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  • The Countess 'Frances Villiers' by Tim Clarke

    The Scandalous Life of Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey

    I did not really mean to write the biography of Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey (1753-1821).

    At school I had enjoyed history. So when I went to university to study law with a view to becoming a lawyer, I promised myself that I would retire early from the law and once more become a historian. I even identified the lady whose biography I would write.

    Unfortunately, some years before I could achieve my ambition, someone else wrote that biography – and there was no room for another.

    Frances, Countess of Jersey, mezzotint by Thomas Watson, after Daniel Gardner, (1774). (c. National Portrait Gallery, London, The Countess, Amberley Publishing)

    But in fact I was lucky. Somehow I lighted instead on Lady Jersey, an extraordinary woman who led an extraordinary life, a leader of Society in the late 18th century. Writing her biography, the first one ever, was a wonderful journey of discovery which took me to some marvellous places, including the bowels of Chatsworth, the Round Tower at Windsor Castle, Duke Humfrey’s Library in the Bodleian and the private side at Castle Howard. From these and other collections I used, in writing the book, some 500 printed sources dating back to the 18th century, many hundred contemporary press reports and thousands of original manuscripts.

    My research showed that the Countess was the victim of history. Mention her name and everyone thinks ‘Ah yes, the mistress of King George IV when he was Prince of Wales – the one who behaved so badly’. She was, they say, the woman who amongst her many other sins spiked Princess Caroline’s drinks to get her drunk, put Epsom salts in the Princess’s food to make her sick, tormented her by curtailing her liberty and in jealous pique at her dismissal by the Prince hounded him for years in revenge. In short, she is seen as a disreputable footnote to history with no more to be said.

    Based on that research my biography, whilst telling the untold story of her life, demolishes the pantheon of mythology which surrounds the Countess, even in the highest academic circles. Disreputable she was indeed. But she was also beautiful, witty, the epitome of style, and charming beyond belief. Indeed the press of her day christened her ‘the Enchantress’ – she could bend others to her will even against their better judgment. And I show that many of the specific stories which surround her to this today are false. In some cases they are just made up – for example she is accused of humiliating Princess Caroline by making her dress in white, a colour which did not suit her. In fact, Caroline’s mother, the Duchess of Brunswick, had recommended that she dress in white for the very reason that that colour did suit her. In other cases the acts of another Countess of Jersey are wrongly attributed to Frances. So it was not Frances Jersey who waltzed with the Emperor of Russia to annoy the Prince of Wales, it was her daughter-in-law, Sally, Countess of Jersey who did that. Wrong-doing was attributed to the lady with the reputation.

    George IV as Prince of Wales, by John Hoppner. (c. Trustees of the Wallace Collection, The Countess, Amberley Publishing)

    Still, there is no denying that she was disreputable. She lived in the fast set of Society. Her children had at least four different fathers and she had a continuous stream of lovers over 40 years. One was the Earl of Carlisle and another was his son, 30 years Frances’ junior. Another she discarded so he could marry one of her daughters. The most famous lover, when Frances 18 years his senior and was already a grandmother, was the Prince of Wales and this was where her reputation really suffered.

    Whilst mistress of the Prince, she became the most hated woman in the land, burned in effigy, her carriage pelted by the mob and ostracized by Society. Her actions whilst his mistress, and the Prince’s behaviour at her behest, destroyed forever the reputation of an already unpopular Prince, leading to the Times describing his death as King in 1830 as unregretted by his subjects. Indeed, his reputation, as a result of the Countess’s actions, was so bad that one future Prime Minister, Robert Peel, feared that the monarchy itself might fall.

    Frances Jersey, though, was not all bad. She was not, in a lot of respects, much worse than many of her contemporaries, just less discreet – even if some described her as Satan’s Representative on Earth. She was brave to the point of foolishness. She lived for the moment, and for herself. She fought for her children and she helped both the poor and her (rich) friends when they were in trouble. Her life had many ups and downs, and many dramatic twists, but she did what she thought was right, even if she was wrong – or Society thought she was wrong.

