person and journey through life of Katharina von Bora.’

Ah, that was different – I didn’t want to write about my time, or me, I wanted to write about her time and about her.

The Lutherhaus portal commissioned by Luther as a gift for Katharina

But pessimistic as he was about anyone’s chances, I did find some wee nuggets in his book, and in others, that gave me a starting point, despite that there is dispute over her parentage, her birthplace, the circumstances surrounding her admission to two different convents, and little direct evidence of her character.  Retracing her steps  in Saxony, which involved driving over 1000 miles, gave me a real sense of her environment, including the terrain she travelled, the architecture, and artefacts, and many aspects of her life and times.  There were some surprises, too, particularly in relation to Martin Luther and his almost modern attitude towards her, as well as the discovery of many myths that needed to be dispelled. But perhaps the biggest challenge was finding a ‘voice’ for her and so I began to write snippets in 1st person present tense. And what started as a preliminary experiment continued throughout both books and the story truly became Katharina’s.

I hope I have done her justice and that readers will get as much enjoyment in reading as I found in writing it. 

Here is the opening section as a wee taster:

Chapter One

Wittenberg June 1525.

Martin Luther

The music stops, the sound of the fiddle dying away, the piper trailing a fraction behind, as he has done all evening. I cannot help but smile as I curtsy to Justus Jonas, his answering twinkle suggesting he shares my amusement.

‘Thank you, Frau Luther,’ and then, his smile wider, so that even before he continues I suspicion it isn’t the piping amuses him, ‘For a renegade nun, you dance well.’

It is on the tip of my tongue to respond with ‘ For a cleric, so do you,’ but I stop myself, aware that should I be overheard it would likely be considered inappropriate for any woman, far less a newly married one, to speak so to an older man, however good a friend he has been. And on this day of all days, I do not wish to invite censure. Instead I say, ‘I have been well taught. Barbara saw to that. She did not wish me to disgrace myself or her, and there is a pair of slippers with the soles worn through to testify to the hours of practice she insisted upon.’

‘She succeeded admirably then.’

All around us there is the buzz of laughter and chatter, an air of goodwill evident in every flushed face. Martin is waiting at the foot of the dais, and as we turn towards him, his smile of thanks to Justus is evidence he too is grateful for the seal of approval, of me and of the marriage, our shared dance a tangible sign to the whole town that Justus Jonas at least has no reservations regarding our union. Over his shoulder I catch Barbara’s eye and she nods also. I nod back, but am unable to suppress altogether the inner voice, tonight there is drink taken, tomorrow some may feel differently.

As if he can read my mind, Justus says, a new seriousness in his tone, ‘You have not made a mistake, either of you.’ He waves his hand at the folk clustered in groups along the length of the room. ‘Look around. When the difficult times come, as no doubt they will, remember tonight and the number of those who came to wish you well.’

                             *                            *                       *

The first challenge is not long in coming. We stroll home in the moonlight, accompanied by those guests who will spend the night in the cloister with us, adding their acceptance to our union.  Among them are Martin’s parents, and three councillors from Mansfeld, snatches of their conversation penetrating my thoughts.

Hans Luder’s tone, though gruff, cannot mask his satisfaction. ‘It is a good day’s work, and glad I am to see it, however long the wait.’

Martin’s mother’s voice is sweet and low, but bubbles with amusement, like a sparkling wine as it is poured into a glass. ‘Old you may be, but I trust your end is not yet nigh.’

There is an answering chuckle from one of the councillors,  ‘Indeed,’ Frau Luder, ‘So do we all.’

Lutherhaus

Hearing him, I tuck my arm into Martin’s, the momentary disagreement regarding Cardinal Albert’s gift forgotten, and look up at the myriad stars: pin-pricks of light in an ink-flooded sky, and my heart swells.  Frau Luther – the spelling may be different, but the status is the same and a title to be proud of, and though our marriage is already two weeks old, it is the first time I have felt it truly mine. The music still rings in my ears, memory of the dancing, the coin in the chest: all symbols of the regard in which the doctor is held and in which I now share, spreading a warmth through me from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. Jusuts is right. This is not a mistake, or not on my part at least. And, pray God, he is right about Martin also. We part from the company at the door of our chamber, and the light from the oil lamp flickers on the bedspread Barbara Cranach gifted to us. It is the last thing I see before sleep, the first when I wake, a talisman-harbinger of good things to come.

