Anna Belfrage

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So fell the mighty warrior…

On the last day of November 1718, the Swedish Empire hit the dust, crumbling into non-existence with the death of Karl XII. This our last warrior king was out inspecting his positions in Norway when an unidentified object hit him in the temple and killed him. Since then, debate has raged as to whether it was the Norwegians who killed him or one of his own: Karl XII at the time was not a popular king, his bellicose policy having more or less ruined his homeland.


Karl XII, at fifteen

Karl XII became king at the tender age of fifteen. His father Karl XI died in 1697, and it had been his wish that the country he left to his underage son be ruled by a council until little Karl came of age. Not to be, as the proposed members of the council were rather unpopular among the higher levels of nobility. Instead, one of these sleazy counts suggested at the next Parliament that the king was wise enough to rule on his own. Acclamation followed (clearly carefully planted) and the young king, flushed with pride, saw no reason not to accept. Out went the council, in came a fifteen-year-old absolute monarch.

That Karl had every intention of ruling on his own was made imminently clear at his coronation. Not for him a stately ceremony where he entered bareheaded into the church, there to swear his coronation oaths and bend his head as the archbishop anointed him before settling the crown on his head. Karl decided all this was unnecessary. Instead he rode to church, already with the crown on his head. Once there, he hopped off his mount, lifted the crown aside so as to allow the anointment, and then replaced the crown – him crowning himself, if you like. Once done, he sat up, the crown slipped off and hit the ground but was retrieved and handed to the king who laughed and put it back on before riding off to the waiting party.

No sooner had the old king expired, but Sweden was invaded by a veritable deluge of ambitious mamas towing their various princess daughters along. The young king needed a wife, right? Nope. Karl was totally uninterested in all these girls paraded before him – he preferred other pursuits such as going wild and crazy and demolishing furniture, throwing chairs through the windows or riding half-naked through the streets of Stockholm. In this, he was always accompanied by his brother-in-law Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp, a man who clearly shared the king’s love of these bracing pursuits.

Not only did our young king party, he also spent a lot of time beheading calves so as to immune himself to the sight of blood, and then of course there was his predilection for hunting bears with a cudgel. Yup, you heard: the king would dispatch these poor creatures with various blows to their head. Not as dangerous as it sounds, as the king always ensured there was a net between him and the poor animal – just in case.

To give him his due, Karl XII also worked quite hard, spending substantial hours with his principal advisor as he managed his extensive realm. A teenager with a worth-ethics, coupled with a penchant for blood-sports – here we had a warrior king in the making! Karl XII couldn’t have agreed more – all he needed was a reason to go to war.

Soon enough, King Augustus (Frederick to his friends) gave him such a reason. Augustus was the Elector of Saxony, and since 1697 he was also King of Poland. Colluding with the Danish king and the as yet rather young Peter I of Russia, he attempted to take a big chunk out of the Swedish pie. So began the Great Northern War.

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Narva – the capitulation of the Russians

In 1700, our young king set off to teach upstart Augustus a lesson, and along the way he casually won one of Sweden’s largest ever victories, when his army of 8 000 defeated Tsar Peter’s 80 000 (although some say they were only 40 000) at Narva. The Swedish forces took so many prisoners they did not have the men with whom to guard them, so instead they disarmed them and sent them off to survive as well as they could in the icy November weather before throwing themselves at the huge amounts of vodka they’d captured with the Russian baggage train. At eighteen, the Swedish lion had roared – loud enough that all the rest of Europe sat up straight.

To Karl, the victory at Narva proved that Tsar Peter was an inconsequential nobody – well, beyond being extraordinarily tall. Augustus, however, needed to be brought to heel. Karl won one victory after the other, and at one point Augustus even dispatched his Swedish mistress, the beautiful Aurora Köningsmarck to plead his case. (Read more about Aurora here) Karl remained uninterested in women, so that didn’t help much, and instead Augustus had to make a most abject and humiliating submission. He was dethroned in Poland, crawled and wept, and Karl was satisfied – for now.

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Tsar Peter embracing his medieval side

All this took a couple of years, and that inconsequential chappie, Tsar Peter (and you can read more about him here), had not exactly spent all that time lying in bed and staring at the ceiling. All too late, Karl realised that this Russian bear was impervious to Swedish cudgels, annexing one piece after the other of Swedish territory round Neva. As you all may know, Peter was presently busy building himself a glorious modern city on the Neva – the soon-to-be Russian capital St Petersburg.

Karl did a u-turn with his army and marched east, this time to once and for all whack Peter over the head. He decided to march on Moscow. Like so many have learnt at their peril since, marching on Moscow is never a good idea.

Initially, things went well for the disciplined Swedish army. In the marshy terrain round an obscure place called Holowczyn, the Swedes carried the day, this because the king ordered them to wade through the swollen waters to attack their enemies where they least expected it. Karl went first. The water reached them well over their waist, and seeing as none of these gents knew how to swim one must either applaud them for their bravery or sigh at their recklessness. (As an aside, army rules dictated that any Swedish soldier who indulged in outdoors bathing was to be flogged. No idea why…)

An immediate result of all that water wading was that the gunpowder became damp, and so the Swedish troops jumped the Russians with sword in hand rather than loaded muskets. The king was a big fan of sword in hand – all those beheaded calves had given him ample practise in how to dispatch his enemies.

Karl_XII_1706The victory at Holowczyn proved hollow. While the road to Moscow now lay open, the Russians had (as they’ve done on so many occasions since) burnt the land, leaving a barren waste. Karl XII was also still waiting for his reinforcements – not only more men, but also food and ammunition and all that other stuff an army needed. When they finally arrived, they were much depleted, having had to fight their own battles to reach the king. The food had been abandoned along the way, and it was a hungry Swedish army that settled down in Ukraine to survive the winter of 1708.

It was the winter of all winters. The Baltic sea froze, as did the straits between Sweden and Denmark. In Russia, it was so cold people froze to death while out walking or riding, and the poor Swedish soldiers saw their own share of such deaths – as described in the surviving diaries. It was cold, there was not enough food, and there was no way of returning home – not when venturing outside was the equivalent of risking death through exposure.

Finally, spring came, and Karl emerged from his winter quarters as aggravated as a newly-awakened hibernating bear. After feeding his men as well as he could, Karl XII turned his attention to Poltava, a Russian fortress in a crucial position. Karl XII wanted the fortress and laid siege. Tsar Peter set himself at the front of a gigantic army and came to the rescue of his beleaguered garrison.

The Battle of Poltava took place in June of 1709. At the time Karl XII was sunk in a fever, having been shot in the foot with a subsequent infection, and so the command of the Swedish troops went to Field Marshal Rehnsköld who unfortunately was at loggerheads with all the other Swedish officers.

Had things ended differently had Karl XII been hale? We don’t know, but whatever the case, the Russian army more of less annihilated the Swedish infantry, who suffered from lack of gunpowder. The Swedish cavalry was forced to retreat, making for the river Dnepr. Once there, Karl XII and four hundred of his men forded the river and made for Turkey, hoping to find reinforcements. The rest of the Swedish army was preparing to cross the river when the advancing Russian army caught up with them. There was no hope of winning a confrontation, so the officer in charge saw no choice but to capitulate. Eighteen thousand Swedish soldiers were taken prisoner. Very few were ever to see their homeland again, and the majority would die toiling in Russian mines or Russian fields.

By now, it was close to a decade since Karl XII had set foot in Sweden. One would have thought he wanted nothing as much as to return home, especially as Sweden was losing territories right left and centre to Denmark and various principalities. Augustus was back as king of Poland, and in Sweden people were becoming more than upset by this sequence of losses.

The king, however, did not return home. Instead, for the coming five years he remained as a “guest” of the Turkish Sultan, whom he managed to convince to declare war on Tsar Peter – three times!

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The Skirmish in Bender

After the third time, the Sultan wanted nothing as much as to oust this unwelcome guest. Karl XII was having none of it, and so the Sultan was obliged to set his army on him. The resulting event is known as the “Skirmish at Bender”. On the one side, approximately 50 Swedish soldiers led by the king. On the other, 10 000 Ottoman soldiers. The king barricaded himself in his house, and the fighting raged for over seven hours, at which point the Ottomans launched fire arrows, setting the house ablaze. The king exited in haste, still with sword in hand, but unfortunately he tripped over his spurs and so the Ottoman soldiers could finally overcome him. Karl, it is said, was happier than he’d been in years, feeling more invigorated by the fighting. The Sultan was less so, and Karl XII was now effectively a prisoner.

From a cultural perspective, one could argue that this extended stay in Turkey was about the only thing Karl XII contributed to his country, as when he finally returned to Sweden he brought along not only a number of Turkish merchants and money-lenders (the king owed them astronomical sums) but also a fondness for Turkish design and refinement as well as for a Turkish dish called dolma – these days, the Swedish “kåldolme” is a descendant of that Turkish delicacy.

Anyway: the Sultan and Tsar Peter negotiated yet another treaty, according to which Karl XII was allowed to ride through Russian territory to go back to Sweden. And once back home, Karl XII was to discover he was now at war not only with Denmark and Russia (things had not really been sorted with the tsar) but also with Prussia and Hannover. Even worse, that Hannoverian shmuck of a prince had recently become the king of England, previously a valuable Swedish ally. Things were, putting it mildly, not good.


George I, at the time of his ascension

A meeting was set up in Copenhagen: the Danish king, George I of England and Tsar Peter were to sit in the same room and discuss just how to destroy what remained of the Swedish Empire. Peter came with close to 20 000 men, making the Danish king understandably nervous. After all, what was to stop Peter from invading Denmark once he’d dealt with Sweden? Even better – from a Swedish perspective – George and Peter detested each other. The planned coalition fell apart before it even started, so to say, and Sweden could exhale in relief.

Fortunately for Karl XII, he had a couple of very able men at his side, and in particular a certain diplomat called Görtz, who more or less singlehandedly manged to negotiate his way through the labyrinthic mess of all these ongoing conflicts.


James Francis Edward, the Old Pretender

Not so fortunately for Görtz, Karl was a creative king, and after casting about for ways to truly annoy Georgie-porgie, he decided to finance James Francis Edward Stuart’s attempt to regain his crown. A Catholic pretender bankrolled by a most Protestant king – although devout, Karl XII does not seem to have bothered overmuch with religious differences. Or women. The man was as yet unmarried, and showed no inclination to do anything about it, repeating ad nauseam that he was married to his army. There are no indications he ever had a mistress, nor are there whispers of intimacies with men. The king, it seemed, was uninterested in all things sexual.

The Jacobean rebellion failed, and poor Görtz ended up imprisoned in Holland on George’s orders. The king already had his attention focussed elsewhere: he was going after Norway, at the time part of the Danish kingdom. His people groaned under ever heavier taxes. They were sick of war and strife – far too many had lost sons and fathers, men and brothers in the king’s various conflicts. Careful suggestions were made that maybe the king should desists from all this war, settle down and go back to simple pursuits such as bear-bashing.

Rather harshly, the king reminded his council that Sweden was an absolute monarchy, and so when he said jump, people had best jump – or be prepared to bear the consequences. The result: in 1718 Karl XII and his army went to Norway, while at home opposition grew, to a large extent headed by Frederick of Hessen, Karl XII’s brother-in-law, married to Ulrika Eleonora. (Not the same Frederick Karl went carousing with in his younger years. This Frederick was much savvier and would, once his dear wife became queen, cunningly edge himself into the seat of power and have himself proclaimed king…)

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The dead Karl XII being carried home to Sweden

The king returned from Norway in a coffin. So what happened in Fredrikshald, Norway? Was the king the victim of enemy fire, or was he murdered by one of his own men? Various historians have pondered this over the intervening centuries, and these days the general opinion seems to be that the king was shot by a Norwegian musketeer. Personally, I still find it plausible that some Swede or other thought “Enough!” and shot the man who single-handedly had brought about so much suffering for the Swedish people.

