Step inside and steal some moments in another place, another time

An arranged love-match – of Philippa and her Edward

medieval loveIn 1326, a not yet fourteen-year-old boy was betrothed to a girl two years or so his junior. He was Edward, soon-to-be Edward III of England. She was Philippa, one of Guillaume of Hainaut’s four daughters. The betrothal cemented the alliance between Isabella of France and Count Guillaume, whereby the count placed ships and men at Isabella’s disposal for the upcoming conquest of England. It is said that the bride-to-be took an immediate liking to her prospective groom, weeping bitterly when he left.

In setting his name to the contracts, Edward openly defied his father’s will – King Edward II had repeatedly written to his son and told him that under no circumstances was he to enter into a marriage contract without his, the king’s, agreement – but what choice did the adolescent boy have? His mother would have him sign, and he was with her, under her daily influence.

Edward II opposed the marriage precisely because it gave Isabella access to the fighting men – and the ships required to transport them – she required to invade England. Not that Isabella would be captaining these men, that job fell to her partner and lover, Roger Mortimer.


Edward II trying out his crown

However, prior to the events that led to Isabella openly challenging her husband, Edward II had also toyed with marrying his eldest to one of Count Guillaume’s daughters, had even gone so far so as to have his trusted man, Walter Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter, travel over to inspect the goods, so to say. A description still survives, but it is unclear whether it refers to Philippa or to one of her sisters. Whatever the case, the bishop describes a dark-haired girl with dark eyes, a full mouth, good teeth – well, at least some of them. All in all, the bishop found her pleasant enough to look like, and one hopes young Edward agreed, that distant June day when he first clapped eyes on the girl who was to become his wife.

To be quite honest, we have no idea what Philippa may have looked like, but seeing as she lived in the fourteenth century, poor Philippa was burdened with a hairdo that is decidedly unflattering. If you look at her effigy in Westminster abbey, what you mostly see are those heavy arrangements of braids framing her face. Mind you, that effigy depicts Philippa as an adult woman, so maybe she was a bit more daring in her youth – maybe there were days when she wore her hair loose and covered by a sheer veil. Probably not – and definitely not after she’d married Edward. Married women were supposed to keep their hair firmly under control – i.e. covered, as it was a well-known fact men went all gaga at the sight of curls billowing in the wind.

We know little of Philippa’s youth. Her father married Jeanne of Valois, a cousin to Isabella of France, and assuming Jeanne’s father, Charles Valois, was as great a believer in education as Isabella’s father (and Charles’ brother), Philippe IV, was, Jeanne was literate and well-educated, something she surely passed on to her many daughters. Whatever the case, the Hainaut children spent most of their time in Valenciennes, Guillaume’s principal city, but would also have been regular visitors at Le Quesnoy – of WWI fame for ANZAC soldiers – where Guillaume and his family enjoyed such noble pastimes as hunting and hawking.

Due to Edward and Philippa being related – they were second cousins through their mothers – no wedding could take place without a papal dispensation. Not that Count Guillaume had any hurry in securing the dispensation. After all, should the invasion backfire, chances were Edward II would punish his eldest son by having him imprisoned or even executed.


Edward III being crowned

In the event, the invasion was a success. Capably led by Mortimer, Isabella’s forces soon had England under control. Edward II was imprisoned at Kenilworth Castle, his hated favourite Despenser was executed, and next on the agenda was to make Prince Edward King Edward, which was achieved by forcing Edward II to abdicate. So in February of 1327, Edward III was crowned, and on the other side of the English Channel, preparations began for Philippa’s wedding.

As many other young ladies of the time, she was actually married twice: the first time by proxy, i.e. Edward sent over a man to stand in his stead, the second time in January of 1328 in York – this time the real thing in the half-finished cathedral with her young and handsome husband at her side.

Without any surviving diaries or letters, it is of course difficult to assess just how successful this marriage was, but by all accounts Edward III was faithful to his wife, and the regular appearance of more babies indicate they enjoyed each other’s company behind the bed hangings. Mind you, it took some time for baby number one to arrive – but this may have been due to consideration. Philippa was not quite fourteen when they wed, and in general consummation with such young brides was not encouraged.

At the time of their wedding, Edward must have been in the grip of conflicting emotions: he’d recently seen his father buried after his death back in September (some people say Edward II didn’t die, but let us bypass that for now), his mother had awarded herself a huge income which seriously depleted the royal coffers, Roger Mortimer was effectively in charge of running the country (albeit together Isabella), and Edward was beginning to suspect neither Isabella nor Roger would be all that keen on stepping down from their position of power. So what did that make him? A leashed lion? For a young man determined to become a perfect king, that was not an option.

I imagine he found a confidante in Philippa, someone as firmly in his own corner as he himself was. Philippa might initially have been unfamiliar with the power games at court, and I guess she was quite intimidated by her mother-in-law, who still went by Queen Isabella, when in fact she should have been the Queen Mother Isabella. Thing is, Philippa was as yet uncrowned, and Isabella showed little interest in ensuring she was. From where Isabella was standing, England was better off with one crowned king – her son – and one crowned queen – herself.

Philippa_of_Hainault-miniIn 1330, Edward pushed through the coronation of his wife, by then pregnant with their first child. In an act of defiance, he swept his arms wide and told Philippa to go wild and crazy when it came to her coronation outfits, and she definitely did, changing from one precious combo to the other during the festivities. Mama Isabella was probably not entirely pleased at being upstaged, but public opinion was moving in the direction of Edward and Philippa, and after the little queen proudly presented her husband with a son and heir in June of 1330, Isabella should have realised power was slipping through her fingers. Edward III now had every reason to act – and act quickly – so as to retake control of his country. Which he did – or rather his friends did, which is how Mortimer ended up dead and Isabella ended up marginalised.

Philippa was now queen not only in name but also in fact – and she did a good job of it, the perfect medieval consort who advised her husband in private, interceded on behalf of the weak and needy, and oversaw the raising of their large and mostly happy family. She was his pillar of strength, the companion from his youth that became his companion through life, the person he could always trust to have his, Edward’s, interests at heart.

Philippa was also a patron of the arts, was held in high regard by men such as Jean Froissart, and owned and commissioned several illustrated manuscripts, some of which are still around. Over a period of 25 years, she gave birth at least thirteen times, which means she was just sixteen when the first baby was born, over forty when the baby of the family, Thomas of Woodstock, saw the light of the day. Edward clearly enjoyed her company – and vice-versa – which explains why she accompanied her bellicose husband on various of his campaigns – both to Scotland but also to France, where she forever earned the reputation of being a gentle and good queen when she begged Edward to spare the burghers of Calais.


Battle of Sluys – from Jean Froissart’s Chronicle

I remember the first time I heard this story. My teacher, Mrs Miller, had a stochastic approach to the Hundred Years’ War, so that we went from Sluys to Agincourt and then back to Crecy, mainly because she had all these lovely Jean Froissart posters that she used for inspiration and tended to get them mixed up. At the time, I was seriously confused: one moment, we’re talking about Edward III and his naval victory over the French (Sluys, 1340), the next we’re at Agincourt (and yes, Shakespeare was quoted) with Edward III’s great-grandson Henry V, then we’re back to Edward III at Crecy, now accompanied by his young, just as bellicose, son Edward (whom Mrs Miller never called anything but The Black Prince, which really had me wondering if he was a bad guy. I was ten, okay?)

Anyway, after more or less annihilating the French at Crecy in 1346, in September of that same year Edward turned north – to Calais. At the time, this town was protected by impressive walls, and no matter how many men Edward threw at the town, the defences held. Months of this did not improve Edward’s temper, but he was determined to win Calais, so in February of 1347, he effectively closed off all lines of supply into the town. The siege of Calais had begun.

The_French_defeated_before_Calais_by_Edward_IIIThe stubborn townspeople refused to give up, hoping their king would come to their aid. Philippe of France did show up, but he was still smarting after the loss at Crecy, and he was severely outnumbered and “outstrategised” by Edward, which made Philippe decide it was best to retreat and fight another day. Abandoned by their king, in August, Calais gave up.

By then, Edward was seriously pissed off with the town for holding out for so long – it sort of put a dent in his calendar. Plus, he had hoped to force the French king into a decisive battle outside Calais, but Philippe had evaded that trap. So when Calais finally surrendered, I reckon Edward was seriously tempted to do unleash his men on the town. But as Edward was in France claiming the French crown, he realised this was probably not a good way of endearing himself to his French subjects, so instead he offered the people of Calais a way out: if six of them would come before him and offer him the keys of the city, give themselves up unconditionally, he would spare the rest.

Death. Those six Calais burghers had no illusions as to what fate awaited them – especially as Edward ordered that they wear nothing but their shirts and a noose round their neck – ready to hang, if you will. They prostrated themselves before the smouldering Edward and begged for their lives. He ordered their heads to be cut off – ASAP.

Queen_Plippia_intercending_for_the_Burghers_of_Calais_byJ.D_PenroseThis is when Philippa stepped forth from the shadows of history to hog the limelight. Heavily pregnant, she kneeled before her husband and begged him to show mercy. Mrs Miller tended to embroider this bit: the queen, all in white, sank to her knees before her seated husband and approached him on her knees, repeatedly asking that he spare the burghers as otherwise she feared God would rob them of the child presently in her womb. Mrs Miller tended to get emotional here, a hand drifting down to her very flat abdomen (Mrs Miller was well past childbearing at the time).

Edward was very fond of his wife, and, according to Mrs Miller, never had she looked more beautiful to him than she did as she kneeled abjectly before him. Hmm. I hope she had. Whatever the case, he was so touched he spared the six burghers and everyone lived happily ever after. Except that they didn’t – at least not the citizens of Calais who were evicted out of their town by Edward and replaced by his men. Neither did Philippa’s baby. A son, Thomas of Windsor, was born in 1347 but died within a year.

Anyway, after the events at Calais, Philippa went back to being the mild wife she’d always been, never questioning her husband in public, however much she may have argued with him in private. Not that I think they did argue. I think they had a happy and fulfilling marriage, one in which they enjoyed spending time together, sharing their thoughts with each other. Edward found in Philippa and their children the family he’d lost as a child when his mother and father ended up on opposite sides of a battlefield. In her, he had a loyal and devoted spouse. In him, she found a man who cherished her and honoured her.

In the 1360s, Philippa fell ill. A wasting disease that had her growing weak and him somewhat desperate. Yes, this is when Edward also began his association with Alice Perrers, his only known mistress, but his devotion for his wife and his distress at her continued illness was evident.

In July of 1369, Philippa sent for her husband, presently preparing for yet another campaign. He rushed to her side at Windsor and found her wan and pale in her bed. They held hands as she had him promise that once he died, he’d be buried beside her. Edward wept and gave her his word, gripping the hand of the woman who’d been his mainstay through life.

