Thursday, January 28, 2016

Historic Places: Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare's Birthplace
We are still making our way up the western side of England as we explore a sampling of the historic places that Britain has to offer. Before you know it, we will be in Scotland, but first we will enjoy a stop in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's Birthplace (rear)
This is a lovely little Tudor style town with several of the distinctive timber beam structures, and even more painted to look like that's what they are. Two of the finest examples are homes directly related to Stratford's most famous resident. The home that Shakespeare lived in as a child sits on the main pedestrianized street next to a museum dedicated to him. Even before his own success, it is clear that his family was affluent based on the home that is an impressive size for the 16th century.

Anne Hathaway's childhood home is also restored and open as a museum, displaying more Tudor charm with its English garden and thatched roof. The home remained in her family after she married her famous playwright and visitors can enjoy a visit and step back in time.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage
Even those who are not fans of Shakespeare can enjoy a stroll through the welcoming streets of Stratford. Personally, I enjoyed the fact that we had our first affordable meal since arriving in England during this stop. This is where I decided that I would test ciders while traveling since I kept being offered chardonnay when I requested sweet wine. I had the first of many delicious, fruity ciders here in Stratford. We also got to explore a used book store and would have loved to investigate more shops but it was time to hurry back to the bus.
Henley Street

I digress, back to the history of Stratford. The whimsical sounding name Stratford-upon-Avon comes from the fact that a Roman road ran along a river where this settlement popped up. 'Straet ford' is the ford by the Roman road, and 'avon' simply means river. In fact, Avon is the name of several rivers in Britain. Thank the Saxons and Celts for their lovely language that makes up for a lack of imagination in naming things.

Stratford Shops
A market town that managed to thrive through the plague years, Stratford was bustling by Tudor times when the son of a successful glove maker and the daughter of wealthy farmer got together and made history. Modern Stratford continues to enjoy success due to the tourism industry made possible by this beloved couple. Whether you visit their former homes, take in a show at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre overlooking the river, or simply enjoy an afternoon in Stratford's shops, Stratford is a town you will enjoy visiting.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Historic Places: Cotswolds

The Cotswold region of England is defined by its low rolling hills, quaint homes built from Cotswold stone, and meadows of sheep outlined by stone walls. This picturesque area is what comes to mind when people imagine their idea of the English countryside. Much of it looks the same as it has for hundreds of years, largely unruined by industry and modernization. A tour through the Cotswolds is ideal for relaxation and taking in scenery.

The city of Bath is in the southern part of the Cotswolds, and it is the gem of the region with its abbey, Roman baths, and beautiful Georgian Bath stone architecture. Stretching up toward Stratford-upon-Avon, which will be covered in its own post, villages like Stow-on-the-Wold are sprinkled throughout the area, giving visitors charming opportunities to enjoy local culture and history.

Throughout medieval times and up until industrialization reinvented the economy, the Cotswold region was exceptionally affluent due to the wool trade. One can still see plenty of sheep grazing on the green grass of the Cotswolds, but it has been centuries since wool made anyone rich. In fact, subsidies are in place to keep sheep farming a viable living for those who enjoy it. The prosperous wool merchant is a artefact of the past.

As a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Cotswolds are preserved and protected from new building that would undermine the character of the region. The majority of buildings are created from Cotswold stone, a deeper golden version of Bath stone, so that even the homes and businesses look as though they naturally appeared there. A village that is a wonderful example of this is Stow-on-the-Wold.

Perched on a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside, Stow is an ancient market village that still boasts its medieval era stocks as you enter town. The elegent stone buildings and gardens will give you the feeling that you have stepped back in time, as will some of the passageways that were not built with modern heights in mind! Stow is also the location of a English Civil War battle in 1646, having played host to King Charles I on several occassions throughout the years of the wars.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Take a Titanic Adventure for only 99c

For one week only, Over the Deep is on sale for only 99c/p!

