2 July 2022

Special Guest Post by Maria Wingfield Digby, Author of Sir Walter Raleigh


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

This Pitkin historical title provides a brief overview of one man’s ascent from relatively humble origins to international legend. To many, Walter Raleigh was a pirate, traitor, scholar, coloniser, explorer, soldier, poet, adventurer, scientist, cartographer, botanist, fashionista and Favourite of a queen. He is credited with introducing tobacco and potatoes to England. Although not everything he did resulted in success, his exploits never lacked ambition or self-confidence. He left his mark
on England, parts of Europe and America.

A closer look at Raleigh’s connection with Sherborne Castle

Sir Walter Raleigh is one of the best-loved characters of the Elizabethan period. He is credited with introducing tobacco and potatoes. He left his mark on England, parts of Europe and America.

Raleigh sought a house in the West Country. Sherborne Castle was owned by the Bishops of Salisbury.  Legend has it that riding by, he pointed it out to his companions. His horse stumbled he and he fell into the mud. Laughing, he said he had taken physical hold of the land he coveted.

Raleigh petitioned Queen Elizabeth to help him acquire this valuable property. He presented her with a jewel worth £250. In 1592 Raleigh’s secret marriage to Bess Throckmorton, one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, was discovered and in fury, she sent them both to the Tower, afterwards exiling them from court. However, she relented when it came to Sherborne and allowed Raleigh to keep the property.

Thus it was as exiles that Walter and Lady Raleigh came to live in Sherborne in 1592. The building Raleigh acquired was what we now call the ‘Old Castle’. It had been built in the 12th century and was deemed old-fashioned. Raleigh set about modernising it but soon went over budget. He decided to build a smaller house in the Deer Park, across the valley from the Old Castle.

Raleigh built a new house called Sherborne Lodge, in the latest architectural fashion. He and Bess came to love living at Sherborne and he called it his ‘Fortune’s Fold’. The estate Raleigh acquired from the Bishop comprised several thousand acres of prime agricultural land and Raleigh added to it by purchasing the manors of Pinford and Primsley including Limekiln Farm close to Sherborne. Raleigh’s estate still forms the core of the Digby estate today.

Raleigh proved himself to be a great gardener. Here, he planted many exotic plants brought back from his travels. His garden included pools, canals and waterfalls.

He is credited with popularising tobacco smoking. He is recorded as blowing smoke rings to the delight of Queen Elizabeth. Here in the garden he loved to sit in his Seat and enjoy a quiet pipe. Legend has it that his servant dowsed his master with ale, thinking he was on fire.

In his Study, he planned voyages to the Americas with his friends and fellow explorers, Laurence Keymis, Thomas Harriot and his half-brother, Adrian Gilbert. Dr John Dee, the mathematician and astronomer plotted routes and provided charts.

Talk also turned to religion and Raleigh was accused of holding a ‘School of the Night’ and spreading non-belief, a crime close to treason at that time. He was put on trial at nearby Cerne Abbas, and acquitted, although the stain on his character remained. 

In 1597 he made his will, making provision for his wife and son. In it he expresses his desire to keep his precious estate at Sherborne in his family. On the death of the Queen in 1603, his fortunes declined. The new King, James I, did not trust him and when Raleigh’s name was linked to one of several plots to remove him from the throne, James quickly sent him to the Tower.

After a show trial, Raleigh was convicted of Treason, but his execution was halted at the last minute, and he spent the next 12 years in prison. During this time, he formed a friendship with Henry Percy the ‘Wizard’ Earl of Northumberland with whom he conducted scientific experiments. Bess, his wife was allowed to join him, and another son, Carew was born in the Tower.

The Crown lawyers began looking through his title deeds to Sherborne, and found a vital error in the Trust Deed. They declared that all his possessions were forfeit, including Sherborne. So there could be no doubt, they drew up a Deed of Surrender in 1614:


In 1616 he was allowed on licence out of the Tower to undertake a voyage to find El Dorado in South America. Despite orders to the contrary, his men engaged with Spanish troops, and Wat Raleigh was killed. Returning home a broken man, Raleigh was arrested when he reached Plymouth. On the journey back to London, he took his guards to see Sherborne Castle, telling them that, ‘all this was mine, and it was taken from me unjustly’.