Karl_(Charles)_XII_of_SwedenKarl was the last absolute monarch to govern Sweden. During his twenty years as king, he caused more Swedish deaths than all other Swedish kings put together. Actually, he caused a lot of death elsewhere as well, having little consideration for the civilians who suffered as his army rode back and forth. Undoubtedly, he was a brilliant military commander and his exploits led to Voltaire writing a biography that reads more like a panegyric than a balanced assessment. For very many years, Karl XII was hailed as a hero, our last true Swedish warrior king. These days, the jury is out.

The king himself has little to say for himself. He has left very little behind in the form of personal letters or notes – this was a man of action rather than reflection, and so we will never know what he thought or felt at the more decisive moments in his life. An enigma, this boy who became a king and led the Swedish army to glory and ruin before dying, most ingloriously, on the 30th of November, 1718.

Of divorce and martial ladies – meet the Countess of Norfolk

Allow me to introduce you to Margaret, Countess of Norfolk and Earl Marshal of England. Not that I can offer you any pics, as this lady lived in an age where the committing of faces to oil and canvas was rarely done – and if it was, the depicted faces were usually male and royal. Mind you, Margaret was royal – in the sense that she was the granddaughter of Edward I. But seeing as her mother was a commoner, I’m thinking Margaret’s claim to royalty would have been considered somewhat weak by her contemporaries.

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Not Thomas – but what’s a post about an Earl Marshal without a knight?

Margaret’s father was Thomas of Brotherton, the eldest son in Edward I’s second marriage to Princess Margaret of France. Thomas is often dismissed as being a rather unimportant person in the overall context of things, something I find rather intriguing seeing as he was a royal earl, rich and apparently quite capable. I’ve decided to rescue Thomas from this anonimity, and in my ongoing series this Plantagenet prince is given plenty of airtime. Not so much his daughter, who was at most a child in smocks and coif at the time…

Margaret was named for her grandmother, a lady who must have been quite something else. Married to a man well over 40 years her senior – and a man who by all accounts remained very devoted to his first wife, even after her death – she managed to create a happy home for her new husband and give him three children to brighten his old age. As rumour has it, Princess Marguerite was not about to let something as inconsequential as a pregnancy stop her from following the hounds, and so it was that she was astride and in full hunt mode when her labour pains began. Thomas was born a few hours later, and his father was delighted at having been presented with a male child, a spare to the much older Prince Edward, soon to become Edward II.

Anyway: without going into too much detail here about Edward II and the invasion that led to him losing his crown, let us say that Margaret’s childhood saw quite some exciting times. Her cousin, Edward III, was crowned in 1327 – a boy under the control of his mother and her lover, Lord Mortimer – and her father was probably a tad disgruntled at how high Mortimer was rising.

Margaret knew none of this. By the time she was old enough to understand, Mortimer was dead – as was her mother. Some years later, in 1338, Thomas Brotherton died as well, leaving his two daughters as his heiresses (his son had predeceased him). Margaret, who became the Countess of Norfolk and Earl Marshal upon her father’s death, was by then already married, to  a man called John Segrave, and she was to have several children by him until one day, in 1350, she sought a divorce from him. Yup. A divorce.

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“I want out!” or “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Margaret was at the time around thirty, and she argued for a divorce based on the fact that she’d been too young to consent to the marriage when she was originally married. Seeing as that was fifteen years ago, and seeing as there’d been quite a few children, one can’t help but wonder why she chose this moment in time to demand her marital freedom. Was there perhaps a sniff of illicit love in the air?

Her husband was understandably upset. So was the king, who forbade her from leaving England to plead her case directly with the Pope. So Margaret disguised herself and made it over to France anyway, where she was helped by the retainer of a certain Sir Walter de Mauney – who incidentally was to become her second husband. Love was definitely in the air, don’t you think?

Edward III was incensed and set up an inquiry into the events of Margaret crossing the channel despite his prohibition. Meanwhile, the ecclesiastic courts took their time, Margaret tapped her foot, and poor John Segrave must have felt like an utter fool. He died in 1353, making the whole ongoing divorce procedure moot. Instead, Margaret hastened to marry her Walter, without consent from the king. Did not make her the most popular royal cousin of the year…

Margaret and Walter went on to have 18 happy years together – and three children. Seeing as Edward III was of a naturally benign disposition, Margaret was eventually reconciled with the king.

While Margaret may have been fortunate in her second husband, she was less succesful as a mother. Of the four children she bore her first husband, only one, a daughter, was alive at the time of her second marriage. And as to her and Walter’s children, the precious son drowned in a well at the age of ten, leaving two more daughter, one of whom was to die relatively young. So, all those children, and only two girls to marry and have issue – preferably a male heir who could inherit not only the earldom of Norfolk, but also the hereditary title of Earl Marshal.

Being the Earl Marshal was a martial job. It was the Earl Marshal’s job to take part in battles and war, ensure the troops were disciplined as needed. As we all know, Edward III was quite the martial king – either he was up north giving the Scots a go, or he was on the continent, pushing his claims to the French crown. Reasonably, the Earl Marshal would have been expected to take part in these activities – Thomas of Brotherton most definitely did – but a female Earl Marshal raised a number of obvious issues, the main one being that Margaret was not trained to be a war leader.

The title of Earl Marshal, however, was one Margaret held on to. Not so much for herself, but for all those future heirs to whom it could be of value to have such an exalted office to claim as their own. Problem was, as Margaret grew older, all those future heirs took their time coming. Her surviving daughter from her first marriage married John Mowbray and died in 1368 leaving behind two very young sons. Her surviving daughter from her second marriage also had a son – who died before the age of eight. The hopes for a male heir now rested on little John and Thomas Mowbray.

Despite the loss of children and grandchildren – plus the death of Walter in 1372 – Margaret lived on, testament to those long-lived Plantagenet genes. In 1383, she was around to witness yet another death – that of John Mowbray junior – and now the number of male heirs was down to one. At the time, young Thomas Mowbray was seventeen or so, as yet without issue. This, one presumes, made Margaret a tad antsy.

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Thomas Mowbray being created Earl Marshal

Some years later, in 1385, Thomas Mowbray was created Earl Marshal, him being the last surviving tail male. I don’t think Margaret minded – the title remained in the family, if you will. Besides, she had enough on her plate managing the extensive Norfolk holdings. Plus, she had reason to relax regarding the future, as Thomas had recently fathered a son, thereby offering some hope of future generations.

In 1397, when she was well over seventy, Margaret was created Duchess of Norfolk for life. And when she died, in 1399, her grandson Thomas became the first Duke of Norfolk. Not that it helped him much, as at the time he was living in exile. He was to die of the plague in Venice, leaving his fourteen-year-old son to inherit his titles and lands.

Margaret need not have worried about the longevity of her bloodlines. To this day, the Dukes of Norfolk can count their descent from her – albeit from the distaff side. And to this day, the Duke of Norfolk remains the Earl Marshal of the realm. Fortunately, the role these days rarely requires that he don armour and a helmet…

P.S. Other than Margaret, only one female has ever held the title of Earl Marshal. The other lady so honoured was a little girl named Anne Mowbray who was the sole surviving child of her father, the 4th Duke of Norfolk. Little Anne was married to Richard, Duke of York and son to Edward IV, and when she died at the age of eight, her titles passed to her distant cousin John Howard.


Love – not always pink and fluffy

Edward Gal_nations_edward_iEdward I comes down through history to us as a man not much given to romantic gestures. This after all, is the man who implemented being hung, drawn and quartered for treason, who expelled the Jews in 1290, and who spent a considerable part of his life hammering the Welsh and the Scots into submission (wasted effort when it came to the Scots). He also hung women in cages from the battlements of Berwick castle, and supposedly (as per one rather fanciful story) left instructions that his body be boiled until the flesh fell off his bones and for those bones to be carried along with the English army when yet again they went after the Scots. His son, understandably, preferred to bury daddy as he was…

Edward I was undoubtedly one of the more capable English kings.  A devoted and loyal son, a man who took his responsibilities seriously and who set about reforming government so as to include Montfort’s ideas about regular parliaments, he is also at times a controversial king – it suffices to read the first paragraph to understand why. But whatever people may think of him, I’d wager no one would accuse Edward I of being a softie. Nope, not for him hearts and flowers. Or?

When Edward was fifteen, he married Eleanor of Castile. She was thirteen at the time, and the wedding was essentially a political alliance to safeguard English interests in Gascony. Fortunately, the married couple took to each other like a house on fire. They would spend the coming thirty-odd years or so mostly together, with Eleanor accompanying Edward more or less wherever he went, despite giving birth to at least sixteen children.

Images-of-medieval-love-e1392230695284-560x500One gets the impression of a happy marriage – of two intellectual equals that took great pleasure in each other’s company. Eleanor was well-educated and no push-over. She was an active business woman, amassing considerable wealth during her life – something that did not exactly endear her to her subjects, who were somewhat intimidated by their determined queen. Edward, however, appreciated her hard-nosed qualities – but there was plenty of love and flirtation as well, as demonstrated by the fact that even after her death, Edward continued to pay her women Lent money, the “bribe” required to get him through the door to his waiting queen after the impossed celibacy of Lent.

And then Eleanor up and died. Okay, not unexpected, because she had been ailing for quite some time, but Edward was devastated. So much did he love his wife, that he ordered a magnificent stone cross to be built at every point in which her coffin rested on its way to London. These Eleanor crosses, in total 12, are mostly gone by now, but some remain standing, a silent reminder of a king and his great love for his wife. Sort of romantic, hey?

Edward I may have been griefstruck. Yes, he was probably for some time not quite himself. But Edward was a king, and his duties required him to pull himself together and get on with things – including sorting the matter of the rather precarious situation when it came to his heirs. No matter all those babies, Eleanor and Edward only had six children survive childhood. Of those, only one was a son – the future Edward II. So, just in case, Edward married again, by all accounts as devoted a husband to his new bride as he had been to his first.Edward I, it seems, was blessed in his marriages, finding love and companionship with both his wives.

Through history, however, there are various examples of royal spouses who never got over the loss of their dear one. For them, the love that had once been a blessing became an affliction, grief dragging them into the dark and never quite letting them back up into the light.

Juana-la-locaOne of the more classic examples is that of Juana of Castile – interestingly enough a distant relation to Edward’s Eleanor. Extraordinarily beautiful, this the second daughter to Isabel of Castile and Fernando of Aragón, was not only considered drop-dead, she was also highly intelligent and extremely well-educated. Unfortunately for Juana, both her parents belonged to the Trastámara family – Isabel and Fernando were second cousins – and mental instability popped up here and there in her family tree. Not that there were any indications that Juana was so afflicted – the girl was quite the catch on the marital market, despite being nowhere close to inheriting a crown, having both an elder son and an elder sister.

15th-century_unknown_painters_-_Portrait_of_Philip_the_Handsome_-_WGA23598Anyway, in 1496, Juana married Philip the Handsome. To judge from what portraits there are, he wasn’t that gorgeous, but maybe the paintings don’t do him justice. Whatever the case, Juana and Philip were sufficiently attracted to each other to produce a half a dozen of very attractive children. Juana was smitten with her handsome husband – and quite devastated when he strayed. Which, by all accounts, he did quite often. Despite his behaviour, Juana developed something of an obsession with her husband, an open adoration that had people snickering behind her back.

