Book Review: “The Colour of Evil (Sebastian Foxley Book #9) by Toni Mount

57299292._SY475_ (1)Money problems litter the streets of London like debris. Those who have money have power. Yet, there are those who try to beat the system by making their own counterfeit currency to beat the system. When this counterfeit currency leaves to murder, only Seb Foxley and his merry band of friends and family members can bring justice to those who were killed. When unexpected complications arise, like Seb’s wayward brother Jude coming home with an Italian child bride and a commission from King Edward IV himself, can Seb solve the case before anyone else becomes the next victim in this vicious cycle of greed and exploitation? Toni Mount takes her readers on another thrilling adventure in, “The Colour of Evil”, the ninth installment of the Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery series.

I would like to thank Toni Mount for sending me a copy of her latest mystery novel. When I was introduced to the colorful characters of Seb Foxley and his friends in the last novel, “The Colour of Shadows”, I became attached to them and I wanted to see what new adventures Toni Mount had for them.

We are reunited with Seb and his household two months after the conclusion of “The Colour of Shadows” as they adjust to a new normal. Life moves on and Seb receives a very tempting offer from King Edward IV to craft a luxurious book for an Italian nobleman. As he begins this arduous task, his friend Bailiff Thaddeus Turner needs his help to uncover the truth about a murder that has some very grisly circumstances along with coins that are found out to be fake. To top it all off, Seb is visited by not one but two people from his past. One is a former apprentice of his master who bullied Seb and now seeks his help. The other is his older brother Jude who has traveled around Europe. With all of these distractions, it is a wonder Seb and his household were able to get any work done during this novel.

Mount has created yet another vivid mystery for Seb to solve, full of dangers and intellectual puzzles. She has lovingly crafted each and every character to make their circumstances believable that you forget that they are fictional. The relationships are truly the backbone of this novel, especially the tempestuous relationship between Seb and Jude and the cautiously romantic relationship between Seb and Rose. Of course, we cannot forget that the series of murders must be solved and the way that Mount crafted the solution to this case was brilliant. You will be on the edge of your seat until the end, trying to figure out who committed the heinous deed and whether your favorite characters will succeed.

I have found myself totally immersed in the world of 15th century England and Seb’s continuous adventures. This is a true page-turner with so many secrets and scenes that can rival those crafted by C.J. Sansom. Mount again succeeds to transport her readers to another time in this delightful novel. If you have never read a Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery, you really need to as they are a sheer delight for fans of historical fiction. “The Colour of Evil” is yet another brilliantly written and extremely well-researched novel by the talented Toni Mount. This is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of the Seb Foxley series or for anyone who wants to escape the modern-day for a little bit to explore the inner workings of 15th century England, full of greed and secrets.

Book Review: “The Evening and the Morning” by Ken Follett

49239093The year is 997 and England is in a dire situation. Fears of invasions from the Welsh and the Vikings leave the Anglo- Saxon residents rattled while those in power take advantage of their citizens. Chaos reigns supreme as those who rule the towns are in constant power struggles between themselves and their king, Ethelred the Unready, with the average villagers caught in the middle, like the villagers of Dreng’s Ferry. It is in this small village where three characters find their lives intertwined with the political and social drama. A young boatbuilder named Edgar endures heartache and sorrow when the Vikings attack his home. A Norman noblewoman named Ragna follows her heart to marry the man she loves and travels to a faraway land but soon finds out how difficult that love can be. Finally, a monk named Aldred works hard for the people while dreaming of transforming his meek abbey into a lively center of learning. Their tales are masterfully woven together in the much-anticipated prequel to the Kingsbridge series by Ken Follett. This is “The Evening and the Morning”. 

When I heard that Ken Follett was writing a prequel to his Kingsbridge series, I was ecstatic. I read the Kingsbridge series a few years ago for the first time and I fell in love with the town of Kingsbridge. I wanted to know more about the origins of this town and I wanted another engrossing tale of strength and struggle, which Follett delivers in this brilliant novel. 

