Guest Post: “Cecily Neville, Duchess of York: Inspiration for The Queen’s Rival” by Anne O’ Brien

The Queen's RivalToday, I am pleased to welcome Anne O’Brien to my blog to discuss the inspiration for her latest novel, The Queen’s Rival. I would like to thank Anne O’Brien and The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to be part of this blog tour. 

In past years I have written about a variety of medieval women, either royal or attached to the Court.  I enjoy investigating how these women played a role in the political manoeuvrings of their day.  Although we so rarely hear the voices of these women, since they lived in a man’s world and the history was invariably written by men, their involvement was often considerable and they deserve our interest.

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is one of the most appealing women of English medieval history, worthy of celebration.  Most medieval women verge towards the invisible, a two-dimensional entity without character or apparent influence; Cecily Neville is an exception.  The Wars of the Roses were both vast in scope and complex in the range of family connections.  So was Cecily’s own Neville family with its royal blood inherited through their mother Joan, Countess of Westmoreland, daughter of John of Gaunt. Cecily demanded in a regal fashion that she be allowed to speak for herself.  It was a challenge that lured me to become involved; I accepted the challenge and wrote about her. 

Without a doubt, Cecily was a remarkable woman, living for eighty years through five reigns, interacting with a vast dramatis personae of famous, infamous, and influential characters in these tumultuous years.  She was the mother of two kings, Edward IV and Richard III, and  grandmother to a Queen Consort, Elizabeth of York, who stepped across the divide between York and Lancaster and married King Henry VII.

On the surface, this would seem to be a life bringing Cecily immense satisfaction and personal achievement, but it was also a life of tragedy.  Cecily outlived all but two of her twelve children, both daughters, some dying in infancy, others meeting terrible ends.  George, Duke of Clarence, was executed for treason, on the orders of his brother King Edward, in the Tower of London.  Richard III died on the battlefield at Bosworth; Edmund of Rutland met his end in an act of revenge after the Battle of Wakefield.  What heartbreak this must have inflicted on her, added to the death of her husband, Richard, Duke of York, at Wakefield.

Cecily’s life also witnessed its share of scandal.  The rumour of her liaison with the common archer Blaybourne, thus prompting the blot of illegitimacy against King  Edward IV, was too valuable a rumour to ignore for those such as the Earl of Warwick and Duke of Clarence who would willingly depose King Edward.  Was the scandal true?  Unlikely, but the widespread gossip must be faced.  How difficult for a woman of Cecily’s pride to accept that her own family would dishonour her reputation.

Would such tragedy obliterate the strength of Cecily’s character?  Cecily worked tirelessly for the House of York. She stood by her children as far as it was possible, even George of Clarence, trying to bring him back into the Yorkist fold.  In Ludlow, abandoned by her husband, Cecily faced a leaderless Lancastrian army and howling mob intent on plundering the town. She proved to be a woman of great courage.  As old age approached, she devoted herself to a life of duty and formidable piety almost worthy of the life of a nun, a life of loyalty to the family she had always supported.

Cecily, Duchess of York, was the doyenne of late medieval history, the Queen who was never crowned.  It would have been unforgivable of me to leave her out of my pantheon of medieval ‘heroines’. 

The Queen's Rival final version(Blurb)

England, 1459. 

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandons her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

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Anne O'Brien promo picAuthor Bio

Anne O’Brien

Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.

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Guest Post: “Forsaking All Other” Excerpt by Catherine Meyrick

Forsaking All Other. Tour BannerpngToday, it is my pleasure to welcome Catherine Meyrick to my blog to share an excerpt from her novel, “Forsaking All Other”. I would like to thank Catherine Meyrick and The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to take part in this blog tour. 

Excerpt

Wyard studied Lucy Torrington. Was this the manner of woman his mother thought would suit him best? She was well-dowered and, no doubt, malleable. But she was not to his taste, insipid was probably the best way to describe her. It had been a mistake to allow Eloise to talk him into coming here, he should have gone straight to Bucklings Hall.