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Absolutely gorgeous, don’t you think? Philip and Juana, by Master Abtei from Afflighem

Through a series of unfortunate deaths, Juana ended up as the heir to both Castile and Aragón. And in 1504, when her mother died, Juana became Queen of Castile – her handsome hubby became King Philip I, something that by all accounts pleased him. Two years later, Philip died in a sudden fever, this as a consequence of over exertion on the tennis court followed by too much cold water. Or typhoid – take your pick.

At the time Juana was pregnant. Her husband’s unexpected death was a blow that literarily felled her, and days of weeping, of not eating or drinking in her despair, drove her over the edge. Juana became Juana la Loca (Juana the Mad) as the people around her watched with mounting concern how she sank deeper and deeper into the black sludge of her grief.

Philip was embalmed and placed in a  coffin. Juana wasn’t about to have him buried – not yet. She simply couldn’t bear to be parted from him. Some months after his death, Juana set out with the coffin, destined for Granada. Every day she had the coffin opened so that she could inspect the corpse and ensure no one had touched it. All women were forbidden from being anywhere close to the coffin, Juana’s jealousy spiraling into skrieking bouts of madness if she saw as much as a female servant.

In Torquemada, the journey ground to a temporary halt. Juana’s baby was about to be born, and she ordered Philip’s coffin to be placed in the chapel, surrounded by guards and so many candles the men doing guard duty emerged “as black as moors” due to all the soot.

The baby, a little girl, was born on a cold and icy January day. As if mirroring Juana’s despair, Castile was afflicted by famine and the plague – not that Juana noticed, immured in her own mental prison. Come spring, she set off again, refusing to travel by day. So instead Juana, the coffin, her baby and all their entourage travel by night, surrounded by torches.


Juana and the coffing, 19th century by Pradilla. He got some things wrong, what with all those women sitting about, but it’s so atmospheric…

One day, or so the story goes, Juana saw a group of building outlined against the lightening eastern sky. A place to stay, she hoped, but upon being informed it was a nunnery, she collapsed in yet another bout of jealousy. She ordered the coffin opened and stood for a long time staring down at the sorry remains of her once so handsome husband. The lid was replaced, and the procession swung into motion, with no idea of where they were headed. Granada no longer seemed to be the intended destination.

Finally, Juana’s father decided things had to stop. Concerned for her health – and the state of the government, he came upon her in the midst of the Castilian hinterland. Somehow, he convinced her to return to Burgos. Fernando rode with his men during the day, Juana and the coffin travelled by night. At this point, Juana no longer washed or changed her clothes.

In 1509, Fernando had Juana brought to the convent of Tordesillas. She was 28 years old, mother of six, and all she could think of was her husband – once so handsome, now slowly rotting in his as yet uninterred coffin. Fernando had her locked away – together with her youngest daughter. He did do her the kindness of placing Philip’s coffin so that she could see it from her window. The door closed. Juana was to remain within for 47 long years, released only by death.

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Juana in Tordesillas, late 19th century by Pradilla

In the meantime, her father was to die, deeply depressed, she became the titular ruler of both Castile and Aragón, but the actual ruling was done by her young and gifted son, who showed little inclination to have his mother released from her prison. Truth be told, maybe she preferred to remain within, sitting always by the window that allowed her to see what little remained of Philip the Handsome: his coffin.

After her death, Juana was reunited with her husband. They were buried in Granada, together. I suspect they were both beyond caring…

“I burn” – an excerpt

Someone recently asked me if I has favourite scenes in my various books. Of course I do – don’t all authors? So I was thinking that maybe I should share some of these with you – but not the ones that are truly climactic to the book as such, as that would qualify as a spoiler. Instead, this is supposed to be a teaser, have you galloping off to buy the book and devour it. (Sheesh: I hate this part of being an author…I put it down to the Swedish “Jante” law, as per which one should never,ever, ever toot one’s own horn. Never. Ever.)

HNSIndieWinner2015So I decided to start with a longer excerpt from Revenge and Retribution. Why, one may ask, seeing as this is the sixth book in The Graham Saga. Simple: I LOVE THIS BOOK. Plus it won the HNS Indie Award 2015, which means many others love it as well. And speaking of love, the excerpt I’ve chosen is somewhat steamy. Just sayin’…

Very briefly, The Graham Saga is the story of Alex Lind, born in 1972 and yanked back to 1658 where she meets Matthew Graham, sorts herself out, and settles down to do the best of things in her new time zone. Having Matthew around sort of helps…But now and then there are these uncomfortable incidents that almost drag her back to the time she came from – something Alex definitely does not want to happen.

In the below, Alex has just had an uncomfortable encounter with Time, has almost been dragged back to the future, to the time she came from. Her nights are haunted by Isaac, her son in the future…


R&R webstampUpstairs, Alex was struggling to keep afloat on the surface of a dream-filled sleep. She didn’t want to sink down into those swirling mists. She tried to remain in a dozing state where she at least knew who and where she was.
She turned on the bed, feeling the rope bottom give. That brought her up to the reassuring surface again. Yes, this was Matthew’s time, and the bed stood in Julian’s house, and someone had to tighten the rope frame because the middle was sagging. She tried to blink herself awake, but she was too tired after endless nights of vivid, frightening dreams. She sank into the black of her subconscious.
Isaac was there, and he smiled at her, beckoning her to come close, to return to them. No, she didn’t want to, and Isaac’s eyes stared reproachfully at her, inches from her own. She got the distinct impression she was lying in a bed, and people were hovering around her, eyes on things that beeped and thumped, monitoring her every thought.
Leave him, Isaac whispered, come back to me, to me, Mama. Am I not owed for all these years?

Alex twisted in anguish, and all around her the future life took horrifying shape: TVs that hung flat and embedded on the walls, computers that were called tablets and were run by touch, electrical light that poured from fixtures in the roof.
It’s just a dream, Isaac went on. None of that life you think you’ve led is true. A dream, Mama, that has encapsulated you for years while we’ve sat waiting at your side.
No, Alex moaned, no, it isn’t a dream! Not my Matthew, not my sons and daughters.
A dream, Isaac repeated, his dark eyes suddenly cold and hard. A dream, your life is a dream, he whispered, laughing gratingly.
“No!” Alex shrieked out loud, was awake for a moment with her heart in her mouth and then was dragged inexorably back under.

“Alex?” Hands holding, shaking gently, lips that brushed her forehead. “Alex, my heart.”
A dream, a dream, nothing but a dream. He doesn’t exist, this man of yours. Isaac giggled maliciously.
But he did. Alex struggled back into the light, and the man holding her was solid under her hands, his concerned eyes a gold-flecked green in the light of the candle he had lit.
“Aye, Matthew, that’s me, lass.”

Alex struggled to sit, her sweat-drenched shift sticking to her skin. Matthew handed her a mug of cider, helping her to hold it steady. She blinked, trying to clear her mind of the fragmented images of Isaac. Jesus, I’m going insane, she thought. She drained the mug and with trembling hands began to undo the laces of her chemise.
“Let me,” Matthew said. He got her out of the sopping garment, and found a towel to pat her dry with, sitting with her shivering, naked body on his lap. She curled into him, her arms tight around his neck, and he ran his warm hands up and down her bare skin, crooning her name in a hoarse, breaking voice.
“I’m not sure,” she groaned. “Are you for real? Or are you the dream?”
“I’m no dream,” he whispered back, “nor am I a ghost. I’m here, now, and so are you. It’s the others that don’t exist, Alex. It is them that are the dream.”
“A nightmare,” she said against his chest, “not a dream, never a dream. A black hole of loneliness. An absolute freezing emptiness.”
“Ah, lass.” Matthew kissed the top of her head and gathered her to him. Alex needed him even closer, pulling at his shirt, his breeches in a frenzied attempt to get at his skin, his warmth. Yes, oh yes, he was real, and Alex sighed when he laid her back naked against the pillows.

Her skin sizzled under his hands. A long, strong finger followed the curve of her hip, and she imagined she could see the blisters popping up in its wake as searing heat flew like a shadow behind his digit. Beneath her skin, blood called to blood, and when his fingers manacled her wrist, she was entirely taken over by his beat. Strong it flowed into her, demanding it drove her pulse before it, and Alex no longer knew where she ended and he began.
The candle on the chest gasped, shrinking down to a weak blue glow before it flared back into life, this time a long, dancing flame that backlit them against the wainscoting that adorned the walls. At a remove, she could feel the stubble on his unshaven cheek against the tender skin of her thighs, her belly. He dragged his face across her, and she arched herself against him, because he was hers and she was his and she was very much alive. The soft warmth of his lips; his hot breath in her ear, down her neck, on her chest; his hands with those long, dexterous fingers…Her breasts in his grip, and when he slid down to kiss her, she sank her fingers into his hair and called his name.
“Matthew,” she said to the night air. “My Matthew.” Of course she would die if she were dragged back in time – how could she survive with half of her yanked out? And he, she saw in his eyes, he would dwindle and die as well. Bit by bit, the fire in him would falter and go out, and he would float away like top soil in a drought.

He cupped her buttocks and lifted her closer to his mouth, and she no longer thought, she simply was, awash with colours and sensations that flowed from her curled toes to the tip of her ears.
“Oh God,” she groaned, and her hands gripped at his head, his hair. “Ah!” she said, and Matthew’s muffled laughter ran like a vibration up her spine.
He raised himself up, used his knees to widen her thighs, and leaned forward to kiss her as he thrust himself into her. “Mine,” he said into her ear. “Only and forever mine.”
She clenched herself around him in response, her legs coming up to hold him in place. He kissed her again, and she tasted herself on his lips and the skin round his mouth. She clung to him, refusing to release him. Glued from hip to chest bone they lay, scarcely moving, and in the wavering candlelight, his eyes were black as they stared down at her. She made a demanding movement with her hips. With tantalising slowness, he moved, and she groaned out loud.
“I burn,” she said hoarsely. “All of me is burning.” And she was, consumed alive by a fire that he expertly stoked and throttled, fed, banked and finally let go, riding her until she cried his name out loud and sank her teeth into his shoulder.

They lay face to face, knees against knees, and noses almost touching. Matthew smoothed back the hair that lay stuck to her damp cheek and tugged gently at her bared ear.
“Alright then?”
Alex nodded. God, she was tired – in a way she hadn’t been since well before the incidents down at the meeting house. For the first time in days, her brain was free of any images but those of him, the pictures and people of a long gone future receding grumbling to slither down her brainstem and pop into non-existence.
“Hold me,” she whispered, and he rolled her over to fit against him. His hand came round to cup her breast, and Alex relaxed in his warmth. She yawned, wide enough to crack her jaws, and with a little grunt closed her eyes.
“I love you,” she said through yet another yawn. She covered his hand with her own, one finger on his wrist to feel his reassuring pulse.
“I adore you,” he replied.
Alex didn’t hear. She was already drifting into sleep. But she knew all the same.


So, what did you think? And the truly interesting question is, of course, if it is indeed a dream…

Buy link: go here

Of sodomists, sex and sin the Middle Ages – not as clearcut as one thinks

sex Men of the CrossToday, I have invited Charlene Newcomb to visit with me. We originally met over Facebook, but came face to face with each other at the latest HNS Conference which, I believe, has reinforced our friendship. Once you’ve hugged someone for real, they’re sort of more permanently engraved in your heart.

Anyway, one of the things Charlene and I discussed when we met, was her excellent book, Men of the Cross. As you can guess from the cover, this is a book about the crusades – specifically the Third Crusade, the one led by Richard Lionheart, including such unforgettable incidents as the siege of Acre, the mass-slaughter of Muslim prisoners, the horrific heat, rain, mud, and snow (I know! But yes, snow…) on the march to Jerusalem, and finally, King Richard’s capture in Bavaria after he had departed the Holy Land.

sex post Richard_Lionheart_and_Philip_Augustus

Richard and Philip Augustus

Many people write about the Crusades. Charlene’s book, however, is the first one I’ve read which features a love story between two men. I recall being somewhat taken aback when I realised just what sort of feelings Stephan harbours for young Henry, and one part of me was thinking “hang on: did they do guy-guy love & sex back then?”