He died under the executioner’s axe in Old Palace Yard on 29 October 1618. Someone in the crowd cried out, “We have not such another head to cut off”.

Maria Wingfield Digby

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About the Author

Maria Wingfield Digby lives in Sherborne Castle, Sir Walter Raleigh’s home, so it is only natural that she should become intrigued with his life and exploits. Four centuries on from his execution she revisits the life of one of the Elizabethan era’s best loved characters. Through the use of the Castle’s original documents and his personal possessions she sheds a new light on this intriguing character. For more information about Sherborne Castle please see http://www.sherbornecastle.com/ and follow on Facebook and Twitter @sherbornecastle

30 June 2022

Book Launch: Blood, Fire and Gold: The story of Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici, by Dr Estelle Paranque


New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In sixteenth-century Europe, two women came to hold all the power, against all the odds. They were Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici.
One a Virgin Queen who ruled her kingdom alone, and the other a clandestine leader who used her children to shape the dynasties of Europe, much has been written about these iconic women. 

But nothing has been said of their complicated relationship: thirty years of friendship, competition and conflict that changed the face of Europe.

This is a story of two remarkable visionaries: a story of blood, fire and gold. It is also a tale of ceaseless calculation, of love and rivalry, of war and wisdom - and of female power in a male world. 

Shining new light on their legendary kingdoms Blood, Fire and Gold provides a new way of looking at two of history's most powerful women, and how they shaped each other as profoundly as they shaped the course of history. 

Drawing on their letters and brand new research, Estelle Paranque writes an entirely new chapter in the well-worn story of the sixteenth century.

'A story told with verve and passion' The Times, Book of the Week

'An alternative and engaging biography...accessible and unpretentious' The Telegraph

'A stunning portrayal of two of the most powerful women in European history' Tracy Borman

'Exciting and compelling, packed full of tantalising details of diplomacy and court life, Paranque succeeds both in bringing history to life, but also in putting flesh on the bones of these two extraordinary women and rival queens' Kate Mosse

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About the Author

Dr Estelle Paranque completed her PhD in Early Modern History at University College London, and is currently a Lecturer in Early Modern History at New College of the Humanities at Northeastern where she teaches courses on Early Modern Britain, Early Modern Europe, and the Early Modern World. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and she is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is also a co-convenor of the Tudor and Stuart Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in London. She has been teaching at university level for the last nine years and is dedicated to share her passion for history with the next generation. Her research interests are royal and diplomatic studies. She works on Anglo-French relations during Elizabeth's reign and on monarchical representations during the early modern period. Estelle is also very interested in public engagement and has participated in the popular historical documentary Secrets d'Histoire on France 2, BBC Radio 4, and numerous podcasts (BBC History, Viral History, Hidden Stories with Helen Carr for HistoryHit). Find out more at her website https://www.estelleparanque.com/ and find her on Twitter @DrEstellePrnq

25 June 2022

Death of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk and Queen of France


I was inspired to learn about the life of henry VIII's little sister, Mary Tudor,  after I researched her birth and early life for my book, Henry – Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy. In the trilogy I’d moved forward one generation with each book, so it appealed to me to write a ‘sequel’ which did the same. I’d become intrigued with Mary’s story of how she risked everything to defy her brother when he became King Henry VIII.

I discoverd a fascinating book,  The French Queen's Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe (Queenship and Power) by Erin Sadlack, which includes all Mary’s surviving letters, many with replies, as well as an insightful analysis of her state of mind at the time. 

I wanted to explore Mary’s vulnerability as well as her strengths, and to understand he she felt when her brother, King Henry VIII, broke off her engagement to young Prince Charles, future Emperor of Rome, to marry her off to the fifty-two-year-old King Louis XII of France. Although Mary was barely eighteen at the time, Henry saw his younger sister as a small price to pay for a treaty with France.

I enjoyed untangling the many myths about what happened next, from causing the death of King Louis with her ‘passionate exertions’ to her dying of ‘grief at her brother’s divorce from her friend Catherine of Aragon.’ I also had the benefit of knowing a great deal about the people and places of Mary’s world.

