Book Review: “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes” by Julia A. Hickey

61816116When we think about royal relationships from the past, we do not associate them with love; it is more about cementing power. Princes and kings knew how much was at stake, so they tended to have wives for politics and produce legitimate heirs that would inherit their kingdoms. For matters of love and lust, kings and princes would have mistresses, either of noble birth or lower, on the side. These women have been deemed whores and homewreckers but is that a fair assessment of their legacies? Julia A. Hickey takes a closer look at these misunderstood mistresses in her latest book, “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this title, it intrigued me, and I was hoping to learn something new.

Hickey covers several hundred years in this book, starting around the year 1000 and ending in 1485. We begin with Queen Emma, Aelfgifu, and the confusion of whether Aelfgifu should be considered a mistress. With these Anglo-Saxon and Norman kings of England, we see many relatively hidden mistresses of William I and Henry I (who had quite a few). We then move to the Plantagenets with Henry II, King John, Edward II, Edward III, and Edward IV. Hickey also pays attention to other affairs in different countries, such as King David of Scotland and the Tour de Neste Affair.

Some of these mistresses would be familiar to readers, such as Isabella of Angouleme, Fair Rosamund, Piers Gaveston, Alice Perrers, Katherine Swynford, Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, Jane Shore, Eleanor Talbot, and Elizabeth Woodville. Many were new to me, including Princess Nest of Wales, whose abduction started a war, Edith Forne Sigulfson, and Elizabeth Wayte. She even included Eleanor of Aquitaine as one of the mistresses mentioned in this book, which I’m afraid I have to disagree with, as most of this stems from the black legend that has tainted her legacy.

I found the information provided in this book rather intriguing, but my one concern about this book was how it was structured. I wish Hickey had sections marked for each king she mentioned in this book so we could distinguish which mistress was associated with which king or prince.

Overall, I found this book enjoyable and informative. It was a bit repetitive, and there were some arguments that I disagreed with. Still, the fact that Hickey could combine nearly 500 years’ worth of history about relatively hidden royal mistresses is quite admirable. Suppose you want a solid introduction to medieval England’s world of royal mistresses. In that case, I recommend you read “Medieval Royal Mistresses: Mischievous Women who Slept with Kings and Princes” by Julia A. Hickey.

Guest Post: “What Makes a Historical Novel Seem ‘Authentic’?” by Carolyn Hughes

Squire's Hazard Tour BannerToday, I am pleased to welcome Carolyn Hughes to my blog to discuss the topic, “what makes a historical novel seem ‘authentic’” as part of the blog tour for her latest novel, “Squire’s Hazard,” the fifth book in her Meonbridge Chronicle series. Thank you, The Coffee Pot Book Club and Carolyn Hughes, for allowing me to be part of this blog tour. 

I love reading and writing historical fiction. My series of novels, The Meonbridge Chronicles, is set in fourteenth-century rural Hampshire. Though, the last three books, De Bohun’s Destiny, Children’s Fate, and Squire’s Hazard, do have scenes set elsewhere as well. The novels mostly focus on the lives of “ordinary people,” and in particular, the common people of fictional Meonbridge, though both De Bohun’s Destiny and Squire’s Hazard also depict the lives of the gentry too. But the novels are not about politics or war, or royals or heroes, but are rather the “everyday stories of country folk,” and my particular writing pleasure is trying to recreate their world in which readers can immerse themselves. 

And to make that world feel natural requires both “authenticity” and a little “strangeness,” so here are a few thoughts on how I try to achieve this…

Although my novels are not about “history,” history does provide the important factual context in which my characters’ fictional lives are set. The novels are set in a specific time, and each one follows on from the previous one after a two or three years gap. Mostly, what was going on in England as a whole is not important to the Chronicles’ stories. But that isn’t the case for Fortune’s Wheel, the first Chronicle, or the fourth one, Children’s Fate, where what we call the Black Death – plague – underlies the premise for the stories. In Children’s Fate, too, I describe a devastating storm that occurred in January 1363. I write about it because it emphasizes the horror that people had already been suffering in the previous months when the plague was killing children and young people when it must have seemed as if the world was coming to an end.

