Blog Tour, The Admiral’s Wife by M.K. Tod

Today I’m very happy to introduce an excerpt from The Admiral’s Wife which is currently on tour (see schedule banner at the end of the post) with the Coffee Pot Book Club.

“Family secrets and personal ambitions, east and west, collide in this compelling, deeply moving novel.” — Weina Dai Randel, award-winning author of THE LAST ROSE OF SHANGHAI

“Irresistible and absorbing.” Janie Chang, bestselling author of THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS

Blurb

The lives of two women living in Hong Kong more than a century apart are unexpectedly linked by forbidden love and financial scandal.

In 2016, Patricia Findlay leaves a high-powered career to move to Hong Kong, where she hopes to rekindle the bonds of family and embrace the city of her ancestors. Instead, she is overwhelmed by feelings of displacement and depression. To make matters worse, her father, CEO of the family bank, insists that Patricia’s duty is to produce an heir, even though she has suffered three miscarriages.

In 1912, when Isabel Taylor moves to Hong Kong with her husband, Henry, and their young daughter, she struggles to find her place in such a different world and to meet the demands of being the admiral’s wife. At a reception hosted by the governor of Hong Kong, she meets Li Tao-Kai, an influential member of the Chinese community and a man she met a decade earlier when he was a student at Cambridge.

As the story unfolds, each woman must consider where her loyalties lie and what she is prepared to risk for love.

Excerpt

At 6:00 p.m., Kennedy Road was still crowded along the winding section that cut across Victoria Peak. Hong Kong’s ubiquitous red taxis dodged from lane to lane as they ferried commuters from offices in Sheung Wan, Central, and Wan Chai to apartment buildings that crammed the hillside like an invading army. Patricia stared out the tinted windows of their limousine, idly reading the names mounted on each grand entrance gate: Camelot Heights, Wing Wai Court, Amber Garden, Bamboo Grove.

“You seem moody,” Andrew said.

“Do I?” She turned to look at him. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m still annoyed with my father.”

“Come on, sweetheart. That was more than a week ago. Just ignore him and find a job on your own.” He squeezed her hand. “What’s happened to my strong, capable wife? The woman who could handle tough negotiations with people who had twice as much experience.”

Patricia flashed him a little smile. “You’re right,” she said. “But the whole thing still pisses me off.”

Her husband rubbed the red stubble on his face, a sign that he was weighing his next words. “Should we return to New York?” he asked.

She pushed a strand of long black hair behind one ear. “No, no, no. We can’t go back to the U.S. My father would have a fit. So would my mother. But I’m going nuts with nothing to do.”

During the first three or four months in Hong Kong, Patricia had spent her days organizing their spacious apartment, exploring the city, spending time with her family, and indulging in what she thought of as frivolous pursuits like shopping and weekly pedicures. She had also played tennis, learned mahjong, taken up qigong, and made a few friends. After almost twenty years of working in a demanding career, she’d considered this interlude a well-deserved rest.

Depression had come on unexpectedly. The first sign was difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. General fatigue and irritability had followed, and there were days when she just couldn’t focus. Andrew had encouraged her to go to the doctor. Doctor Leung, her mother’s GP, had prescribed pills but after less than a month Patricia had stopped taking the medication. At the same time, she’d resolved to get back to work.

“I know it’s been difficult,” Andrew said. He took her hand again and ran his thumb across her fingers. “You’ll find something. But please don’t antagonize your father tonight. I’m finally making headway at the bank. I think he’s even beginning to appreciate my skills, which is an improvement over resenting me. If he believes he can trust me, there could be more opportunity here than back home. And more money. I have to think of the kids.”

“I wish we could see them,” she said. Sadness surged across her chest.

“So do I. Very much. But they’ll be here for Christmas.”

Andrew’s ex-wife had primary custody of his two children. When Patricia and Andrew lived in New York, Steven and Emma had spent every other weekend with them, but now that they were in Hong Kong, visits could only be scheduled during summer holidays, spring break, and Christmas, unless business took Andrew to the U.S. After agonizing over the decision, she and Andrew had agreed to restrict their relocation to three years. They both missed his children terribly, a sacrifice made more acute by her inability to carry a baby to term.

Patricia looked at her husband, whose pale blue eyes were bloodshot from a string of late nights. She was being unreasonable but couldn’t help herself. Situations that she would have dismissed as trivial when they lived in New York had become major sources of discontent and angst.