Philippa was all of fifty-five when she died, and had lived through the misfortune of seeing nine of her children die before her. Her husband was devastated and never quite recovered from her death. Soon enough, he would fall under the spell of Alice Perrers, even more so as his mind deteriorated, but in his heart Philippa ruled uncontested. Of that I am sure.

In my latest release, Days of Sun and Glory, I have included a first meeting between the adolescent Edward and a girl who still climbs trees and wears her hair in braids.

9789198324518After supper, the count and Lord Mortimer retired to discuss military matters with the men. Prince Edward scowled as the men left, but when Countess Jeanne invited him and the queen to her apartments, generously including most of Queen Isabella’s retinue as well, he bowed politely and accepted, throwing smouldering looks at his mother.
Entertainment came in the shape of a troubadour, who sang them a selection of verses from the Roman de la Rose, which made Prince Edward shift on his seat while the three unwed Hainaut daughters blushed and tittered.
Fortunately, the troubadour had an ear not only for music, but also for his audience, and he changed to livelier tunes, accompanied by a man on a vielle and an old lady on a guimbarde, and Philippa rose to her feet and danced, graceful and lively. Her sisters followed suit, but it was Philippa the prince followed with his eyes, and when the young girl approached him, he took her hand and allowed her to lead him out to dance.
Afterwards, a flushed prince retired to sit on the window seat.
“Does she please you, my lord?” Kit joined him. The potential future Queen of England was standing on the opposite side of the vaulted room, dark braids framing her face. The child had the most remarkable eyes: large and somewhat almond-shaped, they were the colour of ripe hazelnuts and seemed to glow from within when she looked at the prince.
“What does it matter what I think?” Prince Edward said morosely.
“Your mother is bartering your future for weapons and men,” Kit said with asperity. “It seems only fair that you should end up with a bride you feel some affection for.”
Edward shrugged. “I am a prince. Princes do not marry for love.” He gave her a pained look. “My father never loved my mother. She was a child and he was a man.”
“But you and Lady Philippa are of an age – a far better foundation for a good marriage, don’t you think?” Kit nudged him in the ribs. “She’s quite pretty.”
Prince Edward went the colour of a boiled lobster, while muttering that aye, he thought she was. “She is so…uncomplicated, so sunny,” he continued. “I could do with a sun in my life.”
Kit was tempted to hug him. Poor lad; not quite fourteen and already so disillusioned.
“Well, we all need someone to brighten up our days, don’t we? Tell your mother you want Philippa. Let her sort out the practicalities with the count.”

As you can see – and surely it is not much of a surprise by now – I do believe in love at first sight, even if in this case it was probably more of a puppy love:)

Digging up the Tudor roots

Okay, I’m going to come clean: I am NOT a major Tudor fan. I’ve had it up to here (waves hand around eye level) with novels featuring Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Likewise with Elizabeth I – undoubtedly an intriguing lady – maybe not so much with Mary Tudor. Which is why I surprised myself when I bought a book about Owen Tudor – but hey, all I knew about this particular Tudor was that he’d seduced Henry V’s widow  and that this happened like 100 years before Henry VIII’s heyday. Turns out I enjoyed the book, which is why I’ve invited the author, Tony Riches, to pop by.

TR Owen and Jasper BooksWelcome to my blog, Tony! By now, I have read quite a few of your books, and I recently enjoyed (yes, to my surprise – see above) both Owen and Jasper, the first two books in your Tudor trilogy. Why this fascination with the early Tudors?

Hi Anna – and thank you for inviting me to your blog. I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle, birthplace of Henry Tudor, so was naturally intrigued by how Henry became King of England. Surprised to find there were no books about Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who married the widow of King Henry V, I began researching his life and discovered the fascinating story of how the Tudor dynasty began. I soon had more than enough material for a book and decided to write the trilogy, with Henry being born in the first book, coming of age in the second and becoming king in the third.

In Owen, you present Catherine of Valois as being prone to depression, if not full-blown mental instability. Tell us a bit about this – did your research lead you to conclude she was somewhat frail, or is this a case of “filling in the blanks”?

Although there is no direct evidence of Catherine’s ‘instability’ it’s recorded that her father, Charles VI of France, suffered from delusions, such as the belief he was made of glass. He began violently attacking his servants and had to be locked up for his own safety. Catherine’s son Henry VI also suffered from ’lapses’ and is reported as falling into some form of depressive catatonic state. Importantly, both her father and her son sometimes failed to recognise their own family and, as the link between them, Queen Catherine must have feared for her own mental health. She became a recluse at Bermondsey Abbey after Owen was arrested and her sons taken from her, so it was easy to imagine how this might have caused tension in her relationship with Owen Tudor.

In Jasper, Henry VI is already showing clear signs of retiring mentally from the world, leaving his forceful wife to cope on her own. Do you think there were ever discussions among the Lancastrians to depose him?

Yes – he was definitely unfit to rule, so if it had not been for the protection of Queen Margaret of Anjou I’m sure he would have been ‘retired’ through ill health much earlier. It’s fascinating to wonder how history might have changed if he’d not remained on the throne…

There has been speculation regarding the paternity of Prince Edward, Henry VI’s son. What is your take on it?

The only person who knows for certain is Queen Margaret, although providing the king with a male heir transformed her status in the country. By all accounts she was an attractive and lonely young woman, so given her husband’s mental and physical state at the time the temptation to take matters into her own hands must have been overwhelming.  (Ha! A true diplomat, Mr Riches…)

You paint a very engaging picture of Jasper Tudor – a man loyal to a fault, both to his brother and his nephew. Was this your starting point when you decided to write about him?

I wanted to show Jasper as a man with plenty of weaknesses. He always seemed to run from battles to save himself, he wasn’t a great military tactician, often failed to listen to good advice and didn’t settle down and marry until he was fifty-five.  At the same time, Jasper was an easy man to like, as he always put others first. There is no question of his loyalty to Henry Tudor or his diplomatic skills, qualities which were vital for the future of the Tudor dynasty.


In Jasper, the Welsh are talked into supporting Henry Tudor because he’s Welsh and rides under the Welsh dragon. Were there benefits to the Welsh during Henry VII’s reign?

The Welsh had been subjugated, second-class citizens for centuries, not allowed to own land or even carry a sword, so it must have been compelling to believe Henry was their prophesised saviour, ‘Y Mab Darogan’, the ‘son of destiny’. There is scant evidence that Henry VII ever returned to Wales once he was king, however, although he generously rewarded those who supported him at Bosworth.

As a writer, I found it interesting to note that Owen is written in first person, present tense, while Jasper is third person, past tense. Why have you used two such different approaches?

I started writing Owen in the third person, then read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and was impressed by the sense of immediacy she achieves. I enjoyed the challenge of re-writing Owen in the first person and present tense – but Jasper was always third person in book one and I decided to continue this. I understand some readers struggle to get in to first person, present tense, although the feedback and reviews (and international sales) suggest it wasn’t an issue.

Your trilogy is to be concluded with a third book (obviously) named Henry. It seems to me the world of historical fiction readers is very polarised when it comes to Henry Tudor – what is your take on this enigmatic man?

I respected Richard III’s courage at the end of my book Jasper – and now I’m keen to present a fresh perspective on the man Henry was. He inherited a bankrupt throne and left it richer than it had ever been. He oversaw the longest period of peace for centuries, uniting families and establishing a new style of monarchy. (I’m attending the Bosworth anniversary re-enactment next month, however, and am sure the ‘Ricardians’ will take some convincing!)

What I found very interesting in Jasper was how distant you depicted the relationship between Margaret Beaufort and her son, Henry. Not so strange, really, seeing as he was raised by others than her, but somewhat at odds with the notion that she was the “power behind the throne” once he became king. What are your thoughts on Margaret and her relationship with Henry?

Margaret Beaufort was a fascinating woman, and I relied on numerous sources but was particularly impressed by Elizabeth Norton’s Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty. The price of Henry’s long exile was that his mother would have been a complete stranger, as for many years they couldn’t exchange letters, yet she never stopped working for his return and became his most trusted advisor once he was king.

Finally, when will we be able to read Henry?

I am now working on the first draft and plan to launch Henry, Book Three of The Tudor Trilogy by Easter next year.

Thank you so much for dropping by, Tony – and for giving me a new perspective on the Tudors!


TR Tony Riches 2016Tony Riches lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and his WordPress website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

No, no, no! Please don’t die! – of the constraints imposed by reality

I write historical fiction, and as such I am a big fan of knowing my period and the important players of the time. However, my first series featured a time-traveller and her 17th century husband, a couple affected by what was happening round them – Matthew Graham is obliged to uproot himself and his family and leave Scotland due to the religious persecution in the aftermath of the Restoration in 1660 – but they were never anywhere close to the centre of things. This allowed me a lot of freedom when plotting their lives and adventures – albeit that I do have real-life characters flitting in and out.

EHFA Isabella_and_Roger_Mortimer

Isabella and Roger – IRL (hmm, like a century after the fact)

My new series also features fictional characters. But this time round, I’ve tied their fate to that of the movers and shakers of the time, and suddenly my writing is populated by far more characters who did exist than did not.
“I should hope so.” Roger Mortimer pours himself a goblet of wine and reclines on one of the window seats that have, just by magic, popped up in my head. “It is us that are truly interesting.”
Well, excuse me for not agreeing 100%, Lord Mortimer! Well, okay: I am fascinated by Roger Mortimer – have been, since a certain Mr Wilmshurst (one of my first history teachers) summarised the story of Queen Isabella and Roger.

At the time, Queen Isabella came as a fresh air, proving to everyone in the class room that not all medieval ladies were meek and submissive. In actual fact, I think very few were: it suffices to look around at the women that surround us to realise submissiveness is not necessarily an ingrained female trait. But you see, no matter how tough as boots Isabella was, I never really warmed to her. I did, however, warm to Mortimer.
“He would not have given you as much as a glance,” Isabella says from where she has joined Mortimer by the window. She twirls, showing off her perfect figure. Everything is perfect about her – but there’s something hard and calculating about her, and I’ve always felt she could have done more to save her lover from his fate.
“My fate?” Mortimer stands up, and beside him, Isabella is as dainty as a foal beside a stallion.
“Well, you know,” I say, squirming a bit. “You die.”
He gives me a humourless smile. “I know. I was there, remember?” His hand rubs at his neck. “I was hoping you’d apply an alternate history approach.” .
Ah. But I already do – sort of – and one can only play with the facts so far, unless I aim to recreate an entirely new historical setting, which I don’t. So I clear my throat and shake my head. “Sorry. Facts are facts.”
“Are they?” His brows shoot up. “So you know everything about me and Isabella?”
“Umm…” Obviously not. It’s not as if these two were kind enough to leave me huge diaries to read. And even if they had, who’s to say that would be the truth. The truth is never much more than a perception – unless we talk of the hard facts, such as “he was born then, died then.” Died. Gone. An irrefutable fact.

I’m going to come clean here and say I have a major, major problem when my characters – invented or not invented – die on me.


