27 July 2016

Guest Post by M.K. Tod: Writing a mystery – more challenging than expected


Available for pre-order from Amazon US

When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her…

A few years ago, my husband and I travelled to northern France to visit the battlefields, monuments, cemeteries, and museums dedicated to World War One. We went to Bailleul, Lille, Amiens, Ypres, Mont St. Eloi and other towns and villages, and to memorials at Vimy, Courcelette, Thiepval, the Somme and Passchendaele. We visited the shops, stayed in a former chateau, enjoyed wonderful French cuisine in all manner of restaurants and cafes. Those places and the landscape of the region engaged every sense and, along with the hundreds of pictures taken, have fuelled descriptions of meadows, villages, windows, tastes, gardens, houses, and other parts of my latest novel Time and Regret.
But of most significance to the story is the night we spent at a café in the small town of Honfleur across the mouth of the Seine from Le Havre. Shortly after the waiter poured our first glass of red wine, I wrote a few words in a pocket-sized notebook I had in my purse.
“What are you writing?” my husband said.
“An idea for a story,” I replied.
Refusing to be put off by my cryptic response, he persisted. “What’s the idea?”
“Nothing much. Just thought it might make a good story to have a granddaughter follow the path her grandfather took during World War One in order to find out more about him.”
Ian took on a pensive look and no doubt had another sip of wine. “You could include a mystery,” he said.
Now, you should know that mysteries are my husband’s favourite genre. Indeed, I suspect mysteries represent at least eighty percent of his reading. So I played along.
“What kind of mystery?”
And that was the birth of Time & Regret, as ideas tumbled out and the plot took shape. Needless to say, the bottle of wine was soon empty.
I’d already written two historical novels, but a mystery is a very different beast. Mystery lovers have expectations, specifically the expectation that you will keep them guessing until the last possible moment and equally the expectation that the smart reader should be able to figure it out. They expect clues strategically sprinkled throughout the novel, many red herrings, a few plot twists, and more than one potential culprit. They expect the excitement to build and build, and the protagonist to have his or her own life problems to add depth to the story.
To make matters more complicated, I decided to structure the novel using two time periods: one quasi present day (1991) and the second during World War I which meant I had two main characters to incorporate plus all the expectations of historical fiction fans. I didn’t appreciate how difficult the task would be until I had completed three drafts and the mystery still didn’t hang together or have enough complexity.
My solution was to map the clues and red herrings against the chapters in both timelines. No doubt such a solution will sound obvious to a seasoned mystery writer, however, I thought it was brilliant. This map helped me examine the placement of elements critical to the mystery against the overall story, to create balance in terms of pacing, to add a few twists, and to validate that I hadn’t given too much away too early.
Did it work? Time will tell, however, I can say that several readers have told me they didn’t anticipate the ending or figure out ‘who dunnit’ until the very end.

M.K. Tod
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About the Author

M. K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016.. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter @MKTodAuthor and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

26 July 2016

Revisiting Katherine Swynford: The Scandalous Duchess, by Anne O'Brien


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Scandalous Duchess brings to readers of historical fiction one of the most famous - and certainly most infamous - love stories in medieval history.

Here are the two protagonists:

Lady Katherine de Swynford, nee Roet: widowed, respectable, highly principled; a woman with a firm faith and a strong sense of duty to her young Swynford family.  A woman of education, dignity and integrity who had spent much of her young life at the Plantagenet court in the service of the impeccable Blanche of Lancaster, wife of John of Gaunt.  Why would a pious, moral woman put her reputation and her immortal soul at risk to indulge in so scandalous a relationship in becoming a prince's mistress?  And what's more, at the very centre of the royal court where such a relationship could not be hidden for long?  Where it would be unforgiveable.

John of Gaunt
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster: a man with all the pride and arrogance of a Plantagenet prince, and a reputation for outspoken opinion that brought him as many enemies as friends.  An ambitious man with England's destiny in his hands after his brother's tragic death in 1376 and his father's decline, as well as a new royal-born Castilian wife to help him further those ambitions as King of Castile if he could seize the crown.  Why would a man of such political standing and such flamboyant ambition risk all to take a woman of his household so publicly as his mistress?  Was his reputation as a Plantagenet prince of no account to him?