What was it like to live then? I enjoy depicting what we know or can deduce about how people lived – their homes, clothes, food, tools, and working practices – and showing everyday life as authentically as possible. Portraying the environment, in particular – people’s homes and their interactions with the world outside – can also help to give an authentic-seeming picture.

For example, in my depictions of peasants’ homes, I try to show how generally cramped, dark and smoky they were and, in bad weather, cold and damp. I don’t dwell on the unpleasantness but don’t shy away from it when required. Part of me thinks the grimness would be in our eyes rather than theirs. The Chronicles are told in the voices of the characters, not from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, and my feeling is that the people wouldn’t necessarily notice those things that we would find hard to cope with. Trying to put me into my characters’ shoes, to imagine the minutiae of their daily lives, is what I see so fascinating about writing about the past and what I hope contributes to that sense of authenticity.

Some readers might think I’m obsessed with the weather! Weather does play a big part in my novels, for it surely affected medieval people’s lives far more than it does ours (here in England, at any rate). If you owned only, at most, two sets of clothes, how miserable was it to work outdoors in the rain and come home all wet, with just a small hearth fire (no radiators or tumble dryer…)? Drying clothes must have been so difficult! No book has yet told me exactly what they did, so, putting myself in their shoes, I assume they arranged their clothes around the fire, on some sort of rack, perhaps, and that they possibly slept in their damp clothes – sometimes, anyway – to help dry them out. A pretty ghastly prospect! Yet what else could they do?

Depicting the physical aspects of daily life is important, but almost more important – and yet more difficult – is portraying the intangible aspects. Sexuality, religion, superstition, ideas, and sensibilities, in general, are trickier. The difficulty lies in transporting oneself as a writer into their very different mindsets. Fourteenth-century people must have been like us in many ways, yet also unlike us in many others, and tapping into those dissimilarities is a challenge and, perhaps, one of the principal points – and pleasures – of writing historical fiction.

For example, the Church was central to daily life: in prayers and oaths, influencing people’s view of their position in society, directing how they ran their lives to an extent that we would consider deeply interfering. The fourteenth century was also a world where what we consider natural (or man-made) disasters, such as ruinous weather, famine, and plague, were presumed to be God’s punishment for man’s sin. These aspects of life need to be portrayed in a way that shows the differences in people’s thinking, yet without making them seem alien – they were still individuals with ambitions and concerns, emotions and desires.

Historical fiction is sometimes criticized for failing to portray the past’s strangeness (the “foreign country”). Beyond religion and superstition are aspects of belief that modern readers are likely to find obscure or even bizarre: religious charms, relics, magic and spells, monsters, weird concepts, and seemingly fantastical happenings that today can be explained or dismissed. All of these were normal to people of the time, yet they need careful handling in a novel. “Magic and monsters” might have been part of a medieval person’s ordinary belief, but they are the opposite: we tend to consider them fantastical, not commonplace. And a danger of introducing such elements – however natural they might have been to a medieval mind – is that the novel might seem to the modern reader to be less historical fiction than fantasy. Achieving a sense of naturalness requires a balance between the authentic past and the skeptical present. This aspect of writing historical fiction makes it both a challenge and a pleasure. 

Squire-Final-working.inddBlurb:

How do you overcome the loathing, lust, and bitterness threatening you and your family’s honour?

It’s 1363, and in Steyning Castle, Sussex, Dickon de Bohun is enjoying life as a squire in the household of Earl Raoul de Fougère. Or he would be if it weren’t for Edwin de Courtenay, who’s making his life a misery with his bullying, threatening to expose the truth about Dickon’s birth.

At home in Meonbridge for Christmas, Dickon notices how grown-up his childhood playmate, Libby Fletcher, has become since he last saw her and feels the stirrings of desire. Libby, seeing how different he is, too, falls instantly in love. But as a servant to Dickon’s grandmother, Lady Margaret de Bohun, she could never be his wife.