Charlene: Well of course they did! Why else would the Church have had a whole list of penances ready to dispense if it wasn’t happening? (More about that later!) Can I assume you realised where the story was headed, and then questioned my sanity?

Anna: Your sanity? Nope. But it was an unusual element, one that I found intriguing. Plus, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for your protagonists. The rainbow parade wasn’t exactly around at the time, was it?

Charlene: The book is about conflict on so many different levels. If the reader feels for the characters, I’m going my job, right? And you are correct – no rainbow parades, no public displays of affection, other than what might have been a normal greeting kiss. However, there were places where same-sex unions were sanctioned by the clergy in the Middle Ages, though I don’t deal with that directly.

Anna: Wait, wait: same-sex unions sanctioned by medieval clergy?

Charlene: Yep. In the 12th or early 13th century, the chronicler Gerald of Wales describes an Irish ceremony where two men enter a church, celebrate Mass, and with “the prayers of priests, they are permanently united as if in some marriage.” Liturgical documents have been identified that describe the “Office of Same Sex Union” (10th & 11th centuries) and “The Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th & 12th Century). These and other instances are cited in research by John Boswell, a 20th century scholar who identified texts from numerous European (including Vatican) archives. Boswell identifies medieval same-sex unions that included many of the trimmings of heterosexual unions of those times. His work is controversial, but there are other historians who corroborate his findings.

Anna: Wow – nothing new under the sun, hey? I am somewhat stunned – just as I was surprised when reading your book, as rarely do novels set in those times have gay protagonists.

Charlene: This quote is an inspiration to me: “Be bold. Take risks. Surprise them.” I did.  Mainstream historical fiction may not explore this path, but there is a sub-genre of historical fiction that is LGBTQ. Some of those stories take place in medieval times; and there are historicals that have a gay character, but the few I know of generally don’t include a romantic relationship.

Sex post illicit-sex-e1436561949425Anna: These days, we’re mostly comfortable with the fact that there are some people who prefer same-gender relationships, just as we’re pretty relaxed about sex. The Middle Ages, however, had an anything but permissive approach to sex in general – and definitely not when we’re talking about what the Church so sweepingly covered as “sodomy”.

Charlene: You’re right: “sodomy” covered a spectrum of sex-related sins – not only restricted to sex between two people of the same gender. Getting into that medieval mind-set to understand the Church’s view on sodomy helped me frame Stephan and Henry’s characters and attitudes.

Anna: Back then, the general approach to relationships was that sex was essentially always a sin – unless it happened between man and wife for pro-creational purposes.

Charlene: Exactly. Not just a sin, but mortal sin. Still, the threat of eternal hellfire and damnation did not stop people from sinning. Shall we go through that litany?

Anna: Why not? “Spilling your seed” – e.g. having sex without actively “planting” a child (or trying to) – was considered a terrible sin. Masturbation was a sin, doggy style was a sin, loving your pregnant wife was a sin, sleeping with a whore was a sin, and – it goes without saying – man sleeping with man was a sin. Not much worse than the others, though…

Charlene: Sleeping with anyone who was not your spouse was a sin. Sex – even with your spouse – was also a sin on certain days of the year. One scholar noted that if you marked off all the days when sex was forbidden, that would leave about 40 days in the year when a man and wife could have sex. Bummer, eh?

Anna: Yeah, but somehow I think people then were as people are now – we all need love and intimacy, and if indulging led to extra penance after the next confession, so be it.

Charlene: AMEN to that!

sex lastjudgementadulterers378 Taddeo di Bartolo adulterers and lustful

San Gemigiano, The Last Judgement. Adulterers and other lusful creatures getting their comeuppance

Anna: Getting back to the subject: In principle, when a medieval person spoke of sodomy – or was accused of engaging in it – this could be any type of sexual activity outside of marital sex, whether you did it alone or with “a friend”. It is also important to understand that the desire to pigeonhole people based on their sexual inclinations is a very modern invention. Medieval people had no need to label anyone as being straight or gay or whatever. Lust was a mortal sin, a desire to be fought tooth and nail, and whether your “baser instincts” led you to sleeping with your wife on a forbidden day, or your young handsome squire, well, who cared? You’d sinned, full stop.

We can see from medieval depictions of the Last Judgement that men who had indulged in homo-erotic pleasures were in for a tough time once they were in hell, but so were the usurers and the gluttons – who, interestingly enough, were also considered as sodomites. (I guess combining food and sex would have been amajor, major no no) And yet, given the fact that there are so many explicit depictions of eternal punishment, one must assume men did love men, just as women loved women. Interestingly enough, medieval society rarely consider two women capable of engaging in sexual acts. Sex was an act of penetration, and women had nothing with which to penetrate.

Charlene: Ah, but there was the dildo (or its equivalent) – even back in medieval times! Penitentials, or Church rules, listed sins and their appropriate penances. Would you be surprised to learn that penances were usually harsher for female/female relationships than for male/male dependent on the circumstances? Men who used artificial aids to stimulate themselves might receive 40 days of penance; a woman who used a dildo: 1 year if used alone, 3 years if used with another woman!

Anna: Seriously? 3 years?

Charlene. Yep.

sex lastjudgementthelustful388

San Gemigiano, again. More lustful to be punished (by having their sexual organs devoured by a snake…)

Anna: So how do Henry and Stephan deal with their relationship? How do the Church’s teachings on sex during their 12th century lifetimes impact them?

Charlene: They are in denial for a long time. Henry had never considered that he could be attracted to another man. Stephan wants Henry, but he respects Henry’s wishes. He won’t jeopardize their friendship. It’s a profound change for him. Stephan has had a string of sexual encounters since his teens, and for him, it had been about the physical act. He didn’t believe men like him could have love. Then he meets Henry. Hello, confusion. How could he be falling in love with another man?

Anna: So Stephan could accept the physical aspects of his attraction to other men, but not the emotional consequences?

Charlene: Stephan never had that emotional tie to the men he had sex with. He accepted that it wasn’t part of the deal. There were no ‘relationships.’ He didn’t expect anything but a good roll in the hay. Henry comes along and changes that for him.

Anna: Complicated man…but it wasn’t easier for Henry, was it?

Charlene: No. Henry has a girl back home waiting for him. The good ol’ arranged marriage, common for people of his class. Though he likes her well enough, she stirs no passion in him, but Henry will do his duty and marry because that is what society expects.

As the knights’ friendship deepens, Henry questions his feelings for Stephan. He’s been taught from a very early age that Hell awaits those who commit this “unnatural” act. He struggles to keep thoughts of loving Stephan away. He prays to God for guidance, but finds the answer in himself. As Stephan says, “How can loving another person be a sin?”

sex two-men-embracingAnna: Interesting. I’m dealing with a similar issue in my new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, as one of the indirect protagonists is Edward II, accused of having intimate relationships with his male favourites. For a medieval king, admitting to a love-affair with a man must have been very difficult – and dangerous. On the other hand, a medieval king was powerful enough to bend the rules a bit – if not much.

Charlene: True. Laws and punishment varied across Europe in the Middle Ages. Canon law might have been very clear on the matter, but in the late 12th century of Men of the Cross, England had no secular laws regarding punishment for this “crime.” Laws were enacted in the second half of the 13th century, so your Edward II would have been well aware of the consequences.

Anna: Well, sodomy had the benefit (from the accused’s perspective) of being difficult to prove unless your partner in sin decided to confess – not about to happen when it came to royal favourites, who had everything to gain from staying on Edward’s good side.

Charlene: Mid-twentieth century historians cited incidents to accuse Richard the Lionheart of being gay, but there is no definitive proof in the historical record and I haven’t suggested it in Men of the Cross. Aren’t historians on the fence about Edward’s homosexuality? What is your approach in the series?

Series-One-RowAnna: In my series, Edward does have an amorous relationship with Hugh Despenser. To some extent, this is because I want to portray Hugh with some good qualities – as the story is told from the POV of people firmly in the other camp, Despenser is mostly lean, mean and dangerous – but also because I believe Edward was open to sexual and emotional relationships with men as well as women. Whether he acted on these impulses, we will never know, but seeing as Edward comes across as a rather unhappy person – a square peg forced into a round hole, just because he was born to inherit a crown – I do hope he did find some happiness, however short-lived. Other than one very tender scene in the next book, I never invite the reader to come along to the king’s bed – mostly because he’s a secondary character. In your books, however, the protagonists are gay. How have you handled that?

Charlene: There are sex scenes in Men of the Cross, but they aren’t overly graphic. I’d call them tender, sensual, and occasionally steamy – and necessary for character development. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being erotica, I’d say the scenes are about a 2 to 2.5.

Anna: I’d agree.

Charlene: So Edward’s scene with Hugh is tender – where does that fall?

Anna: A 2, I think.

A5 Mailer-FrontCharlene: But you’ve written some pretty steamy love scenes in The Graham Saga. *fans self*

Anna: Yup. I enjoy writing sex scenes. But for me, the emotional context is fundamental. My characters enjoy steamy hay-rolling sex because they love each other. Sex in my books strengthens the bonds, reinforces just how dependent my protagonists are on each other – after all, sex is an integral part of most loving relationships. This is the romantic me coming to the fore, I guess, but I genuinely believe great sex goes hand in hand with an emotional commitment. Or maybe I’m just naïve and inexperienced…*laughs*

Charlene: You said that so much better than I could! I don’t think any of the scenes between Henry and Stephan come close to the heat levels of Alex(andra) and Matthew in the Graham Saga. I had to decide what I was comfortable with writing sex-wise when I wanted my book to appeal to a broad audience. I figure most readers – even heterosexual ones – know the logistics of gay sex. I don’t need to give them a play-by-play. But, is there a comfort level for readers who will read a very hot het romance but will cringe at the idea of a tender love scene between two men?

800px-Amor_Vincet_OmniaAnna: Some will – perhaps. But if the characters are well-developed, I think most readers will see beyond the gender to the relationship. Besides, I’d say that neither you nor I write formulaic romance – we write books set in the past that depict human beings muddling through their lives as well as they can, taking comfort where it is offered. IMO, love – and sometimes sex – are just some of many ingredients required to build a multi-faceted story.

Charlene: Multi-faceted? You can say that again! I’m writing military history and bloody battles, complete with renowned warrior heroes, that might appeal to a mostly male audience. I’ve added in a romance, which probably has little appeal to most men. And OMG – it’s a love story between two men!

Anna: Except, of course, that I would argue many men enjoy a romantic element, even if they don’t always own up to it. After all, men need love just as much as women do.

Charlene: You’re right: every human has the capacity to love. Some just happen to love someone of the same sex. And this has been true throughout history, it’s part of the human condition. It’s only natural that historical fiction should recognize this – at least now and then.

Anna: I couldn’t agree more! I’ll look forward to reading the sequel to Men of the Cross.

Charlene: For King and Country will be out in early 2016.

Anna: Wonderful! On that note, I’d like to thank you for stopping by.

Charlene: It’s been my pleasure to chat with you, Anna.


For those of you who want to read more about Charlene’s thoughts on the subject, please go here,

Should you want to buy & read her book (warmly recommended) it can be found here!

Other interesting posts on the subject are MJ Logue’s post about her female cross-dressing 17th century trooper, and Hunter S Jones who asks the question “How should sexuality be portrayed in fiction?”

