Book Review: “Richard III in the North” by M.J. Trow

If you have studied the Wars of the Roses, you are obviously very familiar with the infamous last Plantagenet King of England, Richard III. He is known for many things, but the most notorious thing that he is associated with is the murder of the Princes in the Tower, his nephews. However, we cannot be certain that he committed this crime or if a crime was committed in the first place. These rumors swirled around London and Southern England where Richard III was not popular. It was a different story in Northern England, where he was much beloved. In M.J. Trow’s latest book, “Richard III in the North”, he tries to uncover the true story of Richard III by looking at his life while he was living in the North. Was he really the monster that literature has portrayed him as or do we have a case of misunderstanding a historical figure?

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I am by no means a Ricardian, but I do enjoy nonfiction books about a historical figure that gives a new twist to their story, which this book does rather well.

To understand why Richard was positioned in the North and why it was crucial, Trow takes readers on a journey through the past. Trow first explores the origins of Richard Duke of York and Cecily Neville, Richard III’s father, and mother, which was very interesting to read. As someone familiar with these characters, it was easy for me to follow the genealogy, but I know that there would be some readers who would have found family trees helpful in this particular section. At the start of each chapter, Trow has decided to include the coat of arms of a different historical figure that made an impact in Richard’s life, which I thought was an elegant touch.

Obviously, since Richard III lived in the time that we refer to as the Wars of the Roses, Trow spends quite a bit of time discussing major battles and causes of the conflict. What I really appreciated is when Trow went into details about major battles that are often overlooked, like Wakefield. These battles and these causes led to the decision by Richard’s brother King Edward IV to send Richard to the north to quell the violence that might have been caused by allies of the Lancastrians.

It is the North that Trow gives us as readers a different view of the much-maligned man. It was here that Richard was beloved and that he spent much of his adult life. He creates a different world that is hostile to Southerns, yet Richard is able to make a cordial relationship that would turn into him being adored by the people. Trow includes vivid descriptions of castles that were associated with and what life was like for him and his immediate family. It was a unique side of the infamous figure that made him more life-like instead of how he is portrayed in literature.

This may seem like yet another book about Richard III, but I think Trow’s focus on the relationship between the last Plantagenet king and the North makes this stand out from all of the rest. Trow has a very casual writing style but you can tell he has obviously done his research. I think if you are a Ricardian or if you want to look at a new aspect of the Wars of the Roses, I would recommend you read, “Richard III in the North” by M.J. Trow.

Book Review: “Drake -Tudor Corsair” by Tony Riches

54845924._SY475_When we think of pirates, we tend to think of Caribbean pirates that are popular in fiction and in movies. They are swashbuckling rogues who are only looking out for themselves, booze, and treasure. We tend to think about the 1600s-1800s as the height of piracy on the open seas, but there were pirates that existed even earlier than that. In England, they were known as corsairs, and one of the best during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was the suave and debonair Sir Francis Drake. Although he did circumnavigate the world and helped the English defeat the Spanish Armada, his story is rarely told in novels. That is until now. In the first book in his Elizabethan series, Tony Riches takes on the challenge to explore what Drake’s life was like and what kinds of adventures he took in order to protect his beloved homeland. This is Tony Riches’ latest novel, “Drake- Tudor Corsair”.

I would like to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I have enjoyed Tony’s novels in the past and when I found out that he was doing an Elizabethan series and had a new book about Sir Francis Drake, I knew I wanted to read it. I did not know much about Sir Francis Drake and his adventures, except that he traveled the world and helped defeat the Spanish Armada before I read this book so I was excited to learn more.

We are introduced to Francis Drake when he is a young lad, dreaming of adventure and far away lands. He wants to sail the high seas, but things are not as picture-perfect as he imagined. He is involved in the slave trade, which is something that he comes to deplore later in life. Drake tries to think about the well-being of the slaves and will become friends with a former slave named Diego. However, Drake does contradict his own beliefs when it comes to slavery and taking someone’s life when his beloved country England is in danger from the Spanish, who he finds diabolical and does not mind attacking them whenever he discovers the location of their ships. This complex dynamic makes him more of a believable, three-dimensional character.

At the heart of this novel is the countless adventures Drake and his crew of corsairs partake in on different ships, including the famous The Golden Hind. As a connoisseur of Tony Riches’ novels, I know that he doesn’t do a ton of action sequences in his novel as he tends to focus on the relationships between characters, yet he is able to transport the reader into high action battle scenes where you wonder if Drake and his crew will survive. Since many Tudor novels tend to focus on England and Europe during the reign of this infamous dynasty, it is a breath of fresh air to explore the world with Drake and his men. Whether it is fighting the Spanish sailors or fighting indigenous people from far away lands, there is always a perilous adventure for Drake and his crew to embark on. What never changes is Drake’s faith and how his religious views are a constant comfort to his even when things become dire.

If I did have a small area of concern it would be that Riches does include modern names for locations and items found around the world so that modern readers would understand what is going on. I am not sure if the factual Francis Drake and his crew knew the names of these locations and mysterious objects while they were traveling or if the names came afterward.

Like any stellar novel by Tony Riches, he does focus on Drake’s relationships with the people who are closest to him. Drake was married to two different women, Mary and Elizabeth, and it is quite interesting to see how both women react differently to his life full of risk and danger on the high seas. Then there are his relationships in the Elizabethan court. Of course, there is his relationship with Queen Elizabeth I, since he is considered to be one of her favorites at court, yet it is not always smooth sailing for Drake. He also interacts quite a bit with William Cecil and Sir Francis Walsingham to make sure England is secure. Drake wants to be included in court life, but although he looks the part, he knows that he will never be one of the colorful courtiers.