Margery Tyler, Libby’s aunt, meeting her niece by chance and learns of her passion for young Dickon. Their conversation rekindles Margery’s long-held rancor against the de Bohuns, whom she blames for all the ills that befell her family, including her own servitude. For years she’s hidden her hunger for retribution, but she can no longer keep her hostility in check.

As the future Lord of Meonbridge, Dickon knows he must rise above de Courtenay’s loathing and intimidation and get the better of him. And, surely, he must master his lust for Libby so his own mother’s shocking history is not repeated? Of Margery’s bitterness, however, he has yet to learn…

Beset by the hazards these powerful and dangerous emotions bring, can young Dickon summon up the courage and resolve to overcome them?

Secrets, hatred, and betrayal, but also love and courage – Squire’s Hazard, the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE.

Buy Links:

This book is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/bW5yJz 

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Squires-Hazard-Meonbridge-Chronicle-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B0BHKH1QB1/ 

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Squires-Hazard-Meonbridge-Chronicle-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B0BHKH1QB1/ 

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Squires-Hazard-Meonbridge-Chronicle-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B0BHKH1QB1/ 

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/Squires-Hazard-Meonbridge-Chronicle-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B0BHKH1QB1/ 

The paperback is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Waterstones. 

Carolyn Hughes authorAuthor Bio:

CAROLYN HUGHES has lived much of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, as she wrote and edited material, some fascinating, some dull, for an array of different clients, including banks, an international hotel group, and medical instruments manufacturers.

Having written creatively for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction took centre stage, alongside gaining a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a Ph.D. from the University of Southampton.

Squire’s Hazard is the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE, and more stories about the folk of Meonbridge will follow.

You can connect with Carolyn through her website http://www.carolynhughesauthor.com and on social media.

Social Media Links:

Website: http://www.carolynhughesauthor.com 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/writingcalliope 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarolynHughesAuthor/ 

Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/carolyn-hughes 

Amazon Author Page UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Carolyn-Hughes/e/B01MG5TWH1/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16048212.Carolyn_Hughes 

Guest Post: Excerpt from “The Conjuror’s Apprentice” by G.J. Williams

The Conjuror’s ApprenticeI am pleased to welcome G.J. Williams to my blog today to share an excerpt from her latest novel, “The Conjuror’s Apprentice.” I want to thank G.J. Williams and The Coffee Pot Book Club for allowing me to be part of this blog tour. 

John Dee stared at the letter, then at Cecil. ‘The letter must have been penned by someone who has sight of this household – and the same person who planted the letter on Jonas.’

The master of the house nodded and put his head in his hands, propelling Mildred to cross the room and put her hand on his shoulder. He glanced up and patted her fingers. ‘Are you quite sure what you read, my dear?’

‘Yes. You heard the words yourself. The letter is to someone who wants testimony of your movements. The scrivener speaks of your visits to Lady Elizabeth. Each one is listed. They even know you are due to visit her again this week.’ Her lips pinched together in anxiety. ‘They state that you hide a book of Elizabeth’s treachery to protect her.’ Mildred looked at John Dee. ‘Why would they make up such stories of us?’

But next to her, Cecil did not move. He kept staring at the wood of his desk, his brow crinkled in thought. A slight flush spread across his cheeks.

Margaretta shifted in her seat, the feelings rising inside her. Dread. Something you’ve done. A secret. You imagine being arrested. You are hiding something. She leaned forward, touched John Dee’s sleeve, and whispered, ‘Mae e’n cuddio rhywbeth.’ He hides something.

Cecil’s eyes darted to her. ‘I do not speak my forefathers’ tongue with ease. What did you say?’

Thank the Lord John Dee stepped in. ‘She says she must away to the kitchen and her chores soon.’ He leaned forward and dropped his voice to a cajoling purr. ‘Is there anything you have secreted, my friend? Better we know.’

Cecil sat up straight and cleared his throat. His wife’s fingers tightened on his shoulder as she looked down, beginning to frown. Her husband looked at the window as if searching for the right words. ‘I…I…hold a book belonging to the Lady Elizabeth. Nothing treasonous. Just her thoughts.’ He swallowed and looked to Dee, a faint beseeching in his eyes.

The room was silent.