Follett introduces his audience to his colorful cast of characters with a Viking raid in the small village of Combe, the home of Edgar the boatbuilder. He lost everything that he cared about in one night, so he and his remaining family must pick themselves up and rebuild their lives in the town of Dreng’s Ferry. Edgar shows grit and determination as he realizes what is truly important in his life. Ragna is a vivacious Norman noblewoman who fell head over heels in love when she met a charming Englishman named Wilwulf. She decides to leave everything that she knows behind to marry a man she believes she knows very well. However, she soon realizes that Wilwulf and his family are not who she imagined. Ragna fights with vigor for what she believes is right for her immediate family and the people she has sworn to protect from her husband’s family. Her tenacity and courage to weather the storms that life throws her way are truly admirable. Finally, there is the academic monk Aldred who wants to pursue knowledge to better humanity. He believes that Dreng’s Ferry can become greater than what the people believe is possible, which often puts him on a political collision course with Wilwulf’s power-hungry family. 

The stories of these three dynamic protagonists are interwoven to create a sensational prequel to the fabulous Kingsbridge series. This novel is riveting with the gorgeous storytelling that readers have come to expect from Ken Follett. What I love is that Follett’s focus is not on the royal family, King Ethelred and Queen Emma, but the people who built England from the ground up. It is the nobles and the village people that had to endure every decision and mistake that the crown made. They were the ones who suffered when raiders like the Vikings pillaged towns and killed their loved ones. They were the ones who had to fight back time after time to make sure that their families survived. To focus on three people from three different walks of life gives the audience a complete picture of the fictitious town of Dreng’s Ferry. 

I applaud Follett for going back and giving his fans the prequel to the Kingsbridge series that they craved. To see how the town of Dreng’s Ferry became King’s Bridge was a delight. I had to slow down my reading pace to make sure I was fully immersed in the tale that Follett wrote. I loved every minute of reading this prequel and now I want to reread the Kingsbridge series. If you are a fan of Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series or if you want to jump into a series that is a fabulous historical escape, “The Evening and the Morning” is a must-read. A sensational prequel to one of my all-time favorite historical fiction series. 

Book Review: “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall

One of the most dynamic queens in 16th century Europe who spent most of her youth in a country that was not her homeland, but was fighting for the right to rule England. Her name was Mary Queen of Scots, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth I. Many know of her tragic tale, but there was a man who was behind the scenes trying to guide Scotland to a brighter future. He was not married to Mary Queen of Scots, but he was influential in her life and choosing who she might marry and who she would end up divorcing. He was a politician and a religious reformer whose decisions would alter history dramatically. His name was William Maitland and he served as Mary’s secretary. He is always mentioned as a footnote in history, until now. Robert Stedall’s latest biography, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator”, explores the life and legacy of this rather extraordinary secretary.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this book, I was intrigued since I had never heard of William Maitland, except in footnotes in books about Mary Queen of Scots that I have read in the past. I wanted to know more about the man who knew Mary so well and helped her with such significant decisions in her life.

After Mary Queen of Scots’ first husband, Francis II of France passed away at a young age, she made the journey back to the country of her birth, Scotland, where she was introduced to William Maitland. As a Protestant reformer, he believed that the best thing for the country and the Scottish Reformation would be to break the Auld Alliance with France and to gain closer ties with England. Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley, is less than agreeable to Maitland, so he and others help plot his murder. This decision led to Mary’s imprisonment and the succession of her son James as king.

Stedall’s whole premise revolves around the idea that Maitland helped plan Darnley’s murder. I do have a few problems with this book. First, for a biography that should revolve around Maitland, it felt like Maitland was more of a background character to Mary’s story. Second, the case that he lays out for Maitland being involved in the murder revolves around the validity of the infamous Casket Letters, which many believe are forgeries and have disappeared. It is hard to prove a case when the evidence in question may have been forgeries and are lost to history. Finally, I felt like Stedall’s writing style was a bit dry for my personal taste. I know that this was supposed to be academic in nature, with the focus on the political and religious nature of Maitland’s life, but it just fell flat to me.

Overall, I felt like this book was okay. It may have shown how the political and religious divides influenced the decisions of Mary Queen of Scots’ reign, but it needed a stronger focus on William Maitland. I feel like Stedall has a passion for this period of Scottish history and he has done his research, but he needed to rein it in a bit more. I think if you enjoy reading about Mary Queen of Scots, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall might be a book you should check out.