And yet Katherine Swynford and John of Lancaster become lovers.  With no apparent sense of sin they lived together intermittently, Katherine giving birth to the four illegitimate Beaufort children.

This was a love affair that broke all the rules.  Abandoning all moral integrity, all sense of responsibility, all thoughts of God’s grace, they embarked on an adulterous affair that lasted for twenty five years, by which time neither of them was young and foolish.  Katherine destroyed her reputation under a deluge of vicious censure that labelled her she-devil and enchantress, seducer of Lancaster.  The Duke was attacked by church and state for placing his mistress before the demands of England in a time of war and flaunting her, disgracefully, before his new wife.  The ills of England during the Peasants' Revolt were placed firmly on the Duke of Lancaster's shoulders, England being punished for his sins.  Adultery was not something to be embraced lightly in medieval times. 

Hounded by scurrilous condemnation through the pens of the chroniclers, their relationship battered and broken by political and clerical enemies, the lovers were ultimately forced to live apart.

But this was no ordinary, light-hearted romantic emotion that would die under the lash of public disgrace.  This was a passion, remorseless and relentless in its power, perhaps not always comfortable, particularly for Katherine, since society was quick to label her a sinful Daughter of Eve.  Yet, sweeping all before it, all sense of right or wrong, this love affair brought them ultimately together again. 

But at what price?

We might consider that marriage would ultimately put the lovers right in the eyes of the world.  Not so!  It might be inappropriate for the Duke of Lancaster to ride through the streets of Leicester, his mistress's hand in his, but to marry her was even worse.  Princes did not marry their mistresses.  Rather they kept them in discreet circumstances out of the public eye.  Once again John of Lancaster and Katherine Swynford trampled on the mores of the day by making their relationship public and legal and having their children legitimised.  As Gaunt's wife, Katherine became the most influential woman at court in the absence of a queen of mature years.  How easy it is to imagine the vicious  twittering in the courtly dovecotes.

What determination the lovers exhibited in the face of outraged opinion.  Could Katherine retain the dignity and integrity that was so much part of her character in the face of hostility from the Duchess of Gloucester?  Even more importantly, could Duke John of Lancaster be restored to his place as uncle and chief adviser at the side of the young king, Richard II? 

The Scandalous Duchess is the story of a very personal relationship, set against the hotbed of medieval politics, driven by the final uncertain years of a failing King Edward III and the uneasy challenges posed by the young King Richard II.  Told by Katherine Swynford herself, it is the story of a compulsive desire and a need that could not be denied.

Anne O'Brien
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About the Author

Anne O'Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a B.A. Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Masters in Education at Hull, she lived in the East Riding for many years as a teacher of history. After leaving teaching, Anne decided to turn to novel writing and give voice to the women in history who fascinated her the most, beginning with Virgin Widow, which told the story of Anne Neville, the wife of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Today Anne lives in an eighteenth century cottage in Herefordshire, an area full of inspiration for her work. Find out more at www.anneobrienbooks.com 
and follow Anne on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien.

25 July 2016

The Tudor Society, by Claire Ridgway


Thank you, Tony, for inviting me to your blog to share a little about the Tudor Society, why it exists and what it is.

I’m Claire Ridgway, a Tudor history researcher and writer, and creator of the Anne Boleyn Files website. I started the Tudor Society in August 2014 for several reasons: I felt that the Tudors, that family of iconic royals, deserved a society to promote their history; I wanted to create a magazine that was Tudor history focused rather than covering centuries of history; I wanted to bring together Tudor historians and their readers from all over the world through talks and live chats because so many people miss out on hearing speakers due to geographical restrictions; I wanted to support new/young historians and authors in the field by helping them get their work out there; and I knew how much Richardians love being part of a society and so wanted to offer a similar opportunity to Tudor history lovers.

As I wanted to bring together people from all over the world, it was important for the society to be online and easily accessible. Tudor Society members can enjoy:

Tudor Life, our monthly digital magazine, which is edited by historian Gareth Russell and which features articles by regular contributors with expertise in Tudor history, art history, music, cooking etc. and also guest articles by historians and authors

Monthly expert talks from Tudor historians and authors, followed by a live chat on the chatroom for members to get their questions answered in person and live

Weekly videos – In these Claire Chats videos I talk about Tudor topics, questions that have arisen, primary sources… you name it!