Panic. Confusion. It is you, Lady Mildred. Anger.

John Dee leaned forward again, keeping the low, calm voice. ‘Where is this book?’

‘Mildred’s library. Well hidden among the religious texts.’ At this, Lady Cecil gave a short, sharp cry and snatched her hand away from her husband. She walked to the window and put her hands on the glass. They could see her kirtle move with her fearful breathing. Then she turned and faced him, her face pale and fixed in fury. ‘You brought secrets here and put us all in danger? Have your senses left you, husband?’ Her voice was slow and cold.

In an instant, he was on his feet, rebutting her challenge with indignation. ‘No, Mildred. I was showing loyalty to a fragile girl wracked with fears. She is under constant suspicion.

So, when she was summoned to court to attend her sister’s birthing, she dared not take it with her nor leave it behind. I am the only one she trusts. What could I do? Abandon her?’

‘And what is in this book, William?’ asked Dee.

‘Her thoughts on regency. She speaks of a fair rule; of religious tolerance rather than the burning we live with today; of making this land great again and not a puppet of Spain.’

Cecil dropped his head forward, and his voice fell to a murmur. ‘She speaks of a golden age in which men thrive, not fear life.’

Dee sighed. ‘So, she speaks of being queen.’ He waited until Cecil nodded. ‘So, with Mary expecting her own son to succeed her, it is a tome of treason.’ He gave a small laugh. ‘Making my conjuring look pale in comparison.’

Cecil bristled. ‘No. It is a volume of hope. The only treason lies with those who would put a Spanish prince as our ruler.’

He gave a low growl. ‘For the love of God, they circle court like hawks awaiting the death of Mary and her babe so they can grasp power while England mourns.’

John Dee opened his palms in question. ‘Mary herself made Philip King of England. Not a prince. Not her consort. A king.’

Cecil wheeled round. ‘Elizabeth is the rightful heir to the throne. Not a Spanish puppet of the Catholic Pope. A woman of true faith…Protestantism.’

‘So, if Elizabeth aspires to be queen, she is the single threat to the supporters of Philip.’ John Dee pointed an accusing finger. ‘And that book sets out her ambition.’ He paused. ‘That book will take her to the Tower and her death for treason… and someone in your household knows of it. They also know your involvement.’

From the window, Lady Cecil spoke. ‘And her treasonous book is in this house. And somebody knows it.’ She turned to look through the glass onto the bustling street below. ‘May God save us.’

9781915194190Blurb

Born with the ability to hear thoughts and feelings when there is no sound, Margaretta Morgan’s strange gift sees her apprenticed to Doctor John Dee, a mathematician, astronomer, and alchemist. Using her secret link with the hidden side and her master’s brilliance, Margaretta faces her first murder mystery. Margaretta and Dee must uncover the evil bound to unravel the court of Bloody Mary. 

The year is 1555. This is a time ruled by fear. What secrets await to be pulled from the water?

The Conjuror’s Apprentice takes real people and true events in 1555, into which G J Williams weaves a tale of murder and intrigue. Appealing to readers of crime and well-researched historical fiction alike, this is the first in a series which will follow the life, times, plots, and murders of the Tudor Court.

Trigger Warnings:

Descriptions of bodies and the injuries that brought about their death. 

Threat of torture; description of man who has been tortured.

Buy Links

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Conjurors-Apprentice-G-J-Williams/dp/1915194199

Waterstones

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-conjurors-apprentice/g-j-williams/9781915194190

RedDoor

https://www.reddoorpress.co.uk/products/the-conjurors-apprentice?_pos=1&_sid=30c68d694&_ss=r

Gwenllian Author photoAuthor Bio 

After a career as a business psychologist for city firms, G.J. Williams has returned to her first passion – writing tales of murder, mystery, and intrigue. Her psychology background, melded with a love of medieval history, draws her to the twists and turns of the human mind, subconscious powers, and the dark side of people who want too much. 

She lives between Somerset and London in the UK and is regularly found writing on a train next to a grumpy cat and a bucket of tea.