Of leading ladies and gate-crashing male protagonists

NOTE: This blog post was written for and originally posted on that most excellent blog The Bluestocking Belles – a group of authors that elevate Regency romance to dizzying heights. I recommend you drop by and visit – if Regency is your cup of tea, that is. Actually, even if it isn’t, as the belles are known for their wit and repartee :) It has been somewhat rewritten since the original posting – a consequence of time passing…

Last Monday was the official publication date of the first book in my new series, In The Shadow of the Storm. So I decided to celebrate with an informal get together with my principal ladies. I do one-on-one’s with all of them regularly, which is how I know what they think and feel, what their opinions are on things as diverse as sex during Lent to the present oil-price. You see, my ladies come from different time periods, so what is everyday business for one of them, is a brand new world for the others. Makes it sort of interesting to toss them all together – especially as I thought we’d discuss something as incendiary as feminism.

Me, being a modern person, take it for granted that I as a woman have the same rights as any man.
“Yeah!” Alex Graham mutters, giving me a look somewhere between amused and irritated. Alex is also a firm believer in equal rights, having been born in the 1970s. Unfortunately for her – at least from that perspective – she no longer lives in the present day. Alex Graham has, through a number of weird and wonderful coincidences, been transported back to the 17th century, a time in which women have very few – if any – rights.

A5 Mailer-Front“That’s because women have less sense than us men,” Matthew Graham says, winking at his wife. As gorgeous as ever, he has appeared in the doorway, his linen shirt unlaced sufficiently to allow a peek at a broad and hairy chest. His wife is nowhere near as exposed. Matthew is a firm believer in some things being for his eyes only, and Alex is therefore wearing a bodice with a high cut neckline, her hair covered by a neat lace cap, and her long skirts hinting at curves no one but Matthew is ever allowed to appreciate.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” I protest. “This is ladies only.” Not that I mind – not at all – which he knows, being fully aware that this author has a major crush on him.
There is a low laugh from somewhere behind me. Yet another male gate-crasher.
“That’s being very discriminatory, don’t you think?” Jason settles himself on the sofa, drapes a possessive arm round Helle’s shoulders and pulls her close. “Besides, I like cake.” And I like Jason, all six feet and more of him with that absolutely magnificent mass of mahogany coloured hair, and…Sheesh! Get a grip, I admonish myself.
“Aye,” Matthew Graham says, joining his wife on the bench by the fireplace. “So do I.” He extends his booted legs towards the fire, muttering something about it being damned cold for October, and what will it mean for the winter?

Kit de Guirande has so far not said anything, sitting very much to the side while regarding the others from under her lashes. A sheer veil covers her dark-red hair, she is wearing a kirtle in the deepest of blues and fiddles with the belt from which hang her keys. It is with relief she smiles up at Adam when he sort of steps out of the shadows to stand beside her, a protective hand on her shoulder.
Adam de Guirande nods at Matthew – they’ve met before in my rather roomy head, both of them being men of honour and convictions, willing to risk life and freedom for things they find truly important. Something that has both Kit and Alex enduring sleepless nights, let me tell you.

Where Matthew is dark, Adam is fair, arms bulging after years swinging swords and carrying shields. He is also very much a product of the early 14th century, and when I inform him as to the subject of the day, he raises his brows, mouth twitching with a contained smile. But he doesn’t say anything, more than secure in the knowledge that in his home he rules and Kit follows. Most of the time.

Helle is giving Kit’s clothes an admiring look. She herself is in her customary jeans – although at times she has throw-back memories to a life in which she wore sweeping garments of linen and fine wool, her head, her face, covered by veils her grandmother spent hours embroidering.
“Some sort of princess,” she confides to Kit, who looks very impressed, “but that was like three thousand years ago.” She pats Jason on the leg. “We met already then, but things went pear-shaped, and since then we’ve been tumbling through time, trying to find each other again.”
“And now we have,” Jason says, but he can’t resist throwing a look at the darker corners of my mind. Wise man, Jason; there’s plenty of evil lurking there, most of it in the shape of Sam Woolf, Jason’s personal nemesis.
“Oh,” Kit croaks, shuffling on her stool so that her back is firmly pressed against Adam’s legs. He bends over and murmurs something in her ear along the lines of me having a most fertile imagination, nothing to be worried about – at all. I smile at him. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve made up when it comes to him – and Kit, who may appear acquiescent but who lets nothing stop her when her man requires rescuing. Which he does on occasion, being torn apart between his loyalty to his liege-lord, Baron Roger Mortimer, and his growing affection for Lord Edward, heir to the throne and son to Edward II, that most inept of kings.

“Well,” I say, “shall I be mother?” Uncomprehending looks from Matthew and Adam, a titter from Alex.
“Tea?” Adam sniffs suspiciously at his mug.
“Best thing in the world.” Alex sighs happily.
“I thought I was the best thing in the world,” Matthew teases, reaching for a slice of sponge cake.
“Best man, not thing,” Alex says.
There’s a mild snort from Kit, accompanied by a secret little smile she directs at Adam, now sitting beside her.

Series-One-RowMy readers have as yet not made Kit’s or Adam’s acquaintance – the first book in their series has just hit the virtual shelves. I, however, have been living with them close to three years by now so I know why Adam limps so badly, and how Kit was coerced into impersonating someone else to marry him. I have held my breath as Kit has thrown herself headlong into rushing waters in a desperate attempt to save Adam’s life, I have kept my fingers crossed at daring escapes over slippery rooftops at night. And I have smiled and looked away when he loves her, so attracted by this wife of his he disobeys the teachings of the church and beds her during Lent.

“And what about us?” Alex kicks me softly on the shin. “Are you going to abandon Matthew and me?” Oooo, she sounds quite jealous.
“Of course not.” I give her an encouraging smile. There will be more about Alex and Matthew, because despite eight books there are things to clear up – and I love this leading couple of mine to bits. Him with those magical hazel eyes and his slow smile, her headstrong and loving – the two of them make an impressive duo as they face whatever calamities life throws in their way. There have been many of those.
“As long as you don’t kill off any more of my babies,” Alex warns, shoulders hunching together. I can’t resist the urge to reach forward and stroke her cheek. She’s lost so much, my Alex.

“So, women’s rights,” I say, trying to revert to the original subject.
“Overrated,” Jason says, and laughs when Helle smacks him over the head. They make a handsome couple, her blond curls standing in a messy halo round a face dominated by turquoise eyes. Shapely and fit, she lounges back on the sofa and her top rides up, revealing a couple of inches of tanned skin. Kit looks scandalized. Alex looks jealous. Jason scowls at the other two men and yanks Helle’s top back down. He may be living in the 21st century, but Jason comes burdened with perceptions developed over an endless number of lives, leaving him very possessive when it comes to his woman.
“They’re necessary.” Alex scrapes at something on her skirts. “Women are people, not chattel.”
“Women are vulnerable,” Adam breaks in. “They don’t need rights, they need men who protect them.”
“Really?” Helle sounds anything but impressed. “And what if the man set to protect them is the one who abuses them?”
“Then that is wrong.” Adam shrugs.
“I’m not vulnerable,” Kit objects. Her voice is low and dark, sultry enough that both Matthew and Jason throw her interested looks.
“If women were vulnerable, the human race would have gone extinct long before they lived in caves,” Alex says.
“Yeah,” Helle agrees. “Let’s see a man give birth to a baby or two.” She shares a quick look with Jason and ducks her head. Sensitive subject, that of children – at least for these two, who had a girl in the long ago, a child cruelly stolen from them and never found.
“I didn’t mean it like that.” Adam extends his hand to his wife. “You know I have the utmost respect for you, my lady, and I, if anyone, knows just what you are capable of. My point was rather that it shouldn’t matter if women have rights or not – they should be cherished and honoured, loved and protected, no matter what.”
“Hear, hear.” Matthew raises his mug. “To our women.”

The ladies in the room look quite pleased, and I decide there’s no point in continuing this debate. Instead, I recline against the wall and sip at my tea. I narrow my eyes at Jason and Helle, sitting with their heads close together. I wonder if I should tell them just what I – and Sam – have in store for them. No, I decide, why spoil this moment for them; better serve up more cake and tea. Besides, Jason and Helle won’t be hitting the bookshelves until 2016, so there’s no need to frighten them silly – yet.

Below, a little excerpt from In the Shadow of the Storm, the first in the Kit and Adam trilogy (and yes, it is somewhat steamy, not a “dot,dot,dot” in sight):
In the Shadow of the StormAfter the long, confusing meal, Kit succeeded in sneaking off to her room – their room, she amended, noting that the small space was cluttered with Adam’s belongings, most of them spilling from a large chest. In contrast, her few garments were hanging neatly from the clothes’ pole, tucked away in an alcove just beyond the bed and half-hidden behind a length of linen suspended from the roof.

She sank down on the bed and cradled her head in her hands. How was she to cope in this unfamiliar role? How was she to keep up the subterfuge that she was someone she wasn’t? She’d spent most of dinner shoving the food around on her trencher while she watched the others eat. Spicy roasts, bread that was warm from the ovens, cheeses and wines, dried fruits and miniature pies – she’d never seen such a selection of food before, accustomed to the plain fare and quiet peace of meals at Tresaints. Her stomach grumbled, unhappy with her for not having fed it more, but Kit had spent most of the meal struggling with her conscience. What she was doing was wrong, and things were not helped by Adam’s courteous behaviour at dinner or by the way his eyes had lingered on her. Sweetest Virgin, what was she to do?

Kit rose and wandered over to Adam’s chest. Tunics lay thrown together, she saw the coloured leather of a boot, the heavy buckle of a belt. She picked up a long length of hose, found its pair and rolled them together. The tunics were shaken, inspected and folded, with Kit caressing the fine silks of his two supertunics. There was a deep blue woollen tunic that must fall down to his knees, a number of linen braies and three long linen shirts. She held one to her nose, capturing a faint remnant of his scent. Her husband… despite the unorthodox aspects of their union, she couldn’t quite suppress a little shiver. Just the thought of him had her privates contracting, heat flaring between her legs. Lust, she chided herself, this is mere lust.

“My squire can do that.”
She whirled, finding her husband by the door.
“I don’t mind,” she said. This was something she felt comfortable doing, with the added benefit of being out of sight from all the people who thronged the castle.
She folded a thick cloak, knelt to tuck it in, and heard him crossing the floor towards her. His boots squeaked, a leg clad in thick hose appeared in her field of vision. She placed a hand on his leg. He inhaled when she moved her hand upwards.
“What are you doing?”
Her cheeks heated at her daring. Would he find her too forward?
“Exploring my husband,” she said, caressing the narrow patch of bare skin she found on his upper thighs. The hose-points were tied to the rougher fabric of the linen braies, and Kit counted two ties as her fingers traced their way round his leg. She suppressed a nervous titter. She had never inspected a man’s undergarments before. His hand clasped hers, arresting it, through the fabric of his tunic.
“My turn today, my lord.” She looked up at him, still kneeling at his feet. His face was flushed, those grey eyes of his inscrutable.
Adam gestured with his head. “The door – it’s unbolted.” He sounded hoarse, breathless even.

Kit lurched to her feet, nearly stumbling until he caught her, holding her close. Stubble gilded his cheeks, straight fair lashes framed his eyes, and a lock of dishevelled hair fell across his brow. His lips grazed her ear, her jaw. She breathed through her mouth, eyes closed. His lips on hers, a strong hand at her waist manoeuvring her backwards, to the door. The bolt screeched into place. He pressed her against the door and she moaned into his mouth. Adam tore away, gasping for breath. His hands under her skirts, masses of fabric wedged between them, making it impossible to get him really close.
“Bed,” she said, tugging at his belt.
“Here,” he panted, “now!” He lifted her, entered her, and she clung to him, helpless in his arms, incapable of doing anything but taking what he gave her.