Kids have a snow day? No problem. This blend of adventure and historical facts will keep them riveted to the page.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Margaret Myths: Guest Post by Catherine Hokin

Join me in welcoming Catherine Hokin to my blog today! I am happy to be a part of the blog tour to announce the release of Catherine's novel, Blood and Roses, in which she challenges some of the best known myths surrounding Margaret of Anjou. If the name alone conjures up images of a villain, read on.  ~ Samantha

The Margaret Myths

“Foreigner, white devil, shrew, virago, vengeful fury.”

I am indebted to Dorothea Kehler (Shakespeare’s Widows) for that brilliant summation of the way Shakespeare portrays Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482), the protagonist of my novel Blood and Roses. Our beloved bard is rather obsessed with her – Margaret appears in all three parts of Henry IV and, with a complete disregard for historical fact, in Richard III where Shakespeare pulls no punches, describing her as “a foul wrinkled witch’ and a ‘hateful with’red hag.”

Shakespeare’s Margaret is evil and twisted almost to the point of parody: wandering round Court clutching the severed head of her supposed lover the Duke of Suffolk; rubbing a cloth soaked in his son’s blood all over the Duke of York’s face before placing a paper crown on his head and stabbing him; prophesying evil falling on the House of York like a medieval Cassandra. As a character portrayal it is over-wrought at best; as an historical source it is deeply suspect, as we would expect given that the plays were written for Elizabeth I as pieces of political propaganda. But the myths about the evil ‘she-wolf’ persist and Shakespeare’s portrayal is the one many people recognise, which is where I came in…

The challenge for a historical novelist is to get underneath the sources, separate the fact from the fiction (often just as important) and find the stories hidden in the gaps – imagine miners scrabbling in the dark for that nugget which turns those never-ending ‘but why?’ moments into narrative gold.

I like challenging women who won’t conform to the customs and pre-conceptions of their time, Margaret always struck me as the epitome of this which is why I chose her as the protagonist of my first novel.

There is, of course, the real Margaret and my Margaret. The real Margaret was described by a contemporary as a “great and strong-laboured woman” – that fits the bill rather nicely. She was a Queen Consort – her role was essentially to be an intercessor and a peacemaker which is all very well except she was married to the weak, ill and ineffectual King Henry VI at a time when the English Crown was very much the spoils of war. Margaret’s crime? She was politically astute, well-educated (by very strong women role models) and perfectly able to rule in an England that would not countenance her doing so. Her punishment? To be made the scapegoat for her husband’s failings, a not uncommon process of female vilification in the medieval period as Diana E.S. Dunn discusses in War and Society in Medieval Britain.

So who is my Margaret? I hope you will find everything the real one was and more: a strong, deeply intelligent women driven by ambition and perfectly capable of manipulating circumstances to her own advantage – believe me, Jacquetta Woodville in my novel deeply regrets ever pretending to play at witchcraft.

What is she not? A crone, a murderess or a woman so foolish that she would take a cast of lovers including the Duke of Suffolk who was 34 years older than her, only a man could have written that…

Blood and Roses – it’s not a romance, there’s far too much blood for that but I hope it is a portrayal of a woman you will be as fascinated by as me. Perhaps I need to let you hear from the lady herself in a short extract…

I am alone.

She sat in a Court bustling with people and knew the truth of it.

I am alone.

If anyone of them knew what I plan to do, what I will make Jacquetta and Rivers party to, they would drive me from this throne and there would be no one to defend me.

I am alone but I am winning.

The thought brought a smile to her lips and everyone watching her wondered what brought such a sparkle to her eyes and a softening to her face the Court rarely saw these days.

I am winning because they hate me less than they despise York for his ambitions and pretensions.

Her smile deepened as she remembered the reluctance with which York had been forced to swear his allegiance to Henry just days before when the support he presumed would follow his second attack on Somerset had simply melted away. It was a smile so full of warmth, the courtiers began to look around them for the object of her delight. 