Dead – very dead (Ophelia by Millais)

Now, when it comes to invented characters, the savvy writer can keep a careful eye on the character’s development and the plotline so as to ensure death is not the only option. Close shaves at times, but not death. Not yet. Preferably not ever – or at least not in any of the books I intend to write about this character. Some characters take matters out of your hands by being quite contrary and end up dead anyway, but such misfortunes can be avoided when dealing with imaginary peeps.

The problem is compounded when dealing with people who did live – and die. Unless you’re aiming for alternative history – as my pal Roger so helpfully suggested – in which you could, f.ex., keep Harold alive at Hastings while having William eating dust, writing about real-life people is constraining.

“Harold?” Roger snorts softly. “He was a Saxon savage. With William came order and structure. No William, no Henry II, no Eleanor of Aquitaine, no Edward I, no Edward II.” His brow furrows. “Not that Edward II would have been a major loss to mankind.”
“Whatever,” I tell him, wanting to clap him over the head for his disparging comment about Harold. “My point is rather that real life characters such as you were born, and then you DIED.”
And once these historical people reach their best by date, no tweaking of the plotline will help – there they lie, as still as a rock and with as much animation. Truth be told, they were just as inert prior to being included in the ongoing Work-in-progress, but once you start breathing life into a person, they become your baby, sort of, and we don’t like it when our babies die.
Roger Mortimer gives me an amused look. “Your baby?”
“Figuratively speaking.”
“Ah.” He glances at Isabella, who has moved off to study her reflection in a pool of water. (My head is very roomy, okay?) “Not baby in the more modern sense?” He winks.
Sheesh! My cheeks heat, and darkly handsome Roger Mortimer throws back his head and laughs. Well: I’ll get my revenge – sort of – by sticking to the actual dates, so come December 1330, this vibrant, forceful and extremely ambitious man will be lying in an anonymous grave somewhere. Right: I need to take a little break and fortify myself with a gulp or two of tea. Roger – who is quite the gentlemen when he wants to be – pats me on the back and tells me not to feel too bad about killing him off. After all, most of his contemporaries were of the opinion he deserved it. This he says with a crooked smile, and I know his ignominious death still rankles.

My conversation with Mortimer is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Adam de Guirande, my very invented hero who loves Mortimer as a father – even if at times he doesn’t like him or his methods much. If I am upset by the thought of Mortimer’s death, it will eviscerate Adam.
“It will.” Mortimer’s dark gaze follows Adam’s progress towards him. “So we don’t tell him. Not yet.”
“Not yet,” I promise.
Mortimer moves off with Adam, doing one of those elegant fade aways my characters often do when they desire some moments of privacy. I revert to my morbid musings regarding the demise of characters.

One of my main gripes with George R. R. Martin’s Game of Throne series is that he keeps on killing people off. No sooner have I developed a relationship with one of his main characters, and he offs them. I have still not recuperated from Ned Stark’s beheading, let me tell you. Now, if I feel so bereaved, I can only imagine how bereaved he feels. Or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he maintains a professional distance to all his imaginary creations – but I don’t believe that, as anyone with half a brain cell can see how much of himself he has invested in his books and characters.

Still, Martin has the option of keeping them all alive. Had he wanted to, the entire Stark family could still be sitting in Winterfell, expressing that “winter is coming” in between bickering about whether to worship the Seven, the old goods, or the fire god. Not necessarily the most riveting of stories, but he could have aimed for a Happily Ever After seeing as he invented the Starks.

Had George R.R. Martin been writing about William Wallace, Happily Ever After would not even be an option. After all, we all know how Wallace died, and there was nothing happy about it. (And while I break out in hives every time I see Mel Gibson depict Wallace wearing a kilt, I must give him plus points for that awesome death scene.)


A very dead Arthur (Edward Burne-Jones)

It’s very frustrating to know from the beginning you’re going to have to kill off some of your protagonists – just because they happen to have a fixed death date. Alternatively, you end the story before they die, but sometimes that isn’t an option. In the example of William Wallace, there really is no point at which we can have him riding off into a rosy sunset, leaving his future fate to be determined by the reader.

No, William Wallace had no Happily Ever After, and neither did my Roger Mortimer. I sigh and press the heels of my hands against my eyes. Shit: Adam de Guirande will never forgive me for this, for allowing him to develop such strong bonds with a man I knew from the beginning wouldn’t be around to grow old. But that, dear readers, is one of those things us writers have to deal with. Still: I wish…

Tough times, tough lady- meet Mahaut!

Those who regularly read my blog will know I have a fascination with strong historical characters – and especially women. I suppose this reflects on my belief that I am a strong woman – and would have made a great ruling queen back when ruling queens and kings wielded real power. Of course, had I been around back then, chances are I’d have been a very strong woman stuck in some sort of menial role. My genes do not include much of the royal or noble blue – as far as I know, I am descended from hard-working farmers and miners.

Neither here nor there – but I do daydream about being a medieval mover and shaker. Seeing as daydreams rarely come true, I indulge myself by writing about women who did leave a mark on the world, despite living in times when gender equality was an unknown concept and women (in general) had a weaker legal status than men.

EHFA Philip_iv_and_family

Handsome Philippe with his handsome kids

Today, I’d like us to spend some time with Mahaut d’Artois, a contemporary to Philippe IV of France, usually nicknamed le Bel because he was such a handsome dude. If we’re to believe Maurice Druon (and Mr Druon is a compelling writer, so it is difficult to fully wipe his description of Mahaut out of my head) this was a lady who would stop at nothing to get her genes on the French throne. Murder was not an issue, blackmail was a walk in the park. Calumny and false accusations – pah! – a mother does what she has to do to ensure her daughters get ahead. Ultimately, it didn’t help, but one cannot fault Mahaut’s determination for trying – and trying really hard – to make her unborn grandchild a king. Assuming we believe Maurice Druon, of course…

If we start at the beginning, we must conclude we’re not quite sure when things began. Some sources cite Mahaut was born in 1268. Some offer a date closer to 1275. So let us compromise and say she was born in 1270 or thereabouts. Her father, Robert II, Count of Artois, was a nephew of St Louis, and accordingly Mahaut could claim close kinship to the ruling Capet dynasty, albeit that her great-uncle’s saintliness seems to have passed her by.

Mahaut Ota4Burgundy


I assume Mahaut was educated in accordance with her status – i.e. she was taught to administer substantial landholdings, to read and write and manage her accounts. We have no idea what she looked like, but the Capets in general were a handsome lot, so reasonably Mahaut was pleasing enough on the eye. In 1291, she married Otto of Burgundy, a man at least two decades her senior. Otto had been married before but had no children, something which was quickly remedied as Mahaut presented him with two girls in the first few years of their marriage. I’d guess there were other, unrecorded, babies, before the birth of a precious son in 1300.

Maybe more sons would have followed, but in 1302 Otto died, and Mahaut was suddenly the rich – and powerful – dowager Countess of Burgundy. Some months later, she would also become the countess of Artois.

Mahaut was not the only child of Robert, Count of Artois. In fact, she had two brothers, one of whom died very young, but the other grew up to be a healthy man. This Philippe married and had a son, named Robert after his grandfather. It would seem the succession to the County of Artois through the male line was assured (at the time, male heirs took precedence over female heirs). Phew. Except that in 1298, Philippe died of his wounds after the battle of Furnes. At the time, his son was eleven.

Whether Robert Sr raged and tore his hair at the loss of his only son, we don’t know – but it seems a fair bet to assume he did, finding some comfort in his young namesake. And had Robert Sr lived until his grandson was an adult, things might have gone very differently. Instead, Robert Sr followed his son into the afterlife in 1302 – killed on the battlefield. And this is when Mahaut surged forward and claimed Artois for herself, citing local customs. Effectively, she claimed she was closer by blood to the deceased count than her nephew, ergo she had the right to inherit.

Mahaut Seance_solennelle_terminant_le_proces_de_Robert_d'Artois_le_6_aout_1332.BNF-fr18437-fol2

Philippe IV ruling in Mahaut’s favour

Even from a distance of 700 years, Mahaut comes across as a grasping and callous lady, coolly using archaic customs to disinherit her nephew. It wasn’t as if she was destitute – rather the reverse. Robert Jr was too young to forcibly push his own claim, and besides, King Philippe le Bel had an interest in keeping Mahaut happy – Burgundy was important to France. And so, to the surprise of many of their contemporaries, Philippe upheld Mahaut’s claim.

I imagine our lady of the day rubbed her hands together in glee. Even more so, when some years later she ensured that both her daughters married royalty: Jean, the oldest, became the wife of Philippe, second son of Philippe le Bel, and Blanche married Philippe’s baby brother Charles. Suddenly, she could start dreaming of seeing her grandsons on the French throne – well, assuming Philippe’s and Charles’ older brother Louis did not leave any heirs.

This is where the story about the manipulative poisoner Mahaut starts to take shape: undoubtedly, she had a vested interest in clearing the path for her son-in-law(s). Seeing as she’d already proven herself to be singularly ruthless – poor Robert made sure no one forgot how his detested tante had cheated him of his patrimony – such rumours found fertile ground. But such things were as yet in the future, and instead Mahaut had a number of years in which she could bask in the reflected glory of her daughters.

But not all good things last for ever – not even if you’re named Mahaut. In 1314, France was rocked by the biggest scandal in French medieval history – the Tour de Nesle affair. Through the testimony of Isabella of France, Queen of England, it came to light that her three sisters-in-law were slipping off to enjoy carnal intimacies with men other than their husbands, thereby cuckolding the Capetian princes. Did not go down well, putting it mildly. Mahaut’s precious daughters were revealed as simple adulteresses, the two young men who’d had the temerity of dallying with the princesses were cruelly executed, and everyone assumed the three princesses would be locked up for life in Chateau de Gaillard or in a similar nasty environment.

“Ahem,” said Jeanne, Mahaut’s eldest daughter. “I didn’t do anything wrong! I never cheated on my husband, my dear, handsome Philippe.”
To his everlasting credit, Philippe not only believed her, he defended her, insisting he had no doubts as to his wife’s fidelity or the paternity of their various daughters. So instead of being judged an adulteress, Jeanne got off with the somewhat milder “complicit to adultery”, in that she hadn’t stopped her sister Blanche and her cousin Marguerite from fornicating with their handsome lovers. While Marguerite and Blanche suffered the ignominy of having their heads shorn before the parliament before being cast in prison, Jeanne was exiled from court, spending a number of months begging to be allowed to return to her husband’s side.

Behind her back, the entire court laughed at Mahaut. Her youngest daughter a whore, her eldest selectively blind – no, it did not reflect well on the haughty countess. Things went from bad to worse when her son died in 1315. The riches and lands Mahaut had amassed would not pass to her precious boy (yet another Robert). I dare say nephew Robert felt this was God doing some adequate punishment – he definitely took the opportunity of attempting to wrest Artois by force from Mahaut, fanning the flames of a rebellion that roared into life before spluttering and dying just as quickly. The people of Artois were happy with their countess, who was an able and fair administrator, a generous benefactress of religious orders, and in general much respected – even loved.