“God’s blood!” he exclaimed afterwards, leaning his forehead against hers. Her pulse was painfully loud in her head, her legs wobbly. Kit released her hold on his tunic, tried to straighten up.
“Indeed,” she said. The bed. She stumbled towards it, needing to lie down, to rest. The bed creaked with his weight when he joined her. Supple fingers unloosened her veil and braids, travelled further down to the lacings at the side of her kirtle. Garment by garment he stripped her, before undressing himself and lying down beside her.
“It seems that in this we are well suited, my lady,” he murmured. His eyes were dark and soft, his hand gentle as it caressed her cheek. “A good start,” he added, leaning over to place the lightest of kisses on her mouth. Hesitantly, she raised her hands to cup his face.
“A very good start,” she agreed. He laughed, took her hand and placed it on his chest.
“All yours,” he said. “Explore me to your heart’s content, my lady.”

I hope you enjoyed the above excerpt. The book is available on Amazon plus on various other on-line retailers.

Losing it all – of James II and his crown

William Dobson

James as a child

Today I thought we’d spend some time with James II. I am rather fascinated by this gentleman whose character must have been markedly affected by the terrifying events of his adolescence. Being somewhat of an underdog fan, I have also always felt sorry for James, so brutally ousted from his crown by none other than his own daughter. Come to think of it, neither of his two elder daughter showed much filial respect, and this to a man who, for his time, was considered a doting and loving parent. None of those qualities ultimately mattered: James final destiny was instead shaped by his faith. You see, James II was the last Catholic king of England.

James II didn’t begin his life as a Catholic. His father, Charles I, was raised an Anglican, remained an Anglican, and ensured his children were raised as Anglicans, no matter their Catholic mother, Henriette Marie of France. As we all know, Charles I hit the dust in 1649 – in his case almost in the literal sense, given that he was beheaded. At the time, James II was not quite sixteen, and he was to spend the coming decade in either the French or the Spanish army where he served with distinction and came into contact with various men of Catholic faith. Plus, of course, there was his mother, going on and on about the obvious merits of the single true faith, that of the Holy Roman Church.

EHFA James_II_and_Anne_Hyde_by_Sir_Peter_Lely

James and his first wife, Anne

Initially, James appeared impervious to all this Catholic influence. His interests were not of the spiritual kind, and just like his older brother, James had an eye for pretty women. In 1659 he seduced Anne Hyde by promising to marry her, and to his credit he followed through on his promise, even if no one expected a prince to do so – and by now James was a prince again, returning with his brother, Charles II, to England after the Restoration in 1660. Sometime during his marriage to Anne, James and his wife converted to Catholicism, even if he kept this secret. His surviving daughters by Anne, however, were raised as Anglicans, this on the order of their royal uncle, Charles II.

This secret conversion caused quite the tizzy amongst those in the know: primarily, the king must have clapped a hand to his forehead and said; “what have you done?”. Anne Hyde’s father, the Earl of Clarendon, probably despaired – he was one of those men who actively promoted an “Anglicans only” policy.


Mary of Modena

When the English Parliament introduced a new Test Act in 1673, it became impossible for James to keep his conversion a secret. The Test Act was one in a series of laws put in place to stop Catholics from holding higher office, either in government or the military, by requiring all such officers to take an oath by which they disavowed certain central tenets of Catholic faith, and also to take communion under Anglican rites. James refused to do so, stepping down from his post as Lord High Admiral. It didn’t exactly improve his popularity ratings when the recently widowed James went on to marry Mary of Modena, a fifteen-year-old Catholic Italian princess.

Poor Mary arrived to an England determined to hate her. There were even threats of accusing James for treason for having married without Parliament’s consent, which caused James to go into arrogant mode, but as always in these situations Charles stepped in and defused the situation. Charles must have had times when he despaired of his brother: while he loved him from the bottom of his heart, he was not blind to James’ faults.

Over the coming years, Parliament and King were locked in a constant power struggle, with Charles II adamantly refusing to sign anything that would potentially exclude his brother from the line of succession. When tensions were at their highest, James was recommended to leave the country, which he did, spending a number of years in exile, some of them in Scotland.

In February of 1685, Charles II died. By all accounts, his passing was horrifically harrowing, and on his deathbed he finally allowed himself to do what he had wanted to do for years – he converted to Catholicism, thereby according himself the privilege of dying while professing the faith he had held to in secret. With no legitimate heirs of his body, Charles was succeeded by James, and the powers that were in England were not pleased – at all.


The Duke of Monmouth – still with his head attached

Some of James II’s new subjects were so horrified at the idea of a Catholic king that they joined in the Duke of Monmouth’s ill-fated rebellion. The dashing young duke, you see, was not only Charles II’s son (if illegitimate) but he was also Protestant. A gift from heaven, some thought. Not so James, who made short work of his nephew’s uprising. Monmouth was beheaded in July of 1685 (an uncommonly nasty beheading, an inept executioner requiring several tries before he finally managed to sever the head from the body, thereby releasing Monmouth from his suffering) and his followers were subjected to the harshest penalties available. Very many were executed, even more were deported to the West Indies there to eek out the rest of their sorry lives as slave labour.

So far, 1685 was proving excessively exciting. It was unfortunate that in this self-same year, Louis XIV upped the persecution of the Huguenots. The Huguenots was a blanket name covering all French Protestants and, until 1685, they’d lived under the relative protection of the Edict of Nantes, set in place in 1598 by Henri IV and stipulating all Frenchmen (and women) were free to practice whatever Christian faith they wanted. Louis XIV wasn’t much into toleration. In fact, his Protestant subjects were a constant itch up the royal behind – Louis XIV saw himself as a Catholic monarch, and it followed that therefore his subjects – all of them – should be Catholic as well.

So in October of 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, unleashing a storm of persecution on the Huguenots. Most fled elsewhere – like to England – where they shared horrifying stories of what they’d suffered at the hands of their Catholic compatriots. The virulently anti-papist English shivered and quaked: their new king was, after all, a Catholic. Even worse, James II was Louis XIV’s cousin, and as we all know, blood will tell…

Had James but taken the time to stop and think, he would have realised that for a newly crowned Catholic king in a country so mistrustful of Catholics, it made sense to take things slow. Instead, the man immediately set off on his own personal crusade to revoke all legislation that made it impossible for Catholics to hold office. Not, to put it mildly, a popular move. Especially not with therrified Protestant refugees streaming into the country. (Which, by the by, was in many ways England’s good fortune, as the Huguenot refugees came with substantial skills.)


James II

At the time, James was accused of wanting to return England in its entirety to the Catholic Church. These days, historians agree that James’ purpose was rather to create a more tolerant approach to his co-religionists. (James was no fool, was well aware that reversing the Reformation would be an impossible task.) But James was somewhat inept – call it heavy-handed – in his attempts. However, even if Parliament grumbled and the Protestant Peers protested, there were never any plans to depose James. Deposing kings was simply not done, and the English public did not want a repeat on the royal execution not quite forty years ago.

So, what have we here? On the one side, a disgruntled English populace, angry with their king for promoting his Catholic friends, even angrier when he initiates a massive conversion campaign. On the other, a bewildered monarch, who doesn’t understand why everyone misinterprets him so. (A simplification, of course. And I haven’t even touched upon James’ attempts at fiscal reform, but seeing as most people find taxes boring, let’s not go there…)

On the other side of the Channel, Louis XIV was more than thrilled to see his Catholic cousin on the English throne, while further north William III and his wife Mary, James’ daughter, bided their time. Unless James had a son, the English crown would revert to their staunchly Protestant hands upon his death. The probability of James ever having a son was deemed as low. Anne Hyde had given him over half a dozen children, several of them boys, but only two girls had survived. So far, Mary of Modena and James had been singularly unfortunate when it came to children. Poor Mary had been pregnant close to ten times, with no surviving children.

It was indicative of how out of touch James was with his people, that throughout 1686 he tried very hard to influence the Anglican faction into accepting his more lenient approach to Catholics. England was a hotbed of anti-papist emotions, nurtured over several decades, first by the Parliamentarian forces, then by the Restoration government and their anti-Catholic legislation. Well, if we’re going to be quite correct, the anti-papist sentiments went back further than that, to the reign of Elizabeth I and onwards. No, in England of the 17th century a good Catholic was a dead Catholic – or at least a Catholic who had the sense to stay well away from the green fields of fair England.

In 1687, a frustrated James decided he needed new allies to pursue his political ambitions, and so he started flirting with the Protestant Dissenters. To win their support, in April of 1687 he announced a Declaration of Indulgence whereby all penal laws and the Test and Corporation Acts were suspended. Suddenly, religious freedom raised its head in England. Suddenly, one could openly be a Quaker, or a Baptist, or a Presbyterian – hang on, even a Presbyterian? Hmm. James was no major fan of the Scottish Kirk, but yes, they were also included – or a Catholic. We rarely give James II the credit he deserves for this attempt at creating a society where people could worship as they pleased. Was it self-serving? Of course it was, but for the thousands upon thousands that had been oppressed by the Anglican Church, the Declaration of Indulgence provided quite a breath of fresh air.

This innovative piece of legislation was not greeted with spontaneous outbursts of joy. Most people were sceptical of the king’s motives, and besides, there was a bigger concern. The queen was pregnant, and should she be delivered of a healthy boy child, England would face a succession of Catholic kings. The Protestant nobility gulped. Combining a potential healthy baby with the King’s recent legislation would, over time, erode their power base. No, this needed to be stopped before it went too far, and where else to go for support than to William of Orange in the United Provinces?


The much desired son, destined to a life in exile

It was a boy. Delirious with joy, James wanted to embrace the entire world. A son, he had a son, and even the cruel stories (circulated especially by his daughter Princess Anne) whereby it was insinuated that the boy was a changeling, smuggled into the royal apartments in a warming pan (as if! That would have had to be a very, very small baby), could not quench his joy. James Francis Edward Stuart was born on June 10th of 1688 – less than six months later, the baby would begin his lifelong exile.

On June 30th, seven protestant grandees sent a letter to William III, inviting him to invade and bring his father-in-law to heel. This letter, signed by Edward Russel, the earls of Shrewsbury, Devonshire and Danby, Bishop Compton, Lord Lumley and Henry Sidney cannot be described as anything but high treason. Had it been public knowledge, people would have been horrified. Yes, public opinion was against James, but far too many had far too recent memories of the consequences of plunging England into a civil war to risk taking up arms against their king.

This is where we have to return to Louis XIV and his revocation of the Edict of Nantes, this in an attempt to understand William’s motivations in invading England. If we’re going to be honest, no one knows the man’s motivations – William was a man who mostly kept his own counsel. One thing that is very apparent, however, is that William’s lifelong ambition was to halt France’s expansion, especially into his own territories. He found little support for his bellicose activities – the Dutch states depended on trade with France and saw no reason to antagonise this huge market, no matter that it was nibbling at the borders of the United Provinces. Spain was no help at all, the Holy Roman Empire had its hands full with the Turks, and William all on his own was no match for Louis XIV. However, should one combine England with the United Provinces, well then…Whatever the case, as long as the pacifists remained in power in the United Provinces, William was without the funds required to do more than gnash his teeth. And then came the revocation…

Horrified Dutch Protestants opened their homes to the refugees from Louis XIV’s France, people obliged to flee bloodshed, to leave all their wealth behind (with which the Dutch traders could more than relate), anything to escape the murderous Catholic mobs. Which is when William coughed and said “ahem”. Now he was given plenty of funds. Even more fortuitously, the Holy Roman Emperor beat off the Turks and was more than happy to join the coalition against France. Only England, ruled by Louis XIVs cousin, remained loyal to France. The invitation from the seven grandees therefore came at an opportune time. By invading, William hoped to strong-arm his father-in-law into supporting his efforts to contain France.