He glanced at Bess Stoughton. Of all the women present she was the most appealing. Despite his initial misgivings, she seemed honest and sensible. She was not predatory or flirtatious, nothing like that bold piece who had tried to get him to dance last night. Perhaps Bess Stoughton’s relationship with that serving man was some sort of protection—life could be difficult for a widow. And she looked at him with neither pity nor revulsion.

‘You know Mistress Torrington well?’

‘As well as any. Lucy is a good and gentle girl who deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.’

‘Who does not?’

Her eyelashes fluttered as if surprised at his comment. ‘Lucy would bloom best married to someone who loved her.’

‘Few have that blessing. Kindness and respect are the best that most of us can hope for.’

She bit her lip, frowning. ‘Are you considering marrying Lucy?’

Wyard shrugged, ‘She is one of a number of young women my mother thinks would make a suitable bride.’ He gave a wry smile. ‘It may be more accurate to say would make a suitable good-daughter.’

‘Do you have a list of requirements—number of hands high, girth, teeth, temperament? A list such as you would take to a horse market.’

It sounded ridiculous the way she described it. He gave a sudden bark of laughter. ‘In truth, I have no list.’

‘Do you always do as your mother wishes?’

‘Rarely, but it is probably time I married and she fears that, left to my own devices, I will either never marry or choose someone highly unsuitable.’

‘Who would be unsuitable?’

‘From my mother’s position, someone without money or connections.’

‘And from your own?’

‘I have not thought so far.’ If you could not marry the best, the most loving woman you had ever met, it really did not matter.

‘Well you should. Can you imagine what it is like for a woman married to a man who is forcing himself to his duty, who does not like her company or her person, who married her simply because his mother or his father told him to?’

He had never thought of it from a woman’s point of view. ‘Was your own marriage like that?’

‘You lack courtesy, Master Wyard.’

‘But you sound as if you speak from experience.’

‘That is none of your business,’ she snapped, colour flooding her cheeks. ‘If I were a man, if I had your freedom, I would do exactly as I pleased. I would never accept a bride who had been bundled up for me by my mother.’ She glared at him, ‘Now, if you will excuse me.’ She swept away towards the group of singers, her back straight and her head held high.

Wyard wanted to stop her, to explain it was never so easy. He watched her go, wondering why he had never imagined he could truly do as he wished.

Forsaking All Other by Catherine Meyrick(Blurb)

England, 1585.

Bess Stoughton, waiting woman to the well-connected Lady Allingbourne, has discovered that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and wrests from her father a year’s grace to find a husband more to her liking.

Edmund Wyard, a taciturn and scarred veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, is attempting to ignore the pressure from his family to find a suitable wife as he prepares to join the Earl of Leicester’s army in the Netherlands.

Although Bess and Edmund are drawn to each other, they are aware that they can have nothing more than friendship. Bess knows that Edmund’s wealth and family connections place him beyond her reach. And Edmund, with his well-honed sense of duty, has never considered that he could follow his own wishes.

With England on the brink of war and fear of Catholic plots extending even into Lady Allingbourne’s household, time is running out for both of them.

Love is no game for women. The price is far too high.

 

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Catherine MeyrickAuthor Bio:

Catherine Meyrick

Catherine Meyrick is a writer of historical fiction with a particular love of Elizabethan England. Her stories weave fictional characters into the gaps within the historical record – tales of ordinary people who are very much men and women of their time, yet in so many ways are like us today. These are people with the same hopes and longings as we have to find both love and their own place in a troubled world.

Catherine grew up in regional Victoria, but has lived all her adult life in Melbourne, Australia. Until recently she worked as a customer service librarian at her local library. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also an obsessive genealogist. When not writing, reading and researching, Catherine enjoys gardening, the cinema and music of all sorts from early music and classical to folk and country and western and, not least of all, taking photos of the family cat to post on Instagram.

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Guest Post: “Life at the Tudor Court” by Karen Heenan

I am pleased to welcome Karen Heenan to my blog today to discuss life at the Tudor Court. This is part of the book tour to promote Karen Heenan’s book, “Songbird (The Tudor Court, book 1). Thank you The Coffee Pot Book Club and Karen Heenan for allowing me to participate in this tour. 

