Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Gertrude Jekyll and the Old Rose

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

Welcome, Tessa!
~ Samantha

Guest Post by Tessa Arlen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with the Author

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

York Sisters in a Tudor World

The York Princesses
Stained Glass Canterbury Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each of these sisters played a role in the life 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.

Elizabeth's story is available on Amazon and Audible. It is FREE to read with Kindle Unlimited.

This article was originally written for in September 2015

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why Margaret Beaufort?

My guest today is a kindred spirit. Judith and I share a love of the Tudor era and the amazing woman who helped to form it. Her latest series features a woman who is more often made the villain in novels, so I asked her about her inspiration for writing from the point of view of the woman famous for being a force behind her son's throne, Margaret Beaufort.

Welcome, Judith! I am happy you are here!
~ Samantha

Guest Post by Judith Arnopp

I am often asked why I chose to write about Margaret Beaufort and, although I hate to answer a question with a question, my usual reply is ‘Why wouldn’t I?’ Poor Margaret has gained quite a negative reputation, especially in fiction and I think it has a lot to do with her portraits. The portraiture of most of the women I’ve written about, Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Parr, Elizabeth of York, depict young, attractive women who’ve the added bonus of a touch of romance in their lives. Unfortunately for Margaret, her surviving portraits were painted late in life; she appears dour faced, pious and elderly. I believe this severe image has tainted the way authors have chosen to depict her.

It is clear Margaret was never a great beauty, and she never enjoyed a great royal romance but her impact upon history is undeniable. Margaret’s political involvement in the wars of the roses helped establish the Tudor dynasty, and her role in Henry’s government stabilised it. When I write I imagine I am the protagonist. In Margaret’s case I wanted to access the girl and the young woman, so I put away the portrait of the old lady and imagined a painfully young child thrust into the adult world.

Putting aside the assumptions that have been made and using only the known facts of her life, I came up with a rather different view of Margaret. Throughout my life I have favoured York over Lancaster but when it comes to writing I have to be objective. I do not demonise for the sake of drama, history is exciting enough without making too much up. Obviously I use my imagination to fill in gaps, add dialogue etc. but I examine the factual evidence and do my best to consider, without bias, the deeper character of the person I am writing about. When writing in the first person I also have to remember that we are all blind to our own negative side, and Margaret would never have seen her own actions as flawed. This helps me to illustrate her possible motivations without evoking the almost pantomime villain she has become.

Margaret is often blamed for the disappearance of the princes from the Tower but I have found nothing in the record to prove it; there are plenty of other candidates who could be held equally as culpable. Unauthorised entry to the Tower was just not possible; whatever the fate of the boys, it was carried out with either the knowledge of the king or the Constable of the Tower.

Margaret’s life, even before her rise to power, was interesting. From infancy she was the sole heiress of the Duke of Somerset, her hand in marriage pursued almost from the cradle. She married four times, her first marriage to John de la Pole took place when she was just six years old but was quickly annulled. Her second marriage, this time to Edmund Tudor at the age of twelve, was also short lived, his death leaving her widowed and pregnant at the age of thirteen. In extremity she turned for support to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor and gave birth of her only son at his stronghold in Pembroke. It is believed the birth left Margaret so damaged she could conceive no further children.

Her third marriage to Henry Stafford, second son of the Duke of Buckingham, was of her own choosing, providing her with access to Edward IV’s court. In the years that followed Margaret trod a dangerous path through the complexities of the war between York and Lancaster – her heart lay with her Lancaster kin, but when York finally won the throne she seems to have bowed to the inevitable and accepted Edward IV’s rule.

With the royal nursery quickly filling with York heirs, the idea of Henry Tudor ever attainting the throne at this time would not have occurred to her but she petitioned instead for his pardon and the return of his estates.  

Margaret managed to survive the upheaval of the next few years while power passed to and fro between York and Lancaster. Henry Stafford died of wounds received at Barnet, fighting for York, leaving Margaret widowed again. She remarried swiftly, choosing for her final husband the powerful northern magnate, Thomas Stanley. This union brought Margaret even closer to the royal family where she formed a link with the Queen, Elizabeth Woodville; a relationship which, after King Edward’s sudden death in 1483, was to develop into intrigue.