Book Review: “Queens of the Crusades: England’s Medieval Queens Book Two” by Alison Weir

52355570 (1)One of the most prominent royal families of English history was the Plantagenets, who reigned for over three hundred years. In the first one hundred years of this family’s infamous history, five kings ruled (the first two are considered kings of the Angevin dynasty): Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, and Edward I. These five kings saw England change drastically, but they also participated in the international political landscape of the day, which involved the series of wars that today we simply refer to as the Crusades. The early Plantagenet kings saw much bloodshed and war, but they were not alone in their struggle to keep the dynasty going. These men would not have gotten as far as they did without their wives who stood by their sides. In Alison Weir’s latest installment of England’s Medieval Queens series, “Queens of the Crusades”, she takes a deep dive into the lives of the first five Plantagenet queens to show how remarkable these women truly were to stand beside their husbands during the times of the Crusades in Europe.

I would like to thank Ballantine Books, Random House, and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a massive fan of Alison Weir’s nonfiction books for years now. To have an opportunity to read this title and review it is simply astounding. As soon as Weir announced this new installment of England’s Medieval Queens series, I knew I wanted to read it because I had enjoyed Queens of the Conquest immensely.

The five queens that Weir covers in this particular book are Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria of Navarre, Isabella of Angouleme, Alienor of Provence, and Eleanor of Castile. Many are familiar with the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II and how it soured as their sons fought against their father, but it is worth noting that every queen in this book led a rather remarkable life. Eleanor of Aquitaine may have been alive during the time of Thomas Becket’s murder and Isabella of Angouleme witnessed her husband King John seal the Magna Carta, but some of these queens witnessed battles of the Crusades being fought as they traveled with their husbands to distant lands. There was also the matter of ruling two kingdoms, England and parts of France plus keeping the peace with Wales and Scotland, all while raising their children. There was never a dull moment for the lives of the early Plantagenet queens.

I found each queen in this book fascinating to read about, even though I did not know much about their lives. I obviously knew about Eleanor of Aquitaine, but the other queens have been briefly mentioned in other books that it felt like I was discovering their stories for the first time. The way they governed England and the way that they showed their love for their husbands and their children were different, but they each made a significant impact on the story of the Plantagenet dynasty. If I did have a problem with this book it would be that I found myself confused on which Eleanor was which, especially when Alienor of Provence and Eleanor of Castile were alive during the same time.

Overall, I found this book extremely informative and meticulously researched. Alison Weir has yet again made the lives of these queens that time seemed to have forgotten come to life. I believe that this is an excellent introductory book for anyone who wants to learn about the early queens of the Plantagenet dynasty. It is engaging, thought-provoking, and masterfully written. If this sounds like you, check out the second book in the England’s Medieval Queens series by Alison Weir, “Queens of the Crusades”.

Book Review: “Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things” by Wendy J. Dunn

48815162._SY475_A journey to a foreign land for a long-promised marriage that will unite the royal families of Spain and England. Two friends caught in the middle far away from their beloved Spain. One is Princess Katherine of Aragon, who will marry Prince Arthur. The other is her cousin and close confidant, Maria de Salinas. Their journey like their friendship will last for decades, full of loyalty and love. Katherine’s story has been told many times in different ways, while Maria de Salinas has remained faithfully in the shadows. That is until now. In Wendy J. Dunn’s continuation of her Katherine of Aragon story, “Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things”, Maria de Salinas is the protagonist telling the tragic tale of love and heartache from her perspective.

I would like to thank Wendy J. Dunn for sending me a copy of her latest novel. I have heard wonderful things about Wendy’s novels from my friends. When I heard that Dunn was writing a novel about Maria de Salinas, I was intrigued by the concept. I only knew about Maria de Salinas through brief mentions of her in biographies and other novels about Katherine of Aragon, so I was excited to read her story.

Dunn’s novel begins as a letter that Maria de Salinas is writing to her only daughter. It is the story of her life with Katherine with the intention that her daughter understands the tough decisions that she made throughout her life and how unbelievably loyal she was to her queen, Katherine of Aragon. By having Maria recalling the story, Dunn adds another layer of depth to Katherine’s story. Maria knew Katherine her entire life so she knew how Katherine was feeling even when Katherine hid her emotions from the rest of the world. Her initial reactions to her new home, England. The love she had for Arthur and what happened on their wedding night. Katherine’s opinions of her father and her father-in-law. And of course, her tumultuous relationship with her second husband, Henry VIII.

