Blog Tour: Sharon Bennett Connolly _Ladies of Magna Carta_

WOMEN OF INFLUENCE IN THIRTEENTH CENTURY ENGLAND

I’m pleased and honoured to be part of the blog tour for Ladies of Magna Carta written by the fabulous Sharon Bennett Connolly who has for the past few years been enlightening us with her insightful looks at the role women of the nobility played in late medieval politics and history. Her most recent book, Ladies of Magna Carta, captures the lives of the women who lived through this time against the backdrop of those men who ruled over them. Their stories, although not directly, would go on to influence the clauses in one of the most famous charters in the world.

Ladies of Magna Carta is a tour de force for Ms Connolly. Her research is impeccable and second to none. The Charter of liberties was always intended to be about men. It was a man’s world, after all. But every now and then, when examining the roles that women played in this time, one can see a glimmer of them in the various clauses that connect so seamlessly with their stories. Intended to be a peace treaty signed by the rebel barons and King John, the rules of the charter were naturally as could be expected of John, broken which led to an unsettled time in the years that followed.

Ms Connolly has been researching the medieval world for some years and her famous blog History the Interesting Bits is where it all started. Her focus began to shift more to looking exclusively at women and that’s when she decided to write her first book with _Heroines of the Medieval World_ She then went on to publish another, _Silk and the Sword_ about the women of the Norman Conquest.

But you cannot write about these women without writing about their families, in particular the men involved which enables us to get a more panoramic view of of their world, the spiritual landscape in which they lived. The thirteenth century, like most medieval epochs were filled with passion and drama which often had traumatic consequences in their time, especially for women who had to continue to look after their husbands affairs, their children and those who served them despite seeing intrigue, death, murder and imprisonment on every corner. How did these women survive? For example, Maud de Braose, or Matilda as connolly refers to her. Maude was imprisoned and treated abominably by King John, and although not much is known of Maud’s own feelings and thoughts around the torture she endured but we can surmise, quite accurately what impact this terror must have had on her mental state and Connolly writes a good account of her story in this book.

Central to the book’s premise is King John. John was probably one of the worst kings in history in terms of how he treated his subjects. Even his loyal subjects had a rocky ride during his reign. Men like William Marshall, staunch supporter of King John and all his brothers, who stood by John right to the very end, despite having to give up sons to John in order to prove his loyalty and also William de Braose, once the king’s favourite, who died in exile, fleeing John’s wrath over debts unpaid. John then turned on his wife Maud who received the worst treatment ever at the hands of John.

Many of those who enjoy history, often see women of the medieval period as pawns. Connolly proves that this is not always so and shows what women like Nicholaa de la Haye, Maud de Braose, Ela of Salisbury can do if they put their minds to it. Unfortunately for some like, Isabelle of Gloucester, don’t always have a lot of choice. However its a fine balance between being a pawn and knowing what you want and being able to achieve it. And if women were pawns, so were a lot of men!

Not only is this a narrative of the women who lived at the time of King’s John’s reign, but also an examination of of John’s suspicious, paranoid nature. Some of the actions John appears to have taken mirror King Richard’s in his last years. And although, as the author points out, there are only eight mentions of women as a gender, it is clear that some of these women’s stories that Connolly highlights have experienced the very things that are mentioned in the clauses.
For example, here is a clause which Connolly states might well have been inspired by one of the women, mentioned as you will see when you read for yourself.

Clause 39 ensures that ‘no man shall be taken or imprisoned or deprived or outlawed or exiled or in anyway ruined, nor will we go or send against him, except by the lawful judgement by his peers or by the law of the land.’

I was pleased that the book opens with an introduction that advises the reader of the origins of Magna Carta, originally known as the Charter of Liberties. This is especially useful as it allows the reader an insight into the making of the charter. It is then followed by a concise but also comprehensive summary of John’s life in chronological order which gave me enough background into the man and his deeds.

Ms Connolly is an accomplished writer of enormous strength. Her attention to detail and her particular interest in highlighting her character’s genealogy and where they sat in the intertwined threads of the nobility of the time, allows the reader an insight into their minds thus enabling a personal evaluation of how this influenced their actions, their views, and their feelings. What more can a lover of history ask for than to be entertained, enthralled and educated all in one go?

ALL I CAN SAY MORE IS THAT IF YOU DON’T READ THIS BOOK, YOU ARE MISSING OUT!