Initially she seems to have accepted Richard of Gloucester’s claim to the throne, bearing the new Queen, Anne Neville’s train at the coronation. It was not until later that she began to plot actively to place her own son on the throne but there is nothing to suggest she was complicit in any plan to murder the princes. In fact, there is no actual evidence that they were killed at all – they disappeared, there were later murmurings against Gloucester but nothing has ever been satisfactorily proven. It is the mystery surrounding this period in history that makes it so interesting and irresistible to authors. There are as many theories as there are candidates for the crime (if any existed).

After Bosworth, when Henry became king, Margaret was finally in a position of power. She is often portrayed as the ‘mother-in-law from hell’ but, while there may have been initial resentments between Margaret and Henry’s queen, Elizabeth of York, as there often are between in-laws, ultimately relations between the two women were amicable. While the queen confined her interests to the royal nursery and charitable works, playing no part in administration, Margaret took a leading role in Henry’s government. She was one of his chief advisors, taking charge of finances and the running of the royal household, overseeing the upbringing and education of the royal children.

In my novels that form The Beaufort Chronicles, writing from Margaret’s perspective, I try to illustrate her motives, show the events and the people of the fifteenth century through her eyes. I have to ‘know’ only what she may have known. I give voice to her inner self, her passions, even the negative thoughts we all have but never speak aloud. Novels are, of course, only fiction but after the treatment she has received in both fiction and non-fiction, I think she is deserving of a voice.

People love to have someone to blame, and Margaret being plain, pious and forthright provides the perfect scapegoat. She was clearly no beauty but her portraits were taken in later life; the purpose was not to display her good looks but rather her piety, her charity and her intelligence which were, in those days, virtues to be proud of. It seems strange that today these characteristics have come to be regarded in the negative.

Piety in the middle ages was the norm; it would have been far more remarkable if she’d been atheist or lax at prayer. In the twenty-first century we have become uneasy around intense devotion to God, and because of this, in trying to make sense of emotions that are foreign to us, authors have resorted to portraying her as a religious fanatic. But perhaps, if we had to endure the unsanitary conditions of the fifteen century; the child mortality, the frequent bouts of pestilence and famine, and the ever-present threat of death we too might turn to the protection of a greater supernatural power.

I won’t deny that Margaret was a forthright woman but determination gets things done and Margaret is one of the few medieval women to have set out, virtually unaided, to achieve her goals. Initially, she seems to have accepted York’s rule, she was compliant under Edward IV and in the early part of Richard III’s reign but at some point, her agenda altered and she began to work toward what she saw as the rights of her son.

Margaret played a huge part in providing Henry with the means to invade England and take possession of the throne. After Bosworth and the reward of seeing her only child crowned King of England she could have sat back and enjoyed her dotage. Instead, she continued to work diligently for the Tudor cause. She assisted in the establishment of the dynasty and was a key figure at Henry’s court, building the public Tudor image, attending to the administration of the court, and overseeing the raising of the Tudor heirs.

Tudors are not everyone’s favourite royal dynasty and there are those who will never see virtue in Margaret Beaufort’s role in the wars of the roses but, dynastic preferences aside, she was a strong determined person, a religious person who did not rely on beauty to buy her way into power. She relied solely upon her remarkably agile mind. If she were a man she’d be hailed as a political genius.

Connect with Judith

Judith’s historical novels offer a view of the Tudor court from the perspective of the women close to the throne.

Her work includes:
The Beaufort Bride: Book One of The Beaufort Chronicles
The Beaufort Woman: Book Two of The Beaufort Chronicles
The King’s Mother: Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicles – coming soon

A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII
The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn

Medieval Novels
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mary Takes A Stand

Princess Mary Tudor
By summertime of 1533, the Lady Mary, or Princess Mary as she continued to style herself, had endured much during the course of her short life. She was seventeen, an age when most of her peers were either married or planning an advantageous match. However, Mary's uncertain status left her in an awkward limbo. She was the daughter of the king, but no longer his heir. Betrothals for her had been made and broken, but Henry VIII seemed in no hurry to give legitimacy to his daughter's position by finding her a high-born spouse.

