Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Publication Day for Queen Mary!

The day is finally here to welcome Queen Mary to your bookshelves! Queen of Martyrs was written to challenge each reader to consider the story of 'Bloody Mary' a little more deeply. Was she vengeful and bitter? I don't think so. The Mary Tudor I have come to know was merciful and devout, choosing her course of action based on the good of the people of England and what is right in the eyes of God. Of course, not everyone agreed at that turbulent time on what God's wishes were, but salvation was still a matter of state, leaving Mary in a sticky situation that has caused her name to be blackened for almost 500 years.

My heart broke for Mary as I watched her go through loss and longing over and over again. How different would her story be if just one person had shown her the devotion and love that she so desired to share? After the deaths of her mother in 1536 and her former governess in 1541, Mary was left with no one who would ever demonstrate the same kind of unconditional love for her.

She never forgot that she was a princess and her father's legitimate heir. Though she would often be weak physically and  naive politically, Mary demonstrated unprecedented strength when she claimed the throne that men conspired to deny her.

Read her story and see if you are not tempted to feel some sympathy - and maybe even cheer a bit - for a lonely bastardized princess who became queen.

A fun blog tour will be taking place over the next few weeks to celebrate this book release. Stay tuned for guest posts, book reviews, interviews, excerpts and more from Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I. The tour started a few days ago at the blog of historical fiction author Tony Riches. Visit The Writing Desk for some background on the woman I hope fewer people will be calling Bloody Mary.

Read an amazing review from the friend who encouraged me to write about Queen Mary at Knight of Angels.

Next, I am at EHFA with Mary I: Her Mother's Daughter, and Sharon Connolly of History - The Interesting Bits has published a lovely review of Queen of Martyrs.

Curious about the relationship between Mary and Lady Jane Grey? You will enjoy this post at the Lady Jane Grey Reference Guide which includes an excerpt from Queen of Martyrs!

A fun post at Tudors Dynasty looks at Mary's marriage possibilities and how things could have turned out better if she had not chosen a Spanish husband.

Suzy Henderson has interviewed me about my writing process and how a book about Elizabeth of York turned into the Plantagenet Embers Trilogy.

Future stops in the blog tour will include History Imagined, book blogger Poppy Coburn, and the blog of historical fiction author Judith Arnopp. Enjoy!

Queen of Martyrs is available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.


If you have already received Queen of Martyrs on your Kindle, many thanks to you for pre-ordering!! Unfortunately, you may have received the wrong file. Due to a mix up between myself and Amazon, an ARC was sent out to those who pre-ordered. You should be able to update content though your 'Manage your Content and Devices' page under your Amazon account.

I apologize profusely for this mix up and spent several days attempting to clear it up before today, but that is one of the few disadvantages to being an independent author. To Amazon, I am less than a little fish in a big pond. I am a tiny shrimp in a giant ocean. If you have any trouble downloading the correct version of QoM, please contact me directly and I will ensure that you receive it.

Thanks again for supporting my writing!
~ Samantha

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Persistence of the Past

Edoardo Albert is a talented writer of books and articles on diverse topics from Daily Science Fiction to History Today. He has previously been a guest here with a wonderful post on researching, writing and Northumbrian kings, and I am happy to welcome him back. Today, he takes us on a visit to Bamburgh Castle and the Isle of Anglesey, where he found a few physical connections to the long ago kings who feature in his novels.

Welcome, Edoardo!
~ Samantha

Guest Post by Edoardo Albert

Writing, as I do, about 7th-century Britain, you’d think that there would be few tangible remains for anyone interested in the doings of these seminal but all-but-forgotten kings to touch and see and visit. And seeing as how the Anglo-Saxons preferred wood for their buildings rather than stone, you’d be right – in the main. After the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity – a process that I write about in my novels – there an increasing number of relics to see and appreciate, from the luminous beauty of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the churches of Saints Peter and Paul at Monkwearmouth, where the great Anglo-Saxon scholar Bede wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, but there’s precious little from before and during the conversion period.

Which makes what there is, all the more precious.

