19 September 2019

Death of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and the mystery of her curious tomb at Spilsby


Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, 12th Baroness Willoughby d'Eresby and subject of my forthcoming book, Katherine - Tudor Duchess, is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knew all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward, as well as being related by marriage to Lady Jane Grey.

Her mother, Maria de Salinas, was the Spanish lady-in-waiting and companion to Queen Catherine of Aragon. and her father was William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. King Henry VIII granted William and Maria Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire as a wedding present.

Katherine married Charles Brandon (subject of my book Brandon - Tudor Knight), and became Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen. Katherine and Charles Brandon were chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves when she arrived in England, and when Katherine’s good friend, Catherine Parr became the king’s sixth wife, they worked together to promote Protestant reforms.

After Charles Brandon's death Katherine married a member of her household, Richard Bertie, who was her Gentleman Usher and Master of Horse. As leading Protestants, they were forced to flee into exile by Queen Mary I, only returning after Mary's death. 

Portrait of Katherine in later life, on display at Grimsthorpe Castle
Katherine died at Grimsthorpe on the on 19th September 1580 after a long illness aged 61, and is buried with her second husband, Richard, in Spilsby, Lincolnshire.

As part of the research for my book on Katherine I visited Grimsthorpe Castle and saw her chapel, as well as the Tudor rooms where it is likely she spent her last days. I also made the journey to the Lincolnshire town of Spilsby, where Katherine was laid to rest in the Willoughby Chapel of St James Church with her husband Richard.

St James Church, Spilsby

There are a number of mysteries about Katherine's tomb, the most striking of which is that the effigies of Katherine and Richard seem far to small and out of proportion for the space they occupy. Close inspection reveals that they seem to have been cut off at chest height. (My theory is that there was a serious misunderstanding about the size required!)




Katherine, a strict Protestant and averse to unnecessary decoration of churches, is also flanked by three life-sized figures, which are thought to represent a hermit, a Saracen king and the pagan 'green man' of the forest. It's possible these might be derived from old Willoughby motifs, as Grimsthorpe is decorated with a stylised Saracen's head, to mark the family involvement in the crusades. 

My new book, Katherine - Tudor Duchess, will be available in October 2019. As well as concluding my Brandon trilogy, Katherine’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and leads to my forthcoming Elizabethan series, with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I.

Tony Riches

17 September 2019

Using Book Brush To Create Videos For Twitter #AuthorToolboxBlogHop



It's getting harder to make posts about books stand out on social media. At one time a cover shot was good enough, but now there are so many Gifs it's easy to be overlooked. If you take a look at the analysis from Twitter, it's clear that short video is the way to go. Twitter claim 2 billion video views a day, which is 66% year-over-year growth in the past 12 months. They also add that 93% of video views happen on mobile. (Twitter internal data, 2019) 

(Source: Twitter 2019)

So how do you make book videos without spending a fortune or being distracted from writing goals? Earlier this year author Marcia Meara (@MarciaMeara) pointed me in the direction of 'Book Brush',  which claims to be the easiest way to create professional social media images for your books. Since then it has become my 'go to' tool for enhancing social media posts. 

A web-based application, Book Brush has been in 'beta' for quite a while - but they keep adding new features and more templates, which is good. It can be a little 'quirky' to use, although once you've found your way around it's much quicker than most of the competition.

I like the 'Instant Mockups', which allow you to use a library of over two-hundred images featuring your book: 


I also like the Video Creator, which can get you a lot of views on Twitter (I set a target of 30,000 followers before Christmas and I'm fairly sure my little videos have helped speed up progress, as I'm there already.


As Book Brush is so visual, I'd like to hand over to YA author Kim Chance (@_KimChance) to explain how  to use Video Creator:


The hardest bit for me is deciding on the text to use with images, so here is author and book marketing specialist Mandi Lynn (@mandilynnwrites) with her top six tips:


The best way to learn is to have a go. Book Brush encourage free evaluation - and I've been happy to pay for the 'plus' options, as it pays for itself in no time through increased awareness of your books.

Tony Riches


Do you have tips and suggestions for using Book Brush or other tools you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below


The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn! The rules and sign-up form are below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in. 