“Bess!”

The voice, close to my ear, startled me awake. I’m alone in the bed, and the small attic room shared by the female members of the music is empty but for Flora and one other girl. They are nearly dressed—I’m late. Bolting out of bed, I asked Flora, “Why didn’t you wake me?”

She shrugged. “The rest of us get up when Mistress Edith calls.” Relenting, she said, “Here, I’ll help you.”

I pulled my nightdress over my head and washed quickly at the basin. Flora handed me my shift, then helped lace my kirtle. My hair was braided for sleeping, so I pinned it into a hasty knot and settled a white linen coif over it, hoping I wouldn’t run into Nick Hawkins when I looked so untidy.

Breakfast was served in the great hall, which was filled with trestle tables and benches. Servants brought out great bowls of steaming pottage and pitchers of ale, and there were loaves of bread set along the length of the table, for us to cut with our knives.

When the trenchers have been cleared, and the remaining food was taken away for manners—to feed the beggars at the gate—we make out way to the chapel. I let my mind drift during mass until the choir begins to sing. It is impossible not to pay attention to every sound, every note—my dream, when I first arrived, had been to sing in the choir, but girls were not permitted to offer their voices to God. No one had still given me a good explanation as to why.

If we were at Greenwich—where we would travel in the morning, the king had decided to move from Westminster in London—we could also attend the local church, St. Nicholas. Their choir was inferior, but it was pleasing to get outside the palace. The king had less need of us at Greenwich than Westminster, where we were held constantly within call.

Once mass was done, I was free to do what I liked until dinner. Flora had gone off with friends, so I went up to the practice rooms. Someone might be willing to play for me, but if not, I would sing along. If I was fortunate, Tom would be there. He was my dearest friend, and a talented lutenist and composer, though he would blush and deny that his songs are any good.

Someday it would be known, and his songs would be sung all over the court, and perhaps all over England.

He was there, supervising the packing of the many musical instruments which would be transported to Greenwich, along with all the nobles and a good number of the court servants, and all their varied possessions.

 “Do you want me to play for you?” he asked, swaddling a lute in soft wrappings like a babe. His own instrument, I knew, would travel in his grasp; Tom would not trust it to the rough men who loaded the carts and barges for the trip between palaces.

“I can wait.” I leaned against the window, watching the flurry of activity below. In addition to the carts which would start this day so that things might be in place when King Henry stepped off his barge on the morrow, there were the usual clusters of men and horses, servants scurrying across the courtyard on some errand or another, and, to my delight, a certain gentleman atop a shining black horse. 

I let my eyes rest on him. A man such as Nick Hawkins would never pay any mind to a minstrel girl, no matter how lovely my voice. The fact that he had spoken to me on occasion proved nothing. He was handsome—beautiful, really—and powerful, a friend of the king. A man who could have any woman in the kingdom, save the queen. 

He would never look at me.

I turned to Tom, smiling. He would always look at me, always see me for who I was. But it wasn’t the same, and though I loved him as a friend and a brother, I did not think of him as I drifted off to sleep.

“What will you have me play?” Tom settled on a stool with his instrument on his lap, the light from the narrow window falling on his fair hair. “Bess?”

“Sorry.” I shook away my fancies. “We are to perform this evening for the French ambassador and his party.” 

“At least we will have time to eat.” He tuned the lute carefully. “And we will be in the gallery, so you can watch the gathering to your heart’s content.”

I ignored his words, knowing he was teasing. I did like singing from the gallery so I could watch the crowd, and not just because of Nick. It was more impressive, somehow, from above. Crowded in the narrow gallery with the other minstrels, with the horns and drums and shawms, and Tom’s lute singing a sure line beneath for me to follow, I was at peace and could watch the dancers and pretend I was one of them.

A gathering for the French ambassador was sure to run late; I should go back to the girls’ chamber and pack my things for the morning so that when we were done, I could just fall into bed. “Are you happy about going to Greenwich?”

“What does it matter?” he asked. Seeing my expression, he said, “I am if you must know. The stables are closer to the palace.”