Maria’s personal story is full of love and tragedy as well. Her love story with the man of her choice, who will be her husband, is gut-wrenching yet so beautiful. You will root for Maria to get her happily ever after. There were so many points in this book that I was on the brink of tears. I did not want this novel to end. Dunn created a protagonist with her own strength and a story that is nothing short of remarkable. The vivid descriptions that are in this work of art create a realistic Tudor world that you never want to leave.

This novel was a masterpiece in Tudor historical fiction. Maria’s story and how she helped Katherine of Aragon is riveting you will find yourself wanting to know more about Maria de Salinas. I wish we did have more of the relationship between Maria and her daughter, but that is because I wanted more of the tale. I have read many historical fiction novels about the Tudors and their world and I have to say this novel is one of the pinnacle Tudor novels that I have ever read. This is the first time that I have read a novel by Wendy Dunn, but now I want to read her other works. If you want a sensational novel centered around the astounding friendship of Maria de Salinas and Katherine of Aragon, “Falling Pomegranate Seeds: All Manner of Things” by Wendy J. Dunn is a must-read for any Tudor nerd.

Guest Post: “Between Two Kings: Book One in the Anne Boleyn Alternate History Trilogy” Q & A by Olivia Longueville

Today, I am pleased to welcome Olivia Longueville back to my blog to discuss her latest novel, “Between Two Kings: Book One in the Anne Boleyn Alternative History Trilogy”. 

B2K cover_page_jpgAuthor Q&A

Anne Boleyn has been featured in many books, movies, and television shows.  Her story has been told by writers many times.  How is your historical fiction series different?

In my first book, Between Two Kings, I re-imagined the life of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England. When I think about Anne and her tragic fate, I want to rescue her from execution on trumped-up charges of adultery, high treason, and incest. Every time I visit the Tower of London, I see the place where she was executed, and I imagine that if I had been in the crowd watching her unjust death, I would have shouted, “Stop it! She is innocent!” 

As a result of my fascination with Anne and her tragic life, I decided to write an alternate history novel about her where she does not die on the 19th of May 1536.  Between Two Kings is part one of my exciting series that reimagines Anne Boleyn’s story in a unique way: having narrowly escaped her execution, she becomes the Queen of France.  In a sense, Anne follows in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s footsteps.  

My writing style is characterized by lush romanticism and passionate lyricism with beautiful and compact descriptions. In this series, I’m working to re-create the cultural atmosphere of the Renaissance and Tudor eras (my favorite periods!), giving my readers a strong sense of place to let them make the imaginative leap into these captivating times. 

This series will appeal to you because this story is about a one-of-a-kind medieval woman, who excelled in a man’s world, and whose fate has been transformed into something utterly spectacular.  Over the course of the novel, Anne emerges as a great Renaissance queen, whose indomitable nature refuses to surrender and enables her ascent to power again.  

Perfect for fans of Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, Judith Arnopp, Laura Andersen, Tony Riches, and other Tudor authors, as well as fans of movies and shows of the Tudors. 

Are there sequels to Between Two Kings? 

In the second book, The Queen’s Revenge, Anne perseveres in her quest for justice and vengeance on the narcissistic, homicidal King Henry.  Her odyssey takes Anne from a world of gloom, across the barren landscape of ruin and the tempestuous waters of peril, to a realm of potential happiness in her marriage to the flamboyant, chivalrous King François.  Meanwhile, politics and disquieting intrigues abound… 

The later sequels explore deadly plots against Queen Anne and King François, including those of Anne’s Catholic enemies. The Valois couple struggle and intrigues against Emperor Charles V and King Henry VIII are woven into their story, for the English monarch will try to exact his own vengeance on his former wife. This culminates in a war of kings with unexpected participants. King Henry’s marriages to his historical wives have their own interpretation. Charles V’s union with Isabella of Portugal might not have an outcome as tragic as the one in history.

