Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last Day of UK Kindle Deal

If you use Amazon UK, don't miss your last chance to get Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen for only 99p! My Elizabeth has enjoyed a wonderful December as an Amazon Monthly Kindle Deal. She is currently at #1 for biographical historical fiction and rose as high as #66 in the Kindle store OVERALL! I couldn't be happier that so many people are enjoying the story of Elizabeth of York.

Get it today, before this deal ends as the new year begins.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Historic Places: Stonehenge

We are going to head out of London for now and return there at the end of our virtual tour. As I did while I was in England, we will travel west toward the storybook city of Bath. That is a stop worth looking forward to! For today, we visit the ancient and mysterious monument known as Stonehenge.

Stonehenge is located in Wiltshire, but all you will see from this English Heritage site is fields and sheep. If you're planning your day right, you will coordinate this stop with a trip into nearby Salisbury to see the breathtaking cathedral. Unfortunately, we were on a guided tour that did not include the Salisbury side-trip, so I will stick to Stonehenge for this post. (If you have visited Salisbury, I would love to hear about it and see pictures in the comments below.)

Visitors to Stonehenge vary from those who are intensely excited about the possibilities that exist in the location's mysterious past to those who wonder why so many people get excited about a circle of large stones. If you love the opportunity to investigate history and determine what really happened centuries ago, you will appreciate the model village, museum, and walking tour of Stonehenge.

Arriving at Stonehenge actually places you at the visitors' center with an additional mile to walk or ride the bus to the monument itself. At the visitors' center, you may stroll through the museum displays, grab a snack at the cafe, or try your strength at pulling a stone into place in the model Neolithic village. The museum is rather small and contains artifacts that fit nicely into the various theories that you will hear about on the audio tour. My favorite part of this building was the 'Wish You Were Here' exhibit. This is a circle shaped room with images projected on the walls to place visitors at the center of the Stone Circle throughout the ages. Witness Stonehenge being built, used, and weathered by time in the course of a few moments.

When you make your way out to the Stone Circle, an audio tour points out a variety of facts, theories, and views that you'll want to take advantage of. Stonehenge was built approximately 5000 years ago using simple tools to bring stones weighing up to 30 tons into place from distances believed to reach into Wales. Why go through this much work? Well, that's where it becomes a bit of a treasure hunt.

My husband theorized during our visit that the entire area was simply half built at the commands of a petulant prince who got bored before it was complete. The audio tour and museum offer more sophisticated explanations.  ;-)

There was originally more to the Stone Circle than we currently see, as several displays will show you. It is known that the area was used as a cemetery for centuries, but the extent of religious ceremonies that may have taken place is less certain.
The stones have been shaped to be more finished and aesthetically pleasing from the north-east, giving the circle a definite 'front' and 'back.' While some stones are carefully smoothed and shaped, others are left unfinished for unknown reasons.

Uses for the Stone Circle likely evolved over time, possibly being used as a seasonal clock, gathering place, and religious center. There is no question that the enormous stones were carefully placed to align with the movement of the sun through annual solar events. But why? Was it used to predict and track seasons or was this simply a pleasing design for a king's coronation? These are questions that the enthusiasts of Stonehenge continue to discuss and investigate.

A surprising amount of the Stonehenge area has not been excavated by archaeologists, so possibilities of new discoveries are very real. Ongoing research will continue to answer the questions that people have been asking for hundreds of years about Stonehenge, but with each new discovery more questions arise. Will we ever know the complete history of Stonehenge? Probably not, but that's the fun of it, isn't it?

 For more information on Stonehenge, visit the UK's English Heritage website.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Interview and End of Year News

Merry Christmas and many thanks to everyone who has supported me during 2015!

It has been a wonderful year with my Elizabeth reaching Amazon UK's Top 100 Kindle Best Sellers List and resting at #1 in Biographical Historical Fiction for quite some time. If you are a UK reader - Thank You! You can still snatch Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen for only 99p until the end of the year.

I know that US readers have been waiting for their own sale. While Amazon does not have one planned so far as I know, I will be giving my fellow Americans a chance to take advantage of a Kindle deal soon. Keep an eye on this page to make sure you don't miss it!

In the meantime, BookGoodies has published a short interview with me that you can find here.

The only other thing I can ask of my dear readers is that you take a moment to write a review. It really is the most important action you can take (besides buying books) to support independent writers, and I appreciate it more than you can imagine. Whether you are on Amazon, Goodreads, Booklikes, or your own personal blog, every review is important to me. Already written a review? I appreciate it and would love to read it. Share a link in the comments below.

Thanks again and have a spectacular 2016!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Historic Places: Tower of London

My readers are probably not surprised to hear that the Tower was my most anticipated stop while we were in London. So much history has been witnessed by these stone walls that I wish I could hear them whisper their story. The Tower is a significant setting in my most recent novel as the place where Elizabeth's brothers disappear and she dies after delivering her last child.

If you have not visited the Tower or other castles, you may not realize that the setting is much more like an enclosed village than a single tower. Our romanticized vision of a castle more closely resembles a standard castle keep than the entire complex.

