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5 December 2023

Book Review: The Mercenary's Blade (Lord's Legacy Book 1) by Eleanor Swift-Hook

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, September 1642: The King has raised his standard in Nottingham to summon those loyal to the crown to fight for him against his own Parliament.

Eleanor Swift-Hook's 'Lord's Legacy' series is set in the pivotal moment in history when men must decide if they fight for king or parliament. In this first book, we experience this complex time with Gideon Lennox, an likeable but naive young lawyer, who encounters the mysterious Philip Lord, a notorious mercenary leader.

What follows takes us into the murky world of witch trials and corruption, and enough adventure and intrigue to keep the story moving from a slow start into a fast paced page-turner. 

Eleanor's style is to make the reader wonder about her character's motivation, and why our narrator never gets around to telling his love interest, the mysterious 'Zaharia' about his feelings for her.

I particularly liked the glimpses of the research into the history behind this series, and the way we gradually learn more about Philip Lord and his band of men, who become compelling characters, always with a hint of something important yet to be revealed.

I recommend reading these books in order. I already have the next one in the series on my Kindle and look forward to finding out what happens next.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Eleanor Swift-Hook enjoys the mysteries of history and fell in love with the early Stuart era at university when she re-enacted battles and living history events with the English Civil War Society. Since then, she has had an ongoing fascination with the social, military and political events that unfolded during the Thirty Years' War and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. She lives in County Durham and loves writing stories woven into the historical backdrop of those dramatic times. You can find out more about the background of Lord's Legacy on her website and find her on Twitter @emswifthook

Blog Tour Spotlight: How to Dress Like a Tudor, by Judith Arnopp

Available From Amazon UK and Amazon US 

Have you ever hankered to dress like a Tudor lord or lady, or perhaps you prefer the status of goodwife, or costermonger, or even a bawd?

For beginner historical reenactors, the path to authenticity can be bewildering and sometimes intimidating. Judith Arnopp uses her own experience, both as a historian and a medieval/Tudor lady, to make your own journey a little easier.

The author traces the transition of fashion from the relatively subtle styles popular at the court of Henry VII, through the carefully constructed royal grandeur of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I to the pinnacle of majesty and splendid iconography of Elizabeth I.

In contrast to the magnificence of court come the ordinary folk who, subject to sumptuary laws and regulations, wore garments of a simpler cut and cloth – a strata of society that formed the back bone of Tudor England.

This brief history of sixteenth century fashion examines clothing for both rich and poor, adult and child, and offers tips and tricks on how to begin to sew your first historically inspired garment, this book is aimed at helping the beginner learn How to Dress like a Tudor.

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About the Author

Judith Arnopp is the author of books set in the Anglo-Saxon/early medieval period and the Tudor court. All books are available in Kindle and Paperback format, and The Beaufort Chronicle (three book series), The Kiss of the Concubine and A Song of Sixpence are on Audible. Find out more at Judith's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JudithArnopp

2 December 2023

Book Review: Tudor Children, by Nicholas Orme

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Nicholas Orme's research brings a wealth of knowledge to the lives of children in Tudor England.  One of the most striking things about Tudor Children is the high mortality rate among children. In the 16th century, about one in four children died before the age of five due poor sanitation, inadequate nutrition, and the spread of disease. 

As a result, parents often had large families in the hope that at least some of their children would survive to adulthood. Despite the high mortality rate, Orme shows that childhood in Tudor England was not all hardship. 

Children from wealthy families enjoyed a relatively privileged upbringing, with access to good food, clothing, and education. They also had the opportunity to play games and learn songs that are still familiar to us today.

Children from poorer families had a more difficult time. They were often expected to work from a young age, and they may not have had access to formal education. However, Orme shows that even these children found ways to enjoy themselves, playing games and singing songs that were passed down from generation to generation.

Orme does a good job of balancing the harsh realities of Tudor childhood with the more positive aspects. He shows that even though children faced many challenges, they also found ways to enjoy themselves and make the most of their lives.