Beyond its theme of vengeance, The Queen’s Revenge is an optimistic tale of good triumphing over adversity and of Anne finding new love and building a life in France.  The third book, The Boleyn Queen of France, is the tale of Anne’s life in France after everyone in Europe learns the identity of the mysterious French queen. It also explores how she grows into her new role as a French queen. The political background of the story is organically embedded into the romantic and suspenseful storyline.   

Do any of the books in the series end in cliff-hangers? Are the books stand alone?  

I’ve structured the trilogy so that the books end with exciting, pivotal moments. I created a sense of completion in Between Two Kings. Although The Queen’s Revenge concludes the plotline of Anne’s vengeance, it includes a political cliff-hanger centering on themes that will be developed and resolved in the third book.  

Enough information is provided in every book, so a new reader will not be lost. 

What is important for writers to create a plausible alternate history reality? 

I love history because it shows how people lived in a completely different world. It reveals something new about the world, people, human evolution, traditions, and the way of life in different periods of time.  Nevertheless, I often wish to explore history from new angles and to re-imagine events or fates of my favorite historical figures. What if certain events had never happened or had occurred in a different way? 

It is a challenge to imagine and construct a plausible alternate history reality. You have to take real historical events and people, analyze them meticulously, and think how events could have unfolded differently, and how people would have responded to altered circumstances. If you like alternate history, you will definitely adore my alternate history universe. 

Many are aggrieved with the unjust end of Anne Boleyn’s life. She was most certainly innocent of all the accusations leveled against her, and our hearts weep at the thought of her last days in the Tower of London and how she lost everything, even her life. In my series, I’ve created an alternate universe for Anne that includes the Tudor, Valois, Habsburg, and even Medici storylines, combining them in a plausible way. 

I hope you will join me as we reimagine the fate of one of history’s most intriguing woman. 

Blurb

Anne Boleyn is imprisoned in the Tower of London on false charges of adultery, high treason, and incest on the orders of her husband, King Henry VIII of England. Providence intervenes – she escapes her destined tragedy and leaves England. Unexpectedly, she saves King François I of France, who offers her a foolhardy deal, and Anne secretly marries the French monarch.

With François’ aid, she seeks vengeance against the English king and all those who betrayed her and designed her downfall in England. Henry must face the deadly intrigues of his invisible enemies, while his marital happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour, is lost and a dreadful tragedy also strikes the king. The course of English and French history hangs in the balance.

From the gloomy Tower of London to the opulent courts of England, France, and Italy, brimming with intrigue and danger – Anne Boleyn survives, becoming stronger and wiser, and fights to prove her innocence. Her hatred of Henry is inextricably woven into her existence.

If you are interested in “Between Two Kings”, you can purchase it either on Amazon or Amazon UK by clicking on the following links: 

https://bit.ly/Between2Kings

https://bit.ly/Between2Kings-UK

About the Author- Olivia Longueville

Olivia has always loved literature and fiction, and she is passionate about historical research, genealogy, and the arts.  She has several degrees in finance & general management from London Business School (LBS) and other universities.  At present, she helps her father run the family business.  

During her first trip to France at the age of ten, Olivia had a life-changing epiphany when she visited the magnificent Château de Fontainebleau and toured its library.  This truly transformed her life as she realized her passion for books and writing, foreshadowing her future career as a writer.  In childhood, she began writing stories and poems in different languages.  Loving writing more than anything else in her life, Olivia has resolved to devote her life to creating historical fiction novels.  She has a special interest in the history of France and England.  

Olivia’s social media profiles:

Personal website: http://www.olivialongueville.com/

Project website: http://www.angevinworld.com/

Twitter: @O_Longueville

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/OliviaLongueville/

Tumblr: http://www.olivia-longueville.tumblr.com/

Book Review: “1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold” by Amy Licence

48849570In 1520, two larger than life kings met each other in France for two weeks. This may not sound astounding as many kings left their respected countries to meet other rulers throughout history. It was part of European diplomacy. However, what made this particular period of time extraordinary is the sheer size and the opulence of the event. The King of England, Henry VIII, met the King of France, Francis I, for two weeks of festivities and feasting that we now call The Field of the Cloth of Gold. We often think that this event accomplished nothing because the rivalry between Henry VIII and Francis I continued afterward. Was the purpose of this event to quell the rivalry between the two kings or was there something more behind all the glitz and glam of the Field of the Cloth of Gold? What do the behind the scenes records reveal about this event? Amy Licence explores this event from every angle in her latest book, “1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this book from Amy Licence, I knew that I wanted to read it. Since 2020 marks the 500th anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, it seemed extremely appropriate to read this book in 2020.