As you can see from the first picture, some of the stone shows its age more than others. The famous White Tower, built by William the Conqueror from stone that he had transported from Normandy looks amazing for being almost a millennium old. The White Tower is the central stone keep of the fortress, built by the first of England's Norman kings to establish his dominance in the capital of his new kingdom. The rest of the castle grounds would grow up around this impressive, white-washed stronghold. Through the centuries since William's 1066 invasion, this tower has served primarily as a stronghold but also as a prison and storage facility.

The White Tower was an archaeological wonder of its day at a height of 90' with walls that are 25' thick at their base.

Plantagenet kings of medieval times continued to increase the sprawling fortress' size and uses. The 12th-14th centuries saw the Tower of London become much of the structure that is seen today surrounding the White Tower. During the reign of Edward I, the Tower was recognized as an ideally secure place to store jewels, records, and the royal mint.

During the 15th century Wars of the Roses, possession of the Tower was a strong indication of possession of the kingdom. A strange combination of a palace and a prison, the Tower was where monarchs spent the night before their coronation, but it was also where they housed their worst enemies - just not in the same tower.

Though the castle is known as the Tower of London, it is truly made up of several towers, which may lead to some confusion. We have already discussed the original White Tower which stands at the center of the castles concentric design. Smaller towers surround it, including the Beauchamp Tower, famous for housing Tudor era criminals. The Bloody Tower is a relatively small tower where the sons of Edward IV were staying when they famously disappeared...were murdered? That's a discussion for another day.

Inside any of these towers, you can feel the atmosphere of history prickling at your senses. I could not resist running my fingers along the stone walls within the narrow staircases, hoping that I just might find a spot that Elizabeth's hand touched over 500 years ago. Admittedly, the feeling is somewhat reduced by the rather modern radiators that give the structure warmth while the large fireplaces lie dormant, but I did not mind as much that there were wooden stairs outside to save me from climbing a ladder.

Strolling through the Tower Green, the architecture and beauty of the place can almost make one forget that the grass has been fed with much blood. It is a beautiful setting filled with smiling tourists and friendly Yeoman Warders.
Within the ring made up by these and several other towers, visitors could easily walk by the Execution Site without realizing what it is. Memorializing multiple political prisoners of the crown, the spot is now home to a frosted glass and granite monument in place of the bloody scaffold. At this site, three of England's queens were beheaded. Each has their name etched into the edge of the glass: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Grey. Others who had their last view of the Tower from this spot include Margaret Pole, William Lord Hastings, Jane Boleyn, and Robert Devereux. Each of these deaths demonstrate just how quickly fortune's wheel could turn in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Thankfully, Henry VIII did more than execute people at the Tower, though he did plenty of that. To walk through the Tower gift shop, one would think that he was the only king England had ever had, but I digress.

Henry enjoyed building projects almost as much as the hunt for a new wife. His contribution to the Tower grounds, besides noble blood, includes the timber structure - very recognizable as Tudor era - that was designed as a royal residence for Anne Boleyn.

One of the most popular exhibits at the Tower is the Crown Jewels. This includes an education on the English Civil War of the 17th century, a time when the crown jewels were melted down and torn apart. Sometimes for their value, sometimes out of spite. There is a vast amount of elaborate jewelry and accessories to be viewed, but they cannot be photographed.

The 19th century saw the Tower's evolution from a practical fortress to a historical monument. With the moat drained and the mint removed to another location, the Tower began to enjoy a peaceful retirement. It was not completely out of commission until after Britain's involvement in the World Wars. The last executions to take place on Tower ground were those of World War I & II spies.

One element remains constant as the Tower has become a tourist destination rather than a place to inspire the kind of fear that made Anne Boleyn collapse and cry out as she was escorted through Traitor's Gate. It is the ravens. According to legend, "If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall." In the interest of the empire, the Tower is home to ravens with clipped wings and luxurious lodgings. The Yeomen Warders have little else to guard these days than their black feathered friends.

During our visit, the White Tower was home to a special 600th anniversary exhibit for the Battle of Agincourt. A large battle map was set up in the center of one room. As we approached it, my husband said, "So, tell me what is going on here." Ah, to have someone request to be regaled with medieval knowledge! It was great fun, and we enjoyed each of the informative displays that are located throughout the various buildings and towers.

Have you visited the Tower of London? There is so much to see within this single stop! What did you enjoy the most?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Historic Places: St. Paul's Cathedral

The next stop in the Historical Places blog series is St. Paul's Cathedral. A pleasant walk along the Thames from our previous stop, Big Ben and Westminster, will take us to Christopher Wren's most famous creation. St. Paul's is a rather modern design compared to other cathedrals in England. This is due to the fact that, like much of London, it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The history of St. Paul's Cathedral goes back much further, finding its roots in the Christian movements of the early middle ages. The highest point in the city was chosen as the location for the center of Christianity in London in 604. A substantial structure was not built until somewhat later, after the fear of destruction from invading Danes had abated.