William III

William landed in Torbay on November 5, 1688. William was hailed as a liberator. James dithered, uncertain as to what to do – William was family, and James was more than aware of how much his eldest daughter loved her husband. (On a personal level, he must have been devastated by the fact that his Mary was indirectly heading up the opposition.) Besides, he was unnerved by the last year’s outbreak of violent anti-Catholic riots throughout the north of England, and he definitely did not want to be the one who started a new Civil War – he was as beset by spectres as his peers.

On November 23, James took the decision to retire to London rather than meet William on the field. An experienced battle commander, James could probably have held his own – and his was the larger force. So why did he retreat? Why did he attempt to flee to France rather than defend his crown? We will never know – but chances are that had he stayed and fought, he would have carried the day, thereby rewriting history as we know it.


Mary II, James’ daughter

In 1689, William and Mary were confirmed by Parliament as the new king and queen. James made one serious attempt to regain his throne that ended at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. His son would go on to make his own attempts, as would his son, the famous Bonnie Prince Charlie who for a short while in 1745-46 actually seemed to be carrying the day. Until the disaster at Culloden, that is.

These days, James II is often considered a parenthesis, a king who is remembered mainly because he lost it all. I do believe the man deserves a somewhat grander epitaph than that, however ineptly he handled the single most momentous event in his life. Yes, James Stuart was pig-headed and singularly blind to other opinions than his own, But he was also a loyal son, a loyal brother. He was brave and honourable, served his country as well as he could and was allowed to. He was a loving father – doting, even – a caring husband and a man who stood by his friends and his word. He was also a Catholic, and somehow the matter of his faith overshadows all his qualities. After all, it was because of his faith and his determined efforts to make life easier for his co-religionists that he lost his throne. A high price to pay for his faith, IMO. Very high.

The events of 1688 and 1689 play an important role in To Catch a Falling Star, the eighth book in The Graham Saga, while the Monmouth rebellion indirectly shape the events in Whither Thou Goest, the seventh book.

Shining a light on my lady


Welcome to a slightly different Blog Tour! Every Tuesday during October Helen Hollick has chosen to shine a light on some of the women of her novels – and has invited nine other authors to join her. Needless to say, I am one of her proud companions.

More about the blog hop and its participants later, but for now, I’d like you to settle down and welcome Kit de Guirande. Please don’t clap too hard – this 14th century lady is most reluctant to step out of the shadows, being less than comfortable with such concepts as blog tours, internet or PR in general. The poor thing has never even had tea before – or chocolate…

Brudkrona-Schwäbischer_Meister_um_1470_001Kit smiles at this, and settles herself carefully on a chair. She’s in green today – she often is, seeing as she knows just how well it complements her dark red hair. Not that anyone ever sees much of it – ladies of the 14th century rarely go about with their head uncovered.
“Except on our wedding day,” Kit says, and her fingers brush over the deep green of her kirtle. Ah, yes: this is what she wore the first time she met Adam. Well: met and met. Our Kit had been drugged to her eyeballs with poppy-laced wine.
“So as to ensure I did not protest,” she says, nodding gravely. She leans forward. “You see, I had never met Adam de Guirande before – and even worse, they were forcing me to pretend I was someone I wasn’t.” She fixes a rather reproachful look on me. “Your idea.”
Err…Yes, I suppose it was. No, wait: it was that hatchet-faced lady’s idea. Lady Cecily was not about to let something as immaterial as her own daughter’s refusal to marry Adam impinge on her family’s fortunes. And luckily for Lady Cecily, she knew exactly where to find an adequate (and vulnerable) stand-in. Kit, you see, is the bastard daughter of Lady Cecily’s husband – something that definitely does not endear Kit to Lady Cecily.
“Mutual,” Kit says, a gleam of something hard and brittle in her blue eyes. “Most mutual. That woman…Ugh!”
Being forced into marriage might not have been entirely unusual back in the 14th century. (In some parts of the world it is still, sadly, common practice) Being forced to wed under a false name, however, was not all that common. Kit fingers the embroidered girdle that decorates her waist.
“He was fooled,” she says softly. “And that he did not like.”
He being Adam, I might add. Kit’s face softens at his name.
“Adam,” she repeats, and her voice is dark and husky.
“So it was not an entirely negative experience marrying him?” I tease.
“No. But lying to him was. And once he found out I had…” Kit swallows, her hands clasped tight.
Ah, yes. I hand her a goblet of wine. (I am tempted to offer her the comfort of tea, but anachronisms are anachronisms)

EHFA MortimerThings are not exactly made less complicated by the fact that Adam de Guirande is one of Sir Roger Mortimer’s most trusted captains. So when Mortimer rises in provoked rebellion against his king, late in 1321, Adam has no choice but to ride with him. Kit crosses herself and whispers a hasty prayer, a heartfelt wish that her man ride through the storm unharmed.
“He’s a rebel,” I remind her gently. Generally, rebels end up dangling froma rope – or worse.
Kit nods, casting a look out of the arched window. Beyond, a wintry moon has just risen, denuded trees sparkling with frost. A cold night indeed for all those Mortimer men who have cast their lot with their lord, while over in Cirencester King Edward II amasses a huge host to ride against them. I shiver. How on earth is Adam – and Sir Roger – to make it out of this unscathed?
“I’ll not let him die,” Kit says. Before me, my leading lady straightens her back. Her jaw sets, brows pull together in a determined frown. “I will do anything to keep him safe. Anything.”
I smile. I was sort of counting on that. I was not quite as prepared for just how brave Kit could be when so required. But then women in all times and walks of lives have often had to risk a lot for love.
“Love?” Kit smiles at me. “You think he loves me?”
Sheesh. I roll my eyes at her and leave it at that. Plus, of course, I cross my fingers and send up a little prayer of my own that she does not arrive too late to save her Adam.

Below a little excerpt from In the Shadow of the Storm:

She dared a quick peek from under her lashes, met his appraising look and ducked her head. Her husband! Kit knotted her fingers into the fabric of her skirts.
From somewhere to her right came loud laughter, and the man – her husband, dear God, she had a husband, a man she’d sworn to honour and obey under false pretences – joined in.
“Look,” he said, and she followed his finger to where a jester was prancing about in motley. There was more laughter, at the further end of the hall a fight broke out, and right in front of her danced a girl, accompanied by two musicians.
She felt as if she was drowning. So many unknown people, so much noise, and beside her a man she was now tied to for life. She felt an urge to run, to flee before it was too late. Kit rose, and the man rose as well, his thick fair hair gleaming when it caught the candlelight.
“I…” She sat back down again, giving him a tremulous smile. He just looked at her. “Wine?” she asked. Her husband – Adam – snapped his fingers, and a child rushed over, a heavy pitcher in his hands.
“Not too much, I prefer my bride conscious on our wedding night.” There was an edge to his voice that made Kit quail. He smiled, yet another smile that came nowhere close to touching his eyes. Kit licked her lips; her husband was clearly as unhappy about having to marry her as Kit had been at the notion of marrying him.
“It’s not my fault,” she muttered.
“How do you mean, my lady?”
“It wasn’t me who forced you to marry me, my lord.”
He sat back, looking surprised – and amused. “There’s not a man alive who could force me to wed you,” he said after some moments of silence.
“How fortunate – for you.” She emptied her cup, waved it at the wine-boy. “Not everyone has a choice.”

For those of you who know your history, you’ll be aware that Sir Roger Mortimer did, in fact, survive his failed rebellion in 1321-22, going on to wreak considerable revenge on the king, and his favourite Hugh Despenser, at a later day. Mortimer detested Despenser – a sentiment returned in full – and it is somewhat sad that these two so capable and ambitious men were allowed to tear the kingdom apart. But that’s what happens when the king is weak, and whatever qualities Edward II may have had – and I am sure he had plenty – determined and consistent leadership was not one of them.

In the Shadow of the Storm is the first in my new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, and will be published on November 1st.

In the Shadow of the StormAdam de Guirande owes his lord, Sir Roger Mortimer, much more than loyalty. He owes Sir Roger for his life and all his worldly goods, he owes him for his beautiful wife – even if Kit is not quite the woman Sir Roger thinks she is. So when Sir Roger rises in rebellion against the king, Adam has no choice but to ride with him – no matter what the ultimate cost may be.

England in 1321 is a confusing place. Edward II has been forced by his barons to exile his favourite, Hugh Despenser. The barons, led by the powerful Thomas of Lancaster, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, have reasons to believe they have finally tamed the king. But Edward is not about to take things lying down, and fate is a fickle mistress, favouring first one, then the other.
Adam fears his lord has over-reached, but at present Adam has other matters to concern him, first and foremost his new wife, Katherine de Monmouth. His bride comes surrounded by rumours concerning her and the baron, and he hates it when his brother snickers and whispers of used goods.
Kit de Courcy has the misfortune of being a perfect double of Katherine de Monmouth – which is why she finds herself coerced into wedding a man under a false name. What will Adam do when he finds out he has been duped?
Domestic matters become irrelevant when the king sets out to punish his rebellious barons. The Welsh Marches explode into war, and soon Sir Roger and his men are fighting for their very lives. When hope splutters and dies, when death seems inevitable, it falls to Kit to save her man – if she can.


Did you like that? Then don’t forget to leave a comment – I am offering a GIVEAWAY (two e-books). Question to answer: if you’d married someone and found out they were someone else, what would you do? (And yes, you have fallen in love by then)

Well that was enough from me, I think. It is now time to turn the full glare of the spotlight on some of the other participants of this blog tour.

SeaWitch-3D-transFirst and foremost, we have Helen Hollick. Want to cry your eyes out? Read her emotive portrayal of Harold Godwinson. Want to cry your eyes out some more? Read her trilogy about Arthur and his ladies – a substantially earthier version of Arthur than that portrayed by the chivalric nonsense of Mallory’s La Morte d’Arthur. Want to dream of pirates? Ah, yes: read her Seawitch stories, featuring handsome dare-devil Jesamiah Acorne. Every Sea Captain needs a woman to come home to, but Captain Jesamiah Acorne (ex-pirate) has three to choose from Tiola ( a midwife and a white witch) ‘Cesca, an English woman with a Spanish name (a spy) and Alicia… well, all Alicia wants is Jesamiah’s money…

Helen LargeHelen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, Helen wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era, she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with Forever Queen. She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based fantasy adventures. As a supporter of Indie Authors she is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, and inaugurated the HNS Indie Award.

Helen’s post for today can be found here.

And then we have Linda Collison:

LindaBorn in Baltimore, Maryland, Linda has worked as a registered nurse, a skydiving instructor (yikes!), a volunteer firefighter, a freelance writer, a novelist, and other, more ordinary jobs.  Together with her husband Bob Russell, she has sailed thousands of nautical miles, many of them aboard her sailboat Topaz. The three weeks she and her husband spent as voyage crewmembers aboard HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain James Cook’s ship, sparked her interest in maritime history and inspired the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series.

Linda cover1So who is this Patricia person? Well why not pop over and meet Patricia Macpherson – aboard a ship and disguised as Patrick, a surgeon’s mate – but how long will the ruse last? Read more here!

Below follows the entire blog hop – take the time to visit and read, as these ladies and their “ladies” take you on a trip through history.