Mary's mother was locked away to clear the path for her father's new wife, Anne Boleyn, who was pregnant with the child that Henry prayed would be his long-awaited son. These were anxious days for Mary, knowing that a son would certainly take her place - in the succession and in her father's heart. Still, Mary decided to take a stand against her father, much as her mother had before her.

Henry may have felt that he was making an inconsequential request when he ordered Lord Hussey, Mary's chamberlain, to send Mary's royal jewels. Mary had been given no choice in accepting her father's new marriage, but here she found a small way to stand up for herself. With the support of her steadfast governess, Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury, Mary refused to turn over her jewelry. Margaret informed Hussey that it 'cannot conveniently be spared.'

King Henry VIII
As Henry received reports of his daughter's stubbornness and pride, Mary's household moved to Beaulieu. This is where she would receive the news that she had a new half-sister. Mary must have wondered what this would mean for her. From her point of view, even a boy would have been an illegitimate brother, like the Duke of Richmond, but, surely, another girl could not displace her the way a boy would have. But Henry's wrath at Mary's disobedience and his own disappointment would ensure that any relief Mary experienced was short-lived.

As strongly as Mary felt that her mother was the king's only true wife and she his only true heir, Henry and Anne were just as staunchly certain of their union. Unfortunately for Mary, Henry was the one in charge. Shortly following Elizabeth's birth on September 7, 1533, Henry revoked Mary's right to her household livery, her coat of arms, along with the title of princess. Her household was reduced, though the loyal Countess of Salisbury remained at her side. Overstepping her bounds more than she knew, Mary wrote to her father, incredulously stating that she had received a letter referring to her as "'the Lady Mary, the king's daughter', leaving out the name of princess. I marvelled at this, thinking your grace was not privy to it."

He was. And he did not appreciate the impudence of his eldest daughter.

Henry took a step that could leave no doubt of Mary's status in his eyes. He demanded that she acknowledge her illegitimacy and admit that his marriage to her mother had been invalid. Mary replied that her father might give her any title that he liked, but she was rightly called princess. It was a title only God could take from her. If Mary hoped to somehow stir her father's love or pity for her, she had misplayed her hand.

Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury
Henry dissolved Mary's household, ordering her to serve within the household of her sister, pointedly referred to as Princess Elizabeth. A place within the household of a royal sister is not a poor position if one has been raised under the shadow of illegitimacy, but Mary had been raised to expect more. Much more.

The Countess of Salisbury begged to be allowed to serve Mary, offering to cover her household expenses from her own budget, but Henry refused. This was not about his pocketbook, it was about putting these women in their place. He knew that Margaret was a close friend of his first wife and that she had stirred up this brazen defiance in his daughter. Both women would be left wondering if they had made the right choice. Would it have been better to hand over the jewels and concede to being called Lady Mary?

Hindsight did not benefit Mary as she was bundled away to join her sister's household at Hatfield House just before Christmas 1533. The battle lines were drawn between Mary and her father, but she would eventually have her victory.

Additional Reading:
The First Queen of England by Linda Porter
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 by Hazel Pierce

Thursday, March 2, 2017

From the Scriptorium: March 2017

March 2017 Edition

Queen of Martyrs is available for pre-order on Kindle!

I am thrilled with the feedback that I have received so far from beta readers and am eager to release Mary's story to the world. If you order today, it will be delivered to your Kindle bright and early on April 12!

'God save the Queen! God save our good Queen Mary!'

When these words rang out over England, Mary Tudor thought her troubles were over. She could put her painful past - the loss of her mother and mistreatment at the hands of her father - behind her.

With her accession to the throne, Mary set out to restore Catholicism in England and find the love of a husband that she had long desired. But the tragedies in Mary's life were far from over. How did a gentle, pious woman become known as 'Bloody Mary'?