Francis Drake has always been a side character, never the gallant corsair hero. Tony Riches has changed all of that. He has thrown open the doors to a colorful and treacherous world of the seas with his first book in the Elizabethan series. Drake is so real and raw. You can understand why he made the decisions that he did to protect his crew and his homeland. This is an absolutely captivating read that will bring the adventures of this distinguished Elizabethan corsair to life. If you want an enthralling Tudor historical fiction novel that takes you to places unknown and where there are dangers galore with a caring and charismatic hero at the heart of all of the adventures, I highly recommend you read Tony Riches’ latest novel, “Drake- Tudor Corsair”. A true triumph and a brilliant way to start a brand new series. I cannot wait for the second novel in this Elizabethan series.

 

 

Guest Post: Walter Raleigh, The Self Made Myth- By R.N. Morris, author of Fortune’s Hand, a new novel about Walter Raleigh

unnamedI am not sure how I came to write a novel about Walter Raleigh. I think I can trace it back to visiting an exhibition on the myth of El Dorado at the British Museum in 2013. But thousands of people went to that exhibition and I dare say very few of them were foolish enough to start writing a 100,000 word novel under its influence. 

The dream of the fabled city of gold was one that obsessed Raleigh for decades. He pinned his political hopes on finding it and bringing home its treasure, first for Queen Elizabeth I, so that he could provide her with the funds she needed to defend herself against her great enemy Spain; and later for her successor James I, no longer at war with Spain, but still, like every sovereign in history, desperately short of finances.

In both instances, however, the dream proved to be illusory. 

Nonetheless, it was a dream that sustained him through periods of imprisonment and personal tragedy. A dream that he invested his reputation in, and one that he used to entice investors into his highly speculative voyages of discovery and predation. However, it surprised me to discover that Raleigh took part in surprisingly few of these voyages himself; he was an indifferent sailor who suffered badly from seasickness. 

Raleigh first heard about El Dorado from a captured conquistador called Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. It was just a rumour. A rumour carried on a warm breeze from a distant land. 

It seems ironic that a man who was so talented at creating his own mythology should fall victim to a myth. But perhaps that was why he was so drawn to the story, because he knew a great myth when he saw one, and understood more than most its power to inspire minds and influence behaviour. The myth of El Dorado was useful to Raleigh, not because he himself necessarily believed it to be true (there is evidence he didn’t) but because he knew that other men – and, most importantly, one woman – would. 

I fell under its spell too. 

When I started my research for the book, I knew very little about Walter Raleigh. The one thing I did know was the one thing that everyone knows: he spread his cloak across a puddle so that Elizabeth could walk across it without getting her feet wet. The more I progressed in my research, the less sure was I that this incident actually happened, at least not as it is depicted in countess children’s history books. 

It is a compelling idea imbued with meaning. There’s another word for compelling ideas imbued with meaning: myths. 

As a child, I thought the point of the story was simply to illustrate what a gentleman Raleigh was. Now I realize there was a bit more to it than that. Raleigh was positioning himself (to borrow a term from modern marketing) as the man who would safeguard his sovereign’s passage across a body of water. In other words, he would be the instigator of England’s colonial project on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Raleigh’s life seems to be filled with stories that, even if they fall short of mythical, have at the very least a strong whiff of the apocryphal about them. I don’t believe it’s an accident. Whatever else he was, Raleigh was a poet. His life was his greatest poem, even if it didn’t quite have the ending he might have planned.  

In my novel, I see him as a man of boundless imagination. There was nothing he could not envisage. And for him, imagining something was tantamount to accomplishing it. As he gets older, the lines between what he dreams and what he does blur. 

Of course, reality did not always play along. But that never seemed to deter him from putting even greater faith in the power of his imagination. 

This was the age of Dr John Dee, after all, the great conjuror of angels and demons. Raleigh consulted Dee on navigational matters as well astrological ones. You could say between them they conjured up the British Empire. 

In Fortune’s Hand, I imagine Raleigh reciting the names of the places in Guiana that lead to Manoa – the city identified with El Dorado – as if he is uttering the words of an incantation. He even uses this litany of exotic names to soothe Elizabeth when she is distressed. 

Raleigh wrote a long, unfinished epic poem in which Ocean addresses his love, Cynthia – AKA the moon. He was given the nickname ‘Water’ by Elizabeth, mocking his West Country pronunciation of his own name. He clearly identified himself with Ocean and Elizabeth with Cynthia, in other words he saw them both as mythic figures. I think it’s a very compelling image for their relationship. The moon is ever remote, changeable, presenting a cool, pale beauty. The ocean’s tides are subject to the lunar gravity, just as Raleigh was subject to Elizabeth’s commands, and whims. 

The problem with such self-mythologizing is that it tends to be self-aggrandizing too. And if you see yourself as a hero or a demi-god, it probably means you don’t have much empathy for others. Especially those who have to be defeated, displaced and destroyed to make your myth a reality. 

Empathy is not a quality much evident in the Raleigh of my novel. I said above that I saw him as a man of boundless imagination, but it is only boundless when it applies to himself and his interests. He has a curious imaginative blind spot when it comes to considering those whose interests are at odds with his, whether they are his rivals for Elizabeth’s favor, or the rebels he massacred in Ireland. 