“If I had a job . . .” Her voice trailed off. They’d been round and round the topic all week. Andrew was becoming exasperated.

“Well, given your father’s reaction, you should probably wait a while before raising that topic again.” Andrew withdrew his hand and fingered the crease of his dark gray pants. “What about looking outside banking? You’re a great project manager.”

“Maybe,” Patricia said. “But so far, every possibility I’ve found requires Asian experience and fluency in Cantonese or Mandarin.” She sighed. “Dammit. Why does he always make things so difficult?”

“To tell you the truth, I have no idea. Probably because he can. I admire many of your father’s tactics. But I don’t like the way he treats people, especially you.” Andrew’s voice was gentler than before. “Aren’t you seeing someone about that board position?”

“Mm-hmm. Arthur Chung said it’s mine if I want it.” She linked her fingers with Andrew’s. “We’re meeting Friday afternoon for a briefing on the role he wants me to play. I’m sure he only asked me to get a donation from Ah Ba, but it could be interesting.”

Their driver merged the Mercedes onto Queen’s Road East, past hotels and schools along with a Sikh temple and remnants of air-raid tunnels built during the Second World War. Traffic was at a standstill.

“Well, make the best of it for now,” he said. “I’m sure things will get better.”

Patricia knew her husband was trying to be helpful, but his remark felt patronizing. She hated being patronized. Unlike many of her male colleagues who had underestimated her abilities, Andrew had treated her as an equal from the day they’d met. Had their new circumstances changed his perspective? Was she only his equal when they were both working?

After she’d told him about the conversation with her father, Andrew had asked why she’d allowed her parents to persuade her to live in a place that had never been her home. Patricia hadn’t replied. And ever since, the question had hovered, unsettling in its stark clarity.

She loved her parents, despite their idiosyncrasies and traditional ways. And they loved her. Of that she was certain. Eighteen months earlier, when she and Andrew still lived in New York, her mother had ended a lengthy argument about Patricia’s duty to her family by saying, “We’ll be dead soon and then you’ll be sorry you never came back.”

That conversation had been the tipping point. After much debate, Andrew had agreed to try living in Hong Kong. They’d also agreed that if it didn’t work out, they would return to New York. Ever since, she’d felt displaced, torn between Andrew’s world and the Chinese world of her parents. Her husband expected a modern businesswoman with Western values; her parents expected a dutiful Chinese daughter. The two were irreconcilable.

“I wonder when this place is going to feel like home,” Patricia said.

“You’re the one—”

“Yes, I know,” she said. “I’m the one who wanted to move here. I’m just a little out of sorts. But don’t worry. I’ll make nice with my father. You should know, though, that I’m not going to put up with him telling me what to do any longer.”

Author Bio

M. K. Tod

M.K. (Mary) Tod’s interest in historical fiction began as a teenager immersed in the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy, and Georgette Heyer. In 2004, her husband’s career took them to Hong Kong where, with no job and few prospects, Mary began what became Unravelled, her first novel. The Admiral’s Wife is her fifth novel.

Mary’s award-winning blog, http://www.awriterofhistory.com, focuses on reading and writing his-torical fiction. She’s an active member of the historical fiction community and has conduct-ed five unique reader surveys on topics from readers’ habits and preferences to favorite his-torical fiction authors. Mary is happily married to her high-school sweetheart. They have two adult children and two delightful grandsons.

Social Media Links:

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Howling At The Moon

Ever wondered what dark secrets your characters hold in their hearts?
A conversation with my guy, Wulfhere, and a bit of help from English Civil War novelist MJ Logue’s Thankful Russell, reveals an interesting past.

A Sweet Disorder

Or, Two Crazy Blonds Meet A Psychiatric Nurse….

Wulfhere, the hero of our tale….

So astonishingly enough, it seems I’m still alive, still writing, and Hollie’s still stuck in Yorkshire but he’s got an end in sight. Mostly the end of Scarborough Castle, and poor lamb, he has no idea what the New Modell’d Army has got in store for him next year, but – at least he might get to go home for a bit soon.