 

Social Media Links:

Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/gjwilliams92

Book Review: “Women in the Medieval Court: Consorts and Concubines” by Rebecca Holdorph

60474164._SY475_Medieval Europe was inundated with strong rulers and dominant figures who made a difference in how the policies of certain countries were formed. We tend to focus on the male figures, from kings to lords and rebels, when we study medieval European history. Still, the women in their lives significantly influenced how their countries were governed. Although many women stood by the side of their husbands and didn’t make much of an impact on European history, some women chose to stand out from the crowd and make a name for themselves. Rebecca Holdorph has chosen to highlight a handful of these dynamic women throughout medieval Europe in her book, “Women in the Medieval Court: Consorts and Concubines.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Casemate Group, for sending me a copy of this book. I have seen quite a few people read this book, and since I am always interested in learning about new figures in medieval history, I knew I wanted to read this title.

To cover so many women over several centuries, Holdorph breaks her book down into four sections; noblewomen, consorts, reigning queens, and concubines. Each section starts with a cast of characters list, so the reader has a brief synopsis of each woman featured in the chapter. She then dives into the stories of the women in each section, showing how they were similar and how they differed in the roles that society gave them in life.

Holdorph covers many European countries from the 11th to the 15th century to give her audience a broad scope of what it meant to be a woman in power in medieval Europe. We are introduced to noblewomen like Anna Komnene, the author of the Alexiad, Marie of France, Alice de Lacy, and the Rose of Raby herself, Cecily Neville. While examining the lives of these noblewomen, Holdorph looks at how their public lives differed from their private lives. Next, she explores the lives of queen consorts, those who married a prince or a king and ruled beside their husbands; some of the women included in this chapter are Eleanor of Castile, Maria de Luna, Isabeau of Bavaria, and Margaret of Anjou. In this section, Holdorph explores how these women became queens and what the job of the queen consort meant for each woman.

The third section focuses on the women who were allowed, for a time, to rule their respective countries on their own; women like Urraca of Castile and Leon, Berenguela of Castile, and Margrete of Denmark. Holdorph explores how each queen came to power and how they ruled their kingdoms for a little bit. Finally, we are introduced to the mistresses of rulers, known in this book as concubines, who made an impact that ended up costing them their lives. The women featured in this section include Maria de Padilla, Alice Perrers, Katherine Swynford, and Agnes Sorel, to show what it meant to be a good mistress versus a bad mistress.

I enjoyed learning about new powerful women from European countries other than England and France during the medieval period. My one complaint is that I wish Holdorph would have written this book in chronological order. Since many of these stories in this book were relatively new to me, the jumping back and forth between centuries and stories added to my confusion. Holdorph would have made a more significant point if she had her miniature biographies in chronological order and then summarized her points at the end of each section.

Overall, I found this a decent book. Holdorph does have a passion for this subject of medieval queens, but I think there are some elements of this book that could be improved on to make it more understandable for her audience. Suppose you want a solid introduction to medieval European women who may be unfamiliar with many casual history fans. In that case, I recommend you read “Women in the Medieval Court: Consorts and Concubines” by Rebecca Holdorph.

Book Review: “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England” by Kathryn Warner

cover260838-medium (1)When we think about the more intimate moments in the medieval period of European history, a few misconceptions and myths come to mind, thanks to historical fiction and medieval movies. The idea that girls as young as twelve were married off to much older men was the norm, and there were such things as chastity belts. Everyone was filthy and smelled awful, so they only married in the spring when they would take their annual baths. And the brilliant idea that the wealthiest lords of the village were able to have their way with the bride on her wedding day. The latest book by Kathryn Warner, “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England,” aims to eliminate these myths to reveal the truth of the intimate lives of those who lived during the medieval period.

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed the previous book in Pen and Sword’s Sex and Sexuality series on Tudor England by Carol McGrath, so when I heard that Kathryn Warner was writing the next book on Medieval England, I jumped at the chance to read it.