About the author

Margaret Skea is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. Short story credits include Neil GunnFish, the Historical Novel Society and Mslexia.

Growing up during the ‘Troubles in Northern Ireland it is perhaps inevitable that her writing often focuses on the pressures of living within conflict. Her debut novel Turn of the Tide, was the Historical Fiction winner in an Harper Collins-sponsored competition. It also gained her the Beryl Bainbridge Award for ‘Best First-Time Novelist 2014’.

Katharina: Deliverance, a fictionalised biography based on the early life of the reformer Martin Luther’s wife, was placed 2nd in the Historical Novel Society New Novel Award 2018.

The newly released, Katharina: Fortitude, is the powerful conclusion to Katharina’s story, but both books can easily be read as a stand-alone.

In an attempt to embrace the digital age she now has her own website at www.margaretskea.com and you can also follow her on Twitter at @margaretskea1 or on FB https://www.facebook.com/MargaretSkeaAuthor.Novels/

Book link: https://books2read.com/u/4j11BX

I would like to say a HUGE thank you to Margaret for such a fabulous post and wish her every success with Kathariana: Fortitude .

Kathariana: Fortitude came out 2 weeks ago and has been entered into the Kindle Storyteller Award. The competition opened in May, and yet Katharina is already at #65 out of over 5,000 entries. To be in with a chance of winning it needs to get into top 10. The book is currently on sale at 99p, so why not give it a go? I have! Just follow the link: https://books2read.com/u/4j11BX

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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, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Margaret Skea

Book Corner: Joanna of Flanders, Heroine and Exile by Julie Sarpy

The new research in this biography solves the riddle of the disappearance of Joanna of Flanders early in the Hundred Years’ War, a leader described by David Hume as ‘the most extraordinary woman of the age’.

Joanna of Flanders, Countess de Montfort and Duchess of Brittany, vanished from public life after 1343 amid the Breton Wars of Succession during the Hundred Years’ War. As wife of the late Duke John de Montfort, Joanna’s rightful place was in Brittany as regent of the duchy for their five-year-old son and heir, John of Brittany. Famed for the defence of Hennebont in 1342 during her husband’s imprisonment, she, along with her children, had accompanied Edward III to England in February 1343 and never departed. She resided in comfortable obscurity at Tickhill Castle, Yorkshire, until her death around 1374.

What happened to her and why? Her extended absence should have provoked more suspicion, but it did not. Edward III certainly orchestrated her relocation from London to Yorkshire and sanctioned her indefinite detention.

Delving deeper into her story the answers to those two questions explore the complexities of medieval social structures, notably in the care of the vulnerable and the custody of women. The 19th-century Breton historian de la Borderie asked if Joanna’s ‘many tests had reversed her intelligence and thrown her into the abyss of madness’, a position accepted by many modern historians – but not by Julie Sarpy.

When my publishers, Amberley, asked if I would like to review Julie Sarpy’s Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile I jumped at the chance. I first came across Joanna of Flanders when writing an article about her son, John V, Duke of Brittany; and I remember thinking, ‘I must look into this woman’. I have not yet had the opportunity (though I will write a blog post if I ever get the time). So, although I was aware of Joanna, I know only the bare bones of her story. Which is why this book intrigued me so much!

Julie Sarpy has done an incredible job of researching the story of Joanna of Flanders. Her investigation has uncovered some remarkable facts about Joanna’s life, the times she lived through and the treatment she received at the hands of her supposed ally, Edward III. This is a balanced, in-depth study of a woman who deserves her time in the limelight. Joanna of Flanders is, in short, an amazing woman, whose story deserves to be known by a much wider audience.