(He might also have to take the boy Hapless with him, if nothing else because the bloody idiot is hell-bent on spending his off-season lurking around the Rosemary Branch tavern in Islington writing seditious pamphlets. But that, as they say, is a whole other story…)

So I was chatting last night to my friend Paula Lofting, who writes the Sons Of The Wolf series, set in the eleventh century. In civilian life Paula’s…

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Ælfgyva: The Mystery Lady of the Bayeux Tapestry Part V

by Paula Lofting

For those who have not read any of my earlier posts about this puzzling enigmatic woman, Ælfgyva, whose image is portrayed in the Bayeux Tapestry with a priest, we have been exploring her possible identity to ascertain what her role was in the events of 1064-6. It is my aim to try and shed some light and interpret what or how she came to be sewn into this enigmatic tale of Harold’s fateful trip to Normandy. After discounting the known candidates except for one, it would appear that the identity of this Ælfgyva is Ælfgifu of Northampton. She was a consort of Cnut, enjoined to him in the more danico tradition. Marrying her in this way meant that Cnut could take another, more politically convenient wife at a later date, as he did when he married Emma of Normandy, to whom the English also referred to as Ælfgifu.

Just to recap what we have found out about this particular Ælfgifu in my previous posts, she was the daughter of Ælfhelm, a major ealdorman of Northumbria whose familial origins were Mercian. His mother was a wealthy woman named Wulfrun, but I have not been able to find a source for his father. It could be that his mother was of higher status, or his father had died when Ælfhelm was young. Regardless, it was obvious that Ælfgifu came from a very important family. Her father was put to death by his enemy Eadric Streona and her younger brothers were blinded. All this was done with the connivance of King Aethelred, and Ælfgifu may never have forgotten or forgiven this deed and it quite possibly could have shaped her personality from then on. (Incidentally, the office of earldorman was later replaced by the shire-reeve).

Because of her family’s influence in the in the north, it may have been expedient for the Danish invader, Swein of Denmark, to seek an alliance with them, taking advantage of the rift Ælfhelm’s death may have caused between them and Aethelred. So, it seems she was either given as a concubine to Swein’s son, Cnut, or handfastened to him; the latter being the most likely.

Handfasted wives were not necessarily cast off when the man later married politically, and the evidence is inclined to show that like Harold Godwinson, half a century later, Cnut kept his affections for Ælfgifu and did not wholly put her aside for Emma. In fact, initially, he may have considered her with great respect, if not affection; she had, after all, provided him with two heirs, Swein and Harald, named in respect for Cnut’s father and grandfather. When Swein was old enough, Cnut sent Ælfgifu with him as regent to rule in Norway. He may have done this to keep her out of the way of his relationship with Emma, though this is not founded in any source, but one can picture that the two women were serious rivals for Cnut’s affection and that they probably felt threatened by one another. On the other hand, Cnut may have simply been keeping the interests of the Northern thegns alive by continuing to honour her and the alliance with her family. Emma may have had the upper hand, however, being the recognised queen. And it is natural to think that Emma, an astute woman that she was, would not have agreed to marry Cnut if any of her future children by him were to not have precedence over Ælfgifu’s.
One might have been forgiven for intuitively assuming that the nature of Ælfgifu of Northampton’s character was somewhat harsh when some years later she and Swein had to flee Norway for her apparent heavy-handed rule. The Norwegians rebelled against her heavy taxation and it seemed, preferred Magnus I as ruler to Cnut’s harridan. Her son, Swein, was to die in Denmark shortly after. In the Norwegian Ágrip, Ælfgifu is mentioned by the Skald Sigvatr, a contemporary of her’s:

Ælfgyfu’s time: long will the young man remember,
when they at home ate ox’s food,
and like the goats, ate rind

She may have died sometime around 1040, as nothing is heard of her after this. The story about her deception of Cnut, is strangely alluded to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Abingdon edition (C) where it is mentioned:

‘And Harold, who said that he was the son of Cnut – although it was not true-’