That makes him a problematic figure in today’s world. But then, to be fair to Raleigh, he wasn’t living in today’s world. The attitudes and beliefs that were woven into the intellectual fabric of the Elizabethan age strike us now as at best baffling and at worst appalling. 

So why write a novel about this pre-eminent Elizabethan, at a time when others are petitioning to pull down his statue? The mythology that he created and others have added to has become entangled with England’s national story. I wanted to explore and try to understand the impulses that drove Raleigh through his remarkable life, in which he laid the groundwork for the British Empire. That is clearly a contested legacy now. To challenge and critique that legacy fully, I felt the need to confront one of its key originators – warts, myths and all. 

R.N. Morris Bio:

Roger (R. N.) Morris is the author of thirteen novels. The latest is Fortune’s Hand, a historical novel about Walter Raleigh.  He is also the author of the Silas Quinn series of historical crime novels and the St Petersburg Mysteries, featuring Porfiry Petrovich, the investigating magistrate from Crime and Punishment. 

His website is rogernmorris.co.uk. Roger has a Facebook page for his novels, which is https://www.facebook.com/RNMorrisauthor

He is on twitter as @rnmorris and on Instagram as rogermorris7988. He would love to hear from you so drop him an email at contact@rogernmorris.co.uk

Book Review: “Wolf Hall Companion” by Lauren Mackay

52659696 (1)One of the most popular Tudor historical fiction series in recent memory has revolved around the enigmatic Thomas Cromwell. Of course, I am talking about the famous Wolf Hall trilogy by Dame Hilary Mantel. As many dive into this monumental series, certain questions arise. How true is Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII during some of the most tumultuous times of his reign? What was life like for those who lived in privilege during Henry VIII’s reign? How did Cromwell rise to the pinnacle of power and why did he fall spectacularly? In Dr. Lauren Mackay’s third book, she takes up the monumental task of explaining to readers what is fact and what is fiction in Mantel’s series. Her book is aptly titled “Wolf Hall Companion”. 

I would like to thank Batsford Books and Net Galley for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book. I will admit that I have not yet read the Wolf Hall trilogy, but this book might have convinced me to take up the challenge and read the trilogy soon.

Mackay starts this delightful book by exploring Thomas Cromwell’s origins and what his family life was like. To uncover the truth about Cromwell’s life, Mackay relies heavily on the behemoth biography of Cromwell written by Diarmaid MacCulloch, which makes perfect sense. She also looks into the lives of those who either influenced Cromwell or were affected by Cromwell’s decisions. People like Anne Boleyn and the entire Boleyn family, Cardinal Wolsey,  Katherine of Aragon, Thomas Cranmer, Anne of Cleves, and Stephen Gardner just to name a few. Mackay balances how Mantel portrays these figures in her novels with the facts that we know about them and the events from numerous sources. 

Mackay also tackles the aspects of the Tudor court and life that adds another layer of details for readers. Things like important holidays, how Henry VIII’s court was structured,  gentlemanly activities and sports, and the Renaissance and the Reformation. It breathes new life into the Tudor dynasty and the people who lived during this time. 

Mackay’s challenge is how to write a book that is just as engaging for the readers as Mantel’s trilogy while still being educational and informative while incorporating her feelings about these novels. It is not an easy task, but Mackay can take on this task and write a gorgeous companion piece, with exquisite woodcut images to follow the story of Thomas Cromwell’s life, his rise to power, and his downfall.

I found this companion book a sheer delight. A combination of being well-researched, bite-size biographies, and gorgeous woodcut illustrations make this book an absolute treat for fans of Wolf Hall and the Tudor dynasty alike. The way Mackay describes Mantel’s writing style and how she created her characters may not be the way I envision them, but that is the great thing about historical fiction. It can challenge your views about a person while still being entertaining. I wish more historical fiction series had companion books like this one. If you are a fan of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy or if you just love learning about the Tudor dynasty from a different point of view, you need to check out Lauren Mackay’s latest masterpiece, “Wolf Hall Companion”.

Book Series Review: The Matthew Shardlake Series by C.J. Sansom

Have you ever read a historical fiction series that made you stop and think that the plots of the books could be possible? They make you question the way you look at the past and wonder why no one had ever written a series like it before. You feel like you are friends with the protagonist and his pals and you despise the nefarious villains that try to thwart the efforts of the heroes. You feel like the books are true escapism and that you can visualize the world that the author has created using a combination of facts and fictional ideas.

Now, I could be describing any number of historical fiction series, but this one, in particular, blew me away. If you have been following my blog or my page, you know that I am talking about the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom. The books are all unique, yet read in the chronological order that Sansom intended, shows the amazing progress of England through the reign of the Tudors and how these changes affected those living during this time. We follow the hunch-back lawyer Matthew Shardlake on seven of his more infamous cases, each one more dangerous than the previous one: Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation, Heartstone, Lamentation, and Tombland.

Before I jumped into this series, I honestly had never heard of it, except when people mentioned these books in posts that I asked my followers what they are reading. I do not normally read murder mystery novels, but since it was based in the Tudor dynasty, I decided to give it a shot and I wholeheartedly loved it. I am so glad no one spoiled this series for me. I might fangirl a bit during this review, but I will try my best not to spoil this series for anyone else. I want to discuss the different elements of this series that I have comes to enjoy. I would love to continue to discuss this series with those of you who have read it and have enjoyed it as much as I have.