    History has been unkind to the Countess, she was vilified on her death and in the 200 years since no one has challenged the myths which surround her. Whilst another prime minister, Lord Melbourne, did indeed say to Queen Victoria when comparing the Countess to her contemporary beauties ‘she was a handsomer but a wickeder woman… little with large black eyes… very handsome’, for the first time since her death my biography of the Countess puts the record straight and tells the true story of a remarkable woman and a remarkable life.

    Tim Clarke's new book The Countess: The Scandalous Life of Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey is available in a new paperback format now.

  • Secret Rochester by Philip MacDougall

    Another Chapter in the Secret History of the Medway Towns

    A general view of Rochester as seen from the north, with both the castle and cathedral clearly visible. (c. Ewan Cambell MacDougall, Secret Rochester, Amberley Publishing)

    Strange it must have been in December 1812, when a fleet of twenty-two warships gradually, over a period of a few days, slowly made its way up the River Medway to moor within view of Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester. I say strange, because none of those ships were flying British flags, as each flew aloft the ensign of the Imperial Russian navy. As with other episodes in the history of the Medway Towns that I have previously written about in Secret Chatham (2016), Secret Rochester (2019) and soon to be published Secret Gillingham book, this is another little-known local event, but one of great significance.

    So why had the Emperor of all Russias, Tsar Alexander I, sent to Chatham such a powerful battle fleet? Quite simply, Napoleon was poised to march on St Petersburg, the Russian capital and the home of the Imperial fleet. To prevent that fleet being captured, it had been sent out of the country, guided by several ships of the British Royal Navy.

    The Guildhall. (Secret Rochester, Amberley Publishing)

    Imagine Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester at the time. Suddenly, in their midst was a massive force of 10,000 Russian seamen, of which only a few spoke English. While, maybe, only the officers were usually allowed to go ashore, entertained by some of the wealthy families in the area and given frequent banquets at the Guildhall in Rochester. They must have been a regular sight in their immaculate gold braided uniforms. In particular, local merchants especially profited by their arrival, frequently called on board the Russian ships to open a market for both men and officers. Not that problems didn’t occur. To feed 10,000 men, huge quantities of flour and meat were required, sometimes purchased locally by the Admiralty’s Victualling Board, with supplies for local residents occasionally falling short.

    The nearest I have got to mentioning this fleet in the ‘Secret’ series is in writing about Dr William Burnett, a naval physician who was put in charge of caring for the sick and wounded of the Russian fleet. It was this that led me to find out more about that fleet and why it came to the Medway. One thing I certainly learnt from Burnett and the writings of other naval physicians: it was a fleet not in good health. Scurvy, typhus and smallpox were not uncommon, with extra hospital ships having to be laid on for the care of those in fever.

    In having touched, occasionally, on the presence of that fleet in the Medway, and which returned to St Petersburg in May 1814, it has encouraged me to undertake further research into the background of that fleet. This is something I am currently doing, so expect more from me on this subject in the future. Incidentally, when Secret Gillingham is published, this will represent my sixteenth book on the Medway area and I love to get feedback from my readers.

    Philip MacDougall's new book Secret Rochester is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Sunderland by Marie Gardiner

    Extract from book:

    Cretehawser – The Concrete Boat

    Cretehawser, the concrete boat. (Author's collection, Secret Sunderland, Amberley Publishing)

    If you go down to the riverside at Claxheugh Rock (pronounced ‘Clatchy’ locally) in South Hylton, and the tide is just right, you might see an interesting lump of concrete shaped like a boat sticking up from the water. It may not look like much, but this is an interesting part of Sunderland’s history. You’d be forgiven for wondering if this was an art installation, after all, a concrete boat?

    To understand why, we have to go back in time a little, to the end of the First World War. The war was a huge drain on resources, raw materials had been siphoned off over the four years of conflict meaning that once the world returned to ‘normal’ these materials were scarce, so both here, and in the United States, shipbuilders looked towards a temporary solution: concrete. One of the potential issues with this was that traditional shipbuilders weren’t used to building with concrete, but the government was offering a lucrative programme for those who could fulfil the demand for the new boats, and so a new company was formed.