I have to admit to a personal interest in the tale, in grew up not far from Tickhill Castle, South Yorkshire, the site of Joanna’s imprisonment. And though everyone in the area knows about the castle’s connections to King John, to the de Warennes and to the dukes of Lancaster (it is now owned by the duchy of Lancaster), no one seems to know of its role as the prison of poor Joanna.

Joanna of Flanders’ life has not been given its full measure. One wonders how such a remarkable woman has been lost to the ages and ostensibly marginalised. For Joanna of Flanders, Countess of Montfort and Richmond, Duchess of Brittany, was, in her time, the heroine of Hennebont, the pivotal siege during the first half of the Breton Civil War (1341-1365) that prevented the French from taking over Brittany and routing the English early in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). That was no small feat for anyone, especially a fourteenth-century woman. In fact, she seems to have been exceptional in many ways. Medieval French chronicler and contemporary Jean Froissart professed Joanna of Flanders ‘to possess the courage of a man and the heart of a lion.’ Breton historian Dom Lobineau said of the Countess of Montfort, ‘no adversity could crush her. her consistency in the most desperate circumstances always reassured those who attached [themselves] to her.’ She marshalled men and resources, unlike her rival the Breton-French Jeanne de Penthievre’s husband. Joanna of Flanders rallied her husband’s supporters, the pro-English Montfortist faction, in his absence during the Siege of Hennebont and then secured the safety of his heirs in England, with the aid of Edward III.

Julie Sarpy’s investigation into the life and imprisonment of Joann of Flanders is a fascinating study. The author follows the evidence from the records and chronicles of the time and reconstructs Joanna’s story, dispelling the false stories of her madness and clearly presenting Joanna of Flanders as a political prisoner; a remarkable woman whose imprisonment was essential to furthering the ambitions of her ally, Edward III.

Well written, entertaining and informative, this is an engaging and enjoyable book that should attract any history fan who wants to learn more about Joanna’s life and the wider story of the the Breton Civil War. From the first page, the author draws you in with the mystery of Joanna’ imprisonment and the teaser of who may benefit from having her out of the way. Julie Sarpy then takes you through the complexities of the Breton ducal family, the background and prosecution of the war before concentrating on Joanna’s imprisonment, the reasons behind it and the legal implications.

This is a thorough and absorbing study of a woman who has been largely neglected by history. It’s a story that deserves to be heard and that has been told, in Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile, with remarkable skill and judgement – and a little sympathy for the heroine. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About the author:

Originally from Louisiana, Julia Sarpy is a subject specialist librarian and adjunct faculty at Nova Southeastern University. She received her doctorate in European History from the University of Houston. A UCLA alum, she also hold master’s degrees from University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University.

Joanna of Flanders: Heroine and Exile is now available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon in the UK and will be released on 1 October 2019 in the US; it is available for pre-order on Amazon US.

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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, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from 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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill

Not all enemies are visible.

Sometimes the most defiant ones exist only in the heart and mind.

The Defiler of Prilleand his hound are dead. With my marriage to the daughter of Bedic Sajen, our houses are united. After the birth of our daughter and heir to the throne, peace settles over Agrius once more.

But it’s a fragile peace.

As I work to restore the former glory of my inheritance, rumors of betrayal and treachery reach the throne, threatening to shatter everything I have worked hard to achieve.

When old enemies surface, the rumors become real. Disaster strikes, plunging me into a darkness I fear I cannot escape.

Many advisors step forward to help, but it’s never easy to determine friend from foe when it comes to the powers swirling around the throne.

Faced with the decision to stay true to my honor or to become like my father, a man I despised, the bonds of unity with forged with family and friends are tested. 

To the point of breaking.

What compromises will I make to secure the future of my family and my kingdom?

Will I lose both myself and the ones I love in the process?

Follow my journey into darkness.

The King’s Furies by Stephanie Churchill is the third book in her wonderful historical fantasy series, Crowns of Destiny. Stephanie Churchill weaves a wonderful fantasy tale in an atmospheric, historic setting that beautifully draws the two genres together. The first two books in the series, The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter told the stories of Kassia and Irisa. The Scribe’s Daughter, the first book in the series, was one of my Top Ten novels of 2017.