A weekly quiz – Tudor history focused of course!

Access to the archives – all the magazines, videos and expert talks that we have ever produced

We also have a private forum, primary sources pages, Tudor history articles, videos, ebooks… Lots!

I’m just in the middle of creating ebooks on each Tudor monarch for our members. These will contain, brief biographies, lists of primary sources, a recommended reading list, a family tree and a collection of articles on the monarch and his/her reign. I also have plans to have regular informal chat sessions on the chatroom about specific Tudor topics. It’s all go!

I’m hoping that I’ve created a place that Tudor history lovers can call “home”. On a personal level, I love being a part of it because I can share a question or something that’s been niggling me with the community and receive feedback from a broad spectrum of people with different views and areas of expertise.

It’s also heart-warming to know that I’m a part of bringing together so many people from all over the world to discuss Tudor history. We all know what it’s like to ‘talk Tudor’ and have our friends’ and families’ eyes glaze over, but now we have somewhere to go and talk about it to our hearts’ content .

Claire Ridgway

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About the Author

Claire Ridgway a full-time freelance writer and historian  from England. She now lives in Spain near the historic Alhambra. Claire is the author of several best-selling books, including The Anne Boleyn Collection, The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown and On This Day in Tudor HistoryYou can find Claire at www.tudorsociety.com,
www.theanneboleynfiles.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @AnneBoleynFiles.

24 July 2016

The Tudor’s Road to Bosworth Part 4: Henry Tudor at Forteresse de Largoët, Brittany


In this series I followed Jasper Tudor and his young nephew Henry’s escape from Tenby in Wales and their arrival in Brittany. The Tudors enjoyed relative freedom together in Vannes as guests of Duke Francis of Brittany, then at the Château de Suscinio. Then Duke Francis decided to reduce the risk of their abduction to England by moving them to different locations inland.

Young Henry Tudor found himself deep in the forest at the remote Forteresse de Largoët, outside of the Breton town of Elven. In the safe custody of the twenty-seven year old Marshall of Brittany, Jean IV, Lord of Rieux and Rochefort, Henry was able to continue his education. The isolation meant he would have had few visitors and it seems he was prevented from communicating with his mother in England or with his uncle, Jasper Tudor.

There are, however, intriguing details uncovered at the National Library of Wales which indicate Henry Tudor may have enjoyed more freedom at this time than is generally thought. The papers claim that, ‘by a Breton lady’, Henry Tudor fathered a son, Roland Velville, whom he knighted after coming to the throne. Sir Roland is recorded as being Henry’s ‘companion’ and a champion jouster. (After Henry’s death he became Constable of Beaumaris Castle, and is buried in the Church of St Mary's and St Nicholas, adjacent to Beaumaris Castle. In an elegy by the sixteenth century Welsh poet Daffyd Alaw, Sir Roland Velville is described as 'A man of kingly line and of earl's blood'.)

The poorly signposted Forteresse de Largoët was a little difficult to find up an unlikely looking track leading deep into the woodlands outside Elven. There was an admission charge at the small gatehouse, and I was given a useful leaflet in English which confirmed that: ‘On the second floor of the Dungeon Tower and to the left is found a small vaulted room where the Count of Richemont was imprisoned for 18 months (1474-1475).

The 'Dungeon' Tower
I was impressed by the scale of the building, which sits in a wooded valley by a small lake. It was built unusually high, at fifty-seven meters, to provide a view out to the Gulf of Morbihan. The tower originally had a moat crossed by a raising drawbridge on a pier and still has a spiral stone staircase with 177 steps to the top. There are deep cracks in the crumbling walls and notices warning of falling masonry and that visitors climb the stairs at their own risk and will ‘arrive at numerous gaping openings which makes this a dangerous venture.’

Entering the tower through a dark corridor, the open interior reveals there were once at least seven floors. This space was once used as a kitchen and leads to the main stairway and a guardroom. I regretted not bringing a torch, as the high stairway is lit only by the small window openings. Interestingly, the lower level is octagonal, with the second hexagonal and the rest square. Worryingly, the leaflet notes that ‘This imposing ruin has defied the centuries, in spite of an absence of relieving arches above the large windows. This is what produced the large crevices.’