Characters

Matthew Shardlake

Matthew Shardlake is our main protagonist in this series, aptly named after him. As mentioned above, he is a hunch-back lawyer who works hard to solve mostly murder mysteries. He fights for what he believes is right, even when times get tough. There are sometimes when he is not even sure what he stands for, especially when it comes to his stance on religion and if he supports those in power. He is constantly the butt of everyone’s jokes and for the most part, they don’t bother him. He fights against notorious enemies while defending his friends and those who cannot defend themselves. Matthew is unlucky when it comes to love, but that does not mean that we can’t help but root for him to find his happily ever after. There were so many times that I was not sure Matthew was going to survive, but Sansom’s plan for his loveable protagonist throughout this series was simply brilliant. A protagonist who I will never forget.

Jack Barak

We are first introduced to Jack Barak in book two of the series, “Dark Fire”. He was a rogue working for the mighty Thomas Cromwell. He teams up with Shardlake for what seems like only one case, but the two men soon develop a lasting friendship, even when things get a bit rocky between them. In the third book, “Sovereign”, Jack is introduced to the love of his life, Tamasin. Their relationship will be tumultuous at times, but it is caring and it does survive the test of time. He is the bad boy turned family man that everyone loves. He does make stupid mistakes, but you cannot help but admire his tenacity.

Guy Malton

Next to Matthew Shardlake and Jack Barak, Guy Malton is probably one of my favorite characters. We are introduced to Guy when he was working in a monastery in “Dissolution”. Guy goes from a former monk to a well known and respected apothecary with his shop. He is unlike anyone who Matthew has ever met as he is a Moorish man turned Christian monk. I love the fact that Sansom went this direction to show how truly diverse the Tudor world was. Guy challenges Matthew when it comes to religion and what he believes is right when it comes to science. He is the wise old man that heals everyone’s wounds and is a comforting counsel when someone needs his help.

Nicholas Overton

Nicholas Overton is Matthew’s young assistant in the last two books, “Lamentation” and “Tombland”. He comes from a wealthy family, but when a disagreement happens, he goes to work for Matthew Shardlake. He is young and naive but loyal to a fault. He believes that everything should be handed to him on a silver platter until life gives him a rude awakening call. We don’t get to see him develop as a character as much as the others, but I hope if Sansom writes any more novels, he includes Nicholas Overton.

Historical Figures

Now, some characters are historical figures that make an appearance in the novels that left a lasting impression on me while I was reading. The calculating Thomas Cromwell, who was always trying to stay in his majesty’s favor and do his bidding until the bitter end. The dastardly Richard Rich, who I have always felt was a bit shady, but Sansom made me hate him even more. The legend himself, King Henry VIII, who is glittery and magnanimous to his people, but if you cross him, his true colors come out in full force. Catherine Parr, the scholar turned queen whose writings and her views on religious reform walk a fine line between what is acceptable and what is considered heretical. Elizabeth Tudor, the intellectual daughter of the king who has a similar temper to that of her father, but has a longing to help the Boleyn family in honor of her mother.

What is brilliant about Sansom’s series is that these historical figures are more background characters or they are villains. They are not the protagonists, as they are portrayed in other historical novels. The real heroes are the average people, reminding the reader that under all the glitz and glam of the Tudor court, there were regular men and women were trying to survive during such tumultuous times.

Cases

With such a remarkable cast of characters, Sansom had to put them through extremely difficult obstacles to test their limits and to give his readers a breathtaking look into the Tudor world. Whether it is the dissolution of a monastery, a race to find a mysterious flame, a radical killing based on the book of Revelation, or the sinking of the Mary Rose, Sansom takes us on a non-stop roller coaster of emotions. Just when you thought you had the case figured out, a monkey wrench is thrown into the mix and all of the sudden, our intrepid heroes are risking their lives because one of the villains knew that they were getting too close.

Since all of these novels revolve around murder mysteries, I think it is only right that we should discuss the murders themselves. In “Dissolution”, there is a typical advancement of murder to cover up the original crime. As the series progresses, you can see the wheels turning in Sansom’s head as he comes up with even more dastardly ways to kill off in his novels. There were points where I was starting to get concerned just from the graphic details of some of these deaths and executions. They will be engrained in my brain for a long time, which is a sign of how delightful Sansom’s writing style truly is, especially in this series.

The Details

As I mentioned before, what sets this series apart from others that I have read are those exquisite details. I think what helped is the fact that C.J. Sansom does have a Ph.D. in history, so he understands how important accurate facts are to historical fiction readers. The fact that Sansom decided to use his skills as a Doctor in History to write a Tudor historical fiction murder mystery series is awe-inspiring.

He was able to create a Tudor world that feels so real that you forget that you are reading novels. From scenic descriptions to the more gruesome accounts of horrific events, Sansom takes us on a trip to the past that we do not want to leave. We are craving more adventures after we finish every novel.

The Future

However, as I am writing this review, Tombland is the final book in the Shardlake series. C.J. Sansom is currently ill and I wish him nothing but the best in his recovery. These seven books make for a fabulous series, but Sansom has mentioned that he does wish for the series to go through the reign of Elizabeth I, which I would love.

As I was reading this series, I came up with some ideas for spin-off series to continue the adventures of Matthew Shardlake and his friends. For prequels, I was thinking that Sansom could either follow the adventures of Jack Barak working for Cromwell or Guy Malton as he learns how to be Moorish and a monk. Then there is the sequel, which I think would have Nicholas Overton as the protagonists and the children that we have seen grow up during this series. They could solve mysteries in the Elizabethan era into the Stewarts, bridging the gap between the two dynasties. I also think that if Sansom does write more novels with this cast of characters, it would be fun to explore other countries, in Europe or beyond, during the 15th and 16th centuries. I think it would expand the world for the readers and give them a taste of other royal dynasties and what else was going on in the world during the time of the Tudor dynasty in England.