In the aftermath of the Tour de Nesle, Philippe le Bel died. His eldest, Louis, became king. Unfortunately for Louis, his wife was sitting in a dark and damp dungeon in Chateau de Gaillard, the daughter he had with her was tainted with the suspicion of bastardy, and there was no pope around to grant him an annulment (the papacy was living through its own little crisis).

Mahaut Clemence

Clemence (?)

Mahaut perked up. If Louis remained fettered to Marguerite, chances were his little daughter would be passed over in the succession, the crown thereby ending up with Mahaut’s dear son-in-law Philippe. So when Marguerite died in captivity, we can safely assume this was not Mahaut’s doing. Nope. Instead, we must point the finger very firmly at Louis, but truth be told, no one seemed all that eager to investigate the disgraced Marguerite’s death, and soon enough Louis had a new bride by his side, Clemence of Hungary.

This Hungarian princess (except she wasn’t all that Hungarian: she was as French as they came) was a major, major monkey-wrench in Mahaut’s plans. Even more so when she became pregnant. Louis was ecstatic – soon he’d have a precious heir, a child untainted by the scandal of Tour de Nesle. And then Louis upped and died – supposedly because he’d drunk too much cold water after a singularly heated and extended tennis game. (Yes: Louis was an avid tennis player – an early adopter of the sport). Or maybe he’d been poisoned…A young and healthy king to drop dead like that? Hmm. More than one glanced at Mahaut – and Philippe.

Poor Clemence was now the equivalent of a defenceless lamb, surrounded by wolves. Philippe was named regent, and took the opportunity to re-affirm the Salic Laws whereby the throne of France could not be passed down through the female line. Should Clemence be delivered of a girl, the crown would pass to Philippe. Should she present the joyous French with a son, Philippe – and I dare say he bared his teeth in a singularly icy smile – would act as regent for his dear nephew.

Mahaut Jean_Ier_Bier

Baby Jean’s burial

Clemence gave birth to a boy. Shouts of joy quickly transformed into hiccups of grief when the little baby, Jean I, died after five days. Yet again, there were rumours of poison. Yet again, the main beneficiary was Philippe, with impressive kick-ass mother-in-law Mahaut holding his back.

Leaving aside Maurice Druon’s elegantly woven tale of intrigue and dark mischief (and seriously, if you haven’t read his books about the Capet kings, The Accursed Kings, do so. Now!) one could still argue that Mahaut could have poisoned Louis – and little Jean. On the other hand, so could very many others. Or maybe both Louis and Jean did die natural deaths – albeit this was a novel situation in France, where for four centuries every Capet king had been succeeded by a Capet son.

Whatever the case, Philippe was now king. Only problem was, he had no sons. None. A boy was born and died in 1316 – the year Philippe became king – and after that there were no more babies. At most, his daughters could aspire to inherit grandma Mahaut’s combined title Countess of Burgundy and Artois – and marry well. Unless Philippe had sons, his crown would pass to brother Charles, also Mahaut’s son-in-law. The problem in this case was that Charles had no desire to reconcile with his wife, Blanche. Mahaut’s youngest daughter had been locked away in 1314, had given birth while imprisoned (with serious doubts cast on the child’s paternity), and Charles wanted nothing to do with her – he wanted an annulment and a new wife.

Mahaut John XXII annulling C & B

Pope John XXII annulling the marriage between Charles and Blanche

In 1322, Philippe died. Charles became king and wasted no time in forcing through an annulment. The children he’d had by Blanche were both dead, and Charles needed heirs – fast! For the first time in remembered history, the Capet dynasty had no male heirs. None. By now, Blanche was in a bad way – her eight years locked away had marked her for life. Once her marriage had been declared null and void, she was allowed to take the veil and was to die in a convent some years later. With her died Mahaut’s hopes of seeing a grandchild ascend France’s throne. By then, the pragmatic and hard-nosed Mahaut had probably given up on that particular dream. After years at the centre of things, she chose to pass her last years with her eldest daughter, widowed Queen Jeanne, and capably managing her estates.

So, who was Mahaut? A cold-hearted and manipulative bitch who stopped at nothing – not even murder – to reach her goals? A capable, if greedy, woman maligned by her contemporaries for being just that – competent? Well, Mahaut isn’t telling – ladies who’ve been buried for close to seven centuries rarely do. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between: ambition and power does  strange things to people, and Mahaut comes across as being somewhat addicted to this particular drug combo. But from there to murder it’s a loooong step!

In 1329, Mahaut fell ill. Some days later, she died. Ironically, some say she was poisoned…

A pirate and his “wench” drop by

HH 2 Helen MediumSometimes, one is in luck: like when, just by chance, one gets hold of a recently conducted interview with Jesamiah Acorne. Now, for those of you not in the know, Jesamiah is an endearing rogue of a pirate, with lethal blue ribbons decorating his hair, a golden acorn in his ear. Unfortunately, our handsome Jesamiah is already taken – he is very devoted to his wife Tiola and (mostly) faithful. Plus, of course, Jesamiah’s creator Helen Hollick is not all that willing to share – in fact, she blushes quite prettily whenever Jesamiah refers to her as “his wench”.

HH OnTheAccount-2016-promo-OutNow-WEBRecently, Helen has published On the Account, the fifth book in her Sea Witch series featuring Jesamiah. I’ve read it, enjoyed it, and right at the bottom of today’s post is my review.  Helen writes piratical deering-do for adults, spiced with some fantasy. Nice combo, IMO.

Anyway: Donna Gossip is going to kill me for stealing her interview, but that’s what you get when you leave your stuff lying about. So, before she comes back from the loo, allow me to share her interview with Captain Jesamiah Acorne – a man as much in love with his boat (oops! ship!) as his wife. Almost.

Donna Gossip, Journalist (DG) (standing on a jetty looking up at the deck of a ship) Hello there! Permission to come aboard?
Jesamiah Acorne, Captain (JA) (Peering over the rail at the woman on the jetty) Certainly Ma’am; mind your step across the gangplank, it’s a bit rickety.

A moment later, Donna is safely on board…

DG : (laughs) Goodness Captain, you were not joking! I nearly fell in. Could you not get something safer instead of a plank of old wood?
JA : Nothing wrong with my plank. Maybe its them daft high heels you’re wearing that cause the tottering?
DG : (looking at her new, bright red six-inch-heel stilettos and smoothing her somewhat short just-as-red mini-skirt) But these are the latest fashion! Still, enough about me; I’ve been sent to interview you for an article for the Daily G.
JA : Is that so?
DG : (looking round for somewhere to sit, arranges herself on a barrel and gets out a pen and writing pad.) My editor contacted your steward, a Mr Finch? He said you would be available.
JA : Did he now?
DG : We are interested in your adventures, Captain, you seem to have gained a reputation these last few years as a bit of a handsome rogue.
JA : Is that so?
DG : (realising this is going to be hard work, looks around the deck) Tell me about your boat.
JA : She’s a ship. Ships have more than two masts. (points to the nearest main mast, with the sails all neatly furled) Sea Witch has three. See?
DG : Can she go fast?
JA : depends on the wind and whether I want her to or not. If I’m chasing a Prize or wantin’ to show my arse to the Navy, then aye, she can go fast.
DG : You really are a pirate then? In your fictional world of stories, where you come from, that is?
JA : You mean in the stories my wench writes? (rubs at his slightly whiskered chin) I guess so.
DG : (laughs) Well I mean you are not from the present twenty-first century are you? We don’t have sailing ships and men dressed as pirates.
JA : I guess you don’t, but then in my time, the early 1700s, we don’t have women tottering around on neck-breaker shoes or showing their legs right up to their backsides. (grins) Nor revealing their ample assets up-top quite as much as that somewhat low-cut see-through lace chemise of yours.
DG : Women wore corsets and tight-laced ankle-length gowns in your era. Were they not cumbersome aboard ship?
JA : Probably, but most ships didn’t have women aboard. Those that were usually dressed in simple calico or cambric, woollen stockings, simple shoes. Long sleeves too, it can be cold at sea at night.
DG : Is it dangerous being a pirate?
JA : Depends on whether you’re a good one or not. There’s always the threat of the noose if you get caught. (leans forward and grins) the trick is – don’t get caught.
DG : In the latest book of your adventures On The Account, the story starts with you  arrested for smuggling. Were you at all worried that you would be found guilty and hanged?
JA : (laughs) if that was the case it would have been a short novel wouldn’t it? (shrugs) No, I was relying on my wench to write me a way out of the predicament. As it happens, someone I knew got me off the hook.
DG : Rumour has it that you are not just a pirate but also a spy for King George’s government.
JA : You don’t want to believe everything you hear, Miss.
DG : Tell me about the one they call Maha’dun. I’ve heard he’s a bit of a peculiar chap?
JA : Maha’dun? I hardly know him. He came aboard Sea Witch, spent a short while with us.
DG : He can’t go out in the sunlight. Is that right?
JA : Apparently. The Nightm’n’s got some sort of skin condition that blisters in sunshine. We didn’t have Factor Ten sun cream back in our day.
DG : Some people are saying that he is a vampire.
JA (laughs) Some people are dim-witted clodpolls then. Not all night creatures are blood-sucking monsters you know. Owls and bats come out at night, you don’t think ill of them, do you? You’ve been readin’ too many of them Dracula Twilighty type stories, darlin’! Maha’dun is an oddity, I grant, drove me mad and I’m not certain I trusted him, but he’s good in a fight. He ain’t no vampire, though. He don’t ‘ave fangs for a start.
DG : Who else is in your latest adventure?
JA : Well, m’wife, Tiola of course, she manages to get herself kidnapped by Barbary pirates – vicious lot of thugs, they are. Young Thomas Benson from Appledore sails with us – he grew up to be one of Devon’s most famous smugglers, did you know that?
DG : Yes I did. Was it you who taught him the trade?
JA : (ignoring the question) There’s several of m’crew who were in the previous four Sea Witch Voyages and a couple of the Doones, you know, the descendants of that lot who were involved with Lorna Doone on Exmoor.
DG : Can you give me any more idea of what this next story is about?
JA : Once this little misunderstanding about smuggling and treason is cleared up there’s a couple of murders. I meet up with m’wife’s old friend, Maha’dun, the Nightm’n. I get coerced into finding a valuable casket that has gone missing, and a boy who has also vanished – probably with the box. Then there’s those Barbary pirates to deal with. Beyond that, I’m sayin nothing more. You’ll have to read the book. And I’d suggest getting’ yourself ashore ma’am, here comes Finch with coffee. I seriously warn you, you do not want to drink his coffee. It usually has everything in it except coffee.
DG : (putting her notebook away and heading back across the dangerous-looking gangplank.) Well thank you, Captain, I think I can write something useful from all that.
Finch : Who was that then?
JA : Someone from the twenty-first century. The one who sent you a fat fee for permitting her to come aboard.
Finch : (ignoring the bit about a fee) Oh, ‘er. Why’s she walkin’ on stilts, and cain’t they afford dressmakers in that there future? Blimey, she must ‘ave one ‘eck of a cold bum!
Donna Gossip : (thinks as she gets into her car and heads back to her own century) He was very handsome, but goodness I don’t think I’ll step back into the past that often… Have any of them heard of soap and deodorant I wonder?