The ascendancy of William the Conqueror saw an explosion of new stone construction in England. A cathedral for St. Paul's was part of the Norman's building plan. Developed over the course of decades, a stunning medieval church rose to tower over the central city of the land. This structure defined the London skyline for centuries.
Medieval St. Paul's by Francis Bond

During the religious turmoil of the Tudor era, St. Paul's remained an important part of Londoner's worship, adjusting to the required services of the time as required. In 1561, the church's spire was struck by lightening and collapsed. Those alive at the time may have wondered if this was God's judgement upon the English wavering over reform versus tradition in religion. Whichever was their preference, the spire was never repaired.

Just over a century later, the entire cathedral was destroyed in the 1666 fire that destroyed much of medieval London. To avoid another disaster like this from occurring again, building restrictions were developed. Thatched roofs had been banned within London city limits since an earlier fire in 1212, but the Rebuilding of London Act of 1666 was more comprehensive. Everything from width of streets, height of buildings, and materials used for construction was considered in the creation of this act. Construction needed to be safe and sanitary but also had to occur quickly for the city to be up and running once again.

Famous architect Christopher Wren presented his plan for a new London which was designed to create a beautiful, classical city modeled on the Garden of Versailles. Although his city plan was too elaborate and expensive to be chosen by city leaders, Wren was given the vital task of rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral. It is his design that we see when we visit St. Paul's today.

The cathedral stands out due to its baroque style architecture which involves curves and columns replacing the straight lines of medieval structures. The most recognizable of these features is the prominent dome that enables visitors to easily identify St. Paul's. It is one of the largest cathedrals in the UK, second only to the Liverpool Cathedral completed in 1978.

Since we visited St. Paul's during worship service, I did not take photos of the interior. It was wonderful to hear the choir voices resonating throughout this beautiful church, and one could spend hours appreciating the intricate details of design throughout each functional area of the cathedral. In the lower level, visitors can enjoy tea at the cafe or select a souvenir from the gift shop. It is up to you to decide what you think of these amenities being located in the crypt. Apparently enough Londoners appreciate the venue because it is even available to be rented out for parties and receptions.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Historic Places: Big Ben

This is the first a planned series on historic locations that I visited during a recent trip. I look forward to sharing each stop with you and hearing about your impressions and experiences of these amazing places.

My trip began with the long flight to London Heathrow. London being too rich and diverse to cover in one post, I've selected the familiar Big Ben to be the first of the historical places we will look at.

Of course, Big Ben isn't really the name of this highly recognized landmark at all. It is more properly known as Elizabeth Tower and is the defining feature of the Palace of Westminster where the British Parliament meets. The large bell named Big Ben has universally become the accepted nick-name for the clock tower in which it is housed. Big Ben, which resonates a rich E-note, deserves its name with a 9 foot diameter and weight of 13.5 tons.

Surrounded by the sprawling city of London, some visitors are likely surprised that the tower is not taller. While it soars by the standards of the mid-19th century, even the limited modernity of London is beginning to dwarf the iconic tower. It's total height is 316 feet, or the equivalent of a 29 story building. One of the great characteristics of London and many other English cities is that new building is restricted in order to coordinate with and not overwhelm the history of the setting. Even with these rules in place, Big Ben is starting to look somewhat overwhelmed. Just across the Thames, the London Eye tops out at 443 feet.

Not to say that the tower is small. The four clocks measure an impressive 23 feet across with hour hands that stretch 9 feet for the time to be clearly visible to anyone with a sight-line to a clock face. The longer minute hands extend 14 feet, and you will climb 340 steps if you wish to reach the belfry.

What the London Eye and other modern structures cannot compete with is the detail and beauty of the Palace of Westminster. What it lacks in height it more than makes up for in a view that takes your breath away. The Gothic Revival style that was utilized in the design makes the structure appear even older than it is. It would be easy for one to spend hours strolling around this sprawling palace and noting the details in the stonework that were expertly formed by the best craftsmen of their day.

A structure has existed on Westminster's strategic location on the Thames since the 8th century. While Edward the Confessor built the cathedral during the 11th century, the palace has undergone more gradual evolution. The Palace of Westminster as we know it, with Big Ben in the clock tower, was not developed until after a fire in 1834 destroyed the previous structure. That is when the palace that people around the globe recognize as London came into being, with over 1,100 rooms, including the chambers designed for the House of Lords and House of Commons.

For locals, some of the romanticism of Westminster may be overshadowed by politics, but visitors can simply lose themselves in the rich history and architectural wonder that is not found on the other side of the pond.

It is clear that I was quite happy to reach this symbol of Britishness. You will see as this blog series progresses, my enthusiasm continues through Bath, Liverpool, Edinburgh, York, and many places in between.

Have you visited Big Ben? What were your impressions?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Kindle Monthly Deal

I have great news for my British readers today! Amazon UK has selected Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen to be a Kindle Monthly Deal for December. If you have not already picked up my story of Elizabeth of York, you can get it now for only 99p - just 1/3 of the regular price!

This is a promotion by Amazon and is limited to the UK marketplace, but I may have to consider spoiling my US readers with a Christmas sale as well! You can still get signed paperback copies shipped in time for Christmas by sending me a message.

Thank you to all who have read and reviewed!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Being Compared to Greatness: Guest Post by Matthew Harffy

I am excited to welcome author Matthew Harffy to my blog today. His novel, The Serpent Sword, is one of the greatest stories that I have read this year and it has been deservedly named an Editors' Choice by the Historical Novel Society. (Read my review or the HNS review.) 