Tom loved horses, and though our indoor lives gave us little contact with the beasts, when we were at Greenwich or visiting the cardinal at Hampton Court, he always found his way to the stables. I was glad he was happy, but prolonged time in the stables made me sneeze, and I preferred to walk in the gardens if I was to take my scant free time outdoors.

Other minstrels came in and we went over our evening’s program until the bells chimed eleven; then we all streamed downstairs to dinner. I stayed with Tom; even if the others left us after the meal, we would probably sing and play together until it was time to get ready for the evening’s entertainment. Despite my dreams of greater things, singing with him was when I was happiest, and when I knew that my father had done the right thing. 

I belonged in this place.

 Several hours later, changed into a green gown and clean coif, with my few things packed into a small chest for the morning, I reassembled with other members of the Music in the gallery overlooking the presence-chamber. The vast room was hung on all sides with vivid tapestries depicting scenes both secular and religious, interspersed with gold and silver plate that reflected the hundreds of candles lighting the space.

The king was all aglitter himself, clad head-to-toe in cloth of gold studded with diamonds and pearls. His queen, Katherine, was dressed more soberly, though her fabrics were equally rich. They sat on their thrones under the gold cloth of state, speaking quietly, until the music started. Then the king stopped, mid-sentence, his ear cocked toward the gallery. How fortunate that Tom had instructed the others to begin with one of Henry’s own songs. 

He leaned over to the French ambassador, who stood near the throne, and gestured toward us. I imagined he was telling the Frenchman that he’d written the song—though he praised us lavishly, it was much more likely that he was taking credit for the song.

I sang while the people below mingled and preened, showing off their finery for the king and each other. When the dancing started, I would step back; my voice did not lend itself to the stately pavanes which began the dancing each evening. Those were for the musicians—Tom, Harry, and Gilbert would play their instruments and the courtiers would parade slowly down the length of the room, bowing and circling, flirting with their eyes and their hands, the only parts of their bodies which touched during the dance.

King Henry began the dancing, leading Queen Katherine down from the dais and onto the floor. The jeweled crowd stepped back to give them room, and they traversed the floor alone, the focus of all eyes before the king raised his hand and called for everyone to join him. Then the courtiers paired off, men swiftly bowing before ladies and taking their chosen partner to join the king. 

Nick was there, I noticed almost immediately. He danced with the prettiest women, and once arrived before a woman at the same time as King Henry, bowing deeply and giving way to his monarch, who would dance until dawn if allowed. The queen would retire early, taking her women, though some of them crept back after Her Majesty had been settled for the night.

It was after midnight when the chamber finally began to empty. I sipped from the ale which had been set aside for us; my throat was dry from singing for hours in the stuffy gallery. Tom was yawning behind his hand, and several of the other looked as though they were asleep on their feet. I was still wide awake, but perhaps it was excitement: it was spring, and tomorrow we would journey to Greenwich, where I had begun my life with the Tudor court.

[Illustration #1 – Palace of Westminster, Wikipedia]

[Illustration #2 – Minstrels, Nikki Piggott, photographer, used w/permission]

[Illustration #3 – Greenwich Palace, Wikipedia]

Blurb

She has the voice of an angel…

But one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty.

After her father sells her to Henry VIII, ten-year-old Bess builds a new life as a royal minstrel, and earns the nickname “the king’s songbird.” 

She comes of age in the dangerous Tudor court, where the stakes are always high, and where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician.

Her world has only one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when Bess intrigues with Anne Boleyn and strains against the restrictions of life at court, will she discover that the biggest risk of all is listening to her own stubborn heart?

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Narrated by Jennifer Summerfield

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Author Bio

Karen Heenan

Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams—which include gardening, sewing, traveling, and, of course, lots of writing.

She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is always hard at work on her next book.

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Guest Post: “A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, The Aragon Years” Excerpt by Judith Arnopp

I am pleased to welcome Judith Arnopp to my blog today to share an excerpt from her latest novel, “A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, The Aragon Years”. Thank you, The Coffee Pot Book Club and Judith Arnopp for allowing me to host a spot on this blog tour. 