Cautiously feeling my way up the staircase I had a real awareness that I was now most certainly walking in the footsteps of the young Henry Tudor, who would also have steadied himself by placing his hand against the cold stone walls, nearly five and a half centuries before. 

Further evidence that this tower was not really a ‘dungeon’ is suggested by the fact that the second floor was once used by Lady Françoise Raguenel of Malestroit, who married Marshall Jean IV in 1463. The third floor was used by the Marshall and the fourth by their young daughter, also named Françoise. The Marshall’s brother François occupied the fifth floor of the tower, which also had a chapel, so a picture emerges not of a prison but of a series of rooms decorated and furnished to provide some comfort to the occupants.



The guide states that Henry Tudor was held in a small vaulted room on the second floor, to the left of the apartments of Lady Françoise. After some exploration I found the room, which must be rarely visited as it was full of cobwebs. My own observation is the room seemed too small and cramped to have been a residence, and I wondered if in fact Henry lived higher up at the top of the tower as suggested in other accounts.

All the same, there is a chance the Marshall might have taken his responsibility for Henry so seriously that he did keep him in a room small enough to be described as a ‘prison cell.’ I would like to imagine instead that, as at Suscinio, Henry, now turning eighteen, would have been able to hunt in the forest and fish in the well-stocked lake – and meet and fall in love with the mysterious ‘Breton Lady.’

Henry would no doubt have missed the company and advice of his uncle, Jasper Tudor, who had been taken to a far grander place, the Château de Josselin, home of the de Rohan family and the next destination on my search for evidence of the Tudors in exile.  
  
Tony Riches

See also: 


New Tudor Book ~ Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was, by Dr Sean Cunningham


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

During the early part of the sixteenth century England should have been ruled by King Arthur Tudor, not Henry VIII. Had the first-born son of Henry VII lived into adulthood, his younger brother Henry would never have become King Henry VIII. The subsequent history of England would have been very different; the massive religious, social and political changes of Henry VIII’s reign might not have been necessary at all.

In naming his eldest son Arthur, Henry VII was making an impressive statement about what the Tudors hoped to achieve as rulers within Britain. Since the story of Arthur as a British hero was very well known to all ranks of the Crown’s subjects, the name alone gave the young prince a great deal to live up to. 

Arthur’s education and exposure to power and responsibility, not to mention his marriage to a Spanish princess in Catherine of Aragon, all indicate that the young prince was being shaped into a paragon of kingship that all of Britain could admire.

This book explores all of these aspects of Prince Arthur’s life, together with his relationship with his brother, and assesses what type of king he would have been.

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About the Author

Dr Sean Cunningham has worked in the public services and research departments of The National Archives for over 15 years. He is currently the Head of Medieval Records within the Advice and Records Knowledge department.Sean has extensive experience of research into late medieval and early Tudor England, and has published widely on the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, the politics and society in the north of England, and the records of late medieval government. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and co-convenor of the Late Medieval Seminar at London University’s Institute of Historical Research. You can find Sean on Twitter @SeanC1509

17 July 2016

New #Tudor Book ~ Henry VII: The Maligned Tudor King, by Terry Breverton


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, has been called the most unlikely King of England. Yet his rise from obscurity was foretold by the bards, and by 1485, the familial bloodbath of the Wars of the Roses left Henry as the sole adult Lancastrian claimant to the throne. The usurper Richard III desperately wanted him dead, and in his exile Henry Tudor was left with no choice. He either invaded England or faced being traded to Richard to meet certain death. 

Henry’s father, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, was the son of a Queen of England, sister to the King of France, and of an obscure Welsh court servant, who had been born in secrecy away from court. Edmund’s death at the beginning of the Wars of the Roses left Henry to grow up in almost constant danger, imprisonment and exile. In 1485, his ‘ragtag’ invading army at Bosworth faced overwhelming odds, but succeeded. 

Henry went on to become England’s wisest and greatest king, but it would be his son Henry VIII and granddaughter Elizabeth I who would take all the credit.

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About the Author

Terry Breverton is a former businessman, consultant and academic and now a full-time writer. Terry has presented documentaries on the Discovery Channel and the History Channel.and has written over forty books, with his main focus being upon Welsh history, heritage and culture.