One common element in Harffy's many positive reviews is a comparison to historical fiction master, Bernard Cornwell. Matthew shares what it feels like to be held to such a high standard and how his Bernicia Chronicles differs from Cornwell's Saxon Stories. I, for one, am thankful that we have both Beobrand and Uhtred adventures to enjoy! 

You can also take advantage of a fantastic Kindle sale today to decide for yourself if Beobrand can take on Uhtred. ~ Samantha

Being Compared to Greatness: How the Bernicia Chronicles differ from Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories

My novel, The Serpent Sword, gets compared to Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles a lot. I get it, I really do. The first literary agent I contacted turned me down because, and I can quote this verbatim, as I kept the rejection letter in a frame (that’s not weird, is it?): “It’s a tough ask to set a novel here and in this period, when one of the big beasts (the Biggest Beast some would say) of the genre has written such a successful series in the Uhtred novels (albeit a few centuries later).”

It is all true, apart from the bit about Bernard Cornwell being a “big beast”. I’ve never met the man, but he comes across as a pleasant guy in interviews and videos!

I knew my writing would be compared to Cornwell's and that many would even believe I had copied him in an attempt to pick up some of the crumbs left from his Dark Ages banquet. In fact, I was so worried that this would happen, despite it not being the truth, that I very nearly didn’t publish, or even complete writing The Serpent Sword.

In many ways, my writing is inspired by Cornwell, just not by his tales of Uhtred. You see, I began writing The Serpent Sword in 2001 after seeing a BBC programme on television about archaeological digs taking place in and around Bamburgh Castle. I had read Cornwell’s retelling of the Arthurian myths and loved the way he tackled the period. I had also lived in Northumberland as a child and always loved the area and I was alone at home that evening and something sparked inside me. The muse whispered and I answered and started to write a scene of a young man arriving on the beach at Bebbanburg. I had never written anything of novel length before and I had a full-time job, a young family and I was halfway studying for a degree, so progress was slow. But a couple of years later, I had read a lot of research, planned the plot and written about a quarter of the book. I was about to finish my degree and so was hopeful I would be able to buckle down to finish the novel. Then Bernard Cornwell brought out The Last Kingdom, the first of his books featuring one Uhtred of Bebbanburg. His book was set a couple of centuries later, but the similarities were evident. Apparently, Cornwell had liked the Dark Ages too, and it seems the muse does not only speak to me!
To cut a long story short, over the next few years Cornwell continued to do what Cornwell does so well – writing great historical fiction. As each new Uhtred novel was released, I devoured it and gritted my teeth.

The books were great.

My book could have been great.

But not if I never wrote it! So I finally decided that having one successful series that mentions Bebbanburg and Saxons does not preclude another series becoming successful. Otherwise, after James Bond there would be no more spy novels in any of the locations he has visited. And how many Westerns had gunslingers and Marshalls visiting Dodge City?

So I finished the book and guess what – it was successful. Those who have read it enjoyed it and most reviews have been great. But the inevitable comparisons continued. Some reviewers said they preferred my writing to Cornwell’s (really?!), others said my writing was no match for the master of historical fiction. But whatever the opinion, many readers made the link between Beobrand and Uhtred.

The similarities are obvious – swords, kings, shieldwalls and Bebbanburg, but I thought it would be a good idea to lay out some of the main differences.

No Vikings

First, and this is an important distinction, there are no Vikings in my books. The Bernicia Chronicles take place over a hundred and fifty years before the first recorded Viking raid on the British Isles. Almost all of Uhtred’s energies go into fighting the Danes. He is an adopted Dane who then goes on to become the Saxons’ greatest warlord, defending the Christians and defeating the pagan Vikings at every turn, despite his better judgement.

Beobrand is an Angle from Cantware (Kent) who becomes a warrior and thegn of the Angle kings of Bernicia and Northumbria. He too stands in many battles, but these are against the native Britons and Picts and other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Britain, rather than invaders from elsewhere.


Uhtred is notoriously pagan. All of the Saxons he sides with are Christians and he is much-maligned by them for worshiping the older, tougher gods of the Norsemen.

Beobrand is also a pagan, but in the early seventh century, when the Bernicia Chronicles are set, Christianity was making a slow rise to prominence following centuries of decline in Britain after the Romans left. The Angles, Saxons and Jutes all traditionally worshipped the old gods of Woden (Odin) and Thunor (Thor) and the rest, and it is during Beobrand’s lifetime that the kingdoms of Britain are converting to the new religion of the Christ that promises no more sacrifices and everlasting life. What’s not to like?

Whilst Beobrand favours the old gods, he sees both religions side by side and questions the worth of each as the novels progress.

No England

In the Uhtred books, King Alfred is constantly striving to create one kingdom of Christian English to confront the Danes.

In Beobrand’s world, the kings of Britain such as Edwin and Oswald seek to become Bretwalda, over-king of all other sub-kings. They want the power of having the fealty of other kingdoms. Religious conversion in this context is used as another political weapon.