The difficulties came when I had to show Mary’s struggles with the dangers of medieval childbirth. I was present at my daughter’s and my son’s births, and there are plenty of historical accounts to draw from, but I believe only a woman can fully understand how it feels to bring a new life into the world.

Mary suffered from a recurring illness throughout her life, and died aged only thirty seven years old, at Westhorpe Hall in Suffolk, on the 25th of June 1533, having never fully recovered from catching the sweating sickness she caught five years before. 

The companion book to Mary - Tudor Princess, tells the story of Mary Tudor's husband, Charles Brandon, who was King Henry VIII's lifelong friend. Brandon - Tudor Knight, as well as the story of Brandon's last wife, Katherine Willoughby, Katherine - Tudor Duchess, are available on Amazon as the Brandon trilogy.


Tony Riches


See Also:

Exploring Westhorpe Hall, Home of Mary Tudor (Queen of France) and Charles Brandon

Visiting the Tomb of Mary Tudor, Queen of France

Visiting St Margaret's Westhorpe - Parish Church of Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Sir Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

Researching and Writing Mary – Tudor Princess

DNA Testing Mary Tudor, Queen of France

24 June 2022

Special Guest Interview with Craig R. Hipkins, Author of Clement: The Templar’s Treasure


Available at Amazon US and Amazon UK

Clement & Dagena return for another action packed adventure. From the cold and dreary shores of Greenland to the fabled land of Vinland. The legendary treasure of the Knights Templar awaits.

I'm pleased to welcome author Craig R. Hipkins to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your book

My book Clement: The Templar’s Treasure is a sequel to Clement: The Green Ship. It takes place in the mid-12th century and tells the story of Clement, a 14-year-old noble boy and his friends who travel from the shores of Greenland to the fabled land of Vinland in search of the lost treasure of the Knights Templar. Clement has a good idea where the Templar’s hid the treasure a dozen years earlier, after he finds a journal found on a ghost ship off the coast of Portugal gives him tantalizing clues. Of course, he must first get to Vinland. When he finally arrives, he finds more than one problem that gets between him and his objective.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I prefer to write at night in my library with a steaming cup of coffee. However, since I have a regular day job, I write whenever I get the chance. 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

The best advice that I can give to an aspiring writer is to keep plugging away and honing your writing skill. The more you write the sharper your skills become and it gets easier for your thoughts to flow. 

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

Raising awareness of my books is always the tricky part. I have tried book promotions in the past. Some of them work and some of them do not. I find the best way to do it is to advertise on social media and other venues. Also, Comic conventions are a good outlet for YA books like the Clement series. 

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

My research for this book led me to study the indigenous inhabitants of early New England. Unlike the better-known Aztec and Mayan empires that were flourishing at this time, not much is known of the Wampanoag or Nipmuck peoples until the English colonized the region in the early 17th century. I also found out that there are quite a few words from the Algonquin language that have managed to find their way into the English lexicon.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The hardest scene that I remember writing had to be at the end of the book when Clement faced Sven the Terrible in single combat. I wanted the scene to be realistic but at the same time, not too bloody or shocking since the book is YA. I do believe that I managed to accomplish this.

What are you planning to write next?

I am currently writing another YA novel. The name of the book is Bandy. It takes place shortly before the attack on Fort Sumter in 1860. It tells the story of a young boy whose only friend is a passenger pigeon named Bandy. He helps a young slave girl escape from a wicked slave master in rural Virginia. It is a little different from what I normally write but I am thoroughly enjoying the work.

Craig R. Hipkins

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About the Author

Craig R. Hipkins grew up in Hubbardston Massachusetts. He is the author of medieval and gothic fiction. His novel, Adalbert is the sequel to Astrolabe written by his late twin brother Jay S. Hipkins (1968-2018) He is an avid long-distance runner and enjoys astronomy in his spare time. Find out more at Craig's website www.hipkinstwins.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @CraigHipkins


17 June 2022

Historical Fiction Spotlight ~ Diary of a Plague Doctor's Wife: A Novella set in 1720s Marseille, by Heather R Darsie


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Our heroine, a young woman living outside 18th-century Marseille, France is delighted to marry a young medical doctor from Montpellier. 