HH SW SpreadWell, that’s where we leave Jesamiah for now, sipping Finch’s lethal brew. Should you want to know more about Jesamiah and Sea Witch, I suggest dropping by on the Sea Witch FB page. Or on Helen’s website. Or her blog. Or her Amazon page. Choices, choices…



And as to that review

Okay, so I’ve been waiting for this book for quite a while. Waiting. Waiting. Wondering what’s keeping the author so long. Waiting…You see, at the end of the previous book, poor Jesamiah had barely survived a short visit to Spain before returning home only to end up in gaol, and I’ve been walking around with an imaginary rope burn round my neck as I’ve wondered if Ms Hollick could possibly be so cruel so as to hang her charming, leading man.

Anyway: at last On the Account was in my hands, and soon enough the potential risk of hanging had been averted and I could concentrate on keeping up with this sweeping, fast-paced story that has us travelling cross-country in south-west England before departing for further adventures further from home.

Ms Hollick spins a yarn – replete with nasty villains, buxom ladies, creeps, spies, self-serving bastards and pirates. The pages teem with witty dialogue, with casual historical details that have us firmly in the 18th century, in a day and age where the Jacobites still hold on to the hope of reclaiming the throne that was lost. Being a fan of this period, I enjoy just how lightly Ms Hollick inserts the historical setting – enough to create context, never so much so as to drown her narrative.

Both Jesamiah and Tiola are well-developed characters, and in this book we also have the pleasure of meeting Maha’dun, an enigmatic creature that exists in a twilight zone of dark and shadow. A good man to have at your side, it turns out – especially when you are desperately chasing abducted boys, mysterious boxes and an evil criminal who will stop at nothing to achieve his heart’s desire. Nothing at all…

In conclusion, On the Account is an entertaining roller-coaster of a read, and I am already looking forward to the next book in this wonderful series!


HH OtA 4Captain Jesamiah Acorne is in trouble. Again. Arrested for treason and smuggling, believing his beloved ship, Sea Witch, lies wrecked on England’s North Devon coast, his only hope of escaping the noose is for someone to quash the charges. That someone turns out to be his ex-lover – but there’s a price to pay.

He needs to find a boy who has disappeared, and a valuable casket that more than one person wants to get their hands on. When people start getting murdered and Barbary pirates kidnap his wife, Tiola, his priorities rapidly change – but who is lying about what? Is returning to piracy a wise idea? Is Tiola having an affair with her mysterious Night-Walker ‘friend’?

Meanwhile, Tiola has her own battle to fight – keeping herself and Jesamiah alive!

Sunny days and summer reads – a new book & a giveaway!

The other day, I published my tenth book. I’m starting to feel like one of those ladies back in medieval times who popped out a baby a year and probably worried how on earth she was to feed and clothe them, let alone love them all. Except, of course, that one always loves one’s babies, right?

9789198324518Days of Sun and Glory is the second in my series The King’s Greatest Enemy. Once again, I get to muck about in the delightfully complicated political environment of 14th century England, rubbing shoulders with Edward II and Despenser (although I keep my distance from dear Hugh – don’t like him much) and, of course, Roger Mortimer. Him I like – or rather, I see him through the eyes of my protagonist, Adam de Guirande, who loves Roger, has loved him since that day when Roger saved twelve-year-old Adam from his abusive father.

“Complicated,” Kit de Guirande says when I ask her what she thinks of Roger. She frowns. “To love Roger Mortimer in this the year of our Lord 1323 is to ask for trouble.”
Tell me about it. Mortimer has just managed to escape from the Tower and has fled to France. In England, Edward II is cursing himself to hell and back for not having executed Mortimer while he had the chance. Despenser totally agrees, but wisely holds his tongue. Queen Isabella, Edward IIs wife, detests Despenser – and even more she detests being marginalised by the king’s favourite, which is why she’s rooting for Mortimer, albeit extremely discreetly. And then there’s Edward of Windsor, the young prince, since some months Adam’s new lord and master.

Adam loves his young lord. He agonises with Prince Edward as the boy is torn apart betwen his father and his mother – after all, Adam knows just how that feels, as torn between Mortimer and the prince. And then there’s Kit, whom he adores and desperately wants to keep safe, but how is he to do that in this political quagmire?
“All he has to do to keep me safe is to keep himself safe.” Kit fingers her veil. “If he dies…” She shudders. “If Despenser gets hold of him…”
Yeah. That would be bad. Very bad.

Well: in conclusion, Days of Sun and Glory is something of a medieval roller-coaster. People fight.People die. And in all this mess, all this upheaval, I just have to trust that Adam’s innate honour and loyalty will help him choose the right way forward. Sheesh! I keep my fingers crossed so hard they hurt…

Slide1So, what are you waiting for? Go and grab a copy of Days and Sun and Glory and leave the very complicated here and now for an equally complicated, if distant, 14th century.

And should you want to start at the beginning, why not pick up In the Shadow of the Storm as well!

And seeing as a new book is always cause for celebration, I am giving away two e-book copies of Days of Sun and Glory. Just leave a comment and let me know where you prefer to do your #summerreading:) Giveaway closes July 21st.

UPDATE! The winners are Denise and Sharon! Congratulations!

An Appropriate Death for a Woman

Today, I thought I’d treat you to one of my short stories. And as such stories should work without an extensive introduction, without further ado allow me to begin:

“No sooner has a man found his bed but he is dragged out of it,” Eskil Gyllenstierna complained. He hastened down the narrow cobbled street towards the royal castle, keeping a firm hold on Kristina’s arm. “Three days of drinking has my head near on split in two – I had hoped for a nice, long nap.”
“At least you enjoyed the coronation celebrations.” It had been a lavish affair, presided over by a triumphant Christian II. Kristina grimaced; it had been like swallowing bile to watch the Danish king crowned king of Sweden. Had not Sten died, none of this would have happened. Kristina sucked in a breath, trying to dull the jab of grief her husband’s name elicited.
“Why a coronation in November?” Eskil took a sharp turn to the right, skipping over a pile of horse dung.
“Why not?” Kristina slipped and clutched at her brother. “As his majesty is so fond of reminding us, he is king and can do as he pleases.”
“King for now,” Eskil muttered, throwing her a sharp look out of red-shot eyes.
“It should be Nils on the throne,” Eskil muttered.

Kristina Death_of_Sten_Sture_the_Younger

Sten, dying…

“It should have been Sten,” Kristina corrected. Her Sten, dead in his prime, killed by a Danish cannon back in January of 1520, and now here they were, hastening to bow and scrape to the Danish king. At times the wheel of fortune turned too quickly.
“Sten would have wanted it to be Nils.”
“Nils is a boy. We must be patient.” Kristina smiled at the thought of her eldest son. Keep him safe, she admonished herself. Make sure he makes it to manhood, and then we’ll see if Christian II sits as easily on his throne. The thought revived her somewhat; her son, a future king.

Just as they hurried over the bridge leading to the castle, Kristina placed a hand on Eskil’s arm. “No heroics, dear brother. I have no idea why the king has convened this meeting of nobles so late in the day, but promise me you will not do anything to draw the royal eye.”
Eskil smirked and pulled himself up straight, presenting her with the full glory of his presence. A handsome man, Eskil was also vain and had expended a small fortune on his garments. His doublet was of French damask, his hose was of silk, and the lace at collars and cuffs was from the nunnery of Vadstena – as fine, if not better, than the Brussels lace the Danes favoured.
“I shall melt into the background,” Eskil said. “Well, try to, at least.”
Kristina laughed. “You do that.” She patted him fondly on his cheek.

The great hall of the castle was thronged with people. Kristina and Eskil moved through the crowd, greeting friends and relatives. No other women, Kristina noted, throwing a nervous look in the direction of the silent guards that stood at every door.
“I don’t like this,” she muttered to Erik Vasa, her brother-in-law. She gestured at the guards. “They’re all heavily armed.”
Erik gave her a bleary look, making Kristina sigh. Vasa was not the brightest of men, and even less so when in his cups. His companion, however, straightened up and studied the guards, his features setting in a scowl.
“You’re right.” Joakim Brahe shifted on his feet. “I don’t like this either.”

Kristina ChristianIIb

Christian II

“Don’t be silly. The king is merely displaying his power. And…” Erik broke off as the king entered, accompanied by a bevy of Danish nobles. In black – not surprising, as Christian II was much taken with the sobriety of the Holy Roman Emperor’s court – and with a fur lined cloak that hung almost to the floor, he strode down the room, the light of the candles and torches reflecting off his rings and the jewel-encrusted embroidery that adorned his chest . Thick reddish hair, a well-groomed reddish beard, a longish nose that some people whispered made him look like a Jew, and dark eyes under reddish eyebrows – the Danish king looked more like a well-to-do merchant than he did a king, but that was an opinion Kristina kept to herself.

Among the king’s men, Kristina caught sight of the recently reinstated Archbishop Trolle. The churchman saw her, wrinkled his nose and turned away, the heavy robes of his office swirling round him.
“What is he doing here?” she hissed to Eskil.
“Trolle!” Kristina swallowed nervously. The Archbishop had been deposed by the Swedish parliament several years ago, effectively decapitating the Danish faction in Sweden – to no use, given that the Danes had emerged victorious. Kristina crossed herself and groped for the crucifix she kept hanging at her waist. It was a blatant breach of canonical law to depose an archbishop, and the parliament had only done so after days of deliberation –and at the instigation of her dead husband. It had been bad enough to witness a most hale and hearty Archbishop Trolle perform the coronation rituals some days ago, but for the man to be here, looking as smug as a bedbug in a brothel, no, it didn’t sit right.
“I smell a rat,” Kristina said, eyeing the guards that not only stood by the doors, but also lined the walls. Joakim muttered an agreement, but her brother’s reply was lost in his bow, and Kristina curtsied deeply when the king passed by.
“Ah, our Lady of Stockholm,” the king said, motioning for Kristina to rise.
“Your Grace,” she replied, a sensation of disquiet rippling through her at his use of that particular title.

In the aftermath of her husband’s death, she had headed the opposition against the Danish king, refusing to surrender Stockholm. Only when she saw no other option, had she negotiated a truce with the king, demanding amnesty. The king had agreed, but it was said that Christian II had a long memory – and no reputation for leniency. She smoothed nervously at her stomacher, her skirts, while Christian regarded her in silence. Kristina was hard put to refrain from squirming. She didn’t like the way the king’s mouth seemed to be pursed round a smile wanting to break forth, nor the brightness in his eyes – as if he walked about in a fever of expectation. 