Bamburgh – Bebbanburh then – was the stronghold and capital of the Idings, the Anglian rulers of Bernicia who, under Æthelfrith, took over the kingdom of Deira (centred on York). For anyone wishing to get close to the events in my books, there is no better place to visit. Bamburgh Castle as it stands today is the result of the renovations carried out in the 19th century by Lord Armstrong, Victorian industrialist and one of the richest men of the time. Personally, I prefer a castle intact, even if done up, rather than one in romantic ruins, so I’m pleased that Lord Armstrong rescued the castle from decay. But despite all the centuries of occupation, there are still traces of its days of glory as the centre of the most powerful kingdom in Britain.

Here’s a photo of me, standing beside
the well, wondering how they did it.
To find the first of these, go down deep into the castle’s depths. There, in the basement, you’ll find the well. Sitting atop a huge great lump of dolerite, an extrusion of the Great Whin Sill, and set beside the sea, there was only one thing Bamburgh lacked to make it the perfect stronghold for a bunch of marauding Anglians on the make: water. Yes, you could store water in butts, but to withstand a siege, the castle needed water. So Æthelfrith dug a well. Through solid rock. Until he reached water. They dug down through 44 metres (144 feet) of rock, making a hole two metres (six feet) wide. How did they do it? We don’t know for certain, as they left no records of the engineering that went into this remarkable feat, but one possibility is that fires may have been set on top of the rock, heating it as much as possible, before cold water doused the fire, and cooled and contracted the rock, making it split. But they must have set a lot of fires to dig down so deep. 

The Bamburgh blade now rests in a display cabinet in the castle,
a rusty reminder of past glory and lost greatness.
Also in Bamburgh Castle, in the small exhibit of finds from the ongoing excavations of the Bamburgh Research Project, there is an unprepossessing slab of corroded metal. It’s not much to look at: the remains of a broken sword retrieved from the earth after centuries buried. But this may be what is left of the most remarkable sword ever made. You see, in making a sword, smiths have to reconcile opposites. A sword must be sharp, to cut through armour and shield, bone and muscle, but it must also be flexible, so that it does not break in battle, leaving its wielder weaponless. Steel is hard and can be sharpened to a razor’s edge, but it is brittle. Iron is flexible but it will not hold an edge and so, in battle, will become little more than a metal club.

To overcome these contradictions, sword smiths of the so-called Dark Ages (they certainly weren’t ignorant so far as the properties of metals were concerned) developed the technique of pattern welding, where cores of iron were heated, wound together and beaten out, removing impurities, while a steel edge was welded to the blade. Up until the early 2000s, no blade had been found with more than four strands of iron welded together. And then the Bamburgh blade was sent for analysis to the Royal Armouries. It had six. Six iron cores, repeatedly heated and beaten and welded together. It would have taken thousands of man hours to create such a blade and only a master sword smith would have been capable of it. Such a sword would surely have been wielded by the greatest of warriors, perhaps the king himself. What is more, the sword was dated to the seventh century. The sword itself was passed down through the generations, sheathed in peace and wielded in war, for four centuries before, finally, it broke, and consigned to the earth in the grounds of Bamburgh Castle. Such a burial place suggests the esteem in which the sword was held.

The gravestone of King Cadfan, embedded in the wall
of a quiet country church in Anglesey.
Outside Bamburgh, the most evocative and moving seventh-century survival I have found is set into the wall of a quiet country church on the Isle of Anglesey. Anglesey, separated from the north west of Wales by the Menai Strait, was the bread basket of the kingdom of Gwynedd, one of the realms where the Britons maintained their life and their faith despite the incursions of the Anglo-Saxon invaders. The kings of Gwynedd had their seat at a settlement called Aberffraw. Visit the village today and it’s a quiet, peaceful place. A mile east of Aberffraw is the even quieter hamlet of Llangadwaladr and the church of St Cadwaladr. And embedded in the wall of the church is the gravestone of King Cadfan of Gwynedd, the father of King Cadwallon, the ‘furious stag’ of Welsh hope, who fought and almost brought down the Anglo-Saxon kings of Northumbria. Cadwallon himself, killed by Oswald in battle, has no gravestone but this mute stone gives testament to the learning of the ancient kingdom, for it is written in Latin: CATAMANUS REX SAPIENTISIMUS OPINATISIMUS OMNIUM REGUM (‘King Catamanus, the wisest, most illustrious of all kings’). Catamanus is the Latin form of Cadfan.

In the quiet of rural Wales, standing in the church dedicated to King Cadfan’s grandson, it seems almost possible to pierce the veil of centuries and see back to the grieving people and family who had this stone cut in memory of their king and father.

