Mastodon The Writing Desk: February 2017

28 February 2017

Historical Fiction Book Launch: Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King, by Trisha Hughes

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US
The story of the kings and queens of England is a wonderful drama, more surprising than you might imagine. To be an English king and to be murdered was no more than a hazard of the job and there has been a vast number of kings where this has actually been the case. Many were not adverse to the odd assassination or two by poisoning, starving, burning, imprisonment and an old favourite, beheading.  Many have died 'under suspicious circumstances' because the entire truth will never be fully known.

There were some monarchs who ruled for years and there were some who ruled for only a few months. There were also some who should never have ruled at all. Yet this group shares one thing in common. In their own lifetimes, they were the most powerful and brutal individuals in the land. Their stories span for fifteen hundred years, full of lust, betrayal, heroism, murder, cruelty and mysteries.

Don’t imagine a fairy story with handsome kings in wondrous castles whisking off princesses on their white horses to the sound of trumpets and the cheers of their people. Imagine powerful individuals who were brutal and would stop at nothing to get what they wanted and who were more than happy to get rid of the odd family member or two who were standing in the way of their progress to the throne.

This is the first book in a trilogy covering the Vikings, Normans, Plantagenets, Lancasters, Yorks and Tudors. It begins with a race of people struggling to survive and finishes with a 25-year-old Elizabeth Tudor stepping up to the English throne after the death of her sister Mary, promising reformation and change. Heaven knows they needed it.

Trisha Hughes
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About the Author
Trisha Hughes started her writing career with her memoir ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ eighteen years ago. The debut novel was first published by Pan Macmillan Australia and became a bestseller in 1997 and reached the top 10 bestsellers at the time.  Since then she has discovered a thirst for writing. She is currently working on the second in the series ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.’  To can find out more about Trisha on her websites and  and visit her on Facebook: Trisha Hughes Author and Twitter @TrishaHughes_

26 February 2017

Visiting the tomb of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, father of Henry VII

Having recently visited the tomb of King Henry VII in Westminster Abbey, I decided to revisit the tomb of his father, Edmund Tudor, in the cathedral at St David’s, Pembrokeshire.  As I live close by I’d seen the tomb before but never looked into its history.

Edmund Tudor was the first son of Welsh servant Owen Tudor and the widow of King Henry V, the dowager Queen Catherine of Valois. Thought to have been born in 1430 in the Bishop of London’s palace of Much Hadham in Hertfordshire, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, was his younger brother.

When his father Owen Tudor was arrested in 1436 Edmund’s mother retired to Bermondsey Abbey, where she died. Edmund and his brother Jasper were taken into the care of Catherine de la Pole, Abbess of Barking. They lived at the abbey for six years until their father brought them to the court of their step brother, King Henry VI.

Edmund was knighted by King Henry on the 15th of December, 1449, and created Earl of Richmond and premier earl on the 6th of March 1452, being formally declared legitimate in the parliament of 1453. The king granted him lands and a generous income, and in 1455 Edmund married his thirteen-year-old ward, the wealthy heiress Lady Margaret Beaufort.

Arms of Sir Edmund Tudor
Fighting for Lancaster in what have become known as the Wars of the Roses, he was captured in 1456 by the Yorkist William Herbert and imprisoned in Carmarthen Castle. There were rumours Edmund might have been poisoned and a trial was held several months later with several people accused of his murder but no one was found guilty. It is generally thought Edmund died from wounds or from a form of bubonic plague while in prison on the 3rd of November 1456. Two months later Margaret Beaufort gave birth in nearby Pembroke Caste to Edmund’s son, who would become King Henry VII.

Edmund was buried at the Franciscan monastery of Grey Friars in Carmarthen. On the 30th March 1538 the Carmarthen priory was surrendered to the crown during the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1539, eighty-three years after his death, Edmund's remains were moved to the choir of St David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire on the orders of his grandson, King Henry VIII. Edmund Tudor's tomb of Purbeck marble was placed in the choir, in front of the high altar. The inscription reads ‘Under this marble stone here inclosed resteth the bones of that most noble lord Edmund Earl of Richmond father and brother to kings, the which departed out of this world in our lord God MCCCCLVI the third of the month of November: on whose soul Almighty Jesu have mercy.’

Originally covered with a pall of silk embroidered with his arms and badges, the presence of the prominent Tudor tomb is thought to have thwarted anti-catholic reformer Bishop William Barlow’s plan to move the cathedral from St David’s to Carmarthen in the 1540’s.