This appears to be referring to the story about Ælfgifu’s sons not being fathered by Cnut, already spoken about in PART IV of this mystery. In my search for the real Ælfgyva, I have discovered that the Encomium Emmae Reginae, commissioned by Queen Emma, makes the allegation that Harold was really the son of a servant girl smuggled into Ælfgifu’s bed chamber and passed off as Cnut’s son. John of Worcester elaborates further and tells us that Cnut’s sons by Ælfgifu were neither his nor hers, even, and that Ælfgifu, desperate to have a son, ordered that the new born son of a priest’s concubine be presented to Cnut as his own son by herself. This was the child called Swein. Harold, he states, was the son of a workman, like the one seen in the border underneath Ælfgyva’s scene in the tapestry (Bridgeford 2002). Bard McNulty (1980) first drew the patrons of the Tapestry to the theory that this was Ælfgifu of Northampton. He also theorizes that William and Harold had a discussion in the previous scene whereby Harold reassures William that the English will not call upon Harald of Norway to become king when Edward dies. I have already rejected this theory because apart from her connection with Norway, her connection to Harald Hardrada is neither tenuous nor existent.

What I do, however agree with is Bard McNulty’s idea that the Ælfgyva scene is not meant to be a sequel to the scene before it, but rather that it represents what they were discussing, an issue involving a priest and Ælfgyva. So, if they were not discussing Harald Hardrada, then what were they discussing that could possibly concern a long dead noble woman and a priest? And what had they to do with the events described in the tapestry, the events that led to the invasion of 1066, or Harold’s time in Normandy?

Let us think for a moment:

What if this whole thing was a case of mistaken identity, and that the right story was projected on to the wrong lady? Or that the wrong lady was associated with the wrong Ælfgifu? The plot thickens even more, so stay tuned for the final part in this mystery. Can we solve it? You’ll have to wait until the next instalment is posted.

References

Encomium Emmae Reginae

Norwegian Ágrip

John of Worcester Chronicon ex chronicis

Further Reading

Bridgeford A, 1066 The Hidden History in the Tapestry

J Bard McNulty, Visual Meaning in the Bayeux Tapestry: Problems and Solutions in PicturingHistory (Studies in French Civilization)

This Editor’s Choice from the EHFA Archives was originally published on January 23, 2018.

Ælfgyva: The Mystery Woman of the Bayeux Tapestry – Part IV

The woman in the Bayeux Tapestry called Ælfgyva has given commentators and historians alike, food for thought for as long as the Bayeux Tapestry has been studied. As we have seen in the earlier chapters, there have been plenty of Ælfgyvas to choose from, but none quite fits the bill as much as Ælfgifu  of Northampton. We have discounted the Queen Emma/Aelfgifu version, and also that Earl Harold had any daughter or sister of that name. I have also set aside the idea that the lady may have been a child of William’s, offered to Harold as a wife in return for an alliance.

Ælfgifu was a purely English name and Ælfgyva, being the Latinised version, was used instead of its English counterpart, as the text on the BT is written in Latin. Although a possibility, it was not likely that such a name would have been given to a Norman woman, especially the daughter of William, whose daughters were called, Adela, Adeliza, Constance, Agatha and Cecilia, and none were given an English name, as far as we know.

Edward Freeman, writing in 1869, suggests that the woman they are discussing was a lady at the duke’s palace, and the idea that a bride for Harold was discussed, shouldn’t necessarily be discounted. However, it seems unlikely that if such a lady was chosen from one of the duke’s daughters, she would have been portrayed with lewd men underneath her image pointing up her dress. One thing to remember, the name Ælfgyva means noble-gift in Anglo-Saxon, and might have been used to refer to a lady of noble birth, in which case her name might not necessarily be Ælfgyva, but a sort of title.

So, the wording on the Tapestry, could actually be meant to be taken as A Priest and a Noble Lady, in which case she could have easily have been anyone at the court of William’s, but, unfortunately, we will never know.

So, why then does Ælfgifu of Northampton seem the likeliest candidate to match the mysterious lady on the Tapestry? What is it about this Ælfgifu that draws me to believe that she is the one?
There are several versions of the scandal which Ælfgifu of Northampton was involved in, but Florence of Worcester tells us an interesting tale of the first wife of Cnut, the said Ælfgifu of Northampton. According to his writings, she was said to have passed off the bastard child of a priest as Cnut’s son, after failing to provide an heir of her own. This child was called Swein.

Later, Worcester states that she passed off another ‘son’, Harold Harefoot, who was a child of a workman, or a cobbler. Interestingly, if we look once again at the image of Ælfgyva and the priest, we see that in the lower border a naked figure of a man with a rather large member, is mimicking the stance and gesture of the priest. There is also another image of a naked workman.  The priest, who touches her face, is either stroking her cheek, or slapping her. The scene is also iconographic, which means it is supposed to be a representation of what perhaps, William and Harold may have been discussing in the previous scene, as I have already said in Part III. 