Conclusion

I am so glad so many of you recommended that I should read this series. I would have never picked it up if it had not been for you. I now know why so many people love it. It is one of those series that you have to read from start to finish, even though each adventure is a treat by themselves. It is one of those series that I will reread soon so that I can visit Matthew Shardlake and his friends all over again.

I wanted to write this series review because the Shardlake series is easily becoming one of my favorite historical fiction series and I had a lot to say about it. I decided to leave major details of the individual novels out of this review so that those who are not familiar with these seven stunning, spellbinding novels can experience them for themselves without spoilers. If you do want to know how I feel about each book, I have included links to each of the reviews down below.

Dissolution:https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/06/06/book-review-dissolution-by-c-j-sansom/

Dark Fire:https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/06/20/book-review-dark-fire-by-c-j-sansom/

Sovereign: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/07/05/book-review-sovereign-by-c-j-sansom/

Revelation: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/07/21/book-review-revelation-by-c-j-sansom/

Heartstone: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/08/04/book-review-heartstone-by-c-j-sansom/

Lamentation: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/08/22/book-review-lamentation-by-c-j-sansom/

Tombland: https://adventuresofatudornerd.com/2020/09/21/book-review-tombland-by-c-j-sansom/

I want to leave the last part of this review for those who have read this remarkable series to discuss it. I know that is not a series that is often discussed, so I thought that you should have your say. What is your favorite book in the series and why? Who is your favorite character and why? Who is your favorite villain and why? Why do you enjoy this series?

Guest Post: Women and the Birth of Magna Carta By Sharon Bennett Connolly

118040039_3243809485697736_4753222466893410523_nToday, I am pleased to welcome Sharon Bennett Connolly, the author of Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England. She will be discussing the Magna Carta and the women who influenced this extraordinary document.

Magna Carta is probably the most significant charter in English history and,
today, its importance extends beyond England’s shores, holding a special place in the constitutions of many countries around the world. Despite its age, Magna Carta’s iconic status is a more modern phenomenon, seen in the
influence it has had on nations and organizations around the globe, such as the United States of America and the United Nations, who have used it as the basis for their own 1791 Bill of Rights and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respectively.

After more than 800 years, there are only four original copies of the 1215 charter remains in existence. The best preserved of these four is thought to have arrived at Salisbury Cathedral within days of it being issued on 15 June 1215 and is housed in an interactive exhibition in the cathedral’s Chapter House. A second is owned by Lincoln Cathedral and is now housed in a new, purpose-built, state-of-the-art underground vault in the heart of Lincoln Castle. The remaining two are owned by the British Library in London, one of which was badly damaged by fire in 1731 and has deteriorated over the years; however, the other is on display in the Treasures exhibition, a magnet to visitors from all over the world, who wish to see the iconic Magna Carta.

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Originally called the Charter of Liberties, it was renamed Magna Carta or Great Charter, in 1217, when the Charter of the Forest was issued. Sealed (not signed) in the meadow at Runnymede in June 1215, the legacy of Magna Carta, down through the centuries, has enjoyed a much greater impact on history and the people of the world than it did at the time of its creation. As a peace treaty between rebellious barons and the infamous King John, it was an utter failure, thrown out almost before the wax seals had hardened, not worth the parchment it was written on. The subsequent armed rebellion saw a French prince invited to claim the English throne – if he could wrest it from John’s hands – and John spent the last year of his life clinging desperately to his crown and lands.

Royal 14 C.VII, f.9

Just fifteen months after Magna Carta was sealed, King John was on his deathbed; he died in his forty-ninth year, at Newark Castle on the
night of 18/19 October 1216. His 9-year old son, Henry III, inherited a country mired in a civil war, with half of it occupied by a French army. The young king and his regent, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, had a fight on their hands; they wasted no time in reissuing the Magna Carta and setting about regaining control of the country.

Essentially a peace treaty, Magna Carta is the closest thing England has to a
constitution. It addressed the worries and grievances of the English nobility,
the barons, and sought to curb the powers of the king, firmly placing the
monarch below the law, rather than above it. But what of the women? A small number of Magna Carta clauses were influenced by the experiences of women or sought to protect the rights of women.

Of the sixty-three clauses, two stand out as the guarantors of liberty and the
law, not only in England but around the world. Clause 39 ensures that ‘no man shall be taken or imprisoned or deprived or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go or send against him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.’ This guarantee of justice for all is believed to have been inspired by John’s treatment of Matilda de Braose, wife of William de Braose, Lord of Bamber. William was one of John’s foremost supporters in the early years of his reign, but later fell afoul of the king and saw his family hunted and hounded, almost to destruction. This clause is supported by the one following, clause 49, which states categorically; ‘To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.’

As a consequence of John’s rancor poor Matilda and her son, also called
William found themselves languishing in one of John’s prisons. King John
made an agreement with both William and Matilda; freedom for her and a
pardon for William in return for 40,000 marks. However, being either unwilling or unable to pay, Matilda and her son remained in prison – either at Windsor or Corfe Castle – and William was outlawed, eventually escaping into exile in France, disguised as a beggar, where he died in 1211.