Stripped of its finery by Oliver Cromwell's army in the seventeenth century, the cathedral and Edmund’s tomb were restored by gothic revival architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott between 1864 and 1876. The restoration included an engraved brass representing Edmund Tudor by Thomas Waller (1873) and a copy of the original brass edge inscription.

Tony Riches
St David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire Wales
See also:  Visiting King Henry VII in London

25 February 2017

Historical Fiction Special Guest Post: The Spanish Exile, by Jewel Allen

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Enter Captain Raúl Calderón’s world of danger, intrigue and romance of 1760s Spain. Inspired by true historical events, The Spanish Exile is Book One of the swashbuckling series Islands of the Crown.

Several years ago, an elderly relative sent me a thick sheaf of papers documenting the family history of my paternal grandmother’s family in Cuyo, Palawan, Philippines. The pedigree chart harkened back to a Spanish duke and an officer in the army of the Bourbon King Carlos III.

King Carlos III was an austere man, some would even say dull, passionate about hunting but caring little for the frivolities of his European cousins. What he lacked in social graces, he made up for as a ruler. He surrounded himself with forward-thinking men, the likes of Esquilache and Count Pedro Pablo Abarca de Bolea. Historians refer to King Carlos III’s reign as “the Age of Enlightenment” for he transformed Madrid to its former glory, with garbage collection and street lights. He believed in the free market and deregulated the price of staple foods.

In 1766, discontent erupted in the land. After a period of drought and hoarding, grain merchants began selling bread at astronomical prices. To add insult to injury, the king declared a ban on the national dress of slouch hat and cape, as a security measure.

On Palm Sunday, the people revolted, demanding price controls on grain, the expulsion of foreign ministers and the overturning of the clothing ban, among others. The king acquiesced from his balcony, then fled to Aranjuez. For a time, a military junta tried to maintain order in the capital. Supposedly, my ancestor may have played a key role in protecting the king from advancing rioters.

The less I found online about this ancestor, the more I became obsessed with this desire to know more about his life and times. I began reading voraciously about King Carlos III, royalty, military life, manners, art, customs, and architecture in eighteenth-century Spain. Every week felt like Christmas, as books and articles I had requested from our small bookmobile arrived through interlibrary loan. I tried to read as many books as I could about the subject, but as far as I could tell, no one had yet written about an officer in King Carlos III’s army, honorably exiled to the Philippines for his role in the expulsion of the Jesuits.

Thus, Raúl Calderón, the Spanish exile, came into being.

In the summer of 2014, I experienced the dream of a lifetime by traveling to Madrid, Spain, with my sister and oldest daughter. We started in Barcelona and took the train to Madrid. On the morning of our third day, my daughter Sierra and I set out to sample the famous churro y chocolate, and to visit the Palacio Real de Madrid, which was reportedly decorated from King Carlos III's time. After churros, my daughter and I queued up for an English-language tour at the Palacio. Our guide would say, charmingly, "Have a look..." And we did.

Many characters in my novel existed in real life, such as the king and his key ministers who served on the Council of Castile. But the heroes – Raúl and Conchita – and the villains are all a product of my imagination woven into the rich tapestry of history.

Jewel Allen

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About the Author

Jewel Allen is an award-winning journalist, author and ghostwriter who grew up in the Philippines and now lives in Utah. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Utah State University and runs a memoir publishing company, Treasured Stories. She is the author of a young adult paranormal mystery, Ghost Moon Night; a political memoir, Soapbox: How I landed & lost a columnist gig, fought a prison, and got elected; and the first of a historical swashbuckling series set in 1760s Spain, The Spanish ExileFind out more at Jewel’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter @jewelallen87.

21 February 2017

Rest in Peace? Disturbing Royal Tombs

Queen Elizabeth I (Wikimedia Commons Image)

On my recent visit to Westminster Abbey I was surprised to find King James I was buried in the vault of Henry VII, alongside Henry and his wife Elizabeth of York. I’m not sure Henry would have approved and it reminded me of several rather sacrilegious disturbing of royal burials. Henry’s granddaughter, Elizabeth I, would possibly not have been amused to know that her coffin, covered with a tattered velvet pall, has been placed on top of the coffin of her half-sister, Queen Mary, 

Also in Westminster Abbey, King Edward the Confessor’s coffin was moved to a new shrine and opened by a curious Henry II in 1163.  Edward was discovered with his long white beard intact and still dressed in cloth of gold with an embroidered mitre on his head and purple shoes on his feet. The pilgrim’s ring Edward wore was taken by Henry II as a relic and the cloth of gold turned into ‘three splendid copes’ (long cloaks).

The tomb of King Richard II was opened in 1871 during restoration work and the skeleton was found to be nearly perfect. Several ‘relics’ were taken from the tomb – and were later found in a cigarette box in the basement of London’s National Portrait Gallery.  The contents of the box, dated 31 August 1871, included fragments of wood from the coffin, as well as some fabric, and leather from one of the royal gloves.

Perhaps one of the best known stories is of poor Queen Catherine of Valois, whose corpse was shown to visitors on payment to the staff at Westminster Abbey staff.  The diarist Samuel Pepys wrote:

“Tuesday 23 February 1669 followed my wife and the girls I now took them to Westminster Abbey, and there did show them all the tombs very finely, having one with us alone, there being other company this day to see the tombs, it being Shrove Tuesday; and here we did see, by particular favour, the body of Queen Katherine of Valois; and I had the upper part of her body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did kiss a Queen.

During research for my book on Lady Eleanor Cobham, I discovered the disturbing tale of what happened to the body of her husband, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester. His tomb at the Abbey Church of St Alban was regularly visited by women who believed the embalming fluid used had ‘magical’ properties to cure wrinkles. The sexton made a small fortune selling thimbles of the ‘potion’ and physicians even took away samples for experimentation. Eventually the liquid ran out and visitors took Humphrey’s nails and hair until only a few small bones remained.

In 1784 the Churchwardens of St Mary's in Bury St Edmund's removed the altar monument of King Henry VII’s daughter Mary Tudor, the French Queen. Quite unnecessarily they opened her coffin and found her hair was ‘perfectly sound’ and of considerable length, some two feet long, and of a ‘beauteous golden colour’.

Finally, I wonder what Henry VIII would have to say about sharing his vault beneath St. George's Chapel in Windsor with Jane Seymour, a stillborn child of Queen Anne and the body of the executed Charles I? The tomb was uncovered in the presence of the Prince Regent in 1813 and several relics of Charles I were removed, including a piece of vertebrae, a piece of his beard and one tooth.

King Charles I (Wikimedia Commons)
The Prince’s physician, Sir Henry Halford noted that ‘...the hair was thick at the back part of the head, and, in appearance, nearly black. A portion of it, which has since been cleaned and dried, is of a beautiful dark brown colour. That of the beard was a redder brown. On the back part of the head it was more than an inch in length, and had probably been cut so short for the convenience of the executioner, or perhaps by the piety of friends soon after death, in order to furnish memorials of the unhappy king.’ Sir Henry Halford was later heard to be passing around King Charles’ vertebrae at dinner parties to the amusement of his guests.

Tony Riches

19 February 2017

Visiting King Henry VII in London

I’ve spent the past four years researching and writing about Henry Tudor’s life. During this time I’ve collected every book I can find about him, visited his birthplace in Pembroke Castle and followed his exile to Brittany. Henry was born in the first book of the Tudor trilogy, Owen, and came of age in the second book, Jasper. As I prepare for the launch of the final book, Henry, where he becomes King of England, I decided to visit his tomb and pay my respects.

Henry’s Tomb in Westminster Abbey

There is something quite surreal about making your way through Westminster Abbey to the Lady Chapel at the far end. There are many amazing distractions, as you pass the tombs of earlier kings and Henry’s granddaughter Elizabeth I in a side chapel. Henry’s tomb dominates the centre of the Lady Chapel and is surrounded by a high bronze grille. His effigy is raised too high to see, so I climbed a convenient step and peered through the holes in the grille. There lay Henry with his wife, Elizabeth of York, their gilded hands clasped in prayer.   

After visiting Henry, I entered the side chapel to visit his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. Her tomb is lower and as I stood looking at it a shaft of winter sunlight came through the stained glass windows and lit up her face. I think she would have been pleased to know she is still remembered.

I find it quite amazing that Henry’s final resting place has survived the fire of London, the English Civil War and the two World Wars in such good condition, more than five centuries after his death. The bronze grille from Henry's tomb was removed and taken to safety during WW2 when the stained glass windows were blown out by bomb blasts in 1940. You can still see the signs of damage where it was hastily taken apart and reassembled.

There is an admission charge for Westminster Abbey and no photography is allowed. The Abbey museum is closed for refurbishment until 2018, so I was unable to see the wooden funeral effigies of Henry and Elizabeth. All the same, it was an unforgettable visit and I chose to take the tour a second time using the excellent audio tour narrated by Jeremy Irons. For more information about charges and opening times please see 

Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is within walking distance of Westminster Abbey and has free admission. I particularly wanted to see the famous 1505 portrait, which proved to be the first one in Room 1 when I reached the top of the stairs. At sixteen inches high it was smaller than I’d imagined but just as vibrant as the day it was painted. The earliest painting in the National Portrait Gallery's collection, the portrait is thought to have been painted as part of Henry’s unsuccessful marriage proposal to Emperor Maximilian's daughter Margaret of Savoy.

Nearby are two later portraits of Henry. One is a small oil on panel. The other is an ink and watercolour preparatory cartoon by Hans Holbein the Younger, with Henry peeping out from behind his son Henry VIII, who commissioned the work in 1537. Room 1 also includes an amazing selection of Tudor portraits, with a spectacular life-sized Elizabeth I dominating one wall.  For more information about charges and opening times please see 

The Torrigiano bust at the V&A Museum

The final place I visited was the Victoria & Albert Museum, where I wanted to visit the medieval gallery to see the bust by Pietro Torrigiano, one of the first Italian Renaissance sculptors to work outside Italy. Torrigiano came to England in 1507 to work on the tombs in Westminster Abbey. Housed in a large glass case, the life-sized bust was probably cast from a death mask of Henry, with the shoulders and chest modelled later. One of the reasons for the good preservation of the detail is the removal of later over-painting. (Interestingly, this is one of a set of three busts, and the other two, of an unknown man and Bishop John Fisher, are now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.) For more information about charges and opening times please see

Tony Riches

17 February 2017

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Tristan & Isolde: Book One. Love Is Stone by RR Gordon

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Legend Of Cornwall’s Star-Crossed Lovers

Saxons are spreading across southern England, squeezing the Celts into the corners of Cornwall and South Wales. Is it simply a matter of time until a race that once covered most of Europe is driven into extinction?

Two teenage Celtic brothers from a small border village attack a band of Saxons who venture across from Wessex. King Marke of Cornwall hears of their deeds and recruits them into his royal guards, the younger Tristan rising over a few short years to become his champion swordsman.

King Vortipor has recently united all of South Wales into a single kingdom, but when he falls ill, the old factions begin to re-surface. His queen, Elen, struggles to keep the kingdom together while hiding the true seriousness of her husband’s condition.

Isolde, a young Irish princess, is betrothed to a man she hates. Isolde plots to overthrow her father in order to determine her own destiny, but little does she know that her actions will set four kingdoms on a collision course that is likely to have a profound impact across the whole of the known world.

The Celtic legend of Tristan & Isolde’s love has endured a thousand years and is part of the folklore of nearly fifty countries. Some believe the story inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, making Tristan & Isolde the original star-crossed lovers.
Weaving legend into historical fact, the best-selling author RR Gordon has created a spell-binding tale featuring battles, romance, political intrigue, engaging leading men and strong heroines.


‘An epic tale in the style of Game Of Thrones’

‘Interlaces historical fact and storytelling fiction like Bernard Cornwell, combined with the epic intrigue and crisscrossing plot lines of George RR Martin – a glorious, sumptuous story’

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About the Author

Rod Gordon grew up in Yorkshire and now lives in the Cotswolds with his wife & four children. He writes books that might be described as thrillers, but with a twist of humour and romance. Find our more at and find Rod on Twitter @RRGordonDotCom..

9 February 2017

Book Launch - The Somme Legacy: A Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery by M J Lee

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

From the author of the best selling, The Irish Inheritance, comes a gripping new book revealing family secrets hidden in the fog of war. The Somme Legacy is the second book in the Jayne Sinclair genealogical mystery series, but it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story. 

July 1, 1916. The Somme, France:  A British Officer prepares to go over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

March 28, 2016. Manchester. England: Genealogical investigator Jayne Sinclair, a former police detective, is commissioned by a young teacher to look into the history of his family. The only clues are a medallion with purple, white and green ribbons, and an old drawing of a young woman.

Her quest leads to a secret buried in the trenches of World War One for over 100 years. Who was the real heir to the Lappiter millions?
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About the Author

Martin Lee has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a University researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, TV commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.He has spent 25 years working outside the North of England. In London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and London Festivals, and the United Nations. When he's not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, researching his family history, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake and wishing he were George Clooney. Find out more at and folow Martin on Facebook and Twitter @writermjlee.