Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Historic Places: Dallas, Texas

Model of  Assassination Scene
Sixth Floor Museum
I recently had the opportunity to take a quick trip to Dallas. This was primarily to watch my youngest son play basketball, but I managed to eke out a couple of hours to take in a bit of history as well. Although I know that Dallas has a much richer history than any single event, the locations that I chose to visit in my limited free time were the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza and the John F Kennedy Memorial Plaza in downtown Dallas.

This area looks much as it did on that fateful day in 1963. Cars whiz past large Xs on Elm Street that mark the points where the first and fatal shots hit our 35th president. The 6th floor Book Depository window has a view only slightly more obscured by trees than it was 56 years ago. It is eerie to look down on the street with the same view that Lee Harvey Oswald took advantage of with so little thought to the consequences of his actions.

Sixth Floor Museum
When reading The Death of a President by William Manchester, this was one point that came through loud and clear. While the country - no, the world - mourned the death of Jack Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald was one of the few people who enjoyed an untroubled night of rest. We were not given the opportunity to learn how he could commit one of the most atrocious crimes of the century and then sleep peacefully, since Oswald was himself assassinated two days later. He almost died in the same room as the president he had killed, except quick-thinking employees at Parkland Hospital diverted his gurney to Trauma Room 2, instead of 1 where it had been headed.

View from Sixth Floor Museum
What did the nation lose on November 22, 1963? We can never fully know, but quotes left behind by JFK give us some clues. Some are profound. "A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on." Others are bold and courageous. "The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie--deliberate, contrived and dishonest--but the myth--persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." And others are downright creepy. "If anybody really wanted to shoot the President of the United States, it was not a very difficult job. All one had to do was get a high building...with a telescopic rifle." (JFK to Ken O'Donnell 11/22/63)

The Sixth Floor Museum offers a comprehensive review of Kennedy's presidency and the assassination. Conspiracy theories are summarized but not reviewed in depth. I enjoyed it, even knowing most of the information presented before visiting. My 15-year-old, who has been dragged through more historic sites than he could list, gave it his highest possible recommendation. "It was actually interesting." 😉

John F Kennedy Memorial Plaza
We also walked through the John F Kennedy Memorial Plaza nearby. I have to admit, I thought it looked more like a giant jail cell than a heartfelt memorial. According to the accompanying plaque, the artist's intent for the design was "a place of quiet refuge, an enclosed place of thought and contemplation separated from the city around, but near the sky and earth." I could see what they were going for once I read the architect's vision, but it still did not appeal to me. What do you think of it?
A simple slab with John Fitzgerald Kennedy's name on it is enough to evoke emotion within the memorial plaza structure.

"A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers."  
~ John F Kennedy, October 26, 1963

Monday, July 29, 2019

The King's Furies Blog Tour

Today, I have the great honor of participating in Stephanie Churchill's blog tour to celebrate the release of her latest novel, The King's Furies! Having been lucky enough to be an early reader of this fantastic book, I'm glad to finally share my thoughts on it. If you are not familiar with Churchill's writing, let me introduce you. The King's Furies is the conclusion to the Crowns of Destiny trilogy, which is set in a fantasy world reminiscent of late medieval Europe. Anyone who loves reading about the Wars of the Roses will perceive the fictional parallels in the world Churchill has so expertly created. It is fantasy without wizards and dragons, making it feel more like historical fiction of a country we didn't realize existed. I can highly recommend the entire series, beginning with The Scribe's Daughter, a novel that took me entirely by surprise with its depth and complexity. For today, we will focus on The King's Furies.

Book Review of The King's Furies

Let me begin by saying that I love reading classic novels. Two of my favorites are Villette by Charlotte Bronte and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. What does this have to do with Stephanie Churchill? Her writing creates the feeling that I am reading classic literature. It is intelligent and sophisticated in a way that much modern fiction is not. The settings are so magically described, one would swear that the author has actually visited the fictional lands. The characters are deep, realistic, and surrounded by intrigue. No facet of good storytelling is neglected.

The previous books in this trilogy have focused on sisters Kassia and Irisa, but in The King's Furies we see Casmir's perspective. He just may be my favorite. Casmir is no stereotypical storybook hero. He is confident but deeply troubled by the darker side of his character and born to rule but uncertain how to establish himself as a better king than his father. Casmir is a man with the kingdom at his feet but without the power to protect his own family. We see him helpless and angry, sometimes even arrogant and cruel, but always as human and a man striving to do his best. He is flawed, as we all are, but not unforgivably or irredeemably.