    A close-up of Cretehawser at low tide. (Author's collection, Secret Sunderland, Amberley Publishing)

    Cretehawser, the name of the tug boat in question, was built by the Wear Concrete Building Company in Southwick, who were part of larger shipbuilders, Swan Hunter. It was launched in 1919, the first of an order of eight tug boats. It was thought and hoped that concrete would be a cheap material to build with, but they actually turned out to be considerably more expensive than their steel counterparts, costing almost 40% more on average to make. As a result, the eight-tug order was reduced by the Ministry of Shipping, and the programme eventually scrapped.

    Some of the concrete tugs that had made it to fruition had short but eventful lives: Creterock crashed into a trawler, Cretecable ran aground, and Creterope was dismantled. So, what of Cretehawser? She ticked along in use as a tug until 1935, after which she was sold for scrap to the South Stockton Shipping Company Ltd. The remains (the ‘hulk’) was sold back to Sunderland, this time to the River Wear Commissioners who moored her in the South Dock to use as an emergency breakwater.

    Cretehawser was hit in an air raid during the Second World War, so she was towed up river to her current spot, near to where she was built. The council considered moving her during a redevelopment of the riverbank, but it was decided she was an important part of Sunderland’s heritage and left as a reminder of our short dabble into concrete boats.

    Marie Gardiner's new book Secret Sunderland is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Southampton by Martin Brisland

    In October 1971, Muhammad Ali was in a local supermarket in Hedge End. (Secret Southampton, Amberley Publishing)

    Saturday 15th July 2017 was a day to remember. Well it would be if only I could remember it. I know I was in bed having not been awake long. Then a thunderclap pain in the back of my head hit. I recall taking two paracetamol and lying down. It was about six weeks later before I was well enough to realise what had happened. I had had a severe brain haemorrhage which is fatal in 6 out of 10 cases. The main basal artery to the brain was bleeding. No warning signs at all. Out of the blue. I had two operations and spent eleven weeks in hospital. So many thanks to the Neuro unit at Southampton General Hospital and many other medical professionals who gave me a second chance.

     

    I am retired having spent my working life in Further and Higher Education jobs. A lifelong interest in local history led me to becoming a qualified tour guide and being part of See Southampton. When the chance to write the book came my other half was naturally protective and thought it might be too onerous a task but I was determined. It became my recovery project and gave me a real focus so I could spend less time worrying about the after effects of the haemorrhage.

     

    In 2004 a sculpture of the Spitfire was unveiled outside Southampton Airport. (Secret Southampton, Amberley Publishing)

    My main problem was not what to find to put into the book but what to leave out. Being a major port Southampton has so many stories to tell. A lot of the content I knew but the research led me to many other places. The city’s history goes back to a Roman settlement on the bank of The River Itchen. We then had Danes, Vikings, Saxons and Norman leaving their mark. Southampton was the major embarkation point for troops going to fight the Battle of Crecy in 1348, for Henry V’s troops en route to Agincourt in 1415. Later troops passed through on their way to the Boer War in South Africa around 1900, to fight in Flander’s fields in the First World War and in the Second World War with three and a half million Allied troops, including over two million Americans. Locals said they were “Overpaid, oversexed and over here”. A comment possibly justified by the fact that there were around 5,000 births locally fathered by US servicemen. They had money, chewing gum and nylons which obviously had an effect. Late in 1945 Churchill even arranged free passage on the Queen Mary for any local women who wanted to track down the father of their baby. Over half returned – possibly having found out that there was already a wife the other side of the pond. Southampton was also the ‘Home of the Spitfire’ and was therefore a prime enemy bombing target in the Second World War. About 70% of the inner town was destroyed. The post war Brutalist rebuilding was functional but is now tired. In recent years there has been much redevelopment and the place is being reborn. The two main sources of income today are: students with around 40,000 at our two universities; and the Docks with its famous double high tide which allows 550 mainly cruise and container ship movements per year.