Uhtred doesn’t really go in for deep philosophical thinking. Get in his way and he kills you with never a second thought.

Beobrand is also an implacable killer, who does not shy away from dispatching his enemies with sword and spear. But there is a vulnerability to him that we never see in Uhtred. Beobrand fears he will become violent towards women and children as his father was, and he often questions his own decisions after events he’s involved in. He is not maudlin (well not all the time!), but I do think he has a certain sensitivity to his character that Uhtred does not have.


There are many more differences between Cornwell’s novels and mine, but I think you get the idea. In the end I am flattered to be compared to Bernard Cornwell. He is one of my all-time favourite authors. And I’m pleased I made the decision to tell Beobrand’s story, despite the similarities with Cornwell’s books. Just as there is enough room in the world for both James Bond and Jason Bourne, so there can be both Uhtred and Beobrand.

Have you read any of Cornwell’s Uhtred novels and The Serpent Sword? What do you think of the comparisons? Can you see any other differences I haven’t mentioned?

Connect with the Author

Connect with Matthew Harffy on his website, on Twitter, and on Facebook

Can't wait to learn more about Beobrand? Get your copy of The Serpent Sword today! As a special bonus, it is on sale right now for 99c/99p (depending upon your side of the pond). What a fantastic deal, just in time to be ready for the release of The Cross and the Curse on January 22nd (available now for pre-order)! 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015

Historical Novel Society Editors' Choice

I am thrilled to share that Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen has been selected by the Historical Novel Society as an Editors' Choice! This means that it is also long-listed for the 2016 Indie Award. This recognition means so much to me, and I am excited to share it with all of you who have supported me through this journey.

You can see the review in the Historical Novels Review here. Make sure you also scan the list of Editors' Choice novels to find other great reads.

If you are interested in reading with friends, a Facebook book club has chosen 'my Elizabeth' as their monthly read for November. This event is open to anyone.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Give the Gift of Books

Have you started Christmas shopping? I know my children are preparing their lists, and I have started thinking about the perfect gifts for those hard to buy for people. You can visit my Christmas Sale page to select signed editions of my novels for the friends and family on your Christmas list. This is your chance to give a gift that they won't find at the local mall while supporting one of your favorite independent authors.

Prices include US shipping. Payments accepted through PayPal.

Christmas blessings to you and yours!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Readeption of Henry VI

Towton Rout by Graham Turner
After the Battle of Towton in 1461, Edward IV had good reasons to feel relatively secure on his throne. Although his rival, Henry VI was not taken prisoner until 1465, Edward had strong support from the Earl of Warwick and his own optimism and charisma to buoy him. Any battles that took place in the decade following Towton were Yorkist victories, with the exception of Edgecote Moor in 1469. That battle, however, had only convinced Edward to take his enemies more seriously, not to doubt himself. That changed when Edward was forced to flee the country to escape the joint forces of Margaret of Anjou, Warwick, and his own brother, George of Clarence.

This set of unlikely allies made it possible for Henry VI to be returned to the position that had been his since before his first birthday. Margaret had clear motivations, she had been the most staunch supporter of her husband and her son's future right to inherit from the beginning. She had been forced to unite with the former Yorkists in order to gain a victory. Warwick, disappointed that Edward was making his own decisions instead of following his guidance, had decided to gamble on an improved position for himself as counselor to Margaret and father-in-law to George. Never content with what his brother gave him, George had married Warwick's oldest daughter and hoped to steal his brother's throne.

Henry VI
With Edward in exile accompanied by his greatest supporter, his youngest brother Richard of Gloucester, his three enemies reinstated the feeble minded Henry of Lancaster as king. Warwick and Clarence were content to rule in the king's name. Henry could hardly walk any distance without support and was now famous for lengthy stretches of non-responsive insanity. The victory did not last long.

Edward had fled in October 1470, leaving his wife forced to claim sanctuary where she gave birth to the couple's first son, Prince Edward. In March 1471, Edward returned to fight for his crown and the right to someday have it placed upon his son's head.

The Lancastrians may have underestimated the popularity of the York king. Though he landed with only a small force provided for him by the Duke of Burgundy, Edward soon had additional followers, including the brother that had betrayed him time and again, George of Clarence. Finally seeing that Warwick had no intention to press his claim, George determined that he may be better off with his brother in charge after all. With both of his brothers at his side, Edward defeated Warwick at the battle of Barnet.

Edward IV
With Warwick dead, Margaret once again took up her husband's fight. Against her wishes, her only son took the field at Tewkesbury where he was killed. With nothing left to fight for, Margaret was captured and taken to the Tower to join her husband. 

Henry VI, a man who had failed to bear arms in the bloody battles that had been fought in his name, died on May 21, 1471. The cause of death was given as melancholy at the news of his son's death, but he was likely put to death at Edward's orders. His readeption had lasted approximately six months and left countless more Englishmen dead. The Wars of the Roses would seem to be over until Edward's untimely death twelve years later.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Guest Post at Tudors Weekly

I am happy to be a guest blogger today at Tudors Weekly, discussing the relationship between Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

How Did Henry Tudor Become King?