I appreciated Orme's use of primary sources to illustrate his points. He quotes from a variety of sources, including diaries, letters, and household accounts, to give us a firsthand look at the lives of Tudor children.
I also liked the way Orme connected the experiences of Tudor children to our own lives. He shows that many of the things that children did in the 16th century are still familiar to us today, such as playing games, singing songs, and telling stories.

I found  Tudor Children  informative, and thought-provoking. I recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about childhood in Tudor England.

Tony Riches

Nicholas Orme is a British historian specialising in the Middle Ages and Tudor period, focusing on the history of children, and ecclesiastical history, with a particular interest in South West England. He is an Emeritus Professor of History at Exeter University. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, and has worked as a visiting scholar at, among others, Merton College, Oxford, St John's College, Oxford, and the University of Arizona.

1 December 2023

Book Launch Guest Post by Fiona Forsyth, Author of Poetic Justice

New from Amazon UK 

9 CE: Rome’s celebrated love poet Ovid finds himself in exile, courtesy of an irate Emperor, in the far-flung town of Tomis. Appalled at being banished to a barbarous region at the very edge of the Empire, Ovid soon discovers that he has a far more urgent - and potentially perilous - issue to address. A killer is at large in Tomis.

Shakespeare and Ovid

Ben Jonson May have sneered that Shakespeare had “small Latin and less Greek” but I think he was being unfair! Maybe Shakespeare did not go to University, but all the evidence points to a very good Classical education. Not only are some plays very definitely set in the ancient world – Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar for example - Shakespeare’s plays reflect the classical authors whose works were the staples of any educated Elizabethan. After all, Queen Elizabeth I herself at the age of twelve translated Katherine Parr’s published Prayers and Meditations from English into Latin, French and Italian.

Binding probably embroidered by Elizabeth as a cover for her trilingual translation of Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations, 1545: British Library from its digital collections. (Catalogue entry: Royal MS 7 D X)

There was a grammar school in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, the King’s New School, and it seems likely that he would have attended. It was only a short walk down the road from the family home, and it was relatively cheap to attend, though it is thought young William may have had to leave early when his father got into financial difficulties. Any pupil at such a grammar school would have received an education in Latin exhaustive enough to be the equivalent of a modern day Classics degree. Popular authors studied were Cicero, Sallustius, Vergil, Horace - and Ovid. 

Ovid was a poet of immense versatility and wit. He lived from 43 BCE to (probably) 17 CE, breaking into the literature scene with love poems the Amores, and going onto more serious poems such as the Fasti, in which he aimed to cover the major religious festivals of the Roman calendar in verse. Of particular interest to Shakespearian scholars is Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with its myriad tales of transformation. The work was popular enough to be published in an English translation before Shakespeare was born A fascinating aside is that the Bodleian Library in Oxford has a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses printed at Venice in 1502, with a signature ‘Wm Sh’ on the title page. It even has the added note ‘This little Booke of Ovid was given to me by W Hall who sayd it was once Will . Shaksperes. T N 1682.’ It would be lovely if this could be absolutely proven to have belonged to Shakespeare, but certainly during his lifetime he would have encountered Arthur Golding’s famous translation of 1567.

Title page of The XV. Bookes of P. Ouidius Naso: Entituled, Metamorphosis … Translated out of Latin into English meeter by Arthvr Golding.

Shakespeare’s work makes it clear that he was familiar with Ovid. To give just a couple of examples, the story of his narrative poem Venus and Adonis comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and in Cymbeline, before going to sleep, Imogen reads the same book. 

“She hath been reading late
The tale of Tereus; here the leaf’s turn’d down
Where Philomel gave up.”

Cymbeline Act 2 Scene 2

This passage shows that Shakespeare expected at least some of his audience to be familiar with the myths retold by Ovid, and indeed, Shakespeare’s debt to Ovid was noted in 1598 when Francis Meres wrote in his Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury: “The witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare.” 