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. Her next book Warenne: the Earls of Surrey from the Conquest to 1347 will be released in 2021. 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’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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. Her next book Warenne: the Earls of Surrey from the Conquest to 1347 will be released in 2021. 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’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?

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Historical Writers Summer Blog Hop: The Last Battle of Edmund Ironside

Today I am hosting the Historical Fiction Writers Summer Blog Hop in which we choose a momentous event or epoch in time. October 18th 1016 was a date that stands out because it was the first time and only time we would have a Danish king on the English throne.

England in the early 11th century was one of turmoil. At the turn of 1000 AD, Æthelred the II was on the throne and had been there since 978, coming to power under undesirable circumstances at the age of 12, following the death of his brother Edward who was assassinated. At this time, England had been experiencing a period of peace and prosperity having restored the north under the rule of what was now England. But in the 980’s, the Danes began raiding again.

In 985, Æthelred first married Ælfgifu, daughter of Thored, Ealdorman of York. He ruled over the southern half of the old kingdom of Northumbria. He and Æthelred had several issue of which Edmund was his third son. Its likely Edmund was born somewhere between 988 and 992. Like his brothers, he would have grown up to be educated and trained to be a warrior leader. His older brother, Ecgberht, died in 1005 which made him Æthelred’s second surviving eldest son. The oldest son, Æthelstan, died in 1014, which left a teenage Edmund as the principle heir to the throne.

Somewhere between approximately 995 and 1001, Ælfgifu, who does not appear to have had an official crowning, may have died, or been put aside, paving the way for Æthelred to enter into an alliance with Normandy by marrying Emma of Normandy in 1002. Throughout much of his reign Æthelred was beset by problems with the Danes and having to pay geld to them to make them leave. Despite the hefty payoffs, the Danes continued their incursions into the English kingdom.

Depiction of Emma of Normandy and sons Edward and Alfred

By 1013, Sweyn of Denmark was confident enough to make a bid for the English throne and he invaded with a huge army. The English militia were forced to capitulate and Æthelred and his new wife, Emma of Normandy and their young children, sought sanctuary at the court of his wife’s brother, Duke Richard of Normandy.

Records suggest that Edmund and his older brother Æthelstan were close and this is confirmed by Æthelstan’s will (he died in 1014) in which he leaves various items as well as land to his younger brother. (It is interesting to note that a certain Godwin is also mentioned in the will intimating that there was also a relationship of friendship there too, with the man who was to become famous as the Earl of Wessex, father to Harold Godwinson and a brood of robust sons.) The brothers must have felt threatened by their father’s marriage to Emma, especially if, as declared in the Life of Edward the Confessor, England had promised that they would accept any male off-spring of theirs as the heir to the throne before any others. Whether or not this is true, this was never put to the test as Edmund was to become king before the male heirs of Emma were old enough to contest.

Æthelred II

Whilst his father was in exile, Edmund and Æthlestan did their best to garner support and managed to gain a friendship with brothers Morcar and Sigferth, two influential thegns in the East Midlands. When Sweyn died, Æthelred was invited back and he returned, promising that he would be a better king to his people as they asked.

On Æthelred’s return, he set about showing he would be true to his word to be a better king and recaptured London from Olaf, one of Cnut’s supporters. Edmund joined his father in the retaking of London, initially showing support for him. Æthelred then launched an expedition to attack the Danes, now led by Sweyn’s son, Cnut, but instead of winning the support of those people whose lands he savaged, Aethelred lost them to Edmund, almost undoing a lot of the good that Edmund and Aethelstan had done. But in any case, Cnut and his supporters were driven out. But he was not gone forever and returned in 1015 and began pillaging England once more.

Edmund Ironside

During this addendum to Æthelred’s reign, Edmund and Æthelred’s relations became further strained when he fell out with his father, who, with encouragement of Eadric Streona, known as the ‘Grasper’ the ealdorman of Mercia, executed Edmund’s friends, Morcar and Sigferth, two influential thegns from the Seven Boroughs in the East Midlands who had previously given their allegiance to the Danes. Here I feel I should mention the hypocrisy of Streona, who had supported Cnut recently himself and only just returned to the fold.

Naturally, Edmund was incensed at these deaths. He had after all, managed to win their support back for his father. Setting himself up as Ealdorman of the East Midlands, he revolted against his father and defied him by rescuing the widow of Sigferth, Ealdgyth. Æthelred had locked her up, hoping to get his hands on her land and property. Edmund married her totally against his father’s will, which did not please him. This rift in the family now completely divided father and son and the marriage strengthened Edmund’s position, for Ealdgyth’s family was one of the strongest in the Midlands.