Love him or hate him, one has to admit that Henry Tudor defied all odds when he claimed the kingdom of England as his own. When the crown was laid on his head on August 22, 1485, it likely surprised him as much as the rest of the country. Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, certainly had not expected to be defeated by the "Welsh milksop." How did it happen? What chain of events fell into place to turn a minor half Welsh nobleman into a king?

Henry's ascendancy cannot be credited to his bloodline. Though history enthusiasts argue to this day regarding the strength of his claim, Henry himself made little attempt to justify his grasp at power that way. He claimed his rich Welsh heritage through his grandfather, Owen Tudor. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, did have a bloodline that eventually reached back to Edward III through John of Gaunt's mistress, but this was hardly a fact that would place him near the throne.

Except that it did.

Henry may not have had much royal blood, but with noble cousins killing each other on battlefields for the last 30 years of the Wars of the Roses, few stronger options existed. Yes, there were other relations, but each remaining family line had some weakness in it before it reached back to a solid royal root. In the end, the fitness of his blood didn't matter, because Henry Tudor won the crown through conquest, just as his distant relative William of Normandy had.

Why was England in this state where distant royal bastard lines were considered for kingship? It all started with the many sons of Edward III. 

Edward III's heir gave all signs of being a medieval knight quite capable of following in his father's footsteps. Probably for his dark armor, or possibly because of acts committed in France, this younger Edward became known as the Black Prince. Unfortunately, the he died shortly before his father, leaving a young Richard II on the throne surrounded by uncles and cousins who coveted power.

Richard II was forced to abdicate by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who was the son of John of Gaunt - another of Edward III's sons. When he became king in 1399, Henry IV set the stage for the Wars of the Roses that would clear the way for the Tudor dynasty. Considered the Lancastrian branch of the Plantagenet royal family due to John of Gaunt's title as Duke of Lancaster, Henry's reign almost immediately came under fire from the Mortimer family, which had ties to Edward III's second son, George, and fourth son, Edmund. Henry proved capable of quelling those rebellions, and the country rallied behind his son when he became Henry V.

Henry V was considered everything that a medieval king should be. He pressed to reclaim lands in France that had previously been in English hands under Henry II, the original Plantagenet king. No one felt a need to point out that his father had been a usurper. Things might have gone on swimmingly had Henry V not died too young, leaving a 9 month old Henry VI as king.

Henry VI was raised and advised by his uncles, and never seemed capable of shaking his need for their instruction - or at least someone's instruction. His mother was Catherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France who was quite insane when he died. Both Catherine and Henry would eventually demonstrate signs that they suffered the same malady.

The young widow Catherine made a scandalous second marriage to a servant of her household. His name was Owen Tudor. This connection gives Henry Tudor one link to the royal family, but not his strongest one. It did, however, give him his Tudor name that would go down in history.

Henry VI proved completely incapable of ruling, becoming victim to those who would manipulate and mislead him before falling into long trances of madness. Soon the Duke of York was pressing his claim as heir presumptive, and calling Henry unfit for duty. Were it not for the strength, or some would say stubbornness of Henry's queen Margaret of Anjou, that may have been an end of things. Richard of York may have been king as agreed by Henry when he made him his heir, disinheriting his own young son.

Margaret took the fight to the York supporters, and many noblemen answered her call in defense of their anointed king. Over the course of three decades, generations of earls and dukes, many of whom could trace their family tree back to reach Edward III, were left dead on fields of battle. By the time Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at Bosworth, there truly were few left who had a better blood claim, and none had struck down the last king in battle.

Before we reach that moment though, we must give attention to England's York kings. Richard Duke of York who had originally taken up the fight was killed in the battle of Wakefield in 1460. Instead of giving them victory, the Lancastrians now were faced with a vengeful Edward Earl of March, now Duke of York. The 17 year old heir of York was the epitome of a soldier, standing tall and golden above the men around him and looking every bit the Plantagenet king that Henry VI was not.

When he became king in 1461, he continued to battle the supporters of Henry VI for over a decade. The fighting did not come to an end until 1471, when the Lancastrian prince was killed in battle and Henry VI was disposed of in the Tower. With nobody to threaten him, Edward IV could have enjoyed a long and peaceful reign. Like his predecessor, Henry V, Edward made the mistake of dying too young and leaving the future vague and turbulent.

His heir was 12 year old Edward, who was immediately proclaimed Edward V with his uncle Richard of Gloucester as protector. Without debating whether Richard was the one who murdered Edward and his brother, we will simply say that it was Richard who was crowned while the young sons of Edward IV disappeared. Their fate as the Princes in the Tower is one of history's greatest mysteries, and was another key slipping into place opening the way for Henry Tudor.

Whether Richard III had done away with the boys or not, enough people questioned his innocence and his motivation in taking his nephew's crown. He faced rebellion from the Duke of Buckingham, who also had a fair share of royal blood, and the constant threat of the followers of Henry Tudor from exile. When Henry landed in Wales, Richard likely saw it as a chance to rid himself of an annoyance. Since Richard's wife and son had both recently died, he had nobody to follow him if he died in battle besides the sons of his sisters and young Edward of Warwick, son of Richard's brother George.