Matilda’s fate was more gruesome; she and her son were left to starve to
death in John’s dungeons (though whether this was at Corfe or Windsor is
unclear). Tradition has it, that when their bodies were found, William’s cheeks bore his mother’s bite marks, where she had tried to stay alive following his death:

‘On the eleventh day the mother was found dead between her son’s legs, still
upright but leaning back against her son’s chest as a dead woman. The son,
who was also dead, sat upright, leaning against the wall as a dead man. So
desperate was the mother that she had eaten her son’s cheeks. When William
de Braose, who was in Paris, heard this news, he died soon afterwards, many
asserting that it was through grief.’ (Anonymous of Bethune)

9

The Magna Carta of 1215 reflects the needs and events of the time in which it was issued; an England on the brink of civil war, disaffected barons demanding redress, the church and cities, such as London, looking for protection. It was drawn up by barons looking for reparations and legal protection from a king whose word could no longer be trusted, who meted out arbitrary punishments and heavy taxes. It was not a charter that was intended for the protection and legal rights of every man, woman and child in the land; though it has come to be seen as just that in subsequent centuries. Indeed, the common man does not get a mention, and of the sixty-three clauses, only eight of them mention women as a gender.

Only one clause uses the word femina – woman – and that is a clause which
restricts the rights and powers of a woman, rather than upholding them.
Clause 54 states: ‘No one shall be taken or imprisoned upon the appeal of a
woman for the death of anyone except her husband.’ At first glance, this has to be the most anti-feminist statement ever made, a woman was not allowed to give evidence of a murder unless it was her own husband who was killed. However, the barons believed they had justification for inserting this clause. In a time when a man had the right to face his accuser in trial by combat to prove his innocence, this right would be automatically removed if his accuser was a woman; women were not allowed to use force of arms. A female accuser was seen as being able to circumvent the law, and therefore the law was open to abuse. It was not just that a woman may bear false witness and the accused would have no right of redress in battle; it was also that a woman may be manipulated by her menfolk to make an accusation, knowing that she would not be required to back it up by feat of arms. Whereas her husband, father or brother may have been challenged to do just that.

However, while it is possible to see why this clause was written, it does not
deny the fact that women were treated so differently and denied the
fundamental right to justice simply because of their gender. This very clause was used on 5 July 1215, when King John ordered the release of Everard de Mildeston, an alleged murderer. Everard had been accused of the murder of her son, Richard, by Seina Chevel. Such a charge was now forbidden under the terms of Magna Carta, and the accused was therefore released. It is, of course, true that many of the clauses of Magna Carta refer to people in general, rather than just men, and that women are included in such clauses, as well as in the eight which refer to them specifically. However, the significance of women in the Magna Carta story is not just their limited inclusion in the charter itself, but also in their experiences of the unsettled times in which they lived, in their influence on the charter and in their use of its clauses to exact recompense for injustices they have experienced.

3

The political crisis which saw the issuing of Magna Carta, and the civil war which followed, was not just significant to the barons involved, but to their wives and families, tenants and retainers. The conflict tore families apart as they took sides in the struggle and saw more than one baron change sides mid-crisis. Wives and daughters were caught in the middle, often torn by divided loyalties; between their birth family and the family into which they had married; between their fathers and their husbands. For instance, Matilda Marshal was the eldest daughter of William Marshal, a man known for his staunch loyalty to the crown, but she was married to Hugh Bigod, son of Roger, second Earl of Norfolk, one of the leaders of baronial opposition; Roger and Hugh were both named among the twenty- five barons appointed to ensure that John adhered to the terms of Magna
Carta, known as the Enforcers of Magna Carta.

Some of the clauses are specific to the people on the political stage in 1215.
Clause 59 of Magna Carta, for instance, refers to two particular women,
though they are identified by their relationship to the king of Scots, rather than their names. These were two of the sisters of Alexander II, who had been held hostage by King John since the 1209 Treaty of Norham. John had promised to find husbands for the two princesses, preferably within the royal family. However, the marriages had never materialized and, six years on, the young women, Margaret and Isabella, were now in their twenties, and still unmarried. The Magna Carta clause opens with; ‘We will treat with Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and hostages…’
As with many of the issues addressed in Magna Carta, the problem of the
Scottish princesses was not resolved immediately. Margaret was eventually
married, in 1221, to King Henry III’s justiciar, Hubert de Burgh; a lowly marriage for the daughter of a king. Isabella, however, remained unmarried and in 1222 returned to Scotland. She was eventually wed to Roger Bigod, 4th Earl of Norfolk, in 1225. Roger was the son of Matilda Marshal and therefore grandson of William Marshal, Henry III’s regent. At only 13 years of age, young Roger was still a minor and with an age disparity of around 17 years, the marriage was not a happy one. The couple never had children and Roger tried to have the marriage annulled at one stage but was refused by the church.

These are just a handful of examples of how the lives of women are woven into the Magna Carta story. The deeper you dig, the more fascinating stories you will find. Magna Carta started England on the road to democratic government and, more importantly, universal suffrage, culminating in votes for women in 1918. Magna Carta was the first step. Within a generation of the charter’s first issue, women such as King John’s own daughter, Eleanor de Montfort, were helping to fight for political reform and others, such as Isabel d’Aubigny, were using its clauses to their advantage. Women had been a part of the fight for and against King John in the lead up to the first issuing of Magna Carta. They had influenced its creation and continued to use its clauses to fight for their rights and those of their families. There was still a long way to go, especially for women. Magna Carta was not the start of the women’s rights movement, but
it serves as a benchmark for how far society has come in the last eight
centuries.