When Æthelred became sick, it was left to Edmund to fight the Danes and win back England for the English Royal House. Streona went over to Cnut once more, and Edmund went north to meet with Uhtred of Northumbria hoping he would join him in an alliance but Uhtred was intercepted by Cnut and Uhtred gave Cnut his allegiance. Edmund went to join his father in London, failing to gather the support he needed and Cnut had Uhtred killed. Æthelred died in April 1016 and the Witan declared Cnut king but London declared for Edmund and he was crowned in St Paul’s Cathedral. This was when the real fighting started.

Eadric Streona, Edmund’s brother-in-law, gathered a substantial army that he led himself. The ASC stated that he had ‘intended to betray Edmund.’ Streona should have been loyal to Edmund, after all he was married to Edmund’s sister Eadgyth. But Eadric was not a man to keep faith and switched allegiances throughout his career. Eadric ended up in Cnut’s camp once more which meant that Cnut’s already substantial army was now augmented with English militia.

After a hasty coronation, Edmund left London which was being besieged by the Danes in the care of the citizens and went West where the fyrd rallied to him. Battles and skirmishes were fought, two of which were in Penselton in Somerset and Sherston in Wiltshire, the outcomes of which were neither victorious or lost, but ended with the Danes retreating. With this army he returned to London raising the siege that had been resisted by the people of London and then defeated the Danes at Brentwood. This exercise was repeated, with Edmund riding off into Wessex to gather more men, returning to London once more to find it again besieged and raising it once more. Then defeated the retreating army at Otford this time. Edmund pursued Cnut and the Danes into Kent; he had them on the run. It was then that Eadric decided to hedge his bets one more time and met with Edmund at Aylesford, fifteen miles from where Cnut’s army had taken refuge at the Isle of Sheppey. Streona had been Æthelred’s good friend and adviser but he could not even commit himself unconditionally to his beloved king’s son, which showed how much of a cunning swine he was.

Cnut eventually left Sheppey and Edmund went to attack him in Assundun in Essex, on the 18th of October, 1016. The battle was long, drawn out and ferocious on both sides. It is not sure how the battle was conducted, but we can assume that both sides fought on foot in their respective shieldwalls, though there is nothing to say that at least one side might have ridden into battle and cut the other side down in surprise. No one thought to record the battle details back in the day, and all we have from the English ASC was that the cunning swine, “Eadric fled the field, betraying his natural lord and all the people of England.” Thanks, Mr Streona.

The ASC refers to Edmund as acquiring the nomenclature of Ironside through his valour on the battlefield. It is tempting to imagine a powerfully built man, dressed in all the trappings of a warrior-king of the 11th century, swinging his Sword of Offa, riding into battle like a god on a horse. Sadly due to Eadric’s actions, Edmund could not fight on. Having lost much of his army in battle, he left with his life intact and the remnants of his force, wondering what might have happened if Streona had not so wickedly double-crossed him. Although Cnut’s army held the field, there was no total victory for Edmund still held Wessex.

Edmund’s story is tragic. Eadric’s deceit was inevitable, for he had already showed he was in it for himself, and later he was to pay for this ultimate betrayal later in the early days of his leadership Cnut, loathing oathbreakers, turned on him and executed him, having him beheaded. And Streona, who may well have been jealous of Edmund, was to go down in history as a grasping ‘little shit’ (as Jamie Jeffers of The British History Podcast refers to him) *

Eadric gets his comeuppance

Edmund, despite the possibility of him being wounded in battle, did not give up. He was not called Ironside for nothing. Unlike his father, who only ever led his men into battle three times, Edmund then rode into the West again to raise another army. Cnut could not understand why Edmund was so determined to fight on and not submit. Surely there was only so many times a man could come back again! Edmund had been relentless in his energy in fighting back, had Cnut on the run for some time. Cnut was battle-weary and wanted to put an end to the fighting and get on with the business of being king (Susan Abernethy).

Edmund and Cnut were eventually to meet up in Athelney where many years ago Edmund’s great ancestor had planned his own latter day D-Day invasion against the Danes. Needless to say, Streona was there to play his part and mediate! That must have stuck in Edmund’s gullet. If I had been Edmund I would have wanted his guts on a platter! (Only in the context of the time of course!)

A peace pact was made and England was once again divided. Cnut would have the Danelaw, Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia. Wessex was Edmund’s. It is said that whomever should die first would inherit the other’s kingdom so the two men became ‘brothers’ symbolically.

