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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Long May She Reign

Newsfeeds are filled with excitement over Queen Elizabeth II today. This is the day that she becomes the longest reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, surpassing the record set by her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria. She is also the longest married British monarch. She and Prince Philip have enjoyed 68 years of wedded bliss.

To celebrate this historic day, I have collected some photos, articles, and videos of this very special lady, who is, incidentally the great (x14) granddaughter of Elizabeth of York.

Elizabeth was a princess during World War II. Her father is the subject of the modern book and movie The King's Speech. While he was ruling, his little princess did more than her fair share, joining the war effort as a mechanic at age 16.


As a representative of The Greatest Generation, Elizabeth has been reigning longer than most of us have been alive! This article by Beth von Staats discusses Elizabeth from this point of view.

Before she became queen, Elizabeth became the wife of Philip, former Prince of Greece and Denmark. He became a British citizen and was named the Duke of Edinburgh before marrying the love-struck young woman who would become queen. She appears to be as captivated by him as ever and can often be caught giving him this look.










The happy couple soon welcomed their first child, Prince Charles, the heir to Elizabeth's crown. More children followed with Princess Anne born in 1950, Prince Andrew in 1960, and Prince Edward in 1964.

Those children did not always follow the path expected of them by their mother or the British public. Queen Elizabeth refers to the year when her children announced that they were divorcing their spouses as her "Annus Horribilis" or horrible year. Through it all, she has been the cornerstone of her family and the country. Hers is arguably the most recognized face in the world.



If you think you know everything there is to know about Elizabeth II, check out this list of 12 surprising facts.

It is reported that Elizabeth did not want any
celebration on this day when she passes a record breaking point in her reign. I hope that she is not too disappointed as people around the world cannot help but recognize and celebrate this special day.

God bless the Queen!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tudor Sons

When Elizabeth of York married Henry Tudor, one of her essential roles was birthing sons to ensure the future of the dynasty that they were creating together. This has long been one of the prime objectives of queens, and Elizabeth would have accepted it and understood its importance. After the usurpation of her brother's crown by her own uncle, the importance - yet at the same time danger - of having men in the family was nothing that she needed explained.

Arthur Tudor
The first royal Tudor couple were quickly rewarded for their efforts, with Prince Arthur arriving a scant 8 months after their marriage ceremony. Efforts to establish this Tudor prince as a uniting force, mingling the bloodlines of Lancaster and York, are evident in the key elements of his short life. Arthur was lauded as even more than the next king. He would be a reincarnation of the King Arthur of legend, bringing peace and prosperity to England.

Arthur was given his own household at Ludlow, just as Elizabeth's brother had before him, demonstrating that traditions would continue under the new regime. A royal princess was found for him to marry, and fate would ensure that Katherine of Aragon became queen of England.

As Arthur was being trained for greatness, two brothers were added to the family. Henry and Edmund were certainly welcomed by parents and countrymen alike, though their birth was not as celebrated as Arthur's. Like all good medieval parents, Elizabeth and Henry planned to dedicate one son to the church. Though it is difficult for those of us who know his story to imagine it, Henry probably believed for much of his young life that he would someday become the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Henry VIII
Edmund became the first of the Tudor sons to enter an early grave when he died of a sweating sickness or the plague in 1500. While Edmund was undoubtedly mourned, Arthur's death was a crushing blow to the Tudor parents, whose grief is well documented. His death in 1502 left young Henry as heir and Elizabeth eager to attempt the birth of another son. Her efforts were in vain. The birth of a little girl in 1503 led to Elizabeth's death on her 37th birthday, and Henry VII was left burying both wife and infant daughter.

The difficulty of bearing sons would go on to be a defining element of the Tudor dynasty. Henry VII left his throne to his son in 1509. Henry VIII was a fit, intelligent, and virile 18 year old when his father died, and the future seemed bright. He married his brother's widow and could have never foreseen his challenge to bear an heir.

Edward VI
The Tudor dynasty came to an end within three generations due to the failure of Henry and his children to bear sons. The one hard fought for son that Henry VIII did leave behind became King Edward VI. Unfortunately, he also died at the age of 15, before marrying or bearing sons. Edward's sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, were no more successful in the extending of the family tree.

Where a multitude of sons may have had unforeseeable consequences to the Plantagenet dynasty, eventually causing it to be snuffed out entirely by the Wars of the Roses, a painful lack of sons become the death toll of the Tudor dynasty.