     

    The boat that does not float. (Secret Southampton, Amberley Publishing)

    Secret Southampton is divided into sections on people, places and stories. One of my personal favourites is the day Muhammed Ali came to town. He was touring England in February 1971 promoting Ovaltine – the only product he ever endorsed. He went to a supermarket, signed tins then gave a press conference in his hotel. Another is the man who for the last 50 years has been building a full size boat in his garden. He is now very elderly, it will never be completed and is in poor repair. Symbolic of human dreams and ambitions that we may never realise but at least we tried.

     

    One of my aims in writing the book was for people to say “I have passed that many times but never knew the story behind it”. So far the feedback has been to that effect. It has led to a double page feature in the local paper, a local TV interview, some lovely reviews and many upcoming talks to local history groups. So once again thank you to the NHS for giving me the chance to be able to write Secret Southampton.

     

    Martin Brisland's new book Secret Southampton is available for purchase now.

  • East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century by Malcolm Batten

    FORTY YEARS LATER

    RTs at Barking garage in 1976. (Author's collection, East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1969, when I started photographing London buses, the AEC RT type double-decker was a major part of the fleet. First introduced in 1939, only 151 were built before manufacturing ceased in favour of military vehicles. Production restarted after the war and eventually 4,825 would be built, along with 1,631 of the similar looking Leyland RTL type and 500 RTWs – Leylands with 8ft wide bodies rather than 7ft 6in. Between them, these replaced the trams and all the pre-war and wartime buses. Withdrawals started with service cuts in 1958, and the Leylands had all gone by 1970, but there were still some 2,500 red RTs with London Transport in 1971. Nearly 500 green examples had passed to London Country Bus Services when that company was formed in 1970.  However, the last examples were withdrawn on 7 April 1979. Their final route was the 62, worked by Barking garage in east London.

     

     

    RTs lined up again at Barking garage 30.3.19. The nearest RT is one that has been repatriated from Canada. (Author's collection, East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    It seems fitting that having just completed the final part of my East London Buses trilogy East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, we have just celebrated forty years since the end of these iconic buses – the predecessors of the equally famous Routemasters. On Saturday 30 March an Open Day was held at Barking garage, now owned by Stagecoach East London. Preserved RT types ran over the former 62 route and the erstwhile 23C to the (now demolished) Creekmouth Power Station. There were others on display at the garage and at the Go-Ahead London garage in River Road. Nearly fifty RT types were on display. Some of these had been exported to Canada for sightseeing work after withdrawal and have now been repatriated. At 4.00pm a parade, led by the prototype RT1 ran from Barking garage to the town centre and back. Some buses displayed the same last day blinds that were carried back in 1979.

    It was a fitting tribute to a class that served London so well and the Open Day was well patronised by enthusiasts and the general public. It was particularly poignant for me as I missed the last day forty years ago as I had to work on Saturdays in those days – retirement brings some benefits!

    Malcolm Batten's new book East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century is available for purchase now.

  • Britain's Greatest Bridges by Joseph Rogers

    One thing to note about my first Amberley title, Britain's Greatest Bridges, is that it falls short of thoroughly explaining the detailed engineering methods, techniques and construction concepts that naturally apply to some our nation's most important structures. There is a reason for this.

    Generous access for cyclists and pedestrians on the south side of the Severn Bridge makes for a great run between England and Wales. (c. Karen Rogers, Britain's Greatest Bridges, Amberley Publishing)

    The book stemmed from a love for travel, which for me began in 2010 when school had abruptly finished and life in an exciting and endless world invited me to explore and wander, before the grips of employment took hold. In being unleashed on the British landscape, I sought to truly appreciate what exactly the vast numbers of villages, towns and cities had to offer, and in doing so came across a number of distinct landmarks that made a meaningful impression on the adolescent mind.