Warner begins this book by exploring the cleanliness of those from the medieval period and how they dressed. Cleanliness was vital in all aspects of life; the people took baths more than once a year. She then tackles the marriage myths, exploring everything from young marriages and marriages year-round to the moments when relationships did not work out well and even abductions and forced marriages. We also encounter stories of domestic violence, the rituals of birth and baptism, prostitution, adultery, illegitimacy, and sexuality. These tales also include their methods for healthy sex, how they dealt with abortions, and how same-sex relations were viewed at every level of society.

Warner examines literature, historical documents, and archeological clues to help her audience better understand the past. What Warner does brilliantly is the fact that she incorporates stories from every rank of society, from monarchs to peasants between 1250 and 1450, to tell a sweeping tale of sex and sexuality in medieval England. I found this book extremely enlightening and a fantastic resource for understanding the medieval period. It illuminates the shady areas of the past to dispel myths that have been circulating for a while now.

Warner has yet again combined her meticulous research with well-written prose to give her audience an informative read for medievalists and medieval history nerds alike. If you want to learn more about how medieval England viewed the more intimate moments in life, I recommend you read “Sex and Sexuality in Medieval England” by Kathryn Warner.

Book Review: “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People” by Kathryn Warner

60747108._SX318_The city of London has been around for over two millennia, and with each passing century, it changes ever so slightly. From the Roman Londinium to medieval London, we see the city grow from a settlement of between 30,000 to 60,000 people to a bustling town of around 80,000 to 100,000 people. With growth comes changes to the city that would become the capital of England, and one of the most significant periods of transformation for the capital was during the fourteenth century. What was life like in fourteenth-century London for the average citizen of this sprawling city? Kathryn Warner attempts to answer this question in her latest nonfiction book, “London, A Fourteenth-Century City and its People.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am always fascinated by learning about how people from different centuries lived their everyday lives, so when I heard about this title, it piqued my interest.

London was an international melting pot for Europe, so Warner used many stories to show the city’s diversity. To narrow down the information used in this particular book, Warner explains to her audience that she would only use tales from the reigns of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III. This book is broken down into bite-sized chapters exploring different aspects of London life, from government and religion to medical, housing, and marriage. This may sound like your average time traveler guidebook, so those of us living in the 21st century can understand the fourteenth century, but Warner gives this genre a bit of a twist.

Instead of focusing on the different aspects and what was considered normal for citizens to eat or wear, Warner looks at unique cases that correspond with the elements that defined fourteenth-century London. They give great insights into how deadly the time was and how the average London citizens dealt with the legal restrictions of everyday life. Every aspect of fourteenth-century life had consequences for those who broke the rules, from charging too much for a loaf of bread or a mug of ale to stealing clothes or building violations. We also get great insight into how women and children were treated, the darker aspects of life, and how they were approached.

The one issue I had with this book was that it showed the cases that were the exceptions to the rules instead of showing what the standards were. Although I am glad Warner included the information she did, like her glossary, nicknames, and the introduction of surnames, I did want more facts to make this book feel complete. I wanted to know what the typical fashion was like for Londoners and what they ate during a normal day. What did a typical day look like for someone who lived in London during the fourteenth century?

“London, A Fourteenth-Century City, and its People” by Kathryn Warner is a well-researched and captivating look into London’s past for those who love learning new facts about medieval Europe. If you like learning new factoids about medieval London, you will find this book rather entertaining.

Book Review: “The Colour of Rubies: A Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery” by Toni Mount

61035582._SY475_The year is 1480. Intrigue and murder lurk everywhere at the Palace of Westminister, where no one is safe. A mysterious letter and the men who want the letter back lead to the murder of one of the clerks from the Office of the King’s Secretary. Under the orders of powerful men at court, including King Edward IV himself, Seb Foxley must join his wayward brother Jude as one of Secretary Oliver’s clerks to uncover the truth of the conspiracy against the crown. Can the brothers work together to decode the truth and save the life of the king’s beloved heir in time? Seb Foxley’s latest adventure is told in book ten of Toni Mount’s Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery series, “The Colour of Rubies.”

I want to thank Toni Mount for sending me a copy of the latest Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mystery novel. I previously read books 8 and 9 in this series, “The Colour of Shadows” and “The Colour of Evil,” and I enjoyed both novels. When I heard that there would be a tenth novel, “The Colour of Rubies,” I was excited to read it.