16 September 2019

Guest Post by Jennifer Wineberg, Author of Ruskin’s Copper Shadow


Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Did Pauline Trevelyan manipulate John Ruskin into leaving the love of his life in 1865? Bonded by their interest in Pre-Raphaelite art, Pauline Trevelyan, the Mistress of Wallington Hall in Northumberland and John Ruskin developed a close friendship. Pauline had taken his side against Euphemia Gray (Effie) when she had divorced him for non-consummation of their marriage. The daughter of a Minister would naturally want to protect Ruskin from further scandal when Isabella Milburn one of her servants, fell pregnant. A Northumbrian Canon is concerned about this illegitimate child, leading him to unravel 
a story of deception and betrayal. 


My fascination with my Northumbrian roots, the Victorian era and the moral dilemmas surrounding John Ruskin all came together in my debut novel. However, due to the complexities of trying to tease out the link between John Ruskin and my illegitimate great grandmother Mabel Milburn I introduced narrative characters to create an historical fiction, narrated by a Northumbrian Canon to help me. 

His concern about an illegitimate child leads him to unravel a story of deception and betrayal in Wallington Hall where my forbears worked as servants under Pauline and Sir Walter Trevelyan. As a metaphor for Ruskin, the Canon’s heightened social awareness plunges him into the Brussels underworld to investigate the White Slave Trade. Like Ruskin he falls in love with a young girl whose spontaneity and natural beauty inspires him, saving him from his mental and physical tribulations.

Who was John Ruskin?

Ruskin was born in 1817 and died in 1900 and was regarded as one of the most prolific writers of the nineteenth century, a tireless social reformer and an ardent sponsor of Turner and the Pre-Raphaelite artists Millais and Rosetti. While we celebrate his Bicentennial in 2019 many Ruskin scholars are now recognising that his ideas resonate today. I would like to think that Ruskin’s Copper Shadow will complement this resurgence of interest in the great man.

What first triggered my suspicion that I might be related to John Ruskin?

As a five year old child I remembered my father bundling my mother, two sisters and grandparents into a tiny rented car and setting off into the Northumbrian countryside. All I remember about that day was an old parish pump and a row of cottages surrounding a field. My father told me that his mother had important links to the estate.

Jump forward fifty five years and I am a retired lady with time on her hands, an interest in her family tree and a handful of free credits from a well-known ancestry search programme. The 1871 census placed my great grandmother Mabel Milburn in a cottage on an estate called Wallington Hall owned by the Trevelyans. Their marriage was unusual to say the least. He was a stereotypic Victorian eccentric who believed in phrenology and he chose his wife because of the shape of her head. 

Overnight a penniless nineteen year old vicar’s daughter became one of the richest women in Northumberland. At the time of the wedding Walter was a thirty eight year old vegan teetotaller and they had little in common except for a love of fossils. While he spent his time with an insignificant clerk called David Wooster whose face Pauline could not bear to see at the breakfast table she looked for more interesting company. Upon hearing that a glamorous group of painters which included the famous Rosetti and Millais were in need of sponsorship she welcomed them with both her hospitality and her husband’s money. Then she came into contact with another passionate supporter of this group called John Ruskin.

When I visited Wallington Estate which is currently owned by the National Trust I walked into the Grand Hall to find myself surrounded by huge wall paintings depicting scenes from Northumbrian Folklore. The artist was William Bell Scott who was head of Newcastle School of Art at the time Pauline Trevelyan gave him this commission. The most famous of these paintings is entitled Iron and Coal and depicts Newcastle’s industrial heritage. When I looked more closely at this picture I was astounded by the close similarity between the girl at the base of the picture and my Aunt Mabel. 

It was not just her copper hair and her hazel eyes but the expression on her face which drew me to her. A friendly volunteer at the house informed me that the painting was completed in June 1861 and we thought the girl was about nine years old. Pauline Trevelyan had insisted on using people from the estate as models for the paintings, and I discovered that the only child approximating this age was Isabella Milburn who by the time of the 1871 census was 18 years old. The head of the household where she lived was a shepherd called Nicholas Milburn who lived with his wife and a grandchild aged five years old. Her name was Mabel Milburn. She was my great grandmother.