6th October
Helen Hollick Emma of Normandy – take number one
Patricia Bracewell  Emma of Normandy – take number two
Inge H. Borg An Egyptian princess and a restless soul

13th October
Helen Hollick Harold Godwinson and his various Ediths
Regina Jeffers Even Mr Darcy’s sweetheart had less likeable qualities
Elizabeth Revill Carrie Llewellyn has to grow up fast in the early 20th century
Diana Wilder  The genteel Lavinia faces up to the horrors of the American Civil War

20th October
Helen Hollick  Arthur and his women
Alison Morton  A modern Roman warrior woman
Sophie Perinot  Margot – a much-maligned princess

27th October
Helen Hollick  Every Sea Captain nees a woman to come home to – even if he is a pirate
Anna Belfrage Kit – wed under a false name, but determined to keep her husband safe despite the turmoil of the 1320s
Linda Collison Brave Patricia sails under the name of Patrick, a surgeon’s mate

UPDATE! Winners of the giveaway are Teresa and CAR!

Those gorgeous Stuart men – meet some 17th century hotties


Prince Rupert of the Rhine

Whenever people talk about ”those handsome Stuarts”, chances are they’ll come dragging with oh, so dashing Prince Rupert, nephew to king Charles I, valiant royalist commander, owner of a famous dog, and yes – he was good-looking as can be seen in the attached portrait.


Maurice of the Palatinate

So were his brothers – especially Maurice, but a friend of mine says there’s no point in expending much affection on a man who got lost on his way to the West Indies (What can one say? Big, big sea, no GPS – plus there was a hurricane involved) which is why said friend remains devoted to Rupert. Her loss…


A van Dyck, Lord John Stuart and his brother Lord Bernard

Good looks bred true among the Stuart men – as can be seen by this portrait by Anthony van Dyck. Allow me to introduce you to Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart, somewhat more distant kin to Charles I, but definitely of the long-faced, elegant Stuart ilk. This is, IMO, a fascinating portrait. Arrogant and endearingly young at the same time, the two brothers are depicted in the late 1630s, sixteen and eighteen respectively. Lord Bernard, the younger, sports blue and silver, and if one looks closely, one can see he’s wearing some sort of pattens over his dashing boots. I wouldn’t mind a pair like those boots myself, actually. Long, flowing hair, rich clothes, boot hose, that cape worn with flair – behold two men intent on making their mark on a world they most definitely considered their oyster.

John and Bernard were the youngest sons of Esmé Stuart, 3rd Duke of Lennox. Their father, in turn, was the son and namesake of James VI’s (soon to be James I of England) favourite Esmé Stuart, a somewhat frenchified Scotsman who to the dismay of others, more rugged Scottish nobles, exerted considerable influence over the young James. Esmé was the cousin of James’ father, the murdered Henry Darnley – and had lived in France for the first twelve years or so of James VI’s life. In short order, he became first the earl, then the duke of Lennox – but he had to convert to Presbyterianism before he could succeed to those titles, as his Calvinistic countrymen would have no papist in such a position of power.


Esmé, 1st Duke of Lennox. Not bad…

James VI loved his cousin. Given his singularly affection-free childhood, what with his mother being imprisoned in England and he himself being brought up in the strictest Calvinist environment possible, it is not to wonder he was attracted to this new relation of his. Further to this, Esmé was dashing and handsome, carried with him a whiff of a world outside the somewhat dreary confines of Scotland.

The other Scottish grandees did not much care for Lennox, and one who positively disliked him was James Douglas, the Earl of Morton and one of James’ former regents. Very few liked Morton, who does not seem to have believed much in silk gloves. It was therefore a rather easy matter for Esmé to rid himself of Morton – by accusing him of being party to the murder of the king’s father. Morton was guillotined – a fancy new invention at the time.

The Scottish Kirk remained suspicious of Lennox – as did most of the Scottish noblemen. Some months later, things had turned and poor James was forced to exile his cousin. Esmé returned to France where he shortly died. His heart was carried back to James as a little gift, and it was this man’s grandsons who pose for the portrait above. It was 1639, the young men were presently on their European tour, and who could have thought they would both be dead six years later, two of the many casualties claimed by the English Civil War?


A Van Dyck, Lord George Stuart

The dashing brothers had a dashing older brother, Lord George. He has also been painted by van Dyck, but in a somewhat more pastoral surrounding. It is thought the painting was made to commemorate his marriage – and the reason for the Latin inscription on the stone, “love is stronger than I”, was that George had been naughty and married on the sly, without either the bride’s father, or, more importantly, King Charles’ permission.

For some time there, George was consigned to the dog house, but war came swooping, and George was yet another of those young noblemen who hastened to place their sword at the king’s service. Just like his brothers. George also died – at the battle of Edgehill. His little son, Charles, was four…

Esmé Stuart the younger had been blessed with six sons. He himself died already in the 1620s, so he never had to live the loss of four of them – one to illness, three to war. His eldest son and heir, James Stuart, was as handsome as his brothers – almost more, actually. Yet again, we owe van Dyck for having conserved this handsome man to posterity.

James Stuart-Anthonis_van_Dyck_027

A van Dyck, Lord James Stuart

James Stuart, 4th Duke of Lennox and 1st Duke of Richmond, stands before us resplendent in his finery – and yes, the Order of the Garter is most prominently displayed. As loyal to his king as his brothers, James was to invest most of his fortune in shoring up the royalist cause. A brave fighter, he was also one of those who accompanied the king during his confinement at Hampton Court, and after the king’s execution, James was one of the four noblemen who carried the remains of their king to his final resting place in St George’s Chapel. He died some years later, leaving his titles to his very young son – who in his turn died in 1660.


Charles Stuart, by Peter Lely (George’s son)

As we all know, after some years of Commonwealth rule Charles II was restored to his throne in 1660 – good for those who’d lost it all fighting for the royalist cause – such as Charles II’s distant Stuart cousins. Well, the ones left alive, that is.

The last Stuart brother, Ludovic, seems to have retired to the relative peace and tranquillity of his lands in France. He left no heir, and so it was that all the titles, all the extensive landholdings, came to Charles Stewart, son of George, the brother who had died at Edgehill.

Charles had his fair share of the Stuart looks, and could afford to spend lavishly on clothes and accessories. He quickly became one of Charles II’s most trusted men, and it was in this capacity he was dispatched to Denmark in 1671, there to negotiate a tricky little truce or something (probably to the detriment of us Swedes…) While there, Charles drowned in Elsinore, and just like that, the handsome Stuart Dukes of Lennox and Richmond had ceased to be. Or?


Charles Lennox, by Godfrey Kneller

Some years later, the titles were resuscitated and given to Charles II’s son with Louise de Kérouiaille, aptly named Charles Lennox. At the time, the new duke was a boy of three, but over time he grew up to be a competent enough man – and a great fan of cricket, which can either be considered a point in his favour or against him, depending on who you ask. And just like so many of the Stuart men, this little Charles had his fair share of good looks. No wonder, given his father and his pretty mother. I must hasten to add that this young man did not die inordinately young – nor did his line ever go extinct. At present, his genes are very much alive and kicking in Prince William, for example, who has a dollop or two of Stuart blood in his DNA.

A handsome bunch, all those Stuart men, don’t you think? Personally, it is the portrait of James Stuart and his dog that I find the most compelling. Such a handsome, confident man – a good man, I believe, as expressed by the devotion in his greyhound’s eyes, and by his devotion to his king.

(Note: In many cases, Stewart was used instead of Stuart for some of the gents above, but I’ve chosen to stick w Stuart throughout)

A hug, a hug – a kingdom for a hug

Solnedgång 2I am convinced the reason man rose to stand on two feet was to invent the hug. Okay, okay: I know that from a strictly evolutionary perspective, there were other, far more basic, reasons for this shift from quadruped to bipeds – starting with the obvious advantage of being able to see further and use your hands to throw stones at nasty saber-toothed tigers – but from an emotional perspective, primitive man sure needed a hug now and then.

After all, it wasn’t as if life was a walk in the park back then. It was too hot – or too cold. Food consisted of what one could find, so grubs and roots were high on the list of everyday staples. Clothes did not exist. Fire was as yet in the future. There were no carrots (not, perhaps, the most drastic of drawbacks). There were very many animals keen on eating us – them. There was no tea to calm your nerves after having fled the latest attack by a determined cave lion. Things crawled all over our hirsute ancestors: fleas, lice, ticks – what have you. But once they were on two feet, these our distant progenitors could hold hands. And hug. I hope they hugged each other a lot.


Listed – W H Gore

As per the Bible, God created man and then he created woman, realising man needed a companion. Of course he did. Adam was going stir-crazy all on his own, a minute speck beneath the star-strewn skies, but once Eve was there, he had someone warm to lie beside at night, ensuring the things that go bump were kept at bay. Adam – or primitive man – needed proximity. Those scruffy forebears of ours huddled together in the dark, needing the comfort and security of numbers – like a communal hug, if you will.

Somewhere along the line, man discovered fire. And clothes. And crops and domesticated animals. And love – conceptually as well as biologically. Our Neolithic forebears did not exactly live a life of plenty, but the hug, dear people, was here to stay, having upgraded from a sharing of warmth to an expression of tenderness and togetherness. And you know what? Essentially, the hug remains unchanged to this day – it offers security and warmth, but is also a way of telling somebody that you care for him/her specifically.

Moving along: Civilisations started to develop. In Europe, these were patriarchal constructs. Subtly, restrictions were imposed on hugging. Where before everything had been owned in common, making the paternity of children relatively unimportant – all children belonged to the group, were necessary for the future of the group – a society where there were assets to inherit through the paternal line made it more important for the fathers to ensure the kids were in fact their kids (women always know if the kid is theirs – sort of difficult not to…). Ergo, too much familiarity between a woman and other men was frowned upon. Women hugging women was okay. Women hugging their children was okay. Woman hugging her man was definitely approved of. Woman hugging other men she liked – nope.

Mind you, men could hug other men, they could hug their children and they could hug other women – or rather, if a man hugged another woman this was mostly the woman’s fault for enticing the man to sin. Plus, everyone knew that a woman who hugged various men was probably of loose morals, so she didn’t count. Men did not have to be faithful to ensure the paternity of their heirs – in difference to their wives who had to be carefully watched so as to ensure they were not too generous with their bodily warmth.


El Beso – Francesco Hayes

Things were taken to extremes at times: in the formal Spanish court of the 16th – 17th century, no one was allowed to touch the queen. No one – well, bar the king. One assumes the maids required to help with the queen’s toilette were exempt, but even they were expected to minimise actual physical contact. To live under such conditions must lead to a certain wilting of the human soul. We are, after all, simple creatures at heart, requiring physical confirmation that we are loved – or at least tolerated.

For a couple of centuries, physical proximity with others than your nearest and dearest was not approved of. The Victorian gentleman rarely hugged – he patted on the back. The Victorian lady was too voluminously attired to be able to hug. But I bet they still managed the odd squeeze, as did most others, thirsting for proximity, for the simple pleasure of being held in a warm embrace.

These days, things seem to be moving in the right direction. We hug our friends, we hug our kids, our partners, our parents. Considering the general state of the world, I think we need it. Time to hold hands, hug each other hard and hope for a better world, a world in which children don’t die needlessly in the sea, in which men do not take God hostage and perform vile deeds in his name.

Tree Silhouette Against Starry Night Sky --- Image by © Robert Llewellyn/Corbis

Silhouettes by Harry Finder – Image by © Robert Llewellyn/Corbis

Time for some love, people. Time to understand that fundamentally we’re not all that different from Mr and Mrs Biped. After all, what do we want from life? A place to sleep, someone to love, a future for our kids – and arms that tighten round us, that hold us close and safe, while way up high those stars that once gazed down on Adam, gaze down at us, as impervious to our fates today as they were then.

Many, many years ago, primitive man rose to his two feet. A giant step for mankind – and for that most wonderful of affectionate gestures, the hug!

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