Irisa is the perfect wife to balance Casmir's fiery impetuousness. I appreciate their relationship even more knowing it is partially based upon the marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. Like the first Tudor couple, Casmir and Irisa struggle with unifying their families and bringing peace to their kingdom. It's not always as simple as we think it should be. Of course slavery should be abolished, but what should be done with those displaced and bankrupted by this change? This is just one of many difficulties that Casmir and Irisa face together - and it's nowhere near their biggest problem! Through it all, Irisa has her own quieter thoughts, disappointments, and achievements. I almost accidentally called her Elizabeth.

I don't know if this book is better than the first two - because they are great! - or if I just like seeing everything satisfactorily concluded, because this was my favorite of the trilogy. Don't misunderstand me and think this is a 'happily ever after' story. It's not. It is suspenseful, action-packed, and sometimes I wanted to give Casmir a firm slap! (Or at least advise Irisa to administer one.) That's the great thing about this novel. The reader feels connected to the characters, experiences their pain and rejoices in their victories. In a world filled with fictional fluff, these characters will stay with you long after you've finished their story.

Long live, King Casmir!

All three books in the Crowns of Destiny trilogy are available on Kindle or in paperback.

The Scribe's Daughter
The King's Daughter
The King's Furies

Connect with Stephanie Churchill on her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.

Enjoy more stops on The King's Furies blog tour!


Especially make sure to stop by the blog of author extraordinaire Sharon Kay Penman, where you have the chance to win BOTH of the first two books in the Crowns of Destiny trilogy!

Monday, July 15, 2019

An Interview with Munro #HWFbloghop

If you haven't been following the Historical Writers' Forum "Interview my Character" Blog Hop, you have been missing out, but never fear! You can catch up on all the fun insight into your favorite characters by visiting the blogs listed here, or by following this Facebook page.

Today, I am excited to have my turn hosting the blog hop, and I am honored to be paired with the marvelous Margaret Skea. Not only has Margaret written a fabulous novel about Katharina Luther (!), but she has also written a series on the feud between the Scottish Cunninghame and Montgomerie clans.

Munro is the main character in the series, beginning with the novel Turn of the Tide. I enjoyed both reading this novel and having the chance to interview the thoughtful and devoted Munro. I know you will want to read Turn of the Tide too, and you can find an excerpt here or purchase the novel on Amazon. Caution: you WILL be hooked on Skea's writing. Alright, you've been warned. On with the interview! Welcome, Munro!


How do you believe the feud began between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries?

The feud? Some folk say one thing and some another, but to be truthful the origins go back so far that no one can truly be sure. My opinion, though maybe not the wisest to voice, is that much of the blame lies with the monarchy. Not our current king of course, but his great-grandfather, James IV, who gave control of the bailiiewick of Cunninghame to a Montgomerie. Memories last long in our county, as do old grievances, and that was an affront that couldn’t be easily forgotten. Money’s at the centre of it, of course, as it usually is, for control of the bailliewick means the right to collect customs. Worth a tidy sum, I can tell you.

Did your father also follow Cunninghame leaders in violence against the Montgomeries?

Of course, and my grandfather before him. What choice do we have? Our tower is built on Cunninghame land, and to refuse to do Glencairn’s bidding would be to risk our home and our livelihood, forbye our safety. Lives have been forfeit for less.

Why did you feel compelled to follow Glencairn, even despite Kate’s anger?

I did it for her and for the children, to keep them safe, though she couldn’t be brought to see it that way. And though Kate is a fine woman in many ways, she makes judgements based on moral grounds, while I was more practical. At the beginning at least.

Why do you think William hates you and your brother so much?

William thinks a lot of himself and his status as the heir to the earldom of Glencairn, and it has always irked him that my father died when I was young enough to enjoy my lairdship and a home of my own, while his father shows no likelihood of dying any time soon. Master of Glencairn sounds impressive, but in reality he is his father’s pawn and his lack of power is a constant aggravation to him. Maybe that’s why he tries to throw his weight around. As for Archie, he had the misfortune to be my brother and that was enough to irritate William. Of course there was the issue of Sybilla, but I’d best not speak of that.

Do you think Archie was naïve?

He was young and ambitious and thought the Renfrew ‘pond’ rather restricting. The lure of living in an earl’s household proved too tempting for him and by the time he had the true measure of William, it was a mite late to change his mind. More’s the pity, for I truly believe he would have grown up into a decent man had circumstances been different.

Edinburgh Castle as seen today (author's photo)
How did you prepare for the travel and ceremony of Queen Anne’s Coronation?

That was all mother’s doing. I’m not a great one for ceremony, nor for kow-towing to royalty, but mother thought it would do Kate good to be away, especially in the light of our recent tragedy, and I was ready to do anything to make up for what had happened, for it was my fault. It was fortunate mother had money and to spare, for the expense of the thing was considerable. I should perhaps have anticipated how much it would cost to rent a house in Edinburgh at such a time, but it was my first time in the capital, and I don’t much care if I never return. I didn’t buy new clothes, for I thought there was plenty of life in my old ones, despite Kate’s protests to the contrary, but mother saw that Kate had a new gown and I was proud of how she looked in it.