Connect with Edoardo

Connect with Edoardo on his website, where you can find more about his articles, podcast, and short stories. His books include the Northumbrian Thrones trilogy, featuring 7th century kings Edwin, Oswald, and Oswiu. He has also published several nonfiction books, including London: A Spiritual History, In Search of Alfred the Great, and Northumbria: The Lost Kingdom

Find these and more by Edoardo Albert on Amazon.

You can also connect with Edoardo on Twitter

Saturday, April 1, 2017

From the Scriptorium: April 2017

April 2017 Edition

The biggest news this month is the upcoming release of Queen of Martyrs! I cannot wait to hear what you all think of Queen Mary's story. If you are looking forward to reading it on Kindle, you can pre-order it now. On April 12, it will be available in paperback as well.

Why April 12? Because it is my birthday! One of the advantages of being an independent writer is setting my own deadlines, so I decided that a book release was the best way to spend my day, certainly better than dwelling over creeping numbers and fine lines!

Also to celebrate the advent of Queen Mary, I have a great blog tour planned. We will be visiting The Writing Desk, Knight of Angels, EHFA, Lady Jane Grey, Suzy Henderson, Judith Arnopp, History, the Interesting Bits, and History Imagined. See my In the News page to stay up to date on guest posts so that you don't miss a single book review, excerpt, interview, or historic article!

Featured Reviews

Queen of Martyrs on Goodreads - I can't wait to read your review!

Faithful Traitor on Goodreads

Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen at The Review

See your review featured! Leave a link in the comments below.


I was privileged to participate in the Michigan Library Association's Spring Institute at a special Evening with an Author, organized to support local literacy efforts. Thank you to everyone who joined me in Frankenmuth, Michigan for great book talks and, of course, plenty of German food and Christmas cheer at any time of year.

In the News

I have started writing for the magazine All About History! If you already subscribe, you know that this publication is packed with interesting articles on all eras of history as well as fun features such as book reviews and alternative histories. Look forward to my own version of alternative history coming up soon in which Queen Mary chooses Reginald Pole as her husband instead of Prince Philip of Spain!

Did You Miss It?

Who would dare to stand up to Henry VIII? A teenage girl. Get warmed up for the rest of Mary's story by reading about her courageous stand against her father. (The scene described in this post actually takes place during Mary's younger years in Faithful Traitor.)

Mary Takes a Stand

Judith Arnopp's guest post last month quickly became one of the most viewed articles on this blog. Apparently, many of you are interested in the Lady Margaret Beaufort and Judith's inspiration for writing about her.

Why Margaret Beaufort?

Another guest, Trisha Hughes, stopped by to celebrate the release of her new novel, Vikings to Virgin - The Hazards of Being King. This is one I look forward to reading!

The Hazards of Being King

Taking an article for the archives, we revisited the fate of the York princesses who suddenly found themselves subjects of a new dynasty.

York Sisters in a Tudor World

Have you visited all the wonderful places on my Historic Places Blog Series?

You can follow me on Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook to ensure that you never miss a thing!

I'm also now on Instagram @Samantha_Wilcoxson.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Gertrude Jekyll and the Old Rose

Tessa Arlen is my guest today to celebrate the release of her latest Lady Montfort historical mystery, A Death by Any Other Name. Today, she transports us to an idyllic English garden, just like the ones we will spend time in when reading Tessa's novels.

Welcome, Tessa!
~ Samantha

Guest Post by Tessa Arlen

I grew up in England where the natives have a deep reverence for their gardens. My mother and both my grandmothers were dedicated gardeners and when I moved with my family to the rainy American Northwest twenty five years ago it seemed it was my destiny to take advantage of this wonderfully temperate climate to create a garden. And a very English cottage garden it is too!

Creating a garden is like a visual form of writing a novel in that you dream up an idea and set about putting it into tangible form. You plan a garden design (plot) and populate it with a variety of colorful and interesting characters. Weeding, pruning, and transplanting are very like editing a novel.  My passion for gardening has crept into my historical mystery series featuring amateur sleuths Clementine Talbot the Countess of Montfort and her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, in the England of the early 1900s. So it is not surprising that if I am a keen gardener then my main character, Lady Montfort, is too!