Excerpt

1505 – Henry is informed by his father that he must withdraw from his betrothal to Catherine of Aragon

Most of my companions, the older ones at least, have tasted the pleasures of women but I have no desire to dally with whores. Instead, when the curtains are drawn about my bed at night, I think of Catalina and the delights we will one day enjoy. Since there are no tutors to instruct me on such matters, I listen to the tales my friends tell of their conquests. The prospect of bedding my future wife fills me with a mix of excitement and terror. 

And then, on the eve of my fourteenth birthday, the king informs me that I must make a formal protest against the union with Spain.

“Why?” I exclaim. “I have no wish to protest against it!”

Father rubs his nose, dabs it with his kerchief, rolls it into a ball, and glares at me.

“Your wishes are of no moment. This is politics. You will do as you are told.”

I am furious but I know better than to argue. It would do me no good. I can feel my ears growing red with resentment. I clench my teeth until I hear my jaw crack. Oblivious to my feelings, Father shuffles through the papers on his desk, picks one up, and reads aloud the instruction he has written there.

“You must declare, before witnesses, that the agreement was made when you were a minor and now you reach puberty you will not ratify the contract but denounce it as null and void. Your words will be set in writing and then signed and witnessed by six men.

Protestations tumble in my mind but I cannot voice them. When he dismisses me with a flick of his fingers, I bow perfunctorily, turn on my heel, and quit the room. I find Brandon on the tennis court, loudly protesting the score while his opponent, Guildford, stands with his hands on his hips.

“You are wrong, Brandon, the point is mine. Isn’t that so?” 

He turns to the others, who are lounging nearby. Having only been half attending, they shrug and shake their heads noncommittally.

“My Lord Prince,” Brandon, noticing my arrival, turns for my support. “You witnessed it, did you not? The point was mine. Back me up, Sir.”

I pick up a racket, idly test it in my hand, and emitting a string of curses, hurl it across the court. Silence falls upon the company.

“What ails you, Sir?”

Brandon is the only one brave enough to come forward. He reaches out, his hand heavy on my shoulder. There are few men I allow to touch me. At the back of my mind, I am aware that Brandon is merely proving to others how high he stands in my regard. 

I should shrug him off, but I don’t.

“Walk with me,” I mutter between my teeth and then turn away, almost falling over Beau who dogs my every footstep.

“Out of my way!” I scream and he cowers from me, tail between his legs.

Tossing his racket to Thomas Kyvet, Brandon follows me.

“Henry, wait,” he calls, and I slow my step until he has caught up.

“What has happened?”

“My accursed father.” 

I am so angry, I can hardly speak; my lips feel tight against my teeth, my head pounds with repressed fury. “He demands that I denounce my union with Catalina.”

I stop, rub my hands across my face, the blood thundering in my ears. 

“I don’t know if I am angry because I have lost her, or because I am so sick of being told what I must do. What will Catalina think? What will happen to her?”

He shrugs. “In all probability, she will be sent home to Spain.”

I think of her leaving, imagine her sad little figure boarding ship for the perilous journey to her homeland. For four years she has lived at the mercy of my father’s generosity which, as we all know, is greatly lacking, and now is to be sent home like a misdirected package.

“Sometimes I feel this … this limbo will never end, and I will spend my whole life under my father’s jurisdiction.”

He flings a brotherly arm about me and I am suddenly grateful to have a friend. He speaks quietly, with feeling and I struggle not to weep like a woman.

“We are all told what to do by our fathers, Henry, and we are much alike you and me. I am also the second son. Had my brother not died, I’d like as not be languishing in the country, wed too young to some red-cheeked matron yet here I am, your honoured servant. One day, you will be king, and I will still be at your side. The future will soon be ours, and the time for following orders will be done with.”

Blurb

‘A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’

On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.

On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Catalina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys. 

But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished.

Christendom mocks the virile prince. Catalina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter and a baseborn son.

He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Catalina refuses to step aside.

As their relationship founders, his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.

A Matter of Conscience: the Aragon Years offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man-made dangerous by his own impossible expectation.

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Author Bio:

Judith Arnopp

A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies.