16 July 2016

The Tudor’s Road to Bosworth Part 3: Exiled at Château de Suscinio, Brittany


In the first two parts of this series I followed Jasper Tudor and his fourteen-year-old nephew Henry’s escape from Tenby in Wales and their arrival in Brittany. The Tudors are recorded as spending a year in Vannes as guests of Duke Francis of Brittany, but in October, 1472, the duke became concerned they might be abducted by York’s agents.

They were moved to his remote ‘hunting lodge’ by the sea, south of Vannes, the Château de Suscinio. Their new home had been fortified in the fourteenth century and now resembled a castle of grand proportions, surrounded by forests stocked with game. 


A wide moat with a drawbridge meant few soldiers were needed to guard the Tudors. In my novel Jasper - Book Two of The Tudor Trilogy I decided they were not prisoners at Suscinio but still guests of the duke, under his protection. In this short extract, Jasper Tudor accompanies Duke Francis on a wild boar hunt:

  The woods came alive to the excited baying and barking of the duke’s hounds as they raced through the undergrowth in pursuit of the unseen boar. Jasper rode at the duke’s side as his guest, with Henry following behind with a dozen minor nobles. These ambitious young men, eager to win the duke’s approval, formed teams of flanking riders, ready to head off the boar if it tried to escape.
Riding dangerously fast, Jasper ducked, narrowly avoiding a low branch, his heart pounding with the thrill of the chase. He glanced back to check Henry had seen the branch and noticed he was falling well behind. Although Henry rode well, he had never hunted anything as challenging as a wild boar.
  They were deep in the forest and Jasper lost all sense of direction, as the sun was directly overhead and the trees grew so thickly it was impossible to see. His horse nearly stumbled on uneven ground and he struggled to stay in the saddle when he leapt a fallen tree, galloping onwards to catch up with the duke.
  As he drew alongside, Duke Francis glanced across at him as if reading his mind. He looked more like a soldier again, dressed in his hunting clothes, and had a glint in his eyes as he urged his horse even faster through the undergrowth.
  The baying of the dogs sounded closer and changed to the frantic yelping that told Jasper their quarry was close at hand. Spurring his horse in pursuit he found himself in an open clearing where the duke’s trained catch dogs had taken the loudly protesting boar by its ears and held it down. The animal was a fully grown male, with powerful curved white tusks and angry red eyes. He stayed in the saddle, aware the dangerous boar could break free at any moment.

There were no wild boar in the forest when I visited the Château de Suscinio on a gloriously hot afternoon. Instead, I found a car park full of coaches and soon discovered why. The Département of Morbihan has spent a fortune over the last fifty years restoring the once ruined castle to how it might have looked when Jasper and Henry stayed there in the fifteenth century. (There is a collection of photographs of the château before reconstruction here.)

Château de Suscinio before reconstruction
Most of the visitors were French school children, excitedly learning about their own history, and I wondered if any of them knew the significance of the Tudors. Crossing the green moat over the long drawbridge, I was handed a useful audio guide by the staff, which had explanations in English for each of the numbered rooms. 

There are no records of where in the château Henry and Jasper were accommodated but one candidate is the first floor, which was used by the captain of the guard, as the second floor contained the duke’s private apartments and third floor those of the duchess.


Another intriguing possibility is the West range, on the opposite side of the spacious walled courtyard. I couldn’t explore the rooms in this building as it is still being restored, although the extensive accommodation was claimed to have once been used as a prison, which seems unusual for a château used as a hunting lodge. If the Tudors had been housed there, the men guarding them would have been likely to think of them as ‘prisoners’.

The West range of Château de Suscinio
I also visited the nearby beach a short walk from the château, where a wide sweeping bay of the Atlantic stretched far into the distance. I could imagine how Jasper and Henry would have made the same walk, followed by their ever-present guards. The long expanse of sand, with small boats moored offshore, must have reminded them of their home in Tenby far away across the Atlantic.


It was easy to see how York could land a flotilla of ships there if he wished. It is thought this is why Duke Francis soon decided to reduce the risk of their abduction to England by moving them to different locations inland. These would be the next stops on my own journey, although I couldn’t resist a last look at the magnificent château and wonder if the Tudors realised they would not be able to see each other again for almost nine years.

Tony Riches

See also:




# # #
About the Author

Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.