Featured Reviews

Read the first Goodreads review of Queen of Martyrs!

Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen on Knight of Angels

Faithful Traitor on Themis-Athena's Garden of Books

Over the Deep on Amazon

Upcoming Event

Join me for An Evening with An Author at the Michigan Library Association Spring Institute in Frankenmuth, MI. Proceeds from this event will support local children's literacy efforts. 

Tickets are on sale now.  I look forward to seeing you there!

In the News

This month I was excited to be invited to History Rocks! Check out my post discussing some strong women who may have been bastardized princess but went on to become queens.

The Fine Line Between Bastard and Princess

I also celebrated the birthday of Queen Mary I with a post at English Historical Fiction Authors that challenges readers to rethink their assumptions about 'Bloody Mary'. 

The Unpopular Tudor

Did you miss it?

Historical fiction author Suzy Henderson wrote a wonderful post for my blog this month on the sacrificial work of Sir Archibald McIndoe during World War II. Check out this amazing story that served as her inspiration for her novel, The Beauty Shop.

Hope in the Midst of War

My post on Reginald Pole receiving news of his mother's execution has skyrocketed to the top of my most viewed articles. I am happy to discover that I am not the only one intrigued by the tragic Pole family.

Reginald Pole Learns of his Mother's Execution

You can also catch up with my Historic Places blog series and take a virtual tour of some amazing destinations!

I have some wonderful guests and posts planned for March, so stay tuned! Subscribe to my blog using the form at the right to make sure you don't miss a thing. You can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Hazards of Being King

Today, I am excited to welcome historical fiction author Trisha Hughes to my blog to celebrate the release of her epic new novel, Vikings to Virgin - The Hazards of Being King. It is the first installment in a planned V to V trilogy. Trisha joins us to discuss her inspiration for such a sweeping story covering English history through the middle ages. Welcome, Trisha!

~ Samantha

Guest post by Trisha Hughes

History has always been a fascination for me and after years of devouring everything I could on British monarchy, it seemed only logical for me to begin putting my findings down on paper. What I discovered were kings who ruled for only a few months and some who ruled for over fifty years. There were also some who should never have ruled at all. It would seem that in history, to be an English king and to be murdered was no more than a hazard of the job. King after king developed and years later, a complete book finally emerged. But the words, ‘Would anyone actually want to read a history book?’ rang loudly in my ears. Until I read a quote by Rudyard Kipling. ‘If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.’

So with those words ringing in my ears, that’s what I decided to do. I told a story of kings who struggled to keep their throne, of horrendous bloody battles, of tiny boys becoming rulers, of ruthless usurpers and of queens who proved to be more powerful than anyone could have ever imagined. I wrote of invading armies, of rival family members, of conspiracies and I wrote of the vain, the corrupt, the adulterers, the swindlers and the cowards. These people all had one thing in common: during their own lifetimes they were the most powerful people in the land.

My story started when Britain was just a race of people struggling to survive, well before the Romans or the Vikings invaded Britain and I continued through to the end of Queen Mary I’s reign when Queen Elizabeth I stepped up to the throne. Very soon, the first book in my ‘V 2 V’ trilogy, ‘Vikings to Virgin – the Hazards of being King’, was complete.

If you ask most people which part of history they find most interesting, the answer is often the Tudors. Their dynasty began in a bloodbath when Henry Tudor, who barely had a drop of royal blood coursing through his veins, usurped the throne. His descendants weren’t a shy lot and they followed on with gusto.

But Henry’s dynasty wasn’t the only one that started with brazen usurpation. Britain’s history goes back much further than that. First there were the Romans, then the Saxons followed by Sweyne Forkbeard and the Vikings who invaded England in 960 AD. In 1066 AD, the Normans led by William the Conqueror took over and from there, the Plantagenet dynasty soon surfaced in violence and brutality after the throne see-sawed between King Stephen and Queen Matilda. Finally it settled with Matilda’s son Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet dynasty.