Photo information:

Ladies of Magna Carta; the Magna Carta (British Library); Magna Carta memorial, Runnymede (Jayne Smith); King John (British Library); Windsor Castle, possible location for the sad death of Matilda de Braose and her son William (my photo).

Author bio:

Sharon Bennett Connolly
Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history her whole life. She
has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – http://www.historytheinterestingbits.com – and Sharon started researching and writing about the stories that have always fascinated, concentrating on medieval women. Her latest book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, released in May 2020, is her third non-fiction book. She is also the author of Heroines of the Medieval World and Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest. Sharon regularly gives talks on women’s history; she is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television; Who Do You Think You Are.

Links:
Blog: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thehistorybits/
Twitter: @Thehistorybits
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sharonbennettconnolly/?hl=en
Amazon: http://viewauthor.at/SharonBennettConnolly

Pen & Sword: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Ladies-of-Magna-Carta-
Hardback/p/17766

Book Review: “Tombland” by C.J. Sansom

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The death of King Henry VIII has left his young son, Edward, as the new King of England. In 1549, Protestantism is on the rise and Lord Somerset is the Lord Protector for the young king. However, the people are not pleased with their treatment compared to the lifestyle of the gentry, causing many rebellions to sprout along the countryside. The mysterious death of a Boleyn relation of Lady Elizabeth has led Matthew Shardlake on a collision course with one of the major rebellions and to be reunited with an old friend, Jack Barak. Can Shardlake solve the mystery and find out where he truly belongs before time runs out? This is the scenario C.J. Sansom has chosen for his final, for now, book in the Shardlake series, “Tombland”.

To be honest, this was such a bittersweet read for me. I have grown to love Sansom’s writing style and his colorful cast of characters. I did not want to say goodbye. I savored every minute, even though it took me a bit longer to read than the other books in this amazing series.

We join Matthew Shardlake in his latest job, working for Lady Elizabeth when she gives him a new case to investigate. A distant relative of Elizabeth, one Edith Boleyn, has been found murdered and her ex-husband John Boleyn is accused of committing the heinous crime. We are introduced to John’s twin sons, who are the antithesis of charming, his curmudgeon of a father-in-law, and his much younger but devoted second wife. While Shardlake and Nicholas Overton dive into this case, they have the great pleasure of meeting up with everyone’s favorite rogue turned family man, Jack Barak, who is now working for the Assizes in Norwich.

As things heat up with this brand new case, Shardlake, Overton, and Barak are swept into a rebellion camp, led by the infamous yeoman Robert Kett. This is where this book truly shines. For many of us who study the Tudors, rebellions like Kett’s rebellion are just events that are briefly mentioned. Sansom dives into the life of the rebels in the camps to explore what it was like. How they were organized. How they were trained to fight. What they stood for and where they stood on religious issues. I never really considered the feelings of the rebels, but Sansom made me sympathetic to their cause and I understood why Shardlake and Barak found the rebellion so appealing.

It did feel like the murder case and the rebel storylines were two separate plots, but Sansom was able to masterfully combine the two to create a thrilling conclusion to this delightful series. If I did have a problem with this particular title it would be that the pace was a bit slower than the other books in the series. I was wondering if Shardlake was ever going to solve the Boleyn mystery, but of course, he does spectacularly.

There is always a concern with a fabulous series with how the author will end it. Will it satisfy the readers and their expectations. I can’t speak for every Shardlake fan, but I was thoroughly engrossed with this series and the ending was perfection. If this is indeed the last Shardlake adventure, it was truly a ride I will never forget. If you are a Shardlake fan or you want a remarkable novel about the Kett’s rebellion, “Tombland” by C.J. Sansom is the book for you. A truly mesmerizing culmination for a dazzling series.

Book Review: “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter” by Danna R. Messer

51351935Medieval women held many different titles that defined their roles and their connections. Mothers, daughters, and wives tended to be the most popular and the most common. Titles such as queen, political diplomat, and peace weaver tend to be rare and given to women of power. Yet, these words accurately depict a unique woman who lived during the Angevin/ Plantagenet dynasty. She was the illegitimate daughter of the notorious King John and the wife of Llywelyn the Great, a Prince of Wales. She worked tirelessly to establish peace between England and Wales, yet she has not received much attention in the past. Her name was Joan, Lady of Wales, and her story is brought to life in Danna R. Messer’s book, “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I did not know much about Joan, except what I read about her in Sharon Bennett Connolly’s latest book, “Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth-Century England”. She sounded really interesting so when I heard about this book by Messer, I wanted to read it to learn more about Joan.

As someone who did not know a lot about Joan or medieval Wales, I found this book informative and enjoyable. Messer takes the time to explain what life was like for a royal Welsh couple, like Joan and Llywelyn, and why their marriage made such an impact in the long run. On paper, it was a princess from England marrying a prince from Wales, but what made this union so unique was the fact that Joan was the illegitimate daughter of King John and yet she was treated like a beloved legitimate child. Of course, this marriage was first and foremost, a political match, but it seemed to have developed into a strong and loving partnership, that endured 30 years of trials and tribulations.

One of the major trials that Joan had to deal with was to prevent England and Wales from going to war against each other. Truly a monumental challenge for, as Messer meticulously points out, Llywelyn and either King John or King Henry III were constantly having disagreements. I could just picture Joan getting exasperated that she had to try to calm things down between England and Wales every single time. Her diplomatic skills were truly remarkable, especially with how much influence she possessed in both countries.