At this point, both men were in their prime but young by today’s standards at around 26 or 27 years old, having achieved much in their short lifetime. Edmund had a brother, Eadwig, who did not seem to have been a man of note as he does not emerge in any of this as such. Edmund’s wife Ealdgyth had given him a son in 2015 and another child was on its way. He had lost many of his thegns and ealdormen in battle though perhaps he had one loyal subject that we know of, Godwin Wulfnothson, who we know had been in his circle of friends from Æthelstan’s will. I like to think that Godwin had stayed by his side and was still supporting him. As a historical fiction author, we are allowed to make assumptions. However, it was thought that Godwin’s prior loyalty to Edmund was what Cnut admired in him.

Cnut had the bigger territory and was known to be a cunning, though honourable man, who did not like oathbreakers. It is thought that he admired, maybe even loved his adversary, Edmund. It’s sad to think the two men might have been great rulers together. By this time, Cnut’s own three sons by Ælfgifu may have been born. He had Streona and many other influential strong men in his counsel. And the pact that whoever died first would inherit the other’s kingdom was open to abuse. If Cnut, or anyone in his employ wanted to have Edmund murdered, they could make it happen for the right price. And with Streona in Cnut’s camp it’s quite credible.

Sadly, Edmund did die about 5 weeks after Assundun and not long after the meeting between the two men. We don’t know for sure why Edmund died. There are thoughts that Streona had a hand in it and as we can imagine from his treacherous behaviours this is plausible that someone in his pay could have crept in to Edmund’s camp, bribed a guard or two to do the deed. Even Cnut, though seems to have been honourable throughout his reign, was not above murder if the story about Edmund’s sons being sent away to have an accident was to be believed. Most historians however seem to have accepted that Edmund died of festering wounds after Assundun. Even a minor wound could become easily infected and cause fatal blood poisoning in those days. It could have happened suddenly if the infection was systemic. There are of course stories that Edmund was murdered and in not very savoury circumstances, which might or might not be doubtful.

Whatever the cause of Edmund’s untimely death, Streona did, in my view, have a role to play in it. His betrayal seems to have played a huge part in Edmund’s difficulties in beating back Cnut. Edmund’s tireless efforts to wrest England back from the Danes is to be admired and is largely forgotten because heroes like Edmund don’t get lauded in history because ultimately he lost his last battle too early.

Cnut seems to have gone on to be a ‘great’ king, bringing peace to this land for almost twenty years. Unfortunately his sons failed him and the crown was eventually to come back to the House of Wessex through Edmund’s younger brother, Edward, known as the Confessor.

I wonder if Edmund would have been proud of his son Edward the Exile who became a soldier in Europe and perhaps even prouder of his grandson Edgar, who seems to have inherited something of his grandfather’s determination?

Although we don’t know much about Edmund as a person, he was afforded the name Ironside in his time, I believe, and this gives us a glimmer of his character, that he was brave, committed and true to himself and what he believed in. In this current climate where we are looking back at our past and scrutinising every symbol that was ever put up to commemorate our so called heroes, I for one would be willing to put up a statue to this brave, fearless man who did his best to keep the wolves from the door and never gave up till his last days.

References

Abernethy, Susan (2014) King Edmund Ironside

Barlow, Frank (1997) Edward the Confessor. London: Yale University Press.

Jamie Jeffers The British History Podcast as quoted by Patricia Bracewell on Edmund Ironside

Whitlock, Ralph (1991) Warrior Kings of Saxon England Barnes and Noble.

See below the previous and future Authors and their blog posts !

PAULA’S PEOPLE: An Excerpt from Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl By Samantha Wilcoxson

 

Blog Tour Banner Final

Today I have the great pleasure of hosting Samantha Wilcoxson, author of many Tudor/Plantagenet novels, trying her hand at something different, as we follow her on her journey into the world of injustice. Samantha’s blog tour visits PAULA’S PEOPLE to talk about her latest novel, Luminous, in which she tells us what happened to the Ottawa dial painters at Radium, the company that destroyed their lives unnecessarily. Take it away, Samantha.