‘Serious interests’ filled the empty hours of the leisured classes in the early 20th century, and in Clementine and Jackson’s latest adventure together they become involved with an eccentric group of very gossipy amateur rosarians.  So I thought it would be fun to introduce Gertrude Jekyll, the real-life garden designer, to judge a rose competition at the Hyde Rose Society. It is rather cheeky of me to put Miss Jekyll on the spot as in reality I don’t think she would be caught dead judging a rose competition –especially of hybrid roses.

Miss Jekyll designed some of the most beautiful gardens in England, Europe and America. She bred a number of herbaceous specimens that we grow in our gardens today, and she was also a writer, and talented water colorist –most notably of her beautiful gardens at Munstead Wood in Surrey. But she was chiefly known as a garden architect and her designs still influence garden landscapes across the world today.

So what’s so wrong with hybrid roses you might ask that Gertrude Jekyll’s name should not be linked to them even in a piece of light-hearted fiction? Nothing at all –these are the roses you buy in your local supermarket and florist. They come in an acceptable red, pink, white or yellow, their stems are long, straight, and thornless. Sadly they have no scent whatsoever, but they are uniformly identical, affordable and long lived, cultivated in rows by the mile for mass consumption. 

Imagine you are walking in a beautiful garden on a warm summer evening, there is a delicious scent in the air reminiscent of jasmine, honeysuckle or is it sweet-peas? You round a yew hedge and there in the fading light of a summer evening is a garden of roses.

Their colors are subtle: pure reds, carmine and blush pink; pale golds and deep yellows, and the purest white. Their petals are layered and delicate. Some look like great double peonies; others are simple saucers surrounding yellow tasseled stamens. Many of them date back to the time of the Roman Empire when they were revered for their beauty and fragrance and still live on today in other strains and varieties. These are the old roses of poetry and love songs: Alba, Bourbon, China, Damask, Gallica, Moss, and Noisette. Just the names alone are wonderfully romantic. Here are some of my favorite varieties.

Alba Roses are tree roses that often reach six feet in height from a family that date back to the Middle Ages. Flowers are usually pink, blush and white and are set off by their gray-green foliage, creating a delicate beauty that is unequaled.  Here is Rosa: (below) a delicate pink and white rose with a delicious fragrance reminiscent of ripe apples. 

Bourbon Roses have a unique heritage. The French developed this rose to be a perfect blend of strength and beauty, with stout branches and magnificent clusters of translucent blooms, ranging in color from deep red to delicate pink and a truly pure white, this is a stately rose with noble elegance.  Here is Louise Odier (below), one of the most beautiful of the great Bourbon roses with an exquisitely rich lavender-like perfume.

China Roses were developed before the 10th century and are by far the most exotic of the old roses. Their silky flowers are in rich hues of red, pink and yellow.  Here is one of the most beautiful of China roses: Old Blush (below) a historically important rose because it is the ancestor of many of our modern day roses, I love it because of its sweet pea fragrance.

Damask Roses have graced the world since ancient times and gave birth to thousands of new varieties while maintaining their own unique heritage. Damask blooms are held on open airy branches and are almost always clear pink in color. World renowned for its fine fragrance it is often grown for perfume production. Here is Celsiana (below) an outstanding rose with magnificent perfume. I love the tassel of stamens in its center.

Gallicas are the oldest of the garden roses, and date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Later, they were bred by the Dutch and French, as many of the names indicate. Gallicas are fine varieties with great color range for old roses. They offer shades of pink, reds, purples and even crimson-red with stripes. They are heavy bloomers and are very fragrant. Here is Rosa Mundi: ‘Fair Rosamund’ (below) named after the mistress of King Henry II one of the most famous of all old garden roses.

And here are the roses of Victorian England! Moss Roses are actually Centifolia Roses and Damasks that have developed a distinctive fragrant moss-like growth on the sepals, adding elegance to the flowers. They come in almost all colors and some varieties are repeat blooming. Here is Alfred de Dalmas a ballerina of a rose with semi-double blooms and the most delightful jasmine-like fragrance!

Noisette Roses can be grown as climbers –they flower in abundance and have a delicate spicy fragrance. Colors range from white, crimson, and purple. In the opening chapter of A Death By Any Other Name, Clementine is sitting under a bower of white Madame Alfred Carriere roses, one of the most fragrant of the Noisettes. 