One of those men did challenge Henry VII after he was made the first Tudor king. John de la Pole led forces at Stoke in 1487, supposedly in favor of the imprisoned Edward of Warwick though it is just as likely that de la Pole was fighting for his own rights as Richard III's heir. He was killed, and Henry Tudor cemented his place in history as the father of the Tudor dynasty, a phenomenon that none of his forefathers could have predicted.

Henry also took the step of strengthening his claim through the blood of his wife. He married Elizabeth or York, the oldest child of Edward IV. She was a peaceful and uniting presence, bearing Henry sons to carry on the Tudor name. After more than three centuries, the Plantagenet dynasty was no more, and the Tudors would go on to become one of the most famous dynasties that ever reigned in England.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Henry IV Becomes King

On September 30, 1399, the seed for the Wars of the Roses was planted. Though the first Lancastrian king came to the throne to high acclaim, it was this action that would eventually lead to the bloody battle between cousins when his grandson, Henry VI, proved inept. Arguing that Lancastrians should never have been kings in the first place, Richard Duke of York brought his own claim forward.

Long before that path of events could have been foreseen, Henry IV had to fight plenty of his own battles to defend his right to reign, even after convincing his cousin, Richard II, to abdicate. Rebellions against the usurper king kept him in an almost constant state of war, despite the fact that he did prove a better ruler than Richard had been.

The first challenge of his reign came quickly from the Welsh led by Owen Glendower in 1400. Allied with the Percys and Mortimers of England, who felt that Edmund Mortimer had a better claim to the throne than Henry. The Welsh were burdened by heavy taxes and revolted against his rule. They also received assistance from Charles VI of France, who was always eager for the opportunity to undermine the English.

The best known battle of rebellion against Henry IV was that led by another Henry. The Earl of Northumberland Henry Percy was known as Hotspur for his fury in battle. Though he had helped put Henry Bolingbroke on the throne, he became disillusioned with his rule and joined the rebellion as a strong and important ally. With the goal of placing Edmund Mortimer Earl of March on the throne in Henry's place, Hotspur's warrior zeal was brought against his king near Shrewsbury on July 21, 1403.

After surprisingly skilled assistance from his son, the future Henry V then a prince of almost 16 years of age, Henry IV proved victorious. Henry Percy was killed in the battle, leaving his troops to be slaughtered in retreat.

The new Earl of Northumberland, another Henry Percy, did not wait long to attempt to right the wrongs that he felt had taken place on that field near Shrewsbury. In 1405, he conspired with Thomas Mowbray Earl of Nottingham to remove Henry IV from power. They, too, were defeated, and Mowbray was executed while Percy went into exile.

Owen Glendower had increased his power in Wales but had not been successful in overthrowing Henry, and his allies were reducing in number with every battle. Henry was able to subdue the Welsh and drive the French from the country with the help of his warrior son. Prince Henry took on increasing duties as a soldier and in government as his father's health began to fail.

As Henry V, this infamous warrior took the war to the French with successes that had not been seen since his ancestor Richard I. If it weren't for the early death of Henry V, we may not have seen civil war erupt among cousins. As the epitome of medieval kingship, there were no whispers of the Lancastrian line being usurpers when Henry V was king. However, his son was only 9 months old when the burden of the crown was thrust upon him, and he never proved capable of carrying it.

The rebellion of Richard Duke of York with the support of Richard Earl of Salisbury was the result of Henry VI's poor rule. Though Richard himself would never wear the crown, two of his sons did, becoming Edward IV and Richard III in turn. The defeat of Richard III by Henry Tudor in 1485 was the final defeat between the Lancastrians and Yorks, leaving a Tudor on the throne and the Plantagenet dynasty at an end.

Friday, September 18, 2015

From Dyslexia to Writing Success: Guest Post by Henry Vyner-Brooks

Henry Vyner-Brooks is the author of The Heretic. '...A first class historical novel. This book is set at the time of the Reformation in the reign of King Henry VIII. It is actually difficult to classify as it has a little of everything - murder mystery, political intrigue, adolescent coming-of age, religion, high adventure, romance, medieval history. And it does each genre lightly and with a deft hand. I enjoyed it immensely. It was a long novel but a pleasure to pick up each time...' ~ Top Ranked Amazon Review

I am happy to welcome Henry to my blog today to discuss his journey to becoming a successful writer.

The Mystery of the Disappearing Dyslexic

I have a impish chuckle when reviewers write things like: 'Vyner-Brooks is a careful historian' or 'THE HERETIC is a serious historical novel'. Truth is; I'm no trained historian and no writer by nature either. I'm dyslexic, and couldn't read until I was 12! My high school English teacher wrote to my father asking for me to be removed from his class. “His essays are unmarkable."  (My Dad pointed out that 'unmarkable' was not correct English either, and I had to stick it out.) 

I came to writing in my mid-thirties after ten years as a landscape architect and property developer. I was diagnosed with cancer - time was shaking me by the hand. On the day of my surgery I started writing a novel for my sons, expressing the deep things that I might never get to show them. And so grew my teen novels; THE WILL HOUSTON MYSTERIES, and so also did my family; a daughter and four sons. We live in house I built in the Lakeland mountains, complete with a field, a forest, a river, some chickens and goats... oh, and we home educate.