Paula, thank you for welcoming me to your blog to celebrate my new novel. I was inspired to write about Catherine Donohue after reading about her in Kate Moore’s book, The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women. I was astounded by the tragic history of the women who worked with radium, and I wanted to take a closer look at what it would have been like to live this history.
Catherine was nineteen when she started working as a dial painter using the radium infused paint at Radium Dial in Ottawa, Illinois. Women counted themselves lucky to obtain a job there for the high wages and relatively pleasant working conditions. They wouldn’t realize until years later that the material they were using every day was slowly poisoning them.
Once the women understood what was happening to them, they were faced with the fact that few were willing to help. The radium industry denied liability. Doctors were reluctant to label radium as a poison when they had been using it as a medicine. Legally, they had little or no protection or path of receiving compensation. Therefore, small-town girl Catherine Donohue decided to stand up for herself and her friends to make a change.
In this excerpt, Catherine’s friend, Peg, admits that she is secretly suffering and does not know the cause.

Radium Dial April 1936
Radium Dial April 1936

Excerpt from Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl by Samantha Wilcoxson

It was not until they broke for lunch that Catherine had the opportunity to tell Peg that she had brought enough to share.
“That’s too kind of you, Catherine, but I couldn’t take advantage.”
“You wouldn’t be,” Catherine insisted, thrusting the sandwich into Peg’s hands.
“You don’t understand.”
Peg’s voice was quiet, her words oddly slurred. Catherine realized that she hadn’t heard Peg speak much lately.
“Then help me understand.” Catherine placed her hands on Peg’s shoulders, gently but firmly. “Tell me what is wrong. Let me help you.”
Peg sighed and gave in, gesturing for Catherine to follow her into the tiny bathroom shared by all the dial painters. Once they were snugly closed inside, Catherine examined Peg’s face and saw her own concern mirrored there.
Peg surprised her by not speaking. Instead, she opened her mouth wide and pulled at the side of her mouth for Catherine to see inside.
“Oh, Peg! How in the world?”
“They just fell out,” Peg whispered.
Having seen the inside of Peg’s mouth, understanding flowed over Catherine. Her friend wasn’t avoiding food and conversation because of money problems. She must be in constant pain from the throbbing, angry abscesses that flared irritably where two of Peg’s teeth should have been.
“You poor thing!” Catherine wrapped her arms around Peg, which was easy to do in their close quarters. Peg’s shoulder blades and ribs felt sharp. “How long have you been suffering?”
Peg only shook her head as her tears began to fall.
“Oh, shush, love,” Catherine murmured, swaying slightly on her feet. “We will talk about it when you’re ready, and we will find you help.”
“That’s just it,” Peg suddenly cried out. “I’ve been to the dentist. He doesn’t know what could be wrong, and four more of my teeth are loose.”
“Four?” Catherine’s voice was scarcely more than a whisper, and she felt a sliver of fear pierce her heart. What could be wrong?

 

Luminous Book Cover Final

 

Important Links:

Universal Amazon Link for Luminous: mybook.to/luminous

Samantha’s Blog: https://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/

Samantha on Social Media:

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carpe_librum

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/samantha_wilcoxson

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/samanthajw

author pic

Author Bio:

Samantha Wilcoxson is a history enthusiast and avid traveler. Her published works include the Plantagenet Embers series with novels and novellas that explore the Wars of the Roses and early Tudor era. Luminous is her first foray into 20th century American history, but she suspects that it will not be her last. Samantha enjoys exploring the personal side of historic events and creating emotive, inspiring stories.

PAULA SAYS:

Samantha thank you for coming on my blog today, its been a pleasure to host you. One of the most poignant things I found in the story was how this could have been so easily avoided. This would never have happened today, and if it had, those giant companies would not have got away with it. They would have been imprisoned for corporate manslaughter. It is so tragic. This is a story that really makes a mark on you, one of those that will stay with you for the rest of your life. With all the injustices going brought to our attention today, we must not lose focus of the fact that this happened to these girls because they were from poor and working class backgrounds and this must never be forgotten that whatever your colour, creed, religion or race, injustice is NOT acceptable.

Thank you, Samantha, once again for highlighting this awful thing that happened in America the 20s and 30s.

MA Yarde Book Cover

The Du Lac Curse: Book 5 of the Du Lac Chronicles by Mary Anne Yarde Blog Tour

Today I am welcoming a guest post from Mary Anne Yarde, who is blog touring to promote her latest book release. Take it away Mary Anne!

Welcome to the Dark Ages. Welcome to the Land of King Arthur.
By Mary Anne Yarde.
I have been fascinated with the life and times of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table since I was a child — I guess growing up a stone’s throw from Glastonbury (The Ancient Isle of Avalon) may have had something to do with that.

MA Yarde, Glastonbury sign

My book series, The Du Lac Chronicles, tells the story of what happened after the death of Arthur and continues the story of his knights and their sons. But to write about the end of Arthur’s reign, I needed to know about the beginning. A not so easy task, it turned out.