The premise of the whole series, as a historical fantasy, is innovative, to say the least. It draws on the greatest stories in medieval history to build a world and a storyline that is refreshingly new and gripping from the very first word to the very last. The characters are wonderfully vivid, brought to life by an author who has an obvious knack for drawing on the deepest emotions to recreate unique and fascinating characters.

I tightened my hold on his tunic and twisted. His eyes widened in fear, his youth showing in the whites of them.

“Was it your job to get me away from the palace so I would not be here to protect her?” I felt a fleck of spittle land on my chin. Wimarc swallowed, shook his head then opened his mouth as if to speak, but I shouted, “Don’t even think about lying to me!”

“No! I knew nothing of what happened, I swear to you on my inheritance, may it rot in my father’s coffers if I do not tell the truth!”

I was about to respond when a shadow fell over us, and a hand pressed my shoulder. I gave a violent shrug, swinging around on the newcomer who jumped back, holding up his hands.

“Whoa! stay your hand! Casimir, it’s me, Wolf.”

A dim light of clarity broke through the mist of fury fogging my vision, and I hissed a breath between my teeth before bringing up a hand to rub my eyes. I kept my other hand twisted in Wimarc’s tunic.

“Just now, yes. And none too soon, it seems.” Wolf eyed Wimarc briefly before returning his attention to me. “How has this man displeased his king so that it requires summary judgement and execution?”

Wolf offered a mischievous smile, and I could not help but return my own, even if it lacked force.

Wimarc sensed the shift in the mood and jumped in. “Your Grace, I swear again that I knew nothing of the plan to take your daughter. I only wanted you to meet Jachamin. There was nothing sinister in my mind.”

….

With The King’s Furies Stephanie Churchill has brought the story in a full circle; while the first book concentrated on Kassia’s story and the second on Irisia’s, this book draws the two sisters back together to continue the story. This is an unparalleled adventure! The two sisters and their families have to face treachery and intrigue in order to find Irisa and Casimir’s missing daughter.

Stephanie Churchill masterfully recreates a medieval world in which kings and lords rule lands and their people. Betrayal is always just round the corner; as is death and destruction if the heroes fail. The lands recreated are described in vivid detail, from the landscapes to the people who occupy them, with their own peculiarities. The sights, sounds and smells draw the reader into the story as much as the characters and the plot lines.

The suspense is palpable as the lead protagonists come up with challenges few could overcome. The tension keeps the reader intrigued to the very end. The King’s Furies has all the elements of a gripping story; a great plot, sympathetic heroes and dastardly bad guys. And it is all beautifully executed to bring you a novel which is truly a pleasure to read.

And impossible to put down!

The King’s Furies is available on Amazon in the UK and the US from today.

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From the author:

I grew up in the American Midwest, and after attending college in Iowa, moved to Washington, D.C. to work as an antitrust paralegal. When my husband and I got married, I moved to the Minneapolis metro area and found work as a corporate paralegal. While I enjoyed reading, writing was never anything that even crossed my mind. I enjoyed reading, but writing? That’s what authors did, and I wasn’t an author.

One day while on my lunch break, I visited the neighboring Barnes & Noble and happened upon a book by author Sharon Kay Penman. I’d never heard of her before, but it looked interested, and I bought the book. Immediately I become a rabid fan of her work.

In 2007, when Facebook was very quickly becoming “a thing”, I discovered that Ms. Penman had fan club and that she happened to interact there frequently. As a result of a casual comment she made about how writers generally don’t get detailed feedback from readers, I wrote her an embarrassingly long review of her latest book, Lionheart. As a result of that review, she asked me what would become the most life-changing question: “Have you ever thought about writing?” And The Scribe’s Daughter was born.

When I’m not writing or taxiing my two children to school or other activities, I’m likely walking Cozmo, our dog, or reading. The rest of my time is spent trying to survive the murderous intentions of Minnesota’s weather.