Miss Jekyll only used old garden roses in her designs and in her own garden, so now you see why it is rather unfair of me to have put her in the position of judging roses that were becoming very fashionable in English gardens, simply because they bloomed all year and in a range of exciting new colors, or as Gertrude Jekyll cautions the Hyde rosarians “Colors never seen before in nature!”

Connect with the Author

Tessa Arlen is the author of the Lady Montfort historical mystery series set in England in the early 1900s.  Her latest book in the series A Death by Any Other Name was released March 14, 2017.

You can find out more about Tessa’s books and her blog Redoubtable Edwardians on her website:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

York Sisters in a Tudor World

The York Princesses
Stained Glass Canterbury Cathedral
Much is written about the York remnant after Henry Tudor came to power in 1485. The fates of men like John de la Pole and his brothers are well documented, but what about the women who suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of power? No one knew this struggle more than the daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. They had been raised as royal princesses but found themselves named bastards of a dead king.

The history of at least one York princess is fairly well known. Elizabeth of York made her way in this new world as the wife of Henry Tudor, forging the new dynasty together for the sake of peace. At the time of Henry’s coronation, Elizabeth also had four sisters who were destined to whatever future Henry determined for them.

The oldest of these sisters, after Elizabeth, was Cecily. She had been married to a man named Ralph Scrope during her uncle’s brief reign. Documentation of this marriage and the reasons for it are sparse, and it was quickly annulled when Henry came to power. Henry chose a man who could be counted completely loyal to his Tudor king for Cecily’s second husband. John Welles and Cecily seemed to find happiness together, though both of their children predeceased him. Upon Viscount Welles death, Cecily attended her sister in various roles for three years before following Woodville family tradition and making a scandalous third marriage with Thomas Kyme. Cecily would learn whether love made up for wealth when Henry confiscated her estates in his anger over the unapproved marriage. One hopes that this final marriage enabled Cecily to find happiness away from court, but the record of her fades before her death at age 38 in 1507.

Elizabeth and Cecily had two sisters, as well as their two mysterious brothers, who died before their father’s death in 1483. Little Mary and Margaret would not face the tumultuous futures of their sisters. The next sister, more than six years younger than Cecily, was Anne.

Even less is known of this quiet York sister. Anne had been betrothed to Thomas Howard by Richard III. This was one decision that Henry seemed to agree with, and the two were married in 1495 when Anne was nineteen years old. She spent some time at court serving her sister, but little else is known of Anne of York. She found favor under Henry VIII, as evinced by gifts of estates made to her, but she died shortly after his ascendancy, leaving no surviving children.

Elizabeth and her daughters
19th century copy of lost panel from St George altarpiece
The next York sister has a well documented history. Catherine was one of many English princesses considered for a Scottish match before she was married to William Courtenay. He spent significant amounts of time in the Tower for his traitorous words regarding Henry VII’s reign before his death in 1511, shortly following his reinstatement as Earl of Devon by Henry VIII. Their son, Henry Courtenay, initially found favor with the new King Henry until he found himself on the wrong side of Henry’s Great Matter. He was executed, along with Henry Pole and Nicholas Carew, as a result of the supposed Exeter Conspiracy in 1538. Catherine, who had taken a vow of chastity after William’s death, did not live to see her son executed, though she did outlive the remainder of the children of Edward IV. She died in 1527 before her family’s fall from favor.

The final York daughter was Bridget, born less than three years before her father’s death. Bridget entered the Dartford Priory in 1490, though it is unknown if this was to honor a plan of her father’s, her own wishes, or due to other reasons. Evidence of Bridget’s study of Catholic saints exists, and she spent the remainder of her life as a nun. She died in 1517, never foreseeing the dissolution of the priory that would occur under her nephew, Henry VIII.

Each of these sisters lived under the reign of their sister, Elizabeth, who was the first Tudor queen and mother of Henry VIII. Her story may be the most intriguing of all, as she bore and buried her own share of royal babes and must have always wondered about the fate of her lost brothers, who became known as the Princes in the Tower. Did she believe them murdered by her uncle? What did she think about the appearance of Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be her younger brother, Richard? Of course, there is no way to truly know, but I attempt to give answer to these questions when I tell Elizabeth’s story in Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen.

This article was originally written for in September 2015