To understand why Henry VIII and Francois I met each other, Licence includes brief biographies of these two dynamic figures and the women that accompanied them to the field in France. Obviously, the information about Henry VIII and his wife Katherine of Aragon was a review for me, but I found the biographies of Francis I and his wife Claude quite fascinating. The relationship between the two kings shaped why this event took place. Licence explains the political negotiations that took place to make such an event happen. She also takes the time to show the role that a third party, Emperor Charles V, took in the timing of the event.

The bulk of this book is the grand event itself. Licence’s attention to detail is meticulous and readers can tell her passion for this subject. What I knew about the Field of the Cloth of Gold before reading this book was an overview of the event, which is why I appreciate the attention to detail in this book. Licence uses letters and descriptions from those who were able to attend this event to show the vast scale of each day. From jousting to feasts, balls, and masques, there was so much symbolism and revelry to be had by all. To pull off a spectacle such as this on both sides, it was the craftsmen, the cooks, and the temporary villages of people who made these two weeks a sensation. Licence shows how much planning and how expensive it was to throw a party of this magnitude and what impact it had on political decisions after the pavilions and temporary palaces went down.

I found myself thoroughly enjoying the intricate details that Licence included with her stylistic yet readable writing style. Licence made her readers feel like they had a front-row seat to the Field of the Cloth of Gold while being academic and very well researched. I found myself imagining the splendor of those two weeks. If you want a tremendous book on this extravaganza of 16th-century European grandeur, I highly recommend you read, “1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold” by Amy Licence.

Book Review: “Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe” by Melissa Julian-Jones

In 1375, the body of Sir William Cantilupe was found murdered in a field. He was stabbed multiple times, yet it looked like he was moved as his clothing had no marks on it. The initial investigation pointed to William Cantilupe’s immediate family and his household staff who appeared dissatisfied with how he ran his household. This particular case has been an area of fascination for medieval historians for centuries as it explores different aspects of life during the Hundred Years War. Some of these areas include domestic violence, social norms, law and order, and the punishment for crimes like murder. Melissa Julian-Jones explores every aspect of this case while combining contemporary sources to give readers a new approach to this murder in her book, “Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I had never heard of this case, but after reading the Shardlake series, I was looking for another historical who done it. When I heard about this book, I thought I would give it a try.

Julian-Jones introduces her readers who may not be familiar with this case to the basic facts; when the sheriff and the coroner discovered Sir William Cantilupe’s body in a ditch in a field, which was not that uncommon for a medieval murder. At first, they assumed that it was a simple case of a highway robbery, which Julian-Jones does explore for a bit, but they quickly come to the conclusion that the murder occurred inside of his own household.

To explore the motives of those who might have killed William, which included his wife Maud and his household staff, Julian-Jones explores the family history of the Cantilupes and why people might have wanted to kill William. This part of the book was a bit difficult to read because she does not mince words when it comes to some of the graphic details of their lives, which includes elements of domestic violence. Sometimes when you do study history, you will confront things in history that will make you feel uncomfortable, but it is part of the learning experience to know that things in the past were not always black and white, there were a lot of grey areas.

Julian-Jones spends the bulk of her book exploring the lives of those who were considered the suspects of the murder. Since we don’t have much information about their particular lives because of their stations in life, Julian-Jones had to rely on similar cases from the same era to show what the motive might have been and what the punishment for the crimes was for the different stations of life. This was quite fascinating as we see how a medieval historian who studied criminal accounts had to act like a detective to figure out what the truth might have been and who might have committed the murder.

Julian-Jones takes her readers on a medieval murder mystery ride that affected the nobility, rather than the nobility, which is rather unusual. This book will expand your knowledge about the medieval nobility, their households, and the criminal justice system of their time. This was truly a fascinating study into a centuries-old cold case mystery. If you want a good study into a medieval mystery, you should definitely check out, “Murder During the Hundred Year War: The Curious Case of Sir William Cantilupe” by Melissa Julian-Jones.

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: “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.