The doctor shows an interest in studying illnesses, especially how to prevent the spread of disease. Unfortunately, his abilities and our heroine's marriage are put to the test in June 1720 when the Great Plague of Marseille hits, killing almost fifty percent of the local population. 

This epistolary novella tracks the woes and dangers of living through an epidemic in early 18th century France using humor and emotion.

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About the Author

Heather R. Darsie lives in the United States. She has a Bachelor of Arts in German Languages and Literature, and a Juris Doctorate. During her time at university, she studied in Costa Rica and France, with visits to Germany and other countries. She is currently studying for an MA in Early Modern History. Find out more at maidensandmanuscripts.com  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @HRDarsieHistory

15 June 2022

Blog Tour Excerpt from The Wistful and the Good, by G. M. Baker


New From Amazon UK and Amazon US

The mighty are undone by pride, the bold by folly, and the
good by wistfulness. 
 
Elswyth's mother was a slave, but her father is a thegn, and Drefan, the man she is to marry, is an ealdorman's son. But though Elswyth is content with the match, and waits only for Drefan to notice that she has come to womanhood, still she finds herself gazing seaward, full of wistful longing. From the sea come Norse traders, bringing wealth, friendship, and tales of distant lands. But in this year of grace 793 the sea has brought a great Viking raid that has devastated the rich mon-astery of Lindisfarne. Norse are suddenly not welcome in Northumbria, and when Elswyth spots a Norse ship approaching the beach in her village of Twyford, her father fears a Viking raid.

The Wistful and the Good – Excerpt:

“Watch my basket,” Elswyth said to Hilda as she leapt up from her seat. She ignored Hilda’s indignant reply and ran to Leif, pulling his fingers away to inspect the wound. There was a gash on his temple that was bleeding freely.
   “Put pressure on it,” she said.
   “I was,” he replied, putting his hand back in place over the wound.
   “Come to the kitchen. We must put some honey on it to stop it from festering.”
   She led him to the kitchen as if he were a child. The monk looked up when she came in. He was startled to see her, and his hand darted up to pull his cowl over his eyes. Unfortunately, the hand that darted up was holding a candle. He yelped when the candle burned him, dropped it, and then patted out the flames that had started to catch in his cowl, singeing his bare hands.
   Elswyth stepped quickly to pick up the candle before it set fire to the rushes on the floor. “Perhaps I should wear a bell around my neck so you can hear me coming,” she said. 
   The monk did not reply, but looked sheepish and hunted around for a water bucket in which to cool his singed hands.
   Elswyth took the honey pot down from the shelf and made Leif sit on a bench while she slathered the wound with enough honey to stop the blood from flowing. Then she ripped a rag into strips and used it to tie a bandage in place around his head to keep the honey on the wound. 
   “Who did this?” she demanded, when she was satisfied that the bandage would stay on. 
   “Boys throwing stones,” he said with a shrug, as if the wound had come as no surprise to him.
   “How many?”
   “Two I think. Hiding in the dunes.”
   “This high?”
   “About that.”
   “I know who they are, the little vermin. I’ll fix them.” 
   She stormed out of the kitchen and returned a few minutes later dragging two boys by the ears, which she was twisting fiercely. They screeched horribly, but though they were almost as big as she was, neither made any attempt to escape her, knowing what lashes they would suffer if they offered any resistance to their thegn’s daughter. 
   “Apologize,” she said, forcing them to their knees in front of Leif.
   “Do not make them kneel to me,” Leif said, getting to his feet. “If they are men, let them stand. If they are children, let them go.”
   She looked at him with surprise. It was the sort of thing she expected Thor to say, not Leif. She let go of their ears. They looked at each other, each wanting to know if the other wanted to run. But they did not run. They stood and faced Leif.
   “You are freemen’s sons?” Leif asked.
   “Yes, sir,” they muttered, eyes downcast.
   “Your fathers broke bread and shared a cup of hospitality with me in your lord’s hall.” Leif said. “You have broken the laws of hospitality. Your thegn will want vengeance for my blood that you have spilled. With you, this is done with money. What is the wergild for drawing the blood of a lord who is your lord’s guest?” 
   “More than their fathers can afford,” Elswyth said. “The only way they could pay would be to sell themselves into slavery. Or sell these two.”
   The two boys looked very pale.
   “There is always the old way,” Leif said. “Simple vengeance. Man to man. Blow for blow. No need to tell your fathers, or the thegn. Would you prefer that?”
   The two boys looked at each other, then turned back to him and nodded shyly. Leif struck the first, an open-handed blow to the ear that knocked him down but did not draw blood. The boy bit his lip to hold back tears and struggled to his feet. The other had tears already starting in the corners of his eyes, which he clamped firmly shut. Leif gave him the same blow, sending him sprawling. He struggled to his feet like his friend, cuffing tears from his eyes as he did so.
   “Quits?” Leif asked.
   “Quits,” they said, looking at the floor.
   “If we are at quits, look me in the eye.”
   They slowly raised their eyes to his, and held them there.
   “You bore my vengeance bravely,” Leif said. “Shall we be friends?”
   They looked up at him and nodded wordlessly. 
   He held out his hand to each in turn and they shook it, then stood gawping at him, with no idea of what to do next.
   “Get out,” Elswyth snapped at them. 
   They turned to go. 
   “Waes hael”, Leif said to them. 
   They turned. “Waes hael,” they whispered, and then turned and fled. 
   “That will be all over the village in the time it takes to sing Sext,” the monk said. 
   “No,” Leif said. “They broke hospitality. That is a serious matter, even among the Anglish. They will not boast of it. Besides, we are friends now. To shake a man’s hand and call him a friend is as good as an oath, and no boy wants to be known as an oath breaker.”
   “Why do young men make friends with their fists?” Elswyth asked. She was curious, for she had seen it many times before.
   “No man wants a coward for a friend,” Leif answered, as if there were no mystery to it at all.