 

The history of a historical Arthur is not written in stone but is, instead, engraved in folklore, and that brings its own set of challenges.

 

Firstly, where did Arthur come from? Well, that is an easy question to answer…

 

King Arthur was English. No, he was Welsh. Arthur was Scottish. He was from Brittany. Oh, for goodness’ sake, he was a Roman General!

 

Which is right? Arthur is so famous that everyone wants to claim him and, over the years, there have been many names thrown out there as to who he really was. But we mustn’t forget that when we are dealing with Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We can make Arthur fit wherever we want him to, and that is where the problem lies. It is very easy to make mistakes, and I have read many books that claim to have found the real Arthur, only they haven’t, it is just a theory, sometimes a very shaky one.

The same can be said for Arthur’s famous castle, Camelot. There have been many possible locations for one of the most famous castles in history. Tintagel, Cadbury Hill, Caerlaverock Castle, have all been put forward. However, during all this excitement and discoveries, we have overlooked a fundamental issue — there was no Camelot. It was an invention of a French poet in 1180! How can you look for something that was never there to begin with? But, still they do.

Tintagel MA Yarde

The Early Medieval era or The Dark Ages as it is more commonly known, is a challenging period to research as it is the age of the lost manuscripts. They were lost due to various reasons. Firstly, the Viking raiders destroyed many written primary sources. Henry VIII did not help matters when he ordered The Dissolution of the Monasteries. More were lost due to the English Civil War and indeed, The French Revolution, and of course the tragic Cotton Library Fire in 1731. Although researching this era is certainly challenging, it is not impossible. However, many of the primary written sources that are left were written for a purpose and that purpose was usually politically motivated, which in itself is fascinating, although not very helpful. Now, in these early texts, when Arthur is mentioned, there is nothing about him being a king. Nennuis describes him as a warrior on par with Ironman, but no mention of a crown.

It isn’t until the 12th Century when Geoffrey of Monmouth writes his great work that the Arthur we know is born. The History of The Kings of Briton was meant to be a historically accurate account of British History and for many, many, years what Monmouth wrote was considered factually correct. Of course, we now know it was anything but. However, that does not mean that Monmouth’s work is of no particular value. Monmouth borrowed heavily from folklore, and it is his story that drives the legend of Arthur and his knights forward. I think Monmouth’s book is incredibly important as it tells us a great deal about, not only the era but also about the people who were listening to his stories. And if we dig a little further, we can discover that it wasn’t only the populous who loved listening to Arthurian tales. Those ever-practical monks at Glastonbury Abbey did as well.

Let’s take a journey back to 12th Century England…

A terrible fire had spread through Glastonbury Abbey, and unfortunately for the monks, they did not have the coffers to pay for the repairs. If only they could encourage more pilgrims to come to the Abbey. What could they do?

MA Yarde

Thanks to Monmouth’s book “Arthur Fever” had gripped the nation. People would pay good money to go on a pilgrimage to Arthur’s final resting place. All that was needed was a good story and a grave. The monks of Glastonbury announced to the world that they had discovered Arthur’s final resting place. That brought in the crowds. Glastonbury Abbey soon had the coffers to make the repairs and then some. There was as much truth in the story of Glastonbury Abbey and King Arthur’s grave as there was in The History of the Kings of Briton. But for hundreds of years, both the Abbey and Monmouth were believed.

My series is not just set in Britain, but also France, and in my latest book, Jerusalem as well. Therefore, I needed to have a good understanding of what was happening in these countries in the 5th / 6th Century to keep the history real in the telling. But, before I could look at France, I needed to have an understanding of what was happening in the Western Roman Empire during this time. By 476 C.E. the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire had been overthrown. The stability that the Roman Empire had brought to Western Europe for over 1000 years was no more.

This dawning new era brings us some of the most fascinating historical figures that ever lived. These were the days of men such as Clovis. Clovis won a decisive victory against Rome, at the Battle of Soissons in AD 486. But, Clovis’ ambition didn’t stop there. Roman Gaul and parts of Western Germany fell to him as well. He forged a new empire through blood, war, and marriage. He made Paris the capital of his new kingdom, and he was the first King of a united Frank (France).