In 2017, the 2000th anniversary of the poet’s death, the Royal Shakespeare Company held a celebration of Ovid, in particular his work Metamorphoses, because he had influenced Shakespeare so much. Gregory Doran, the RSC’s artistic director at the time said “Ovid was probably Shakespeare’s greatest inspiration and his stories are sprinkled throughout his plays, most prominently the comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe performed to much hilarity by Bottom and his friends in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Typhoo Tea produced these cards of “Characters From Shakespeare”. Bottom gets a Metamorphosis of his own!

Ovid, I think, would have taken it in his stride to be so admired by our country’s greatest poet. He was never a modest man, and this is how his Metamorphoses ends:

I shall be carried above the stars, my name will be forever.
Wherever the power of Rome spreads over conquered lands,
People will recite me, my fame lasting through the years, and
If the prophecies of poets are true - I shall live.

There is an echo of this in one of Shakespeare’s most famous works. Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare the to a summer’s day?”) ends with this couplet.

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Fiona Forsyth 

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About the Author

After reading Classics at Oxford, Fiona Forsyth taught at a boys’ public school for 25 years. A move abroad gave her the chance to write and now she is back home, writing books firmly set in the political upheavals of Rome in the 1st centuries BC/AD.  Find out more at Fiona's website and find her on Twitter @for_fi

26 November 2023

Book Review: Women of Power: Formidable Females of the Medieval World, by Teresa Cole

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Historian and author Teresa Cole has taken six 'formidable' women of the medieval world, and explored their influential lives in this intriguing new book. 

We start with Emma of Normandy, who she calls 'The Great Survivor'.  Emma did survive being married to two kings, which in itself is a rare accomplishment, but I was particularly interested in how she managed the narrative in what seems a very modern way by overseeing the written account of her life - although the anonymous author doubted he was up to the job.

I recall how Queen Emma 'resurfaced' in a recent documentary about DNA testing the bones in Winchester Cathedral, which were scattered during the English Civil War. One again, Emma wins, as she was the only female, so her bones were happily reunited.

I knew less about Matilda of Tuscany, whose story was nearly cut short by her plan to retire to a nunnery after being accused of adultery with the Pope and of ordering her husband's murder. Instead, Matilda fought back against the misinformation campaigns of her enemies, who called has a 'Jezebel' and a heretic. One of the most important leaders of the Italian Middle Ages, Matilda  has the distinction of being buried in three different tombs, the final one being at St. Peter's Basilica, where her inscription says she was 'a woman with a man's soul.'

15th century portrait of Empress Matilda (Wikimedia Commons)

The stories of Empress Matilda and Matilda of Boulogne which follow requires close reading, as we switch from one to the other, and it does not help that they have the same name. Both stories are complex, and worthy of anything in 'Game of Thrones', so it was a relief to move on to Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem, and finally a favourite of mine, Eleanor of Aquitaine. 

Tomb effigies of Eleanor and Henry II at Fontevraud Abbey
(Wikimedia Commons)

All these women left their mark on history, and inspired artists in a way few of their male contemporaries did, yet often their stories are of hardship and survival against the odds. I found myself remembering my own history lessons and wondering if each generation sees them in a different light, judging the extent of their success as 'Women of Power' by the standards of the time.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Teresa Cole was a teacher for many years before turning to writing. She is the author of Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King & the Battle of Agincourt 1415, and three books about the Normans – The Norman Conquest: William the Conqueror’s Subjugation of England, After the Conquest: The Divided Realm 1066-1135, and Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England. 

Disclosure: A review copy of this book was kindly provided by the publishers, Amberley.

22 November 2023

Book Review: School of Aces: The RAF Training School that Won the Battle of Britain, by Alastair Goodrum

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I followed my father into the Royal Air Force, and ended up teaching the theory of flight at the central training school, so I have a keen interest in the history of RAF training.

School of Aces is a meticulously researched and detailed story of the work of RAF Sutton Bridge, up to the end of what became known as the 'Battle of Britain'. The one training base specialised in a seven week  training programme, from which 525 Hurricane pilots graduated, and 390 becoming a key part of the mostly young men we remember as 'The Few'.

In October 1939 No. 266 Squadron reformed at RAF Sutton Bridge as a fighter squadron, and from January 1940 became the RAF's second Spitfire fighter Squadron after RAF Duxford.