    One such feature was bridges. A two night break based at the M5's Gordano Services saw me take an excursion running across the Avonmouth Bridge during a cold and clear evening, which resulted in an experience that forced unrivalled adrenaline through the veins, trapped between the fast flow of traffic and the silent depths of the river below. Shortly afterwards, I was doing the same from England to Wales, taking advantage of the first Severn Bridge's generous walkways and the ability to stand so isolated above the Bristol Channel, whilst being in the thick of a major feat in roadway expansion.

    Over subsequent years, this want to become intimate with such landmarks, particularly those with candid public access, became an addiction of almost a decade thus far and one no doubt to last my entire lifetime. The opportunity to shed light on, and share a liking for, some of Britain's greatest bridges was one pounced upon, not to dissect tension, compression, concrete and iron, but instead to celebrate icons of culture, history and geography by including the patently obvious, but also those whose place might not be fully recognised without some understanding of its place in the local landscape.

    Though part of a larger failure to impose the car on Glasgow, Kingston Bridgenow successfully carries ten lanes of traffic via the M8 motorway over the Clyde. (Author's collection, Britain's Greatest Bridges, Amberley Publishing)

    The Kingston Bridge in Glasgow is a good example of this, seeing coverage in the book for being undeniably brutal when viewing the Clyde in all its glory. Its inception might have been somewhat disastrous and repairs long-lasting, but with the accolade of Europe's busiest bridge and a place in a music video for local band Simple Minds, it became notable enough for inclusion as one of the greatest. Some would say greatest failure, greatest concrete blot on the landscape, or greatest umbrella from the Scottish weather, but nevertheless a great bridge indeed.

    The sheer size of the Humber Bridge alone marks it as one of the greatest structures in Britain, though at one point it stood globally at the forefront of bridge-building. (Author's collection, Britain's Greatest Bridges, Amberley Publishing)

    Similarly the Humber Bridge, whose construction has been widely celebrated in all formats, was a dead cert for the title, given its feats. As once the longest bridge of its type in the world, much is to be applauded in its design, length, height and technology, especially given its age. But also of interest is its very function, bypassing a route of approximately 50 miles, and linking two sides of the River Humber previously united only under the geographical Humberside banner. Crossing the estuary had been the want of previous civilisations, including the Romans, and doing so by boat became popular over subsequent centuries. It was not until the prominence of the automobile and the industrial advances made by both Kingston-upon-Hull and Grimsby became a factor that the need for a more permanent structure materialised. The bridge's very existence tells swathes about the area's progression and place in British history and this is arguably just as important as the science behind that existence.

    To the book's general audience, the point of celebrating, what are labours of love for engineers and architects, is to instil a sense of awe and pride in simply using or seeing these objects in the wider narrative of Britain's geography. Outlining a brief history and noting obscure facts and trivia might not erect the enthusiasm of those at the forefront of creating and maintaining our treasured spans, but hopefully can perk the interest of the general explorer in appreciating the wider and more subjective feelings that arise from exploring the UK in all its variety. After all, who better to judge the greatness of such structures, than those that use them?

    Joseph Rogers's new book Britain's Greatest Bridges is available for purchase now.

  • Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11 by James Donovan

    Headlines like this one blared from every newspaper in the U.S. (Author's collection, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    My last two books—A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—the Last Great Battle of the American West, and The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo—and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation—were set in the American West of the 19th century.  But I didn’t want to be tagged as just a historian of the Old West, so I decided my next book would involve a 20th century subject. When an editor friend suggested Apollo 11, which of course was the first lunar landing, I didn’t embrace the idea. As a boy I had read a great deal of science fiction, and like many boys followed the U.S. manned space programme and the Space Race with the Soviets, but I wasn’t sure space was the right subject for me, since it involved a lot of science and that subject wasn’t one of my favorites in school. So I lodged the idea in the back of my head and continued to look for my next book subject. But the idea kept sneaking its way into the front of my mind, and at a certain point I realized it might work.

    So I took a look at what had already been published about Apollo 11. There were quite a few books on the entire space program, or parts of it, and several on the entire Apollo programme, but not many on just Apollo 11. Reading science fiction supplied a sense of wonder that I didn’t find in any other kind of reading, and I wanted a book that did that for the “real” SF of the space program. After all, it involved space, and spaceships, and voyaging to another world in our solar system, and it involved great danger—and of course it was tremendously exciting.