The 1871 census described Isabella as an unemployed domestic servant. In those days the only reasons for a servant’s dismissal were because of a felony or becoming pregnant. As there was no record of her at the Newcastle Assizes I had to assume that she had lost her job because she had fallen pregnant with Mabel making her my great great grandmother.

Who was the father?

There was a tradition at the time for the father to attribute a middle name to an illegitimate baby as a symbol of connection to the child. Mabel’s middle name was Evelina. The Victorians were obsessed with symbolism and Evelina was a euphemism for illegitimacy amongst the aristocracy of the day, inspired by a story by Fanny Burney which told of an illegitimate girl named Evelina born to a dissolute aristocrat. 

My forebears huddled up in their tied cottage were as a far away as the moon from the upper classes and would have absolutely no idea of the significance of this name, meaning that Mabel’s father must have been an aristocrat. The application of this middle name to his daughter meant that although on marriage a surname would be lost, the middle name of Evelina was preserved. This knowledge combined with the strength of character evident in my female ancestors inspired me to write the book from a female perspective.

What about the birth certificate?

The helpful researcher at Woodhorn Archives in Northumberland said that it was unlikely that an aristocrat would officially recognise a peasant child, but when I found Mabel’s birth certificate I did not expect to find Isabella’s older sister Anne recorded as her mother. At first I was devastated but then something obvious occurred to me. 

Anne was twenty years old when Mabel Evelina Milburn was born in 1864 yet Isabella was only twelve. If Isabella’s name had appeared on the birth register questions would have been asked about the father. Also If Anne had been the mother, according to family tradition she would have taken Mabel with her when she married, yet Mabel was brought up by her grandparents on the Wallington Estate.

Was the birth certificate falsified to hide the fact that young Isabella was the mother?

If it was why would Walter want to illegally distort the birth records?

Who was he trying to protect? 


Pauline supported John throughout his traumatic divorce in 1855 and when his father died in 1864 he wrote to her almost every day in the months immediately after this terrible event. Mabel Evelina was conceived towards the end of that year. There is no doubt that Pauline and Ruskin were close friends.

By the time of Mabel Evelina’s birth Pauline Trevelyan’s ovarian cancer had crippled her to the extent that she was spending most of her time in a wheelchair. We know that on her death bed in 1866 she reached out to John Ruskin with one hand and her husband with the other. A close relationship indeed. 

Her desire for children could not have been expressed more clearly than in her final commission, a sculpture by Thomas Woolner ‘Civilisation.’ It depicts a mother lovingly embracing a small child and was completed in 1868 after her death. The tragedy of her childless state must have embittered her towards Isabella Milburn – my great great grandmother who I believe had fallen pregnant to her confidant John Ruskin.

Was Ruskin persuaded to disassociate himself from his illegitimate child Mabel Evelina?


There is documented evidence of Ruskin’s vulnerability to be manipulated against his own interests. It has been suggested that the Pre–Raphaelites entertained Ruskin largely because they were interested in his financial support. 

He was easily persuaded to lavish monies on projects with little consideration for the value of these investments and was sold Brantwood, his home in Coniston without seeing it. His father’s massive inheritance slipped through his fingers almost as if he was keen to rid himself of it and his well-publicised aversion to babies may have helped Pauline persuade him to extricate himself from the situation with Isabella.

Were important materials destroyed?

Some researchers may question the unusual gap in communications between Ruskin and Pauline at the time of Mabel’s conception and birth. Evidence cited by Raleigh Trevelyan in papers held in the John Rylands Library in Manchester alerted biographers. He claimed that correspondence written in the 1860’s belonging to Pauline was destroyed by Walter after her death. It cannot be discounted that the papers relegated for destruction included evidence of John’s illegitimate child Mabel Evelina Milburn. Ruskin’s advisors also disposed of much of his personal correspondence both before and after his death.

Is the central theme of this story true?

The final clue comes from the story by Fanny Burney about Evelina in which she benefits from a bestowal. Mabel Evelina Milburn pre-deceased her husband but on his death he left a legacy in excess of £3500 which for a blacksmith turned shipsmith was a remarkable amount of money and hints at a preferential bestowal made by Mabel’s father.