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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, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: the Lost Outlaw by Paul Fraser Collard

In the midst of civil war, America stands divided. Jack Lark has faced both armies first hand, but will no longer fight for a cause that isn’t his.†

1863, Louisiana. Jack may have left the battlefield behind, but his gun is never far from reach, especially on the long and lonely road to nowhere. Soon, his skill lands him a job, and a new purpose.

Navy Colt in hand, Jack embarks on the dangerous task of escorting a valuable wagon train of cotton down through Texas to Mexico. Working for another man, let alone a man like the volatile Brannigan, isn’t going to be easy. With the cargo under constant attack, and the Deep South’s most infamous outlaws hot on their trail, Jack knows he is living on borrowed time.

And, as they cross the border, Jack soon discovers that the usual rules of war don’t apply. He will have to fight to survive, and this time the battle might prove one he could lose.

The Lost Outlaw by Paul Fraser Collard is book number 8 in Jack Lark’s incredible adventures.

I have been reading the Jack Lark books from the very first, The Scarlet Thief, and it is not wrong to say that each book is better than the last. Paul Fraser Colard’s writing gets stronger and better every time. And given that The Scarlet Thief was a thoroughly enjoyable book, I have to say that The Lost Outlaw is truly special and a spectacular sequel to Paul Fraser Collard’s last novel, The Rebel Killer.

In The Lost Outlaw our hero finds himself working alongside some of the most ruthless characters ever created in historical fiction, they will stop at nothing to get what they want – including betraying the people closest to them. Jack Lark is an outsider, a loner and a man who, borne of experience, does not give his trust lightly – a trait which he will need if he is going to survive. For Jack, looking for a connection – any connection – riding along with these unsavoury characters is little more than having something to do.

However, it helps him to reawaken his own fighting skills, and his knack for uncovering layers of conspiracy and deceit – and discovering more about himself. The Jack Lark books have always been filled with action, adventure and enough suspense to keep any reader gripped; but the new layers that the lead protagonists, the depths of his own abilities and issues, add a deeper perspective and go further to defining the motives behind Jack’s actions and adventures.

He was spared finding a reply by the sound of voices. He braced himself, sure that what was to follow would set down a marker for the weeks and perhaps months to come.

The men he had heard arrived on a wave of noise, one that got louder as they swaggered into the cottage, every man sure of his place and his right to be there. To Jack, it seemed that they were all talking at once, their voices brash and overly loud, as if they were well aware of the display they made and were proud of it.

One went straight to the wooden dresser and grabbed two bottles of whiskey, then swept up as many glasses as he could hold in a single hand. He dumped them carelessly on the simple table and began to fill each glass in turn, without bothering to lift the bottle, so that a river of spilled whiskey ran across the wood. Eager hands grabbed glasses, the contents tossed quickly down throats before the now empty vessels were slammed back on to the plank of wood for an immediate refill.

Jack watched the men carefully. All were older than him, with grey in both their beards and their hair – if they had any, that was. None looked friendly. They all noted his presence, but not one of them acknowledged him or changed their manner. A few greeted Kat with a curt nod or a smile, but there was nothing more, no leers or propositions or ribald comments. Their reaction made it clear that she was part of the gang, yet there was something more in the guarded expressions being sent her way, as if she were somehow a danger, too.

In previous books, Jack Lark has come across as an opportunist, an impostor, pretending to be someone else to get what he wants. In The Lost Outlaw he is finally beginning to peel away the years of deception to find out for himself who he is. That is not to say that such deep reflection leaves the reader with a melodrama or a slower-paced book than Jack Lark’s previous adventures. No. Jack is learning about his own morals, standards and faults amidst an eventful wagon train to the Mexican border and encounters with the most ruthless outlaws anyone is likely to come across.

Jack Lark is thrown into a little known part of history, a subplot of the American Civil War which was all knew to me and which held a fascination all of its own. It was fascinating to learn of the outlaw, profiteering bands of those areas of America that were truly inhospitable – and where most people would avoid like the plague.

The Lost Outlaw is – as with every book I’ve read by Paul Fraser Collard – impossible to put down. It is a story full of action and intrigue that leaves the reader thirsty for more. The author recreates the atmosphere of the desert – the dust, the desolation and the desperate characters that inhabit it – with a skill few authors can match.