    Apollo 11 launches at 9:32 a.m. EDT on July 16, 1969, from pad A, launch complex 39. (c. NASA, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    I didn’t find a book on Apollo 11 that gave me that sense of wonder. Most I read either weren’t well-written, or they didn’t cover the full story, or they let the science and technology—and there’s a LOT of that—overwhelm the story and make it hard to read if you don’t have a degree in astronautics. Many were written by science writers who were familiar with the science involved but didn’t seem to realize that most readers weren’t.

    So I decided to take the subject on. But there were a few other reasons I wanted to write this book.

    Most people living today weren’t alive, or old enough to remember, the first moon landing in July 1969. And this is a thing: if one has lived through a significant historical event, when it permeates your experience through various media, you know it happened. You were there, so to speak. But if it happened before one could remember the event, you’re not absolutely sure it really happened—yes, it’s in history books, but so is medieval history, and who’s sure of what happened back then? Even worse, there are some people who steadfastly refuse to believe that it actually happened. Some of those people just prefer to believe in conspiracies, and are not open to evidence and facts. But for open-minded people, I thought a lively and accurate account of one of the most significant events of the 20th century was needed, and might counter that disturbing anti-science (and anti-fact) strain that is far too prevalent in today’s world.

     

     

    Armstrong during the lunar surface EVA, staning near the LM. (c. NASA, Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11, Amberley Publishing)

    As I began researching the book, a few more reasons emerged. A simple yet obvious reason is that this is just a great story, and one which works on several levels. It’s one of the great tales of adventure and exploration. It’s also a chronicle of the Space Race, which of course was just the most visible element of the Cold War—and most people today don’t realize how serious that was back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the Free World was combatting the intended worldwide domination of totalitarian communism. It also involves some fascinating characters—not only the extraordinarily courageous astronauts and cosmonauts, but others behind the scenes: engineers, flight controllers, designers and planners, and yes, even some rocket scientists, who helped make it happen. Few people knew the stories of these “hidden figures.”

    There’s one more reason, and it’s personal, and it goes back to what I mentioned earlier: the love of a young person—me, specifically, but also, I think, millions of others—for that sense of wonder that we got, or get, from SF, or the “real” SF of manned spaceflight. I tried to transmit that feeling in Shoot for the Moon, especially in the first few paragraphs of Chapter One, which begins, “One Saturday morning in October 1957, a fourteen-year-old boy in the small farming town of Fremont, Iowa, woke up to find the world a different place. . . . .” If that sentence intrigues you, then you might be one of the people I wrote this book for. I hope so.

    James Donovan's new book Shoot for the Moon: The Space Race and the Voyage of Apollo 11 is available for purchase now.

  • John Morton: Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors by Stuart Bradley

    What makes a sparkling and successful career? What makes for a life that history will record? How about the brilliant lawyer who becomes Lord Chancellor of England? What about the outstanding academic who become Chancellor of Oxford University? What about the committed cleric who becomes Archbishop of Canterbury? What about the able politician who becomes the adviser of kings? Each one of these would be a highly creditable achievement in anyone’s lifetime but in John Morton they are combined in the lifetime of one man. It is an outstanding achievement. And this is not all, Morton also managed to oversee building and construction projects on a remarkable scale, and finance the publication of a book which contained the first printed music in England.

    The Bell Harry Tower of Canterbury Catherdral, funded by John Morton. (c. Tony Bates under Creative Commons, John Morton: Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors, Amberley Publishing)

    However, life did not always go his own way. Morton was accused of treason twice – and imprisoned in the Tower of London – from whence he escaped. He lived in penurious exile twice – once for a period of ten years. However, in his mid-sixties he became the chief and most trusted counsellor of a new king – a king with a tenuous claim to the throne but who through Morton’s advice, survived and established a new dynasty.