She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women but more recently is writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.

Her novels include:

A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years 

The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England

Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace

The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Beaufort Woman: Book two of The Beaufort Chronicle

The King’s Mother: Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry VIII

A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York

Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn

The Song of Heledd

The Forest Dwellers

Peaceweaver

Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and makes historical garments both for the group and others. She is not professionally trained but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic-looking, if not strictly HA, clothing. You can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Guest Post: “John Foxe in State of Treason” by Paul Walker

State of Treason Tour BannerToday, I am pleased to welcome Paul Walker, the author of “State of Treason” Book one of the William Constable Spy Thriller series, to my blog as part of his book tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. Paul Walker will be discussing one of his characters, John Foxe. 

One of the delights in writing historical fiction is discovering real characters from the past, translating bare facts recorded about them into thoughts and actions, then weaving these into your story. When I started researching the reign of Elizabeth I for State of Treason, the first book in the William Constable series, I came across Doctor John Foxe. Until then, I knew little about Foxe; having only a vague notion of him as an author and scholar in the sixteenth century. Delving deeper, it soon became apparent that Foxe was a celebrated figure and his Book of Martyrs was a bestseller in its time, second only to the Bible, and an important tool of Protestant propaganda.

Foxe was born around the year 1516 in Lincolnshire to a prosperous yeoman family and entered Oxford University when he was 18. He became a supporter of Martin Luther and was active in condemning the practice of selling pardons by the Catholic Church. While at Oxford he witnessed the burning of William Crowbridge for his role in publishing the Bible in English. During the reign of Henry VIII, he was critical of the church and when Mary came to the throne he fled to Europe with his wife where he befriended several continental Protestant scholars.  It was in Basel that he wrote and published the first edition of his Book of Martyrs in Latin. 

The full title runs to a long paragraph and could be considered a work of flash fiction itself. The book contains many gruesome illustrations of the executions of Protestant martyrs. This, and an understanding that Foxe was fiercely anti-Catholic, gave the initial impression of a stern, unbending religious fanatic. I was surprised, therefore, when I came upon an engraving, which, to my mind, showed a thoughtful and gentleman. In particular, he had a kind twinkle in his eyes. Reading more, I discovered he had a benign and forgiving nature and abhorred cruelty, even for those whose views he strongly opposed. He favoured the use of logical and theological arguments rather than maltreatment and execution to persuade those of different faiths.

J Foxe

An instance that demonstrates his compassion and humour was when he advised against the execution of an Anabaptist, Joan Boucher, in the reign of Edward VI. Boucher was examined by a man named James Rogers, who insisted she should die by burning. Instead of burning, Foxe pleaded, “at least let another kind of death be chosen, answering better to the mildness of the Gospel.” When Rogers answered that in his opinion burning alive was gentler than many other forms of execution, Foxe said to Rogers, “… maybe the day will come when you yourself will have your hands full of the same gentle burning.” 

In 1559, with Elizabeth on the throne, Foxe returned to England where he continued his scholarly work. I decided to incorporate Foxe as a character in State of Treason, which is set in London in 1578. The protagonist is William Constable, a fictitious physician, and scholar of mathematics and astronomy. Foxe’s faith becomes a foil for Constable’s man of science and logic. Together they form an unlikely friendship and formidable partnership in the fight to protect the English state against foreign and domestic intrigue. 

Four editions of his Book of Martyrs were printed in Foxe’s lifetime with the fourth published in 1583 and derived works were published after his death. The first English edition was published in 1563 and contained 1,700 pages and 1.5 million words. These statistics were surpassed by the fourth edition which was four times the length of the Bible and described as the most physically imposing, complicated, and technically demanding book of its era.

Francis Walsingham, William Cecil, and other Protestant statesmen decided that Foxe’s Book of Martyrs could be used in the anti-Catholic propaganda campaign deployed against Mary, Queen of Scots, and her supporters. A copy was placed in almost every church and wealthy household and it was required onboard all ships that sailed to the New Lands or fought against Spain. It has been argued that it was one of the most influential books in the English language. Despite its renown and popularity, it is said that Foxe never earned a penny from any of the editions. He was an unworldly man who largely depended on the benevolence of wealthy patrons.