Could James have done something more to bring peace between warring factions?

You must understand that James became king as an infant, as his mother and grandfather had before him. The nobles were used to having their own way and had done so for far too long. As soon as James could he set out to subdue them, handing out cautions and fines, making them sign letters of affirmation and demanding the public foreswearing of enmity. Raising up minor lairds, such as Hugh Montgomerie was a clever strategy and a way of ensuring loyalty that he could depend on. I don’t think he could have done much more.

Were you surprised to find that you enjoyed the company of those who were supposed to be your enemies?

That was a surprise, yes, for I’d been brought up to believe the only good Montgomerie was a dead one. When I met Patrick and then Hugh and Elizabeth, it was a revelation, and I don’t mind admitting an uncomfortable one, for I well knew the dangers of friendship in the enemy camp. The irony was that Kate, who believes ill of nobody unless she has evidence of it, was more reluctant than me to make their acquaintance.

Have these events affected your loyalty to your country? Your faith?

I may not always have been greatly interested in royalty, but I have always been loyal to my country - I don’t know why you would suggest otherwise. However, I must admit, that now that I’ve had some dealings with him, I think more highly of King James than perhaps I once did. I understand the pressures on him a little better and recognise the fine line he is treading to try and leave a country at peace when he comes into his own and takes the English crown.

As for faith, though I cannot claim to have found a strong faith for myself yet, I have seen the evidence of it in others, my mother included, and I would like to experience their certainty. I will say this, I have thought more on God in these last years, and that’s likely a good thing.

What can you tell us of the aftermath?

Violence begets violence, a cycle that James is determined to break, and he has the right of it. We will all sleep safer in our beds if he can succeed in outlawing the old enmities and the world will be a better place. The aftermath of Annock has taught me that, and I may never be able to completely forgive myself for my part in the massacre that sparked it. Kate would say that God forgives anyone who repents of their evil deeds. I hope she’s right.


Thank you, Munro! This special insight into Turn of the Tide makes me eager to carry on with the next book, A House Divided. If you are interested in learning more about Margaret Skea and her novels, you can find her website here.

Don't miss the rest of the blog hop! You can find the interview with one of my characters, Countess Margaret Pole, here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

SIX: Henry's Wives on Stage

When I saw that the musical Six was making its North American premiere in Chicago, a mere 90 minutes from my home, I was quick to get in line for tickets. For those who haven't heard of it, Six is a musical blend of history (ahem, herstory), pop music, and comedy featuring Henry VIII's wives. I had listened to the soundtrack before attending but was still surprised by some of what we saw on stage at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

As you can see from the show poster, the costumes are not precisely accurate to the 16th century. Think Tudor meets the 80s, and you've probably got it pictured quite well. Other than a hint of Greensleeves, the music is also more reminiscent of Brittany Spears than Thomas Tallis. So, yeah, anachronisms abound, but wow is it FUN!

Six is no Les Mis, but there are some surprisingly touching moments. Who doesn't feel sympathy for Katherine of Aragon when she is in kneeling before a cross begging Henry to tell her one thing she did wrong? Or wish for another option for Katherine Parr when she tells Thomas Seymour that she has to marry the king instead, claiming "I don't need your love"? Those moments I expected. I was not prepared for Katherine Howard to break down sobbing after her song started with, "I think we can all agree, I'm the 10 amongst these 3s!" It began fun & flirty, but ended with her feeling used and abused, and, of course, headed to the scaffold.

Henry's wives break as many modern rules of theatre as they did 16th century marriage rules. The audience is invited to participate and cheer for the wife they believe got the shortest end of the stick from Henry. (Does beheading trump abandonment after 24 years? AB & KH think so.) The music is a bit shallow but includes loads of historical puns and jokes for those who catch them. Sometimes, it's a titch too silly. (I'm looking at you "Haus of Holbein.") At the end, the wives decide to tell their own stories, or what they wish they had been. Only Jane dreams of a home full of little Tudor babies with her beloved Henry.

Some won't appreciate the way Anne Boleyn is portrayed as more of a teenage floozy than an early feminist when she sings, "Sorry, not sorry, bout what I said. I'm just trying to have some fun. Don't worry, don't worry. Don't lose your head. I didn't mean to hurt anyone." Her costume has an ironic Catholic schoolgirl look to it. She's irreverent and hilarious.

Most pleasantly surprising was Anna of Cleves, who is bold, confident, and forced to admit that there's no way she can win the worst treated wife competition. Her "Get Down" where she brags about her sweet annulment settlement was probably my favorite part of the show. "I look more rad than Lutheranism. Dance so hard that I'm causin a sensation. Okay ladies, let's get in reformation." Yes, I said it. Anna of Cleves was the best part of the show. Who knew? (Well, Anna did.)