Probably the most controversial event in Joan’s life is her affair with William de Braose, which led to his execution and her imprisonment. Messer does a good job explaining what we know about this situation. Unfortunately, like many events in Joan’s life, Messer has to use a bit of guesswork to try and put together the clues about Joan and figure out what happened. It can be a bit frustrating, but we have to remember that Joan lived over 800 years ago and women were not recorded as detailed as they are now or even 500 years ago. I think we can give Messer a pass on guessing where Joan was and what her role was in certain events.

Overall, I found this book enlightening. I think Messer’s writing style is engaging and she was dedicated to finding out the truth, as far as the facts would take her. I think this is a fantastic book for someone who needs an introduction to medieval Welsh royal lifestyle, the power of royal Welsh women, and of course, a meticulously detailed account of the life of Joan, Lady of Wales. If this describes you, check out “Joan, Lady of Wales: Power and Politics of King John’s Daughter” by Danna R. Messer.

Book Review: “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest” by Arthur C. Wright

51352100 (1)The Norman Conquest of 1066 was one of the most important dates in English and world history. It signaled the start of the Norman influence in England with Duke William, also known as William the Conqueror, becoming King of England. But does William I deserve the reputation that is attributed to him in history, or should we be careful with how we view him because his story is told by the avaricious Church? How much help did William and the Normans receive from their English counterparts? Can we call this event a “conquest”? Who was to blame for the “Harrowing of the North”? These questions and more are discussed in Arthur C. Wright’s latest book, “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When it comes to studying the Norman Conquest, I am a bit of a novice, so I was excited to read another book about this time.

I found this book rather difficult to understand. Wright writes in a style where he is having a conversation to experts, while at the same time saying that every historian has it wrong and he knows exactly what happened. This rubbed me the wrong way. If he had proved his point, I might have found his argument compelling, but he just came off as an angry rambler in the first half of this book. I really wanted to understand what he was trying to say, but I did not see his evidence for English collusion. Instead, he spent a lot of time arguing that feudalism is a myth, which was quite bizarre.

I think the second part of his book was stronger than the first half. It explored the life, commerce, and education of the average citizen. I think if Wright had reorganized his chapters, this book might have been a bit easier to comprehend. Wright tends to focus on after the conquest, without specifying dates, but it is hard to see where the English collusion comes into play. Another problem that I did have is when he tried to insert more modern sayings, ideas, and characters into the conversation. It felt out of place and rather distracting.

I do believe that Wright is knowledgeable when it comes to the subject of the Norman Conquest and England in the years that followed. Unfortunately, his writing style makes it difficult to understand what message he is trying to get across with this particular book. It was readable, but the focus was a bit off and it was hard to figure out his target audience. If you are familiar with the Norman Conquest and would like a challenge, check out “English Collusion and the Norman Conquest” by Arthur C. Wright. It was not my cup of tea, but that does not mean it is a bad book. Someone else might enjoy it.

Book Review: “The Castle in the Wars of the Roses” by Dan Spencer

When one thinks about Medieval Europe and buildings, we tend to focus on the luxurious castles with their impenetrable walls. It is a rather glamorous image, but the problem is it is not accurate. Castles were used for defensive measures to protect the kingdom from attacks, either from outsiders or, in some cases, from within. Medieval warfare and castles go hand in hand, but one conflict where we tend to forget that castles play a significant role is in the civil war between the Yorks and the Lancasters, which we refer to today as The Wars of the Roses. Dr. Dan Spencer has scoured the resources that are available to find out the true role of these fortresses, both in England and in Wales, in this complex family drama that threw England into chaos. His research has been compiled in his latest book, “The Castle in the Wars of the Roses”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for allowing me the opportunity to read this book. I enjoy studying the Wars of the Roses and when I heard that this book was coming out soon, I knew that I wanted to read it.

To understand this transition that castles and the roles they played during this tumultuous time undertook, Spencer, takes us on a journey from the Norman Conquest to the 1450s. It was informative to see how castles transformed to fulfill different roles over distinct periods.

Spencer’s book shares some similarities with previous books that I have read about the Wars of the Roses in the fact that it does highlight the main battles and the main people who were vital in this conflict. However, Spencer’s book dives a bit deeper into the military aspects of the wars to show what makes this conflict so unique. What makes the Wars of the Roses so fascinating is that, compared to other famous medieval wars, castles were not the central focus for battles. Instead, castles during this period were used for garrisons, headquarters for military commanders, and as tools to show political favor for whoever was on the throne.

The true strength of this particular book is Spencer’s meticulous research and his scrupulous attention to detail. He was able to combine narrative, administrative, financial, military, and architectural records to create an illuminating manuscript that gives an extra layer of depth to the Wars of the Roses. It did take me a while to get used to all of the minor characters and the castles that I had never heard of before, but once I did, it was absorbing. We tend to focus on the major characters during the 15th century, but they would not be as legendary as they are today without the help of countless men who have been forgotten for centuries. The one problem that I did have with this book is a minor issue and that was when he said Henry VII married Elizabeth Woodville, not Elizabeth of York.

Overall, I found this book extremely enlightening. I thought that I knew quite a bit about the Wars of the Roses, but Spencer was able to surprise me with the amount of new information that he included in this tome. It opened a new aspect of this conflict that I never considered before. If you are someone who enjoys studying the Wars of the Roses and medieval castles, “The Castle in the Wars of the Roses” by Dan Spencer is a book that you should include in your collection.