Hurricane Mk I, R4118, similar to what would have been flown at RAF Sutton Bridge and used during the 'Battle of Britain' 
(Wikimedia Commons)

The detailed history of RAF Sutton Bridge is brought to life with plenty of first-hand accounts which serve to remind us all of the great risk and sacrifice made by these young men.  

RAF Sutton Bridge is now vanishing under an industrial estate, and marked only be a memorial plaque and a few remaining buildings, which is why books such as this are important part of the history of the Royal Air Force.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Alastair Goodrum is retired and lives in Lincolnshire. He has written aviation history articles and five books since 1984, and has given illustrated talks to a variety of clubs for more than twenty years. 

21 November 2023

Special Guest Post by Samantha Wilcoxson: Masterworks ~ Historical Short Fiction Inspired by Works of Art

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Strolling through an art gallery gives art appreciators a glimpse at the heart of creativity artists from across time and distance have poured onto canvas, into clay, through wood, metal, and stone. Art inspires us and helps us connect with emotions and ideas. But have you ever wondered what inspired the artists themselves? Perhaps it was a loved one, a moment of suffering or despair, a celebration, or a victory. Have you ever wondered what stories these works tell?

Masterworks is an anthology of short stories curated by Historical Writers Forum. This is HWF’s third annual collection, and the 2023 theme is stories inspired by works of art. Eleven participating authors explored stories behind famous works, lives of artists, and even the point of view of a portrait through time.

The artwork I chose for my Masterworks story is a marble statue of Alexander Hamilton that was sculpted by Robert Ball Hughes in 1835. This statue captures Alexander as most of us envision him, in the prime of his life, handsome, and ready to take on the world – or at least Thomas Jefferson. This statue was destroyed in New York’s Great Fire of 1835 less than a year after its installation and after James, Alexander’s son, failed in his efforts to save it.

I am currently writing a biography of James A Hamilton for Pen & Sword, so this short story enabled me to share some of my research and write about James with the freedom of fiction. I enjoyed delving into James’s role as the son of a famous, some might say infamous, father and whether he felt he had lived up to the Hamilton name.

 James shared his father’s intellect and passion for law and finance. His Reminiscences include pages of economic and banking advice sent to presidents and other government officials. He was a quieter man than his father, only serving as temporary Secretary of State and never grasping at a permanent cabinet position. James also was much more diplomatic. Alexander Hamilton famously said too much with excessive candor. James made friends among people with diverse political beliefs and explored Europe making favorable connections everywhere he went.

While writing this story, I was able to include some fantastic lines that are taken directly from the writing of James and his brother, John, such as, ‘Can freedom loving Americans stand before the world as a great republic that holds people in fetters while tyrants free their slaves?’ As the Civil War tore the country apart, the Hamilton brothers boldly spoke out against slavery and in favor of abolition.

This story not only shines a light on James, but also on the era between the American Revolution and Civil War, which I hope causes readers to contemplate how much more complicated of a task it was to form a new nation and compromise on laws and issues that seem non-negotiable to us. As James thinks to himself in my story, ‘It had seemed reasonable to them to leave some problems for their sons to solve. And so here I am.’ Instead of accusing historical figures of failing, perhaps we should be more willing to do our own part in the present.

Stories in this anthology take place throughout history, from ancient Mesopotamia to the 20th century, and feature interesting characters related to diverse works of art. Readers can get these stories and maybe find their next favorite author for only .99 on Kindle or free with Kindle Unlimited.

Samantha Wilcoxson
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About the Author

Samantha Wilcoxson is an author of emotive biographical fiction and strives to help readers connect with history's unsung heroes. Her historical fiction novels include the Plantagenet Embers series, Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl, and But One Life, a novel of Nathan Hale. Saantha also writes nonfiction for Pen & Sword History. Her most recent work is Women of the American Revolution, which explores the lives of 18th century women, and she is currently working on a biography of James Alexander Hamilton. Samantha loves sharing trips to historic places with her family and spending time by the lake with a glass of wine. Find out more at Samantha's Blog and find her on Facebook and Twitter/X @carpe_librum