This is truly his best book, yet.

Can’t wait for the next instalment of Jack Lark’s adventures.

The Lost Outlaw is available from Amazon in the UK from 25 July 2019.

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.

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, on Kindle and in hardback, 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 available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from 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.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Book Corner: All Things Georgian by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Take a romp through the long eighteenth-century in this collection of 25 short tales. Marvel at the Queen s Ass, gaze at the celestial heavens through the eyes of the past and be amazed by the equestrian feats of the Norwich Nymph. Journey to the debauched French court at Versailles, travel to Covent Garden and take your seat in a box at the theatre and, afterwards, join the mile-high club in a new-fangled hot air balloon. Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals as we travel through the Georgian era in all its glorious and gruesome glory. In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era, these tales are accompanied by over 100 stunning colour illustrations.

I have to say that All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Crammed full of glossy, colourful paintings and photographs, it is impossible for the reader not to appreciate how aesthetically pleasing this book is. It is a pleasure to browse through, just to appreciate the gorgeous images scattered throughout the book.

Having said that, the images are not all this book has to offer. All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is co-written by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden and is replete with some of the best stories from the eighteenth century; scandals, love stories and mysteries fill the pages. The most amazing characters of the Georgian era complement the colourful photos; from Marie Antoinette to ‘Crazy Sally’, from coffee shop rivalries, to smuggling, female jockeys and intrepid balloon rides.

This book has stories to entertain everyone.

On the evening of 20 June 1791, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France, together with their children and a handful of trusted attendants, made an ill-fated attempt to escape the revolutionary forces who were keeping them closely watched. The plan had taken many weeks to bring to fruition and the French queen, to whom it was inconceivable that she should survive without the everyday luxuries with which she was surrounded, had been engaged in smuggling various items to the safety of her sister in Brussels. AN infamous Scottish courtesan played a key role in one of these transactions, risking her life in Marie Antoinette’s service.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott, tall, willowy and stunningly beautiful, had gained her notoriety following a very public Criminal Conversation trial and divorce from her portly little husband, Dr (later Sir) John Eliot; Grace had been discovered in a Berkeley Row bagnio with her lover, the worthless Viscount Valentia who soon after discarded his mistress. The handsome Earl of Cholmondeley became her protector; tall and athletic, he was the perfect match for Grace, and the two made an attractive if slightly disreputable couple but, when a countess’s coronet was not forthcoming, Grace left for France and the arms of Louis XVI’s cousin, Louis Philippe Joseph, Duke d’ Orléans (later known as Philippe Egalité). A brief interlude back in London followed where grace bagged the affections of the young Prince of Wales and gained a permanent memento of her royal dalliance in the person of her daughter, Georgiana, who the future monarch privately – if not publicly – acknowledged as his child. The Earl of Cholmondeley became the child’s guardian and Grace, with an annuity from the royal purse, returned to her French duke, only to become trapped in Paris during the French Revolution. …

Sarah Murden and Joanne Major have done a wonderful job of recreating the Georgian world. The language is beautiful, the stories both exciting and entertaining; and scattered with just the right amount of famous and infamous people to make the reader go ‘ooh!’. The two authors are so in sync that it is impossible to discern which story is told by one of the writers and which by the other.

I usually read through books as quickly as possible, devouring them, so-to-speak. However, with All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century I have taken my time, read only one or two of the fabulous stories at a time. Reading this book is a truly pleasurable experience, and I wanted to take my time and savour every moment.

All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden is a wonderful little treasure trove of stories and facts, brought to life in beautiful prose and accompanied by glorious images. Well researched and beautifully presented, it would be a stunning addition to any library – it even smells special!

All Things Georgian: Tales from the long Eighteenth Century is available from Amazon UK and US.

About the authors:

Joanne Major and Sarah Murden are supersleuthing historians who enjoy bringing the Georgian era to life. Their lives were changed forever when they (metaphorically) met an eighteenth-century courtesan, and this is now their fourth book together. Along with their respective families, they live in Lincolnshire.

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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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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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly