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7 December 2023

Charles I's Private Life, by Mark Turnbull

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The execution of King Charles I is one of the well-known facts of British history, and an often-quoted snippet from our past. He lost the civil war and his head. But there is more to Charles than the civil war and his death. To fully appreciate the momentous events that marked the twenty-four years of his reign, and what followed, it’s important to understand the man who was at their epicenter.

Both during his lifetime, and in the centuries since, opinion of Charles is often polarized; he is either Royal Martyr or Man of Blood. Amidst these extremes, what is frequently overshadowed is the man himself. Propaganda still clouds his personality, as do the events of his last seven years of life.

The first half of his life has not been explored in detail. As a sickly second son of the first King of Great Britain, these years shed light on the development of Charles’s character. Key elements of his final days also remain lost to us, such as certain identification of his executioners. Investigating new evidence, an entirely new candidate is proposed. Persistent myths surrounding his health and supposed unwillingness to compromise are also addressed.

There are many biographies, but this most intimate work draws upon fresh viewpoints and contemporary letters, some never before used. Penetrating the veil of monarchy and getting to the heart of the man through his relationships, the reader is brought closer than ever to the real Charles Stewart.

A brave, principled and dutiful man, he was politically flawed and lacked the ruthlessness needed to steer his three kingdoms beyond the crossroads at which they arrived. Above all, he is a character who shares much in common with us all.

"This is the story of the spare who became the heir: what shaped him - and what became of him. Mark Turnbull helps us understand Charles the king as Charles the man" - Leanda de Lisle

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About the Author

Mark Turnbull thoroughly enjoys reading and writing about this overlooked period of history and bringing it to life. He has written articles for magazines, newspapers and online educational sites and has also re-enacted battles with The Sealed Knot. He is currently working on the sequel to Allegiance of Blood, as well as a non-fiction overview of the first six months of the English Civil War. Find out more at Mark’s website, or social media pages, where he regularly posts articles about all aspects of the war and those who fought in it. Find out more at Mark's website and find him on Facebook, Twitter @1642author and Bluesky

6 December 2023

Special Guest Post by Maggie Craig, Author of Storm Tossed Moon (Storm Over Scotland Book 3)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Edinburgh, January 1744: Scotland stands on the brink of armed and bloody conflict. Travelling secretly across Europe from Rome, Prince Charles Edward Stuart is determined to claim his birthright. His fervour is matched by homegrown Jacobites who long to see the House of Stuart restored to the British throne.

I write Scottish historical fiction and non-fiction and find the two genres complement each other very well. My Glasgow & Clydebank family sagas tell the imagined stories of families, friends and lovers living through the hard times of the first few decades of the 20th century.

There’s the turbulence and excitement of Red Clydeside when working people fought for fairer pay and better living and working conditions. There’s the unemployment which followed the Great Depression of 1929 and led to the cancellation of the building of the Queen Mary at John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank. There’s the elation when work resumed and two years later when the great ocean liner was launched. I began writing the novels first and then realized I could make a non-fiction book out of it all: When the Clyde Ran Red: A Social History of Red Clydeside.

In non-fiction the facts are sacred. As a novelist, I believe I can add another layer by some (sparing) intelligent speculation on how people buffeted by dramatic events might have felt. In One Week in April: The Scottish Radical Rising of 1820, I wrote about the Greenock Massacre. A crowd gathered in the Clydeside town protesting about Radical prisoners being brought to Greenock Gaol. They shouted ‘Remember Manchester!’, referring back to the Peterloo Massacre of the previous year. 

It was noisy and rowdy and some people started throwing stones at the local militia. Panicking, they opened fire. Eight people were killed, including a boy of eight. Fifteen were seriously wounded. A contemporary observer wrote, ‘… by 11 o’clock the town was as quiet as ever I saw it.’ This led me to paint a brief picture of people ‘sitting by their firesides talking in low, shocked voices about the tragic events of the early evening.’ 

My editor thought that ‘too novelistic.’ I didn’t. I won. 

Back in 1997, I published my first book, Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45. Last year Penguin Random House brought out a fully-sourced 25th anniversary edition.  DRB, as it is known in our house, had a working title of Not Flora Macdonald. 

I have nothing against that brave woman but I had started researching for a big, sweeping novel about the Jacobite Rising of 1745-46 and found lots of brave women playing their parts. They’re all in DRB. After ‘rave rejections’ from several publishers – I was a new author, the book was too long – the big, sweeping Jacobite novel was slid onto the back burner. 

I’ve recently self-published the third novel in a different but related Jacobite series, Storm Tossed Moon. Which makes me, so I’m told, a hybrid author, both traditionally published and self-published. I just think I’m a writer. 

I write in the mornings and start early, find my brain and imagination work best at that time of day. I’m not a great plotter. I prefer to start with one character meeting another on the page and waiting – or encouraging – the sparks to fly. Give them something to disagree about. Roll a few boulders into their path. This needn’t only be for romantic novels. We’ve all taken an instant liking or dislike to other people or had a rivalry with them. 

I often have some idea of the final scene but no idea how I’ll get there. It’s more fun that way. This approach apparently makes me a ‘discovery writer’. 

I’ll always be grateful to the Two Sheilas, as I know many other fellow Scottish authors are. Sheila Lewis and Sheila Aird ran a weekly writers’ workshop in Kilmardinny House in the Glasgow suburb of Bearsden back in the 1980s. One of the first exercises they set us was to write a scene in which two characters are having an argument. 

They added a piece of advice. Remember all five senses, not only what we and our characters see and hear but also touch, taste and smell. You probably won’t use all five in one scene but using them where appropriate will enrich your writing. 

I also learned a lot about writing by doing it. I see a lot of advice out there about different techniques, such as Save the Cat. I tried it recently for a WIP on which I’d got stuck. It has some interesting insights but for me the system required me to squeeze my writing into what I found to be a constricting framework. 

If STC and other techniques work for you, go for it. Otherwise, I’d say let your imagination flow. The log jam in my WIP cleared when I walked away from the manuscript and did other, non-writing things for a few days. Crochet worked well!

Like many of us brought up not to blow our own trumpets, I find marketing difficult. However, if you’ve written a book you’re proud of, you want to point readers towards it and this is most definitely not ‘shameless self-promotion.’  

In my experience, paid advertising eats money but BookBub promotions help increase visibility. Writing your own blog and accepting a kind invitation to write a guest blogpost also helps. As does joining writers’ organizations. Not only networking but a chance to meet and learn from others and to make writing pals. 

I’m currently working on book three of my Storm over Scotland series. It’ll take a while but once it’s done and dusted, I’m going to pull my other big, sweeping Jacobite novel forward from the back burner, revise it and send it out there to seek its fortune. 

Maggie Craig

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About the Author

Passionate about Scotland and its history, Maggie Craig is the acclaimed writer of the ground-breaking Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45. She is also the author of six family saga novels set in Glasgow & Clydebank, where she grew up. Find out more from Maggie's website and find her on Facebook, Twitter @CraigMaggie and Bluesky

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.