John Foxe died peacefully at his home in Grub Street, London in 1587.

State_of_Treason

London, 1578

William Constable is a scholar of mathematics, astrology, and practices as a physician. He receives an unexpected summons to the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham in the middle of the night. He fears for his life when he spies the tortured body of an old friend in the palace precincts.

His meeting with Walsingham takes an unexpected turn when he is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.

Constable is swept up in the chase to uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion. He schemes to gain the confidence of the adventurer John Hawkins and a rich merchant. Pressured into taking a role as court physician to pick up unguarded comments from nobles and others, he has become a reluctant intelligencer for Walsingham.

Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?

Constable must race to unravel the threads of political manoeuvring for power before a new-found love and perhaps his own life is forfeit.

Amazon

Audio: Amazon UKAmazon US  

Paul Walker

Paul Walker

Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first three books in the series are State of Treason; A Necessary Killing; and The Queen’s Devil. He promises more will follow.

Social Media Links:

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Guest Post: “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family” Q & A with Samantha Morris

Today, I am pleased to host the final stop in the “Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia” book blog tour. I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Samantha Morris for allowing me to finish this delightful tour with a Q and A discussion with Samantha Morris.

Why did you want to explore the lives of the Borgia family?
I first discovered the Borgia family while I was at University – I was supposed to be working on a piece of work for my archaeology degree but found myself wandering the library instead. It was there that I first found Sarah Bradford’s wonderful biography on Cesare – something just clicked in me at that moment. Who was this handsome guy (please don’t judge me) on the cover with the strange name? After reading Bradford’s biography I was hooked – I read everything I could get my hands on about them, watched everything I could but I wanted to know more. In particular, a lot of the books and sources that I read on them were quite dry, full of dry politics (which of course does have an important part in their story) – why wasn’t there much out there that was approachable? Why wasn’t there something out there that could tell their fascinating, yet complicated, story in a way that would suit everyone? That’s when I decided that I wanted to tell their story, starting out by writing a very small introductory biography on Cesare himself. After writing that I knew that they needed more, the siblings in particular.

Why did you combine the stories of Cesare and Lucrezia into one book
instead of two separate biographies?
Quite simply, there was nothing out there that concentrated on the both of them together. There were biographies of them separately, that dipped briefly into the other siblings part of the story but never something that was just about them. Their lives were so intertwined and I wanted to tell their story.

Why do you think the myths about these siblings still exist centuries
after their deaths?
Because people love scandal. And let’s be real, the myths really are scandalous. People love a good story and the more scandal within it, the better. The idea that they were incestuous, that Lucrezia poisoned her enemies etc really is the stuff of great fiction and it’s something that people both back then, and now, love to get their claws into. This is a real shame, and I hope I’ve shown this in the book, their real story is much more exciting.

What was the hardest part of writing this biography?
I’d like to say that this work was a breeze from start to finish but honestly that would be a lie. In total, I think it took me 4 years from start to finish with this one, from coming up with the idea of getting it started to get a publisher interested in it. There were times during that initial process where I thought that it would never happen – I was approaching publishers and getting rejected time after time so when the fabulous guys at Pen & Sword said they would commission it I was over the moon.
The research and writing part of it was relatively easy but I think it was the editing that I found the hardest. Going through what you’ve written time and time again to make sure it’s perfect is actually really hard work, and I would put off doing it because I hated doing it. Still, the pain was worth it because now the biography is out there and there really is no better feeling in the world than seeing people reading and appreciating your work.

If you can talk about it, what is your next project?
I’m currently editing a biography on Girolamo Savonarola which is due out at some point next year. I’ve also started the research for a biography on Gualdim Pais, Templar master of Portugal during the twelfth century. It’s certainly a bit different from what I usually concentrate on, and it’s going to be very hard work but totally worth it.