The king continued his stroll towards the raised dais upon which sat his chair. The archbishop whispered something in the king’s ear, and Christian smiled widely – to Kristina a most blood-curdling vision.
“We must leave.” Kristina urged her brother towards one of the doors. As if on cue, the doors banged shut. Bolts were drawn and the guards unsheathed their swords. Some heartbeats of silence were followed by a wave of loud mutters as the assembled Swedish nobility looked at each other, at the heavily armed guards, at the king.

Christian II took his time, regarding his audience until the mutters died away. He sat down, arranged his cloak and displayed his teeth in a victorious grin.
“The day of reckoning is here,” the king said.
“Reckoning?” Joakim Brahe’s voice carried like a war horn. “What reckoning, my liege?”
“For your past sins, of course,” the king replied.
Kristina pushed her way forward. “You gave your word.” A deep breath to calm her racing heart and she approached the king, cleaving a path through the assembled men as if she were Moses parting the Red Sea. “You gave amnesty for all previous perceived traitorous actions, you promised clemency to all. Those were the terms of my surrender, Your Grace.”
Christian sat back and stroked his beard. “Maybe I lied,” he said mildly.
“True kings don’t lie. They give their word and hold to it.” She raised her chin, refusing to break eye-contact.
“What an innocent you are at times.” The king chuckled, eyeing Kristina as if she were an enervating chit of a girl, no more. He sat up straight and his expression hardened. “How dare you presume to tell me how kings should behave? You, an upstart female I should have drowned in a barrel for your rebellious resistance to my rule?” He stopped to draw breath, and the silence was such that should one have spilt a drop of water, it would have echoed like thunder in the vast hall. The archbishop placed a hand on the royal shoulder. With an irritated shrug, the king waved him away.


Kristina – hmm…

“I have never rebelled against anyone,” Kristina said. “I have but defended my country from the rapacious grasp of others.” There was a collective gasp from the men surrounding her, and she thought she could hear Eskil moan her name. Too late; she’d thrown caution in the wind, and from the expression on Christian’s face she would pay dearly. Lord, keep my sons safe, she prayed. Whatever fate You burden me with, please keep them safe. Once again, she clasped the crucifix in her hand.
“You I will deal with later,” the king said. “But first, we will listen to Archbishop Trolle.” He waved his hand at the archbishop who stood, cleared his throat and proceeded to speak.

Kristina’s head reeled. Accusations of heresy? The archbishop droned on, insisting that all those nobles who had actively participated in deposing him were nothing more than heretics, and as such deserved to be punished as such.
“You promised!” she yelled, interrupting the archbishop’s monologue. She pointed at the king. “You gave amnesty for all acts against Danish interests, including that of deposing your pet archbishop.”
The king smirked and opened his arms wide. “Alas, it is out of my hands. The Church demands restitution, not me.”
“But you swore…”
“Silence!” the king roared. “As I said, it is out of my hands.”
From all over the room, loud voices rose, yelling that this was a farce, a violation of the newly anointed king’s oaths. Men pressed forward, demanding that the lying archbishop be thrown out.
“He’s the rebel!” Joakim Brahe screamed. “It was Trolle who betrayed his country, not the other way around.”

Trolle backed away from the angered mob, eyes darting in the direction of his king. Christian gestured, and the guards closest drew their swords, using them to force the crowd away from the dais. The king rose to his feet. “Either you listen to what the archbishop has to say in silence, or I will have you all thrown into the dungeons.”
“He is speaking of heresy!” someone yelled. “We all know what that means. If found guilty, we die!”
The king held up his hands in a placating gesture. “You will be accorded a fair hearing – as your king, I promise you that.”
“Our king?” Kristina closed her eyes when she recognised her brother’s voice. “Our true leader lies dead since ten months back,” Eskil continued. “And we all know Trolle just wants to get his own back.” He spat in the direction of the archbishop. “A pox on you, Gustav Trolle. You are no archbishop of ours, you’re just a cur, grovelling at your Danish master’s feet.”
There was a slap, and Eskil staggered back, holding his hand to his face. One of the guards shook his sword at him. “Next time I use the cutting edge, not the flat.”

The archbishop resumed his litany. Kristina swayed when she was named as one of the heretics, as was her deceased husband, her brothers, Joakim Brahe, Erik Vasa – everyone who had supported her husband was on the archbishop’s list – truly a divine coincidence, she thought bitterly. Voices were raised in protest, people screamed and yelled, and at one point something flew through the air to land with a splat on the archbishop’s robes. At the king’s command, the accused noblemen were dragged off at sword point to be locked up for the night. As Kristina was manhandled past the archbishop, she spat at his feet.
“May you rot in hell for what you just did to your countrymen.”
“I live to serve God and my king,” Trolle replied mildly, turning his back on her.

After a sleepless night, Kristina rose just before dawn and kneeled down by the eastern window, her eyes affixed on the returning light as she said her prayers.
“Mother of God, give me resolve,” she whispered. “Help me through this day, my Lady.” She crossed herself and got to her feet. She could hear the guards shuffling on their feet in the antechamber, saying something in that ugly language of theirs.
When the guards came to fetch her, Kristina was standing in the middle of the room, back straight, hands clasped lightly in front of her. She took a deep breath. She would show no fear. She took yet another breath and raised her chin. Show no fear. She moved towards the waiting guards.

Kristina Stockholm_Bloodbath

The bloodbath – a bishop is being killed to the left

The travesty of a trial was concluded by noon. A council of bishops found the accused guilty of heresy, and with barely contained glee the king sprang into action. One by one, the condemned men were dragged out into the central square, there to be beheaded – or hanged, depending on their station. Kristina was hauled to the window to watch as her brothers, her brother-in-law, her cousins and her menfolk in general, were decapitated.
“Eskil!” she shrieked when he was dragged fighting towards the rudimentary block. “Eskil,” she sobbed when his head was tossed into the fountain. The cobbles of the square ran red with blood, the gallows groaned under the weight of all those slowly spinning bodies, and Kristina was hoarse with weeping, her eyes so bloated she could scarcely see.

A soft chuckle from behind her made her turn. The king was standing a yard or so away, studying her with interest.
“What? Are you not enjoying the spectacle?”
She shook her head, incapable of speech.
The king laughed again. “Tomorrow we will burn their bodies – and as we speak I am having your husband disinterred to burn him with them.”
Kristina moaned a ‘no’, sinking down to her knees. “Please, my liege, leave Sten to rest in peace.”
The king regarded her with amusement. “So you beg for the body of your husband, but not for your life.”
Kristina swallowed. She’d thought herself reprieved. Her hands rose to her neck. She didn’t want to die.
“You will burn in hell everlasting for this,” she told him.
“And you will die. But I won’t drag you out to the square to meet your death like your menfolk have. It would be quite inappropriate, for a woman to die like that.”
“Inappropriate.” Eyes reminiscent of pebbles drilled into hers. “So, my lady, I give you a choice. Do you prefer burning at the stake or being buried alive?”
She collapsed to the floor, her head filling with the sound of Christian’s laughter. All she could see were the toes of his boots. To burn or be buried alive – two appropriate deaths for a rebellious woman. Show no fear. Kristina Gyllenstierna crawled on the floor, clutching at the king’s leg.
“Mercy.” Show no fear. “Mercy, my liege.”
The king just laughed and laughed.

(And if you want to read Kristina Gyllenstierna’s full story, go here!)



Bringing God to the Vikings

Sigfrid Norsk_Nasjonalisme_Vikingdyrking_1905

Female bellicose person

In those faraway times when the Scandinavian region spawned bellicose Vikings at a horrifying rate, most of Europe was already adequately christened. Not so Norway, Denmark or Sweden, where the ancient religion honouring Odin, Thor and Frey was alive and kicking well into the second millennium. Adam of Bremen, writing in the 11th century, has left us with a detailed description of the heathen temples in Uppsala (just north of Stockholm, these days Uppsala is the home of the Swedish Archbishop), complete with dripping human sacrifices and the bloodied statues of the gods. Seeing as Adam never saw these temples, we may need to add a pinch of salt or two to his descriptions, but still…

While both the Norwegian and Danish kings converted to Christianity in the tenth century, the Swedish kings were far more obdurate, laughing at the idea of replacing their powerful, lusty gods with that milksop, The White Christ. Turning the other cheek was to a Viking with any sense of self-respect an idiotic concept, and the “do unto your neighbour” part was not at all aligned with the idea of raiding and ravaging – although, to be fair, Swedish Vikings did less of the raiding and ravaging than their Norwegian and Danish brethren, no matter how nominally Christian they were.

Sigfrid Mårten_Eskil_Winge_-_Tor's_Fight_with_the_Giants_-_Google_Art_Project

Thor (M E Winge) Not a milksop!

Clinging to old faiths when everyone else is embracing the new can become a liability. Trade can be affected, treaties tend to be difficult to push through, and quite often Sweden found itself defending its corner alone, against its (more or less) Christian neighbours. The king in Sweden during the first decades of the second millennium was Olof Skötkonung, step-son to Sven Tveskägg (Svein Forkbeard) and, one would assume, under this particular king’s influence.

Sven had since some time back become Christian – his dad, Harald Bluetooth, embraced Christianity out of political reasons, hoping the Church would back his determined efforts to impose one religion (guess which) and one king (guess who) on the Danish. The contemporary Norwegian king, Olav, was not only Christian, he was also firmly on his way to his future sainthood although this didn’t stop him from dismembering people who refused to accept the new God, or from continuing his raiding expeditions when he felt the urge to fill his coffers, or to do some disembowelling on the side when people didn’t toe the line. Surrounded by these prime examples of Christian kings, Olof Skötkonung fell for peer pressure. He decided to convert, and sent to England for an adequate converter.

At the time, the Anglo-Saxon influence on the Nordic countries was huge. (Well, it still is; a bunch of enthusiastic Anglophiles the lot of us, if we’re going to be frank. I challenge you to meet a Swedish person who cannot quote extensively from Monthy Python) Yes, it was Sven Tveskägg who conquered England, not the other way around, but as a consequence, learned men and skilled craftsmen from England came in growing numbers to Scandinavia.

Sigfrid Olaf_Scotking_of_Sweden_coin_c_1030

Olof Skötkonung on a coin

Our early churches were staffed with English clerics, our budding administration was developed by intrepid Anglo-Saxons, even that new fad (new from a Nordic perspective) minting coins, was overseen by English immigrants. Actually, the organisation of the Scandinavian mints seems to have been a monopoly, with one Englishman by the name of Godwine popping up in Denmark, Norway and Sweden to set up new mints, each such mint producing coins very obviously modelled on Anglo-Saxon coins, complete with picture of English King Aethelred (I kid you not) on one side and a cross on the other. On top of all this cultural exchange, we have Gloucester-born Saint Sigfrid, the man responsible for bringing the word of God to the Swedish King.