She was no fool; she could sense the power in the country shifting. There were risings from Derbyshire to Devon, local grievances in the main but with the potential to become far more dangerous. It was already becoming treacherously unstable in the North where the Nevilles and the Percies had rekindled past hatreds and looked set to plunge the whole region into chaos. And she knew well enough how close York was  to his nephew Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, knew that he would watch the North like a hawk ready to swoop and make any rebellion his. 

But, for now, she was winning and York was gone from Court and, if the real danger was not in the plan but in the execution, she was ready to face that.  So she smiled and her women whispered and she hugged her secret close.

About Blood and Roses

Blood and Roses – a novel of Margaret of Anjou and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses by Catherine Hokin.
The English Crown – a bloodied, restless prize.
The one contender strong enough to hold it? A woman. Margaret of Anjou: a French Queen in a hostile country, born to rule but refused the right, shackled to a King lost in a shadow-land.
When a craving for power becomes a crusade, when two rival dynasties rip the country apart in their desire to rule it and thrones are the spoils of a battlefield, the stakes can only rise. And if the highest stake you have is your son?
You play it.

Blood and Roses, a work of historical fiction, retells the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-82), wife of Henry VI and a key protagonist in the Wars of the Roses. This is a feminist revision of a woman frequently imagined only as the shadowy figure demonised by Shakespeare. Blood and Roses examines Margaret as a Queen unable to wield the power and authority she is capable of, as a wife trapped in marriage to a man born to be a saint and as a mother whose son meets a terrible fate she has set in motion.

The story opens in 1480 with Margaret as an unwilling exile in France and is structured as a reflection on the events of her life and the relationships that shaped it, primarily her son Edward, her husband Henry IV, Anne Neville and the Earl of Warwick.

The novel spans 1435 to 1480. The dynastic conflicts around the throne, known to a modern audience as the Wars of the Roses, are the main backdrop to the story including the battles which were some of the bloodiest ever fought.

​The main conflicts in the novel reflect both the issues of the age – the challenge of holding onto a crown in a kingdom riven by dynastic struggle in which loyalties shift like quicksand – and the personal price to be paid by being a woman outside her time. In trying to resolve her marriage and its desperate need for an heir, shape her son for a dangerous future and reconcile her ambition with her lack of power, does Margaret become the author of her own fate?

A key issue for historians has been the relationship between Margaret of Anjou and her husband Henry IV (who suffered from what has been described as narcolepsy, resulting in long periods of what are best described as coma) and the paternity of her son, born 8 years into what was a seemingly barren marriage. Blood and Roses offers a solution to the paternity question rooted in Margaret’s political acumen and her relationship with Jacquetta Woodville – a friendship which ended in a betrayal that has never been fully explored.

This is a novel about power: winning it, the sacrifices made for it and its value. It is also a novel about a woman out of her time, playing a game ultimately no one can control.
from Yolk Publishing.

About the Author

Catherine is a Glasgow-based author with a degree in History from Manchester University. After years of talking about it, she finally started writing seriously about 3 years ago, researching and writing her debut novel, Blood and Roses, which will be published in January 2016 by Yolk Publishing. The novel tells the story of Margaret of Anjou and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses, exploring the relationship between Margaret and her son and her part in shaping the course of the bloody political rivalry of the fifteenth century. About a year ago, Catherine also started writing short stories - she was recently 3rd prize winner in the 2015 West Sussex Writers Short Story Competition and a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition. She regularly blogs as Heroine Chic, casting a historical, and often hysterical, eye over women in history, popular culture and life in general.

Connect with Catherine Hokin

Connect with Catherine Hokin through her website, blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Get Blood and Roses at or Amazon US!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Historic Places: City of Bath

You've probably seen images of Bath in movies or British television programs. It has been featured in a vast array of films from Les Miserables to Persuasion to the new Poldark series. This fairytale-like city is the ideal backdrop for historic stories due to its picturesque setting and homogeneous design. Having an idea of what to expect in no way prepares you for that first view from the road up above when the breathtaking city of Bath suddenly appears in the valley below.