Unlike the other scenes in the tapestry, this one is not to be viewed as part of the story but more as alluding to some sexual scandal. Interpreting the face fondling/slapping aspect is a bone of contention, however. At first, I favoured the idea that the priest was slapping her but upon further research I came across an intriguing suggestion submitted by J Bard McNulty in the Lady Ælfgyva in The Bayeux Tapestry (1980).

Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

So, if we accept that the woman referred to in the tapestry must be Aelfgifu of Northampton, we have to ponder upon why on earth Harold and William would be discussing her at this stage of the story. Aelfgifu would have been long dead at the time of this meeting (around the autumn of 1064). But let us not discount her, for she was, like her counterpart and rival, Emma of Normandy, a formidable woman. Unfortunately for her, she was not as tactful or astute as Emma. 

Cnut had most likely married Ælfgifu in the more-danico fashion, commonly known as a handfasting, rather than a marriage that is recognised by the church. We believe this, as he was later able to marry Emma, despite already being tied to Ælfgifu. A handfasted wife was, by law, legitimate, as were any children she had. However, it was customary in those times to wed traditionally for love, or for an alliance that would expediate a man’s cause, then later, marry for political reasons as Harold Godwinson did with Aldith of Mercia, to gain the support of her brothers. Cnut needed support in his early days as ruler, and had married Ælfgifu to claim the loyalty of her father’s supporters whom were opposed to Æthelred; the king had killed her father and blinded her brother. 
Cnut must have initially valued Ælfgifu and her children by him, for he sent her and her eldest son, Swein, to rule Norway as his representatives, and as Swein was a mere child at the time, Ælfgigu was to act as regent. But she was unpopular with the Norwegians, her rule being ruthless and harsh, so, after some years, she and Swein were driven out of Norway, and Magnus the Good, replaced Swein as King of Norway. It would be interesting to know if Cnut’s feelings toward Ælfgifu would have changed after she lost Norway for him.              

Cnut

Eventually, Magnus the Good would make a treaty with Cnut’s son by Emma, Harthacnut, and it was this treaty that Tostig may have used to persuade Harald Hardrada to lay claim to the English throne in 1066. Harthacnut and Magnus of Norway were said to have made an oath to each other that should one of them die, the other would inherit all the other’s kingdoms, should the deceased die without issue. Although Magnus claimed his right to England, he never pursued it beyond a threat after Harthacnut died.  
McNulty’s theory concerning this scene, centres around what the two men (Harold and William) might be discussing. William broaches the subject of the English succession with Harold, and they are conferring about the claimants to the throne, one of which was Harald Hardrada. Harold reassures William that he has nothing to worry about, because of the scandal of the sons of Cnut that weren’t really the sons of Cnut.
Sounds plausible? Nope, no, and nada. Confusing? Definitely. 
What had Ælfgifu’s indiscretion got to do with Hardrada’s claim to the throne? After all, she was not mother to Harthacnut who had made the oath with Magnus, and Emma of Normandy, who was the mother of Harthacnut, was not the Ælfgifu depicted in the scandal with the priest and the workman. What a great intrigue this is turning out to be. Just when I think I am there, another ‘but’ pops up! 
And in the immortal words of Sr Walter Scott: 

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive

Stay tuned for the next part of the intrigue, PART FIVE

Introducing the Poynings – Part II, Rebellion and Recovery

I just love anything Sussex!

Bev's Historical Yarns

Michael Poynings, Adam’s heir was first seen actively managing the Sussex lands in 1202. He secured a grant of a market in Crawley, paying King John a fine of a Norwegian hawk[1]. It is difficult to build a picture of Michael, as he is a shadowy figure in the records. He never appears in the extant de Warenne records as a witness to grants or charters. Nor does he appear to make any of his own. The evidence suggests he might have been a bit of an outsider, his loyalties shifting with the turbulent tides of John’s reign.

He married a Norfolk widow, Margaret de Cailly in 1206[2]. Whether he had a previous marriage is unknown but there are conflicting years of birth for his heir Thomas. If he was born in 1202, then Michael was married before. If Thomas arrived in 1206, then he either…

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