Depending on what sources you read, Sigfrid was the Archbishop of York, or he wasn’t. Adam of Bremen describes him as an English Benedictine monk, no more, no less. Mostly it’s Swedish sources citing him as an archbishop – I guess it made Olof feel more comfortable about his conversion if someone high up the hierarchy did it – but personally I doubt such a distinguished prelate would have left all behind to set off across the North Sea. Seriously, Olof Skötkonung’s immortal soul wasn’t that important.

Sigfrid medieval_book-and-monk

Not Sigfrid – but deffo a monk

Let us therefore assume Sigfrid was a lowly Benedictine monk commanded to bring the word of God to this heathen king. I don’t think he did handstands at the thought of leaving comfy and civilised England for the barabaric north. But with a sigh and a rustle of his heavy woollen habit he bowed to the will of his superior and started packing. Among the things he brought with him were his three nephews, rather oddly named Unaman, Sunaman and Wineman.

Off Sigfrid went to Sweden and the eagerly awaiting king. In 1008, Olof Skötkonung was baptised a Christian, and in gratitude to Sigfrid, he named the Benedictine monk bishop of Växjö – or maybe he was being pragmatic, Sweden wasn’t exactly littered with men of God, and the little settlement of Växjö needed a bishop. Whatever the case, Sigfrid blessed the king and rode off into the dark forests that covered most of Sweden at the time, making for the non-descript hamlet of Växjö.

Olof Skötkonung now had a tricky situation on his hands; while the southern parts of his kingdom were mostly Christian, the northern parts of it weren’t – and not too keen on having a silly bugger who had become a Christian as a king. After all, real men had no time for a wimpy weakling like the Christ, they wanted gods that roared and drank and fornicated – as real men should. Olof wasn’t about to push the issue. Instead, he told his subjects that he had no business dictating what beliefs a person should hold, as long as the beliefs in question didn’t threaten his rule. A happy compromise for everyone, and Olof could spend the last decade of his life bringing modernity to his backwards country , like issuing the first coins with aforementioned Godwine’s help, and endowing a church or two, complete with a literate priest.

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Sigfrid doing his thing…

Meanwhile, Sigfrid was enjoying a sequence of successful conversions. Step by step, he worked his way through the forests, baptising as he went. At his heels trotted his faithful nephews, and pretty soon Sigfrid preached to a sizeable congregation come Sundays. His new followers were dazzled by this educated Englishman, and even more by the church silver he adorned his simple church with. They listened avidly as he told them stories from the Bible, with, I assume, a predilection for the somewhat bloodier stories in the old Testament – the one about Jezebel and the dogs would have gone down well.

One day, Sigfrid was called away on the king’s business. Reluctantly, he left his growing congregation, comforted by the fact that his three godly nephews would keep them on the straight and narrow. Unaman, Sunaman and Wineman did as well as they could, but they were not as revered as Sigfrid, and one dark night some of the more recent converts broke in to steal the church silver. The nephews protested, raised their arms up high and prayed and preached, telling the thieves to stop this stupid behaviour. The robbers, stressed by these talking Englishmen, chopped their heads off, mid-sentence, so to say.

Sigfrid returned to find his church ravaged and his nephews gone. Well, he found their bodies, hastily buried, but their heads had gone up in smoke, something that had Sigfrid very worried as how were his poor, faithful nephews to face Resurrection without their heads? (Valid question; one that must have worried all those poor blokes that were beheaded and quartered in the centuries to come) Sigfrid instigated a one man head-hunting team, looking under every bush, every rocky outcrop in the vicinity. But the forests were vast, three heads were ludicrously small – think grains of sand in a desert, although not as well camouflaged – and no matter how much he looked, he couldn’t put Unaman, Sunaman and Wineman together again. Until the night he went walking along the shores of a nearby lake, bemoaning the loss of his beloved nephews.

Suddenly, Sigfrid saw a light come dancing over the darkened water. Hang on; there were three lights moving towards him, and as Sigfrid was a devout man who did not fear death, he remained where he was as the lights approached him. Clearly, Sigfrid was an early upholder of that very English “stiff upper lip” approach to life. Me, I would have run screaming into the woods, which goes to show I lack Sigfrid’s fortitude – which is why he is a saint and I am not.

Anyway, there was Sigfrid, staring as the wandering lights started to hover over the surface a short distance away. He took off his shoes and waded towards them, and “poof”, just like that, the lights were extinguished. Instead, Sigfrid came upon a huge barrel in the water.

In that barrel were the three missing heads, still talking thirteen to the dozen. On and on they went about God’s mercy and capacity to forgive. Sigfrid wept and swore vengeance, upon which one of the heads said “it is already done.”
“Yes,” added the second head, “the Lord has seen it done.”
“Upon the heads of their grandchildren shall vengeance be heaped,” said the third head. (Not entirely fair, in my opinion)


St Sigrid, holding the barrel with his nephews’ heads

I will leave it up to each and every one of you to decide whether you believe in this story of decapitated talking heads. What is, however, undisputable, is the enormous impact of English people on the budding Nordic states. When excavating the ancient parts of Lund, at the time Scandinavia’s largest town, time and time again the archaeologists stumble over English names, English craftsmanship, English coins. The Scandinavian church was equally “Anglified”, the courts of the Scandinavian kings teemed with English advisors. And just so you know, Sigfrid isn’t the only Englishman sanctified for bringing the word of God to this remote corner of the world – but he’s the only one to come complete with his own personal ventriloquist act.

Obviously, a post about Vikings in the eleventh century has been inspired by my collaboration with several wonderful authors on the book 1066 Upside Down. My contribution will feature a young girl who hedges her bets when it comes to the gods – after all, both Thor and Jesus have their uses.

This post is a substantially modified version of a post originally written for the English Historical Fiction Author’s blog. 

This Matilda never waltzed


A 19th century depiction of Matilda. No, she probably did not look like this…

Today’s protagonist was small, determined, well-educated and pragmatic. And no, she never waltzed, seeing as she lived long before Richard Strauss set bow to strings – or Australia was “discovered”. (And if you don’t get that reference, I’m sorry. Me, I grew up with an Australian headmaster which is why I can sing about billabongs and swagmans in my sleep.)

Today I’d like to spend time with Matilda of Flanders, a petite woman who seemingly so inflamed her future husband, William of Normandy, that he refused to take her “no” to his suit.
“I’m not about to marry the bastard son of a tanner’s daughter,” Matilda reputedly said, while reminding the bastard duke that she had royal blood – the blood of Charlemagne, of the Capets and of the House of Wessex, no less. As per the legend, William rode all the way to her home in Lille, gripped her by her braids and dragged her to the room, and subsequently beat her – hard. When her father, enraged by William’s behaviour, threatened to bring down his entire military might on the young duke, Matilda apparently told him not to – she’d decided to marry her abuser. This begs the question if Matilda may have been an early practitioner of S&M – or if this legend should be discarded as ridiculous. I lean towards the latter.

Frank Cadogan Cowper: Vanity, 1907.

…or this, however glorious (Is that a pillow on her head?)Frank Cadogan Cowper: Vanity, 1907.

In general, at the distance of close to 1 000 years, it is impossible to ascertain why Matilda married William. Once again, legends claim she had her heart stuck on handsome Brictric, a Saxon thegn with impressive landholdings in present day Gloucestershire. Brictric supposedly spurned her advances, so maybe she was on the rebound when she accepted William. Or maybe – and much more likely – her father saw the benefit of hedging his bets: through his sister, Baldwin had blood-ties to the Godwinson family. Through his daughter, he could ensure he was also allied with William, thereby ensuring his Flanders would retain a strong alliance with England no matter who sat on the throne.

Matilda and William were related within the prohibited degree, and the pope initially refused to consider giving them a dispensation. In this, Pope Leo IX was probably not guided so much by piety as by the pressure exerted by the Capet kings of France, who did not want the growing power of Normandy further strengthened by an alliance with Flanders.

Despite the pope’s refusal to allow the marriage, William and Matilda married in 1051 or so. Whether this caused either of them spiritual angst, we do not know, but we do know they were ably served by other devout churchmen such as Lanfranc (future Archbishop of Canterbury) which may indicate they felt their souls were in good hands anyway. But just to be on the safe side, William and Matilda founded two religious establishments in Caen, which resulted in a delayed papal blessing of their union.

Matilda Anthony_Frederick_Sandys_-_Queen_Eleanor

…or like this. (This is supposedly Queen Eleanor by A.F.A Sandys – she probably didn’t look like that either)

At the time of their wedding, William was young, powerful, and surprisingly tall for his time, a couple of inches short of six feet. She, on the other hand, was only around five feet tall, thereby always having to crane her head back to look her substantially taller husband in the eye. We have no idea how either of them looked beyond their respective heights, but the somewhat biased Norman chroniclers describe Matilda as delicately beautiful. Huh: I think there was little of the delicate in this lady, no matter her stature.

Women of lofty lineage like Matilda were not raised to sit in a corner and embroider, now and then batting their eyelashes at their husbands. Well, ok: they probably did embroider, and for their own sake I do hope they batted the odd eyelash or two, but their purpose in life was not merely decorative. No, ladies like Matilda were educated to manage. They were taught to read accounts, they were handed keys and responsibilities, were expected to oversee the sheer logistic endeavour of keeping their (huge) household fed and clothed. Women like Matilda were their husbands’ partners – albeit not entirely an equal partner, at least not legally. So however petite, our Matilda was no retiring violet – rather the reverse.

Personally, I think Matilda and William were a match made in heaven and William seems to have been genuinely fond of her. Once married, he held himself to his wife, and there are no indications he ever took a mistress – William the Bastard left no bastards behind. She gave him at least nine children, and where William was constantly consolidating his power through one skirmish after the other, Matilda busied herself with educating their children and strengthening the overall administration of the Duchy.

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The Normans preparing for the invasion of England (Bayeux Tapestry) 

Whether or not she encouraged her husband in his ambition to claim the English crown, we don’t know. She, however, came with an impressive pedigree, so maybe she hankered after a crown to cap those glorious bloodlines. We do know that she gifted her husband with the ship that was to carry him across the Channel. Maybe she presented him with a little token to carry with him into battle – an embroidered garter or such – although truth be told, neither William nor Matilda come across as being the sentimental type.

Leighton-God_Speed! (1)

Godspeed by Leighton

I dare say she prayed for him – invading a country is always a perilous undertaking. I imagine she waved him off, wishing him “Godspeed” and standing straight and tall for as long as he could see her. So off William went, and no matter the heroic stand of Harold II and his men, the Normans won the day, very much due to that innovative addition to armed forces, the cavalry. William was in the midst of the fighting – he was no coward, and had grown up having to defend what was his by right through the might of his sword.

Matilda Bayeux_Tapestry_WillelmDux

The Normans invade (Bayeux Tapestry)

While William concentrated all his attention on pacifying his new won kingdom – and yes, it was more a question of hammering the defeated Saxons to the ground with a bloodied mail gauntlet than bringing them over with diplomacy and a silken touch – Matilda ruled his duchy. She did so competently, in between maintaining control over all of their children. To Matilda, England must have offered a gilded opportunity to further the interests of her sons: while one of them was destined to be Duke of Normandy, one of her other sons could now look forward to ascending a throne. Plus, in one fell swoop her daughters became very attractive brides, daughters not only to a duke, but also to a king.