We begin the new Seb Foxley adventure with Jude celebrating his birthday as he navigates his new life as a husband and a clerk at the Office of Secretary Oliver. There is trouble in paradise as Jude and Chesca disagree on how she was able to supply a bountiful feast for Jude on his birthday, which was far too extravagant for the salary of a lowly clerk. Seb decides to cheer his brother on the day after his birthday by bringing him a gift, and then Jude decides to show Seb where he works. The brothers discover the murder of one of Jude’s fellow clerks and a mysterious letter written in a foreign language.

Lord Hastings gives Seb the arduous task of finding the murderer of the clerk, who they believe is one of the clerks, by entering into the Office of Secretary Oliver and living like a clerk. Seb befriends several clerks while discovering there is more to this case than a simple murder of a clerk. It has to do with the life of King Edward IV’s heir and an international conspiracy to hurt the king. To add to the confusion, Jude and Chesca’s marriage spat and its connection to the king and work piling up at Seb’s workshop while he is away, and his feelings for dear Rose.

If you have read the other Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery books, “The Colour of Rubies” by Toni Mount is an absolute must-read. I loved every page of this novel. It was thrilling, from the new characters and interactions between Seb and his household to the danger and intrigue that Seb experiences at court. If you are a fan of this series, you will love how Mount evolves Seb’s relationships with Rose and Jude. When you think the case is solved, Mount throws in a couple of curveballs that make you wonder how Seb, Jude, and the rest of the Foxley household will survive.

Book Review: “River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads” by Cat Jarman

53242328 (1)When we think of Vikings, a few images come to mind. It is either the cartoonish image of warriors with horned helmets or blood-soaked warriors from TV shows like The Vikings. They are seen as men and women who fight Christians in England and France and sometimes into North America, but we do not see them in the east. With archaeological digs and discoveries being made recently, what can the artifacts tell us about the Viking world? In “River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads,” Dr. Cat Jarman takes her readers on a journey of discovery, following the trail of a single carnelian bead.

I have read a few books about Vikings, and of course, I have watched historical dramas about this period, but I wanted to know more. When I heard about this particular title, I was captivated by the prospect of learning something new about these warriors that have interested us for centuries.

Dr. Cat Jarman is a bioarchaeologist and field archaeologist passionate about discovering the truth about the Viking Age. She explains how each discovery was made and what scientific processes to discover the truth. We can figure out where these people might be from and what they ate during their lives through the teeth and bones of the bodies. But what is left beside the bodies gives us clues into what the Vikings were doing during their lifetimes, giving us a better understanding of these men and women from Scandanavia.

We began our journey in 2017 when Dr. Jarman possessed a single carnelian bead. The bead was discovered in Repton, along with a mass burial that included the bodies of a father and son. This single bead takes her on a journey to discover why the Vikings had this kind of bead and what other artifacts she found along the way might tell us about this group of people. From DNA analysis to silver coins that might have been used to buy enslaved people, statues of women in armor, nails from ships used to transport the warriors across the sea and rivers, and graffiti that was left behind give us hints about the Viking lifestyle.

Before I read this book, I thought Vikings and their journeys were limited to England, France, and Scandinavia because they are the most popular stories. Still, the Vikings traveled as far as the Middle East and perhaps India and the Silk Road. The way Dr. Jarman balanced scientific and archaeological research with the historical and mythological narrative into a thrilling book to read.

“River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads” by Cat Jarman is a masterpiece that anyone who loves history, Vikings, or archaeology will adore. If you think you know the history of the Viking Age, I urge you to read this brilliant book. I can’t wait to hear more about Dr. Cat Jarman’s research into this age and what else will be discovered soon.

Book Review: “John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father to Another” by Kathryn Warner

52652190Medieval princes are often viewed as men who will one day be king of their homeland or another country. They are seen as wealthy men with prestige and honor who live lavish lifestyles and go to war to earn titles and estates. One of these noble medieval princes was a man who married three times, including to his most beloved mistress. He was the son of Edward III, the uncle of Richard II, and the father of the queen of Castile and King Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. His children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would rule in different European countries, even though he never had the chance to wear the crown of England or Castile for himself. His name was John of Gaunt, and his story is told in Kathryn Warner’s latest biography, “ John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father to Another.”