Ruskin’s appreciation of art, architecture and poetry along with his admiration for skilled craftsmen who had pride in what they produced has captured our imagination. His pain when he wrote passionately about how capitalism ruthlessly separates man from his moral compass and the terrible impact this had upon the workers sucked into the Industrial Revolution was palpable. 

 I hope if nothing else, this book increases your understanding of this great man and leads you to question whether he was a dysfunctional impotent virgin as many of his biographers claim. Could his dark periods of depression have been ameliorated by having a constant like Isabella in his life? We will never know the truth about John Ruskin and my great great grandmother as the distortion and mass destruction of evidence has drawn a veil over the story. Hopefully, my determination to bring clarity to these events will help you understand why I have written it as a truth.

Jennifer Wineberg

# # #

About the author
Jennifer Wineberg was born in Newcastle on Tyne and her ancestors are rooted in Northumberland and Durham. She was a teacher with degrees in Education and Psychology, a pharmaceutical sales representative and a manager of a boutique style bed and breakfast before she became an author. Jennifer found writing her debut novel about John Ruskin more terrifying than white water rafting on the Zambesi (which she has done) because she felt a responsibility not only to her immediate family, but also to the followers of this great man. To this end she spent seven years on research before penning a word, and being dissatisfied with the first version she re-wrote it twice. Jennifer will shortly be presenting her story to history clubs and other organisations and is grateful for the support she has received from the National Trust at Wallington Hall in Northumberland. She manages to combine writing with sailing around the Solent with her family in her old boat. Her husband Stuart dances with apostrophes and full stops in an attempt to turn her books into readable formats and she has a love hate relationship with the compiler of the Financial Times Crossword. She also supports Newcastle United Football Club.  Her next series of books are about a time traveller called Melissa who challenges the myopic male interpretation of dark periods of history.  Follow Jennifer on  Twitter @JenniferWinebe1 and Facebook

15 September 2019

Book Launch: Entertaining Mr Pepys, by Deborah Swift


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Based on events depicted in the famous Diary of Samuel Pepys, Entertaining Mr Pepys brings London in the 17th Century to life. It includes the vibrant characters of the day such as the diarist himself and actress Nell Gwynne, and features a dazzling and gripping finale during the Great Fire of London.

Refugees from the Great Fire of London

‘The saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw. Everywhere great fires. Oyle-cellars and brimstone and other things burning’ Samuel Pepys’ Diary 1666

Herded beasts

In The Great Fire of London 70,000 homes were destroyed, leaving the people of London shocked to the core and suddenly with nowhere to go. Their businesses, their familiar landscape; all destroyed. Not only that, but most of their possessions had gone up in smoke too.

Many fled to Moorfields, just north of Moorgate, one of London’s most notorious centres of vice and violence, and the open space which was safest from the fire, though not from thieves and petty criminals. There they camped out ‘under tents, some under miserable huts and hovels, many without a rag, or any necessary utensills, bed or board, who from delicateness, riches, and easy accommodations in stately and well-furnished houses, were now reduced to extreme misery and poverty’. (John Evelyn)

Fearing a near riot, the King despatched the trained bands of militia to Moorfields to try to keep order. Churches, chapels and any other public building still standing was used to house the people and the goods they had rescued from their homes, and as centres for the distribution of food, which was in short supply since the grain-stores, bakeries and brewers had all been burned down.
Many refugees relied on their relatives in other towns or the villages nearby. In Restoration London the countryside was never far away. ‘The most in fields like herded beasts lie down to dews obnoxious on the grassy floor,’ observed Dryden.

The king issued an edict which ordered the surrounding towns to receive any displaced persons and to permit them to trade, and sent word to local justices to make sure refugees were not robbed of the little they had left. For the poor, there was some relish in the way the rich had been brought down to the same level as everyone else; ‘those that delighted themselves in downe beds and silken curteynes are now glad of the shelter of a hedge,’ said Anthony Wood.

Rumour spreads faster than the flames

The rumour that the fire had been a terrorist act by the Dutch was quick to take hold, because England had been waging war against the Dutch over trade routes for years. A savage army of Dutch and French were on their way, the rumour said, now that London was in disorder and ruin. Panic ensued – in fact just the kind of disorder the militia were trying to prevent.