G. M. Baker

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About the Author

G. M. Baker has been a newspaper reporter, managing editor, freelance writer, magazine contributor, PhD candidate, seminarian, teacher, desktop publisher, programmer, technical writer, department manager, communications director, non-fiction author, speaker, consultant, and grandfather. He has published stories in The Atlantic Advocate, Fantasy Book, New England’s Coastal Journal, Our Family, Storyteller, Solander, and Dappled Things. There was nothing much left to do but become a novelist. Find out more at his website https://gmbaker.net/ and find him on Facebook and Twitter @mbakeranalecta

13 June 2022

Book Review: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: A Memoir, by Chris Packham


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I read TV naturalist Chris Packham's childhood memoir after seeing his documentary 'The Walk That Made Me', where he spoke of his childhood and living with undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome. I knew Fingers in the Sparkle Jar had been a Sunday Times best-seller, but was surprised by the book in a number of ways.

His writing style challenges the conventions of memoir writing, with sudden switching of point of view, a non-linear timeline, and the occasional 'stream of consciousness' narrative.The prose veers from lyrical, almost literary, to confusing passages, yet the result is convincing and entertaining on several levels. Here is an example extract:

A door barked, a dog slammed, a tired butterfly sagged over some wilted daisies, the yellow beak of a shiny bird dribbled notes from the eaves and a sun hat with a pram sparkling wheels and clicking heels crossed the road. Everything was burned and bleached, the sunshine was exhausting....

The biggest surprise was the honesty with which a champion of nature preservation admits to collecting rare birds eggs, snaring foxes, and taking a young falcon from the nest as a pet. There are also harrowing accounts of the bullying Chris suffered at school - without understanding the reason. At one point he asks his therapist,  'How could anyone be happy as a child?' These italicised passages reveal the troubled, even suicidal legacy of a childhood living with undiagnosed illness.

There are glimpses of his relationship with his parents throughout, but only at the end do we learn of his father's patience, understanding and support.  This has been voted the nation's favourite nature book, and I was inspired by Chris Packham's success against the odds.

Tony Riches