    Yet this man is unknown to most, and even to students of the period he only gets a cursory glance or an incidental mention. His contribution of over fifty years to his country’s service is barely recognised. His career began at Oxford where his brilliance was rapidly noticed and led to him becoming a member of the court of the Lancastrian king, Henry VI. However, in the political turmoil of what is known as ‘The Wars of the Roses’, he lost all when the Yorkists gained power and was forced into exile abroad. Following the death of Henry VI he was summoned back by Edward IV and became one of his most trusted councillors. After his death, Morton was implacably opposed to the usurpation of Richard III and conspired against him throughout his short reign. Called back to England again, he then served Henry VII until his death in 1500. It was through his advice, in his roles as Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, that Henry safely navigated the challenges of his reign. This is a man who deserves to be retrieved from the shadows and credited for his singular role in the politics of the fifteenth century.

    Stuart Bradley's new book John Morton: Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors is available for purchase now.

  • Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest by Sharon Bennett Connolly

    One of the first things I had to do when planning Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest was to decide which women would be included in the book. I had to decide whether I would include as many as possible, with short biographies (which was pretty much how I had written Heroines of the Medieval World), or to write about fewer women, but with more in-depth biographies.

    Detail of the 'Ælfgyva and a certain cleric' scene from the Bayeux Tapestry. (c. Dennis Jarvis, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, Amberley Publishing)

    In the end, it was a simple decision, to choose twelve of the more prominent women of the 11th century and dedicate a chapter to each one. Twelve chapters may not seem a lot, but it became evident early on in my research that I would have to include three general chapters, which told the story of the actual events before, during and after the Norman Conquest, and then tell the women’s stories and highlight their place in the wider events of the time.

    And so how to choose who to include?

    Some of the women were quite obvious choices; Harold II’s 20-year relationship with Edith Swanneck and subsequent marriage to Ealdgyth of Mercia were impossible to leave out, as was Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror. And if you were including the wives of two of the contenders, then it would be impossible to leave out the wives of Harald Hardrada, the third contender to the English throne in 1066. He was husband to both Elisiv of Kiev and Thora Thorbergsdottir.

    The stories of these five women formed the backbone of Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, but they were the easiest choices to include.

    Detail of a miniature of Queen Emma before an altar. (c. British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, Amberley Publishing)

    Deciding to tell the story from the beginning of the 11th century onwards meant that the tale had to start with Emma of Normandy. Emma was the only woman to ever be crowned queen of England, twice; as the wife of, firstly, Æthelred II and, secondly, King Cnut. She was also the mother of two English kings; Harthacnut and the saintly king, Edward the Confessor. Emma’s story was the perfect place to start the story of the Norman Conquest; she was an integral part of the politics and government of the first half of the 11th century.

    A woman who may, at first, to appear to be an anomaly to the story of 1066 is Lady Godiva. Her tale is more fiction and legend than fact, but she serves to demonstrate how history can be shrouded in the mists of these legends. While Lady Godiva almost certainly did not ride through Coventry naked, she did exist and was a powerful benefactor of the church, as well as being the matriarch of the House of Mercia, from which King Harold’s wide, Ealdgyth, came – Godiva was her grandmother.

    Another lady who could not be left out comes towards the end of the 1066 story: St Margaret. As one of the last survivors of the Anglo-Saxon royal house, Margaret, was a great marriage prize. And, although her preference was for a life dedicated to God, she married Malcom III Canmor, king of Scots and it is through her daughter, Edith – later known as Matilda – and her marriage to King Henry I, that the blood of the Saxon royal family once again sat on the English throne.

    The final chapter is dedicated to a mysterious woman known as Ælfgyva. One of only three women to appear in the Bayeux Tapestry, Ælfgyva’s identity remains a mystery, though there are many theories….

    Sharon Bennett Connolly's new book Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest is available for purchase now.

  • Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's 'Beloved Sister' by Heather R. Darsie

    The final stop on the 'Anna, Duchess of Cleves' Blog Tour

    Back in 2012, my interest in Henry VIII and his six wives was awakened, so I began reading any book I could get my hands on about these women. Whenever I read anything about Anna of Cleves, I always felt that her story was somehow incomplete. In summer 2015, I decided to start researching her life and thought I should write a biography about her if I found anything interesting. Needless to say, I think I did.