While the Western Roman Empire was coming to an end, The Eastern Roman Empire, “The Byzantine Empire,” was flourishing. However, since Eudocia’s passing, Jews were no longer welcomed in Jerusalem, and therefore they could no longer pray at Solomon’s Temple. For the time being, Jerusalem belonged to the Christians. But of course, that would later change.
4. Solomon's Temple

In Britain, the Saxons and the Angles crossed the South Sea to take advantage of vulnerable Britain who, since the Romans had left, had split back into various smaller kingdoms. There was much infighting and unrest. It was the perfect opportunity for the Saxon’s to come over and stake their claim.

 

While all this was going on, the Church was creeping into the crevices, and spreading the word of God and, what could be considered of equal value, one language — Latin. It could be argued that it was the Church that united Britain in the end.

 

This was a time of great unrest and change, but one thing remained constant for the general populous, and that was storytelling. Arthur may well have been a general but folklore made him a Christian King and gave him a castle full of noble knights. Arthur and his knights (most of them anyway) cared about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. But he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, as T.H White so elegantly put it — The Once and Future King.

 

King Arthur - MA YARDE

In Britain, the Saxons and the Angles crossed the South Sea to take advantage of vulnerable Britain who, since the Romans had left, had split back into various smaller kingdoms. There was much infighting and unrest. It was the perfect opportunity for the Saxon’s to come over and stake their claim.

 

While all this was going on, the Church was creeping into the crevices, and spreading the word of God and, what could be considered of equal value, one language — Latin. It could be argued that it was the Church that united Britain in the end.

 

This was a time of great unrest and change, but one thing remained constant for the general populous, and that was storytelling. Arthur may well have been a general but folklore made him a Christian King and gave him a castle full of noble knights. Arthur and his knights (most of them anyway) cared about the people they represented. Arthur was a good king, the like of which has never been seen before or after. He was the perfect tool for spreading a type of patriotic propaganda. Arthur was someone you would want to fight by your side. But he also gave ordinary people a sense of belonging and hope. He is, after all, as T.H White so elegantly put it — The Once and Future King.

Stones MA Yarde

I have tried to show what life was like in the 5th /6th Century in my books, but I have been heavily influenced by folklore because when you are dealing with this period in history, you cannot dismiss it. Brittany, for example, is terribly difficult to research historically during this era, thanks again to those Viking raiders. However, when it comes to folklore, Brittany is rich and if that is all she is going to give us, then so be it.
Folklore is its own particular brand of history, and it is often overlooked by historians, which I think is a shame. You can tell a lot about a people by the stories they tell, and people are still fascinated by this larger-than-life king, which I think, says it all. Arthur may well have been a general, or a knight, he may have been English, he may not, but it doesn’t matter because his story is timeless, it will never grow old.

Twitter Handle: @maryanneyarde
Hashtags: #HistoricalFiction #Arthurian

The Du Lac Curse: Book 5 of The Du Lac Chronicles
By Mary Anne Yarde
(Blurb)
God against Gods. King against King. Brother against Brother.
Mordred Pendragon had once said that the sons of Lancelot would eventually destroy each other, it seemed he was right all along.
Garren du Lac knew what the burning pyres meant in his brother’s kingdom — invasion. But who would dare to challenge King Alden of Cerniw for his throne? Only one man was daring enough, arrogant enough, to attempt such a feat — Budic du Lac, their eldest half-brother.
While Merton du Lac struggles to come to terms with the magnitude of Budic’s crime, there is another threat, one that is as ancient as it is powerful. But with the death toll rising and his men deserting who will take up the banner and fight in his name?

Intrigued? Hooked? You can get your copy or have a look at the rest of the series by clicking these links!

Amazon US

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MA Yarde author pic

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Set a generation after the fall of King Arthur, The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Britain and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, The Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed.

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

Connect with Mary Anne: Website • Blog • Twitter • Facebook • Goodreads.

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Rise of A Champion: The History Behind the Story by Stuart Rudge

Today I welcome author Stuart Rudge with a research post on the history of  Eleventh Century Spain. Stuart, who has recently released his first book in this series, discusses the background to his story.

Stuart Rudge book cover

“A Castilian prince defeats and kills his Aragonese uncle in order to preserve the territorial integrity of a Muslim ally” 

So says Richard Fletcher in one of his best works, The Quest for El Cid. The event he is referring to is the Battle of Graus, generally accepted to have been contested in the summer of 1063. The context behind the battle highlights the complexity of Spanish politics at the time. It is also the first battle in which Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, known later as El Cid Campeador, is mentioned by name.