Bath has been settled since at least the first century AD, as evinced by excavations of the Roman ruins that include the famous baths that give the city its name. Though the site is centuries old, new discoveries continue to be made as researchers - and sometimes construction workers - reveal new finds on a regular basis. When you visit the Roman Baths, you may be surprised by the sprawling size and how close it places you to ancient history. Visitors are invited to enter many of the rooms that were once frequented by Romans, and a handy audio tour enables you to complete the picture by filling in the gaps left in the ruins and describing the function of each room. A glass floor allows you to see the innovative heating system that was used to keep rooms so warm that sandals had to be worn in order to avoid burning bare feet. You will not find another example of preserved history quite like this anywhere in northern Europe.

UNESCO has named Bath a World Heritage site of Outstanding Universal Value largely due to the presence of the Roman Baths and Temple of Sulis Minerva, but Bath has much more to offer. Bath Abbey built by Henry VII stands just a few steps from the Roman Baths and is a stunning example of Gothic Architecture that blends in seamlessly with the Georgian style that makes up the remainder of the city. Though the Abbey had not been completed by the time the first Tudor king's son enacted the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Bath Abbey, unlike so many other religious houses, survived the wrath of Henry VIII. One of the most eye-catching features of the front of this church is the ladder that begins at the top of the church door and displays angels traversing to and from heaven. The interior of the Abbey is no less riveting with extraordinary stained glass that is a more recent addition since the original glass did not escape Henry VIII's notice. Started in 1499, Bath Abbey may be the latest example of medieval cathedral architecture, and it continues as a center of worship to this day.

Both of these popular tourist stops are ones that you should not miss, but the magic of Bath is the city itself. Designed by father and son architects, John Wood Senior and Junior, along with Ralph Allen and Richard Nash, Bath is the result of a dream to create the most beautiful city in the world. Many agree that they achieved this goal. The city was completely rebuilt in the 18th century to create an inviting and aesthetically pleasing community. The buildings are built from locally quarried Bath Stone that has a light golden color similar to sandstone. The facades of terrace houses were designed to give a uniform appearance of a single structure, while residents were free to design their homes as they chose behind the facade. The result is a hodgepodge of sizes and evidence of originality if you get a rear view of one of the row houses.

Some of the best known and most visually stunning examples of Bath architecture include the Circus, Pulteney Bridge, and the Royal Crescent.

The Circus was designed by John Wood in the fashion of the Roman Colosseum, circular in form and growing more ornate as one moves up the height of the buildings. Wood used the dimensions of Stonehenge as the basis of his design, creating a 318' diameter for the elegant curved structures. Unfortunately Wood did not survive to see more than the beginning of construction, which was then finished by his son.

John Wood the Younger also went on to design the Royal Crescent, another curved facade that looks out onto Victoria Park. Very similar in style to the Circus buildings, the Royal Crescent stretches 30 townhouses wide and includes some of the highest priced real estate in the city.

Completed in 1774, Pulteney Bridge was designed to imitate Venetian style architecture with shops lining the entire span of the bridge. While the bridge has undergone renovations and rebuilding in the years since, it remains one of only four bridges of its type in the world.

Bath has long been a desirable home for those who love the architecture nestled within natural beauty as well as a private getaway for the rich and famous. Strolling down the streets that seem to have emerged straight from a storybook, you will quickly understand why.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Unmasking the Villain

I am a guest at the Henry Tudor Society today, discussing why neither Richard III nor Henry VII is a villain.

It has become standard practice for history enthusiasts to be an unquestioning supporter of either Henry VII or Richard III, naming the other as the worst villain of their age. Is this a fair assessment? Keep reading...

Friday, January 1, 2016

Celebrate 2016 with a Kindle Sale!

The promotion of Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen as an Amazon UK Kindle Monthly Deal went so well that I decided my US readers deserve a sale as well! Let's ring in the new year with bestselling historical fiction for only $1.99. One week only - get it before it's gone!

Thanks to all who read and review, and happy new year!