That meant I got an education too; I started to read history and philosophy, science, theology - I got hungry! I cultivated friendships with intellectuals; I read more stuff; I wrote academic papers on economics and education; I even spoke at Universities in the UK and abroad.... WHAT WAS HAPPENING? What had happened to a discouraged dyslexic kid? Who was this other guy; spouting big words and thinking big thoughts? I suppose that truth is I am both those people, the boy and the man. And I stubbornly cling to the belief that God is able to use even our inglorious pasts, our pain and failures, to make something beautiful - and useful  too.  I want my work to accessible at one level to struggling people, but also intense enough to stimulate and challenge clever people. It is a hard line to walk, but I learn to balance as I go.

GENRE SWAP: Enid Blyton to Hilary Mantel anyone?
The medieval writers never wrote novels, and would have seen our desire for novelty as beggarly, a sign of cultural decay. Writers like Langland, Gower and Marie de France deployed their considerable talent in retelling the worthy stories and merry jests of old. This in essence is what the history-lover comes to see too. It is what I, the teen-fiction writer came to see. There are stories out there, ones that haven't been told. Ones that need to be.

It was in 2010 that I first became aware of the mystery of St Benet's Abbey; the only monastery never dissolved by Henry VIII – think of it, the only one! It is situated on what sometimes becomes an island, linked to the mainland only by a causeway; all alone on the marshes. If a writer wanted possibilities for a location, here it was. We took a large yellow boat on the Norfolk Broads and enjoyed a magical week there one spring. And then while visiting nearby St Helen's church I heard about an artistic monk from the St Benets, Pacificus, who came daily in his coracle and with a  little dog to restore what is now the finest Rood screen in England. BAM. That had me, right there! I was hooked. I checked about thinking there would already be a novel about this place. To my amazement I found nothing.

Someone ought to do something, I thought. Maybe I should do it? But you write young adult fiction! So what?

THE HERETIC marked a genre shift and with it came the responsibility to write truthfully and authentically about both the era, and the people who lived in it. I was used to research (my teen fiction isn't exactly Enid Blyton) but even so, it took nearly three years to produce THE HERETIC, about six times longer than the other books I'd written. That takes serious dedication for everyone involved; writer, publisher, editors etc. I was very blessed to be assigned the author/editor Penelope Wilcock by the publisher; such a privilege to have someone with such experience calling you out to up your game.

WARNING: Intentional Reading Alert
The book is long and complex, reading the reviews has helped me understand that. Even though I have young people, multiple romance, murder, mystery, intrigue, adventure, it came up time and again in the reviews; this is a novel for people who enjoy history and not just a good story with historical window dressing. Yes, you can read it as a whodunit, romance and political thriller, that's fine at one level. But if you want to come to grips with the subtexts about philosophy, religion, power, freedom of conscience, then you are simply expected to know stuff already. I got this from Mantel's Wolf Hall. No laborious parentheticals telling you who Erasmus is! Of course, if some detail is instrumental to the plot then it must be explained; that is the writer/reader pact. But so much of our lives and environments are made up of textures and details that we do not understand, but nevertheless accept as real. I want to write a physical and intellectual world for my readers that is not necessarily explained for them, and yet if they wanted to reach out to examine a detail (say, Google some Latin comment, or reference a clothing detail) then they would find a real world waiting behind each line, each door. 

Some readers allowed this approach to call them up a gear, but not all. And I don't blame the latter. Some readers need to relax and be entertained, that is valid. Their lives are tough enough without having to wade through a book that must be read 'intentionally'. But then again there are others who want that different level, and that is where I feel comfortable and gifted to write. I think there is an emerging market here. The runaway success of Wolf Hall proved it. Some people did want serious historical fiction; meaty, dense, deep, nuanced.

I don't think my first offering is all that, or on a par with Mantel's work, but I do think it is something to aim at for writers who want to do justice to the worthy and not-so-worthy stories that made our world. I am currently engaged on a prequel to THE HERETIC called ABSOLUTION, which deals with the rise of empiricism and rationalism in the High Renaissance Courts of Italy. It is dark, dense, juicy,and complex; with loads of real characters; the Borgias, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, poets, popes, philosophers, rogues. Sometimes I wonder how people will get on with it. I fret about it. But then I hear again, the voice of those medieval writers, 'your job is not to pander to novelty, or to play to the worse angels of our nature but to tell the worthy story faithfully and well.'
And quite frankly, that is a high enough calling for a dyslexic kid who couldn't read until he was twelve!

You can get your copy of The Heretic on Amazon US or Amazon UK. Connect with Henry on his website for more information on his writing and published works.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Writing Superhero

Maria Grace has been kind enough to interview me today as part of her blog series on writing superheroes. You can read it here.

Friday, September 11, 2015

York Sisters in a Tudor World

Much is written about the York remnant after Henry Tudor came to power in 1485. The fate of men like John de la Pole and his brothers is 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 were then named bastards of a dead king.

The history of at least one York princess is 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. Elizabeth is the focus of my novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen. 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 or 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.

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 women 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 published at Tudors Weekly. You can read this and other Tudor history related articles here.