Six may be trying to be the UK's answer to Hamilton, but, much as I loved the show, it is not quite there. Hamilton packs a greater emotional and musical punch, but I highly recommend Six as well. And, hey, the tickets are MUCH cheaper.

My 17-year-old daughter and I loved it. My husband said he almost leaned over to ask if we were at the right show, so you'll have to make your own judgement. At the end of the show, the audience was encouraged - yes, encouraged(!) - to take pictures and video, so here's a little sampler for you from the Chicago cast.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Blessed Margaret Pole

Born on August 14, 1473, Margaret was the daughter of George of Clarence and Isabel Neville. Her prospects were bright and future secure. Her father was brother to King Edward IV, who had successfully won the English crown for York.

Margaret's life did not go as her parents had likely imagined. Instead of the pampered life of a princess, Margaret survived much trial and tribulation. While Margaret was young, Isabel died in childbirth and George was executed by his royal brother for treason. These were the first in a long line of deaths and disappointments that would define Margaret's life.

After the death of her father and mother, Margaret and her
brother, Edward of Warwick, were left orphans in a volatile court. Following his brother in death five years later, Edward IV had not put much effort into the raising of George's children. When Edward's youngest brother Richard took the throne, 10-year-old Margaret was floating in a churning political sea.

Two cousins, The Princes in the Tower, were lost to Margaret at this time, but she was housed with their sisters, the daughters of Edward IV. Included in this household was Elizabeth of York, who Margaret would go on to serve as a lady-in-waiting when Elizabeth married Henry Tudor. Margaret was quickly married off by Henry VII to a firm supporter, Richard Pole.

Margaret was about 14 when this wedding took place. Marriage to Richard brought stability and happiness to Margaret's life. This happiness was relatively brief. Richard died in 1504, leaving Margaret with five children, the last possibly having been born after his father's death.

Margaret's life under Henry VII was calm but destitute, but his son, Henry VIII, decided to raise her up. Made Countess of Salisbury in 1512, Margaret was shown the respect and awarded the riches that recognized her noble birth. Her sons carefully presented themselves at court as loyal to their king and not rivals to the throne, and the Poles enjoyed Henry's favor.

Margaret was named as governess to the Princess Mary, and stood firmly by her and her mother Queen Katherine of Aragon when Henry decided that it was time for a new wife to give him his longed for son. As Henry grew obsessed with his desire for a male heir, the York blood alive and well in Margaret's sons became a threat. By 1538, Margaret saw many members of her extended family arrested, including her firstborn, Henry Lord Montegue. He was executed, along with his noble cousins Exeter and Neville. Margaret and her youngest son, Geoffrey, continued to languish in prison.

As Henry's marital woes and declining health caused ever increasing cruelty and mood swings, he saw threats to his power where none existed. On May 27, 1541, Margaret was informed that she would die that day.

Tower of London Memorial
She had no warning. She had no trial. She was 67 years old and cousin to the king.

Yet, she bravely endured this final injustice as she had the previous trials in her life, with dignity and faith.

Few witnessed the rushed and quietly carried out execution. An apocryphal story has Margaret running circles around the axeman and attempting to evade her execution. It is difficult to imagine Margaret behaving in such a way, and the report does not come from an eye witness. Final words of protest were found on the wall of her Tower cell,where she had been imprisoned for more than a year.

For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thou Mercy, save Thou me!

In King Henry VIII's rush to clear the Tower of traitors, he had not been able to locate a very skilled executioner. Witnesses cringed as Margaret's head, neck, and torso endured many strikes rather than a quick, clean beheading. I only pray that God, in his mercy, had already taken the poor woman to heaven before her body was mangled. There, she had many loved ones to reunite with.

In 1886, Margaret was beatified by the Catholic Church and became Blessed Margaret Pole.

This post is the final entry commemorating this great lady in my 10 Days of Margaret Pole celebration. If you have missed a day, the articles can be found here:

Day 1: A Tale of Two Cousins
Day 2: Long Live the King!
Day 3: Who Was Richard Pole?
Day 4: Another Stillborn Birth for Katherine
Day 5: Margaret Loses Governess Post
Day 6: The Not-So-Illustrious Marriages of the Pole Children
Day 7: Geoffrey Pole is Taken to the Tower
Day 8: The Execution of Henry Pole
Day 9: Reginald Pole Learns of His Mother's Death


If you enjoyed this 10 Days of Margaret Pole and are interested in more of her story, you might like Faithful Traitor, my novel of her life as a Plantagenet heiress living under the rule of Tudor kings.

Faithful Traitor is available worldwide on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle. It is also free with Kindle Unlimited. If you have enjoyed this novel, I would love to read your review! Please post a link in the comments below.

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