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. John of Gaunt is one of my favorite Plantagenet figures to study, so when I heard about this title late last year, I was intrigued to read it. I wanted to see what new information Warner would provide in the research of John of Gaunt and his family.

Warner takes her readers on a journey from the birth of the third son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault to his death in 1399. The matter that truly defined John of Gaunt’s life was his connections not only in England but throughout Europe, which Warner explains in great detail. We go on a journey through his three marriages; first to Blanche of Lancaster to become Duke of Lancaster, then to Constanza of Castile, who allowed him to try and fight for the kingdom of Castile, and finally his mistress Katherine Swynford. Katherine Swynford was the mother of the Beauforts who would help create the Tudor dynasty. However, not only his marital connections made Gaunt so well known. As the son of King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, his family was connected to every corner of Europe through marriage. Even though John of Gaunt never became King of England or Castile, his family would fulfill his dream of ruling a kingdom and gaining wealth and prestige.

The will of John of Gaunt, written on the same day of his death, is included in its entirety, showing how wealthy this particular Plantagenet prince was at the time of his death. Unlike other biographies about John of Gaunt, this focuses on his family connections and financial records, Warner’s specialty. However, we tend to view John of Gaunt as a gallant prince. Those who lived in England as peasants considered him the enemy during his lifetime, especially during the Great Uprising in 1381, also known as The Peasants Revolt.

Kathryn Warner has once again illuminated the life of a famous Plantagenet figure through genealogical and financial records. Although he ended up becoming one of the most hated men in England and the enemy to his nephew Richard II, he would go down as one of the fascinating men to study from the Plantagenet dynasty. If you want to learn more about the founding of the Lancastrian dynasty and the rise of the Beauforts through John of Gaunt, I would recommend you read “John of Gaunt: Son of One King, Father to Another, “ by Kathryn Warner.

Book Review: “How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life” by Daniele Cybulskie

57035252When we read about those who lived in past centuries, there is often a disconnect. We know that they were also human beings like we are, but we see how different their ways of life are compared to ours, and it feels incredibly bizarre. We can find wisdom from the past for our more modern lives. One of the most unlikely sources of knowledge for our daily lives comes from the lives of men and women who choose to take a religious path. In her latest book, “How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom For Modern Life,” Daniele Cybulskie shows her readers how medieval monks can help us live our best lives here in the present.

I heard this book from Daniele Cybulskie, and just from the description, I wanted to read it. I enjoyed the previous book that I have read by Cybulskie, which was “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction,” and I wanted to read more by her. I knew a bit of monastic life from other books that I have read, but I wanted to learn more.

Cybulskie took the idea of a book that explores daily life to another by using the monks’ routines to act as a self-help book for the modern age. It may seem strange for an academic book to work as a self-help book, but if you think about how much we can use the past to help us understand the present, this concept makes perfect sense.

The lifestyle of a medieval monk is not for everyone, but there are aspects that we can respect and apply to our own lives. This book is broken into sections that focus on different aspects of monastic living, such as looking inward, looking outward, gardening, moderation, and minimalism. Cybulskie explains why someone would choose to become a monk and what monasteries would have generally looked like before the dissolution. She then explains the different parts of monks’ daily routines that we could apply to our modern daily lives. These aspects include gardening, helping others, focusing on our mental health, eating healthy, meditation, setting boundaries, and my personal favorite, finding time to read. The illustrations and the quotes that Cybulskie includes in this book add another layer of enjoyment and depth into a charming historical self-help book.

Cybulskie has written another book that makes learning about medieval Europe fun for any history fan. Although I am not usually someone who reads self-help books, I found this particular title an enjoyable mix of advice and history. After reading this book, you may not want to become a monk, but I think readers can learn something new from this book. If you wish to a delightful book about medieval life and how we can apply lessons from the past to our modern lives, I highly recommend you read “How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life” by Daniele Cybulskie.