Where can people find you on social media?
I’m on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/theborgiabull

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/smorrisauthor/

and Twitter – https://twitter.com/SMorrisAuthor

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/

Guest Post: Was Katherine Howard Pregnant by Henry VIII in 1540? By Sylvia Barbara Soberton

Today, I would like to welcome Sylvia Barbara Soberton to my blog as part of the book tour to promote her latest book, “Medical Downfall of the Tudors”, which is available now.

In July 1540, Henry VIII annulled his fourth marriage to the German Anne of Cleves on the grounds of non-consummation and married his fifth wife, the teenaged Katherine Howard. Katherine’s exact age remains unknown, but there is no doubt that she was very young when she married the fifty-year-old King. People who saw her believed Katherine was in her teens. The anonymous author of the Spanish Henry VIII’s Chronicle remarked that Katherine “was not more than fifteen” at the time of her marriage. [1] Charles de Marillac, French ambassador at the Tudor court who knew Katherine, believed she was about eighteen when she married the King. All observers unanimously agreed that Katherine was a good-looking young lady. She was “more graceful and beautiful than any lady in the court” in the words of the anonymous Spanish chronicler and “rather graceful than beautiful, of short stature” according to de Marillac. [2]

Katherine Howard came to court at some point in late 1539 to serve as Anne of Cleves’s maid of honour and quickly caught the King’s attention. Their private wedding took place almost immediately after the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves in July 1540. Henry VIII’s haste in marrying Katherine may be explained by the fact that Katherine was expecting his child. Historians usually don’t put much attention to the idea that Katherine was pregnant early in her marriage to Henry, although there’s compelling evidence that she indeed was.

In September 1540, the Venetian ambassador Francesco Contarini reported that “the new Queen Katherine is said for certain to be pregnant”. [3] Three months later, on 31 December 1540, the French ambassador Charles de Marillac saw Katherine and observed that she was “grosse”, stout. [4] The word “grosse” was used in French to describe a pregnant woman. [5] In April 1541, de Marillac continued to report about Katherine’s pregnancy, writing “that this Queen is thought to be with child, which would be a very great joy to this King, who, it seems, believes it, and intends, if it be found true, to have her crowned at Whitsuntide”. [6] According to this report, Katherine was pregnant and the King made plans to have her crowned on Whitsunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter. De Marillac reported that the preparations for her coronation were in full swing, which seems to prove the court was preparing for the coronation and then the christening of Katherine Howard’s child. Another ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, reported in November 1541 that during the last Lent—during the same period that de Marillac reported about Katherine’s pregnancy—there was “some presumption that she [the Queen] was in the family way [pregnant]”. [7]

Unfortunately, nothing further was reported of this pregnancy after Lent of 1541. Was it just a rumour? It is curious that three different ambassadors reported Katherine’s pregnancy and that Charles de Marillac described her as pregnant in late December 1540. I think this is no mere coincidence—these reports are evidence that the young Queen was expecting a child from September 1540 to April 1541. If this pregnancy was a mere rumour, would it really persist for seven months? Would de Marillac describe Katherine as “grosse”, visibly pregnant? I believe that Katherine was with child, but since no baby was born, she either miscarried or had a stillbirth. If she had a son, how different Katherine’s life would have been. The young Queen was accused of immoral living prior to her marriage to Henry VIII and adultery with courtier Thomas Culpeper. She was sentenced to death and executed on 13 February 1542.

References:
[1] M.S. Hume, The Spanish Chronicle, p. 75.
[2] Ibid. See also Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Volume 16, n. 12, for de Marillac’s comment.
[3] Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 5, n. 226.
[4] Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, n. 373. See also Josephine Wilkinson’s Katherine Howard: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s Fifth Queen, pp. 107-108.
[5] William Cobbett, A New French and English Dictionary: In Two Parts, p. 245.
[6] Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, n. 712.
[7] Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 6 Part 1, n. 204.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “Medical Downfall of the Tudors”, follow this link: https://www.amazon.com/Medical-Downfall-Tudors-Reproduction-Succession-ebook/dp/B08L713HRD/ref=sr_1_1?crid=IC8X21PUSC9W&dchild=1&keywords=medical+downfall+of+the+tudors&qid=1603200026&sprefix=Medical+Down%2Caps%2C208&sr=8-1/

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

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