I imagine Matilda rather enjoyed ruling Normandy – she does not seem to have been in a hurry to join her husband in England. However, in May of 1068 she finally crossed the Channel and was crowned Queen of England. At the time, she was pregnant with her fourth son, the future Henry I, which sort of indicates William had been doing some travelling back and forth to be with his lady wife.

Matilda was to spend most of her remaining years in Normandy rather than in England, but now and then she acted regent in her husband’s stead. On one such occasion, she supposedly decided to avenge herself on the unfortunate Brictric, the Saxon thegn who chose to laugh off her ardent if youthful professions of love. (Well: as per the romantic legends…) Brictric was stripped of his lands and thrown into prison, where he subsequently died. The more pragmatic version of this story is probably that Brictric, being a Saxon, was considered a major risk to William’s crown, and so he was imprisoned, his extensive lands ending up under Norman control. Whatever the case, the outcome was the same for poor Brictric: he died in chains.

By all accounts, Matilda was a devoted mother – and she was particularly fond of her eldest son, Robert. This the apple of her eye had not been gifted with all that many impressive qualities beyond evident fighting skills, being a youth who preferred pleasure to duty. Love, however, is blind, and while Matilda probably loved all her children, Robert had that extra space in her heart – maybe precisely because he couldn’t quite live up to the expectations of his father.

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William as per the Bayeux Tapestry

Once William had established himself as king of England, he decided that Robert would inherit Normandy, while England would go to one of the younger sons. Obviously, Robert was less than pleased: a king ranks higher than a duke, and was he supposed to kow-tow to his brothers? Besides, why did dear old dad ALWAYS side with pesky Will junior and Henry? No; Robert felt unjustly treated, and decided it was time he showed some initiative – which is why he rebelled against his father in 1077. Those of you who know your history will know this is not the only time an English royal son has rebelled against his king and father – some generations down the line, Henry II would face an equally painful experience, when three of his sons, aided and abetted by their mother, rose in rebellion.

In the case of Robert, Matilda was as guilty as Eleanor of Aquitaine of aiding and abetting – in the sense that she sent Robert money and jewels so as to keep him adequately clothed and fed and mounted and armed. I imagine she felt some dismay when her eldest son used her gifts to unleash mayhem in the county of Vexin, going to such lengths that William and Philip of France formed an unlikely – and short-lived – alliance to bring Robert down. And when William found out that Matilda was helping Robert – well, I guess that was not a happy conversation, even less so when a year or so later Robert unhorsed his father and almost killed him.

Matilda J W E Doyle A_Chronicle_of_England_-_Page_109_-_Robert_Wounds_His_Father (1)

Robert wounding William (by J W E Doyle, A Chronicle of England)

Matilda was stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, she loved her son. On the other, she must have cared for her husband as well. He definitely cared for her, so much so that he did not punish her for supporting their rebellious Robert. For her sake, he agreed to a truce with Robert in 1080, and father and son exchanged the kiss of peace before the beaming Matilda. In view of subsequent events, I suspect both men had their fingers crossed.

Fortunately for Matilda, she was never to experience the further fall-out between her family members. In 1083, Matilda fell ill, lingering for months before she died in November. Her husband was at her bedside when she passed away. Did he cry? The William that has come down through history most definitely wouldn’t. Depicted as cruel and ruthless, this is a winner who did not succeed in rewriting history to present himself in pleasing colours. Was he all nice and fluffy? No way. Did he have a penchant for walking over dead bodies to reach his goals. Absolutely. But he was also genuinely pious, he was a capable leader and – his saving grace – I do believe he loved his wife, thereby adding a layer of humanity to the cold-hearted bastard. So maybe he did weep, clasping her cold hand in his. We will never know.

Matilda of Flanders never danced a waltz, never swooned as she twirled to The Blue Danube, and I bet she did not marry for love. She married for influence and power, she married to ally her house to the bright and rising star that was William, Duke of Normandy. Genetically, she couldn’t have made a better choice: he would fundamentally change the course of history, and their descendants would go on to become an endless sequence of English – and European – kings.

(Matilda will figure in some of the alternative history stories in “1066 UpsideDown”. Obviously, so will her conquering hubby… Read more HERE!)

The dapper beau – a yummy Regency stereotype

PJ DSC_0755So today I’ve invited a lady who writes Regency novels – mainly because I am rather fond of Regency novels – after all, what is there to dislike about novels in which extremely well-dressed men grace the pages? These male peacocks are the subject of today’s post – clearly Philippa is as entranced by these gentlemen as I am! But prior to turning my blog over to my guest, a brief introduction of Philippa Jane Keyworth – Pip to her friends – is in order.

Philippa has been writing since she was twelve in every notebook she could find. Both as a reader and a writer, Philippa believes it is important to escape into a world you yourself would want to live in. This is why she writes stories that will draw you into the characters’ joys and heartaches in a world apart from our own. Her novels include Regency romances, The Widow’s Redeemer, The Unexpected Earl, and her Georgian romance, Fool Me Twice due out at the end of 2016.

And with that short intro, we are ready to go – take it away, Philippa!

PJ Fainting dandys caricatureThe British Regency is that culturally rich, delightfully elegant and shockingly contrasting period of history from which sprang a myriad of (among the poverty and war) rather tantalising delicacies for us modern-dayers.

One in particular is men. I hear you snickering, but I am perfectly serious. The dapper Regency beau is a visually pleasing subject and one sandwiched between the ostentatious men’s appearance of the 18th century and the dour and sober looks of the Victorian age. Beau Brummel is the foci and perhaps pinnacle of the dapper Regency beau but it hardly started with him.

Where longer lines, expensive and impractical materials and courtly visuals were the order of the day in the mid-high eighteenth century, from the 1780s there was a move towards far cleaner, simpler, more practical and more modest dress. Influences included rural English styles (there’s nothing like a war with France to free men’s fashions from francophilia) and a return to nature as was advocated by Jean Jacques Rousseau the century before.

So, what did all these high-fluting influences mean in actuality? I mean, it’s all very well to talk about cultural and social influences but do you consider that when you’re picking out a new t-shirt? Surely what everyone else is wearing influences what you wear, whether you admit it or not? (I choose not to admit it). There was one particular man who had a deal of influence, and that man was known as Beau Brummel. Many would say that Beau Brummel was, nay, is, the epithet of a dapper Regency beau, but the real question is, what made one?

A Regency gentleman generally wore the following as his items of dress: shirt, breeches or pantaloons (depending on his activity), stockings (if he was wearing breeches of course), waistcoat, jacket, top boots, hessians or black leather pumps (again depending upon activity and time of day), a greatcoat and a hat. (Note that I didn’t mention underwear, because it wasn’t particularly prevalent if you were a follower of Brummell – your long shirt tails did an excellent job).

If that was the main items which constituted most middle class and aristocratic men’s wardrobes, then what made a gentleman a dapper Regency beau? Ian Kelly declares Brummel as such a man when quoting Max Beerhohm:

PJ Beau Brummell‘…Brummell, had a style uniquely his, but perfect to the spirit of the age; ‘quiet…reasonable, and beautiful: free from folly or affectation, yet susceptible to exquisite ordering; plastic, austere, economical’. It appeared post-revolutionary, neo-classical, ordered and Enlightened and in this it did seem democratic.’
Ian Kelly, Beau Brummell, p.177.

So, if you were a man of high fashion in the Regency period you would be striving for attention to dress, clean lines and unostentatious colours. That classic fashion staple that still exists, ‘I want to appear attractive, fashionable and well-dressed, but in a way that makes it look like I don’t care for such superficial things.’

The limitations on colours to those of dark blue, green, grey, black and beige put emphasis onto the cut of the clothing. It was all about a jacket that your valet had to help get you into because it fitted like a second-skin and was preferably made by Shultz or Weston.

PJ Small CoverIn my novel The Unexpected Earl my hero is subjected to scorn for his ill-fitting clothing:

Wolversley could feel the young man’s eyes on his shoulders and lapels as his lips curled up in scorn.
He had been in the country too long. His jacket was outdated – he had known that when he had put it on this evening…He enjoyed a well-cut jacket, though he would not claim the careful eye of a dandy…

Then there were those immodest but delightfully tight buckskin breeches gentleman wore. Replicating the look of the nude sculptures of antiquity in both their flesh-colour and leaving-nothing-to-the-imagination tightness, these bottom-coverers were accompanied by a unique addition to men’s wardrobes of the time: suspenders/braces. After all, one couldn’t have the tight and clean line of their trousers be ruined by a crease at the knee, could one?

The genius of this change in fashion is that, some would argue, it emulated the democracy of antiquity attempted and failed in the French Revolution, with a sarcastic slight of hand. Were these clothes really democratic? Did they really hark back to the English country gentleman over the pre-revolutionary French court fop? Did they wish to value the demos of the ancient Greeks?

PJ Arthur WellingtonIf so, is it not strange that the shirts were crisply white and unstained with work dirt? That the jackets required the help of a valet to shimmy into due to their fit? That cravats would be discarded as easily as a paper napkin today if they creased incorrectly when being tied for the day? That Brummell recommended hessians be polished with champagne boot black until the wearers face could be seen in them?

Viscount Beauford, the hero of my novel The Widow’s Redeemer is quite the fashion follower when Letty Burton bumps into him…quite literally:

As they both stood up straight, she found herself dwarfed by his size. The top of her head was confronted by a cravat, the perfect example of a Gordian knot. A crisp white shirt, a silk waistcoat, and a stunning blue coat that expertly followed the lines of his figure accompanied the carefully folded linen.

Ah, how I love fashion and dress – especially a well dress man! So, how different was this from the courtly French fop of the mid-eighteenth century? Profoundly. Not at all. It’s hard to tell. As a historian I love these little conundrums that leave you without an answer.

So, the real question is, why did these dapper Regency beau’s decide to dress in this new, pleasing and entirely different way? Was it because they believed in egalitarianism and wished to emulate the middle classes and the democracy they had seen in the French Revolution? Or was it because they wished to return to English styles to avoid the corrupting French Revolutionary influences? Or because they had heard of this Beau Brummel, liked the style and emulated it? It’s a complicated subject but an interesting one.


Doreen Yarwood, English Costume: From the Second Century, B. C. to 1967 (London: B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1969)

Aileen Ribeiro, Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe: 1715-1789 2nd Edition (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2002)

Joseph H. Lane, ‘Rverie and the Return to Nature: Rousseau’s Experience of Convergence’, The Review of Politics, vol. 68, no.3 (2006), pp.474-498.

M.M. Bennetts, ‘Courtesy of Mr George Brummell…’ (

Thank you so much for this, Philippa! And for those of you who want to know more about Philippa and her writing, why not connect with her?


Twitter: @PJKeyworth


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