To begin with, it is important to understand the setup of the monarchs at the time. Sancho III el Mayor of Navarre ruled over what is now Navarre, Aragon and Castile. Before his death he divided his kingdom between his sons; Garcia would receive Navarre, Ramiro would claim Aragon, whilst Fernando would be gifted Castile. Fernando wrestled control of the kingdom of Leon from his brother in law, Bermundo, to create a large domain, then was successful in defeating and killing Garcia at the battle of Atapuerta in 1054. Navarre was reduced to a vassal state, and Fernando claimed some of its lands as his own. In the following decade he launched a series of raids against the Muslim taifas of al-Andalus; by 1062 Zaragoza, Toledo, Badajoz and Seville all paid parias to Fernando. The parias tribute was a sum of money and luxury goods gifted to the Christians to defer warfare, for the taifas could not match the strength of Christian knights on the battlefield.

image2 (1)
Fernando I of Leon-Castille

So when Ramiro of Aragon besieged Graus, then under the control of al-Muqtadir of Zaragoza, the Muslim amir appealed for aid to reclaim it. Fernando did not hesitate to strike at his final remaining dynastic rival. He sent his eldest son Sancho with a force of knights to Zaragoza, and from there the combined Christian and Muslim forces met the Aragonese. Ramiro was killed and Sancho carried the day. Thus, a Christian king aided a Muslim king to defeat another Christian. The conflicts at Atapuerta and Graus show us that political gain took precedence over religious motives in most conflicts in the Iberians peninsula at the time.

In the retinue of Sancho was a young knight by the name of Rodrigo Diaz. Little is known of his upbringing, and some of what we know is shrouded in obscurity, but we know he was born around 1043 in the village of Vivar, some six miles north of Burgos. His father was Diefgo Lainez, who allegedly fought with Fernando in the Atapuerta campaign, but is rumoured to have fell afoul of the king and punished. Rodrigo was sent to the court of Sancho, and could have served as a squire for the young prince, certainly one of his knights, at least. By the time of Graus he would have been twenty years of age, and had won his knightly belt. A young knight in the service of an infante, a royal prince, was well placed to advance his name in the world.

image1

Rodrigo and Sancho may have been present when Fernando marched in to modern day Portugal and captured the city of Coimbra from the taifa of Badajoz in 1064, after a long siege. Yet in the east of the peninsula, another siege has taken place. A force of Christians, comprising of Franks, Burgundians, Aquitanians, Catalans and Aragonese, under orders from the Pope, laid siege to the Muslim town of Barbastro. When the inhabitants surrendered, they were butchered, and the Christians seized the town for themselves. In the aftermath, it appears the Muslims of Zaragoza were outraged by the act, and in turn Christian Mozarabs were attacked and even killed in retaliation for the barbarous acts. At some point al-Muqtadir refused to continue with his parias payments.

In retribution Fernando led a campaign of punishment against Zaragoza. Al-Muqtadir relented and bowed to the Christian king once more. It is also likely that Sancho and Rodrigo accompanied the king in his final campaign; Fernando attempted to force the taifa of Valencia to recognise his rule with parias payments. The Christians besieged the city and were victorious at the battle of Paterna, but Fernando soon became ill and died in Leon a few days after Christmas, 1065.

The Fortress at Castille
Castille Fortress

The death of Fernando saw the coronation of his three sons; Sancho inherited Castile, Alfonso became king of Leon, and Garcia had the crown of Galicia. But the brothers were not content with the domains they had. Soon the Christian kingdoms north of the Duero would be embroiled in a series of conflicts, where Rodrigo Diaz would be central in the story.

Bibliography

Fletcher, Richard (1989) The Quest for El Cid, London

Stuart R

Bio

Stuart Rudge was born and raised in Middlesbrough, where he still lives. His love of history came from his father and uncle, both avid readers of history, and his love of table top war gaming and strategy video games. He studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Newcastle University, and has spent his fair share of time in muddy trenches, digging up treasure at Bamburgh Castle.

He has worked in the retail sector and volunteered in museums, before working in York Minster, which he considered the perfect office. His love of writing blossomed within the historic walls, and he knew there were stories within which had to be told. Despite a move in to the shipping and logistics sector (a far cry to what he hoped to ever do), his love of writing has only grown stronger.

Rise of a Champion is the first piece of work he has dared to share with the world. Before that came a novel about the Roman Republic and a Viking-themed fantasy series (which will likely never see the light of day, but served as good practise). He hopes to establish himself as a household name in the mound of Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian, Ben Kane and Matthew Harffy, amongst a host of his favourite writers

 

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