    Anna of Cleves. After Barthel Bruyn. c.1560s–1570s. (Courtesy of the President and Fellows of St John’s College, Oxford - Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's 'Beloved Sister', Amberley Publishing)

    While completing my BA in German Languages and Literature, I took several courses on German history. These courses familiarised me with the Holy Roman Empire during the reign of Charles V, when Anna was alive. I thought more about how in every English language book, she was called ‘Anne of Cleves’. I suspected her given name was Anna, and began plotting the course which my research would take into German sources.

    Having developed research skills while pursuing my Juris Doctorate, I knew I had to go straight to the original sources. I wrote a letter to the Mayor of Cleves in August 2015. He very kindly forwarded my letter to the Swan Castle in Cleves, who sent me a great deal of information and referred me to the proper archives. By Jove, this woman was indeed named Anna, and there was a lot more to her life than what has been believed for hundreds of years.

    Anna’s life and experiences from the German perspective are very different in some ways than what has been described in English-language books. That is not to say that any English biographies about Anna are wrong, but rather that looking at the German sources helps to make more sense of Anna’s life and short marriage. The German sources show what a valuable bride Anna was to any suitor, and why she stayed on in England after moving there in December 1539.

    It is my sincere hope that this biography augments the generally accepted view of Anna, her family, and the political entanglements in which she was enmeshed. I also hope it brings more knowledge about German history to English speakers.

    Throughout, I refer to Germany, Germans, and the German language. My use of ‘Germany’ refers to German-speaking Central Europe under the Holy Roman Empire. By ‘Germans’, I mean those living in the area that constitutes present-day Germany. I use the term ‘German language’ to describe the various Germanic dialects that were spoken in that area.

    To frame Anna’s life as a German woman, I chose to use the German, non-Anglicised, non-Gallicised names for Anna and her immediate family. I have used the umlaut in German place names as a gentle reminder of the Germanic perspective of the book.

    Heather R. Darsie's new book Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King's 'Beloved Sister' is available for purchase now.

     

    Blog Tour Direct Links:

    8th April - www.queenanneboleyn.com/2019/04/08/interview-heather-r-darsie-author-anna-duchess-cleves-kings-beloved-sister

    9th April - www.historyofroyalwomen.com/anne-of-cleves/anna-duchess-of-cleves-the-kings-beloved-sister-book-tour-a-new-birthday-for-anna

    10th April - www.sarah-bryson.com/2019/04/10/book-tour-heather-r-darsie

    11th April - www.tudorsdynasty.com/what-was-the-frauenzimmer-guest-post

    12th April - www.melanievtaylor.co.uk/2019/04/12/an-interview-with-heather-darsie-author-of-anna-duchess-of-cleves-the-kings-beloved-sister

    13th April - www.historytheinterestingbits.com/2019/04/13/guest-post-anna-duchess-of-cleves-by-heather-r-darsie

    14th April - www.onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2019/04/14/anna-duchess-of-cleves-blog-tour

    15th April - www.susanhigginbotham.com/posts/guest-post-by-heather-r-darsie-when-anne-met-henry

    16th April - Lil's Vintage World - Review link to come

    17th April - www.authorherstorianparent.blogspot.com/2019/04/jeanne-dalbret-heather-darsies-anna-of.html

    18th April - www.henrytudorsociety.com/2019/04/18/who-were-the-landsknechte

    19th April - www.ladyjanegrey.info/?p=14993

    20th April - www.medievalarchives.com/2019/04/20/anna-duchess-of-cleves-by-heather-darise

    21st April - www.maidensandmanuscripts.com/2019/04/21/my-adventures-with-the-duchess-of-cleves

    22nd April - www.samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-charming-side-of-charles-v.html

    23rd April - www.laurenmackay.co.uk/blog/guest-article-by-heather-darsie

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