There’s no doubt about it, the Plantagenets were powerful. They were rough masters and times were violent. Heroes were born but so were villains and their names echo through history. Early Plantagenet years were full of savagery and cruelty but by the end of the dynasty, they had transformed England into a sophisticated revered kingdom. But it was a long hard struggle during which the War of the Roses emerged.

The War of the Roses was basically a terrible family squabble between royal cousins where each house was eager to snatch the crown and the throne of England for themselves away from other family members.

These two royal houses, the symbolic red rose of the Lancasters and the equally symbolic white rose of the Yorks, were both making a claim for the throne.

It ended up being a long and bloody battle with sporadic periods of extreme violence and bloodshed and an unprecedented number of attempts to usurp the throne. It was a dangerous period in history full of unfathomable brutality, shifting alliances, murders, betrayals, plots and the savage elimination of other direct descendants of the Plantagenets.

These uprisings were dramatic and the dubious logic of revenge worked well for all sides. In actual fact, it was a power struggle that comes across as blue-blooded gangsterism with the prime antagonists being members of the landed gentry. Many of them controlled huge estates with powerful alliances, all trying to improve their political position and their own personal lot in life.

The conflict began after the dreadful reign of Richard II and it’s truly understandable why people were glad to see the last of him. But whether Henry IV was any better than Richard and whether people who lived in those times knew the tragedy that was about to unfold is anyone’s guess.

We can probably blame Edward III for all of this. He and his wife had 13 children including 5 strong-minded boys who all reached maturity. He arranged solid marriages for all of them with English heiresses and created the first ever Dukedoms of Cornwall, Clarence, Lancaster, York and Gloucester. Their descendants were the ones fighting each other fiercely for the throne.

Like most families, differences and intrigue slowly emerged and it wasn’t until 1455 with the first Battle at St Albans that anyone even knew there were two sides. This period in time seems to have been an experiment in monarchy as king after king came and went in very quick succession. But as with most rebellions, it left both sides vulnerable since it usually meant that battles were fought ‘to the bitter end’, leaving fewer contenders alive after every battle.

When it comes to brutality, historians point their fingers at Richard III as the one surpassing the rest. Richard III, after all, was the last of the Plantagenet kings who is believed to have placed his nephews in the Tower and ordered their murder to gain the thrown. But for me, much like King John’s dreadful reputation, I’m not convinced that reputation is truly deserved. There were extenuating circumstances for both kings and as with Richard, there were many others who had good reason to want the young princes removed. For instance, there was Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry Tudor who would prove to be ruthless beyond imagination. And let’s not forget that if the princes were indeed alive, both Richard and Henry would have wanted them out of the way.

It’s been suggested by some historians that Richard had stashed the princes in the Tower of London for safe keeping while he ruled in peace. It has also been suggested that it was in fact Henry Tudor, when he was King Henry VII, who had the princes executed between June and July of 1486 when his stepfather, Lord Stanley, (who was married to Henry’s mother Margaret Beaufort), was High Constable of the Tower two years later. Richard was long gone by then. It was only after this date that orders went out to circulate the story that Richard had killed the princes. This could easily have been to cover up Henry’s own involvement in their murder. It has also been suggested that Elizabeth Woodville knew that this story was false, and so Henry had to have her ‘silenced’ by confining her to a nunnery where she died six years later.

The story of the kings and queens of England is a wonderful drama and far more surprising than you might think. Times were brutal and the royals felt the need to take certain measures into their own hands. It was hard enough to snatch the throne for themselves. Keeping it was even harder. In this first book of my trilogy, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’, I tell the story of British Monarchs from the early Vikings to Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, as they walked, ran, stumbled and bled through the centuries.

And I’ve loved every minute of it.

About the Author

Trisha Hughes started her writing career with her autobiography ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ eighteen years ago. The debut novel was first published by Pan Macmillan Australia and became a bestseller in 1997 beating the current Stephen King book to the top 10 bestsellers at the time.  Since then she has discovered a thirst for writing.  She’s written crime novels but her latest book, the first in her ‘V 2 V’ trilogy, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ is her passion and due for release on 28th February 2017. She is currently working on the second in the series ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.’

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