Before long a mob was on the street armed with cudgels, sticks and anything else they could find. Fuelled by rage at the loss of their city they went on the rampage, looking for traitors in their midst. They were wrong of course, there was no Dutch plot, but that didn’t prevent xenophobic attacks on anyone with a foreign accent, and it took more armed troops to subdue the riot.


The following day more militia were drafted in, just in case of further disorder, and the King announced at Moorfields that a temporary Exchange was to be set up in Gresham College in an unaffected north-east part of the city. As he was soothing his subjects, the true scale of devastation was becoming apparent. In fact fires continued to burn in cellars and under debris until March, and there was a constant fear it would spread again. John Evelyn took a walk the Friday after, passing, ‘voragos of subterranean cellars, wells, and dungeons, formerly warehouses, still burning in stench and dark clouds of smoke.’



Hollar’s engraving of the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire gives us a sense of the terrible loss of this formerly thriving city. Eighty-six churches gone, 373 acres of buildings destroyed, and it would take half a century before Londoners could walk in their rebuilt streets without tasting the acrid smell of smoke.

Deborah Swift



# # # 
About the Author

Deborah Swift lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District and worked as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV. After gaining an MA in Creative Writing in 2007 Deborah now teach classes and courses in writing and provides editorial advice to writers and authors. Find out more at Deborah's website www.deborahswift.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @swiftstory.

Mystery of the 'Lady Jane Grey' Portrait at Grimsthorpe Castle


I recently visited Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire as part of the research for my new book about the amazing life of Lady Katherine Willoughby. As well as seeing the famous portraits of Katherine, her husband Charles Brandon and son Peregrine, I was intrigued by the portrait of an unknown Tudor lady (above).

I was told the portrait has been thought to be of Lady Jane Grey, (related to Katherine as the daughter of her stepdaughter, Lady Frances Grey.)  It is interesting to compare this picture with the fifty-seven portraits associated with Lady Jane Grey in the National Portrait Gallery: https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp01373/lady-jane-dudley-nee-grey

Several of these are confirmed by the the National Portrait Gallery as wrongly attributed, and none show the large and unusual pendant of the Gristhorpe portrait, which seems to depict some sort of classical scene. It was difficult to see due to the reflected light, but the castle's access manager, Ray Biggs, kindly sent me this close up picture:


An expert on Lady Jane Grey told me this  Grimsthorpe portrait was exhibited as Jane in the 19th century. She added that the brooch probably depicts the judgement of Paris, a common theme in the 16th century:

The Judgement of Paris, Hans Rottenhammer, c. 1600
(Wikimedia Commons)
 She added that that the face of the painting has been entirely over painted for some reason - which of course would make identification more difficult without the use of X-Ray. A catalogue of all the paintings at Grimsthorpe castle is being prepared, so please comment below if you have any more theories about the sitter - or her curios pendant.

Tony Riches

(Images copyright Ray Biggs 2019)

Book Launch Guest Post ~ Researching the House of Grey, by Melita Thomas


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Grey family was one of medieval England's most important dynasties. They were were on intimate terms with the monarchs and interwoven with royalty by marriage. They served the kings of England as sheriffs, barons, and military leaders. Weaving the lives of these men and women from a single family, often different allegiances, into a single narrative, provides a vivid picture of the English medieval and Tudor court, reflecting how the personal was always political as individual relationships and rivalries for land, power, 
and money drove national events.


Researching the House of Grey

The House of Grey is my second book, and that made it both harder and easier to write than my first, The King’s Pearl.  For me, writing about Mary I had been something of a life-long ambition, and whilst I was not oblivious to the difficulties of researching and writing, there were a lot o ‘unknown unknowns’ that only enthusiasm (and a deadline!) carried me through.

The knowledge of how to plan and manage the research and the writing process made the House of Grey slightly easier to manage in practical terms, although there was a time when it did seem that I would never see the light at the end of the research tunnel.

For my second project, the unknowns had turned into scary realities, made worse by the Greys not being royalty, so consequently fewer of the archives associated with them had been unearthed or transcribed.

This was slightly ameliorated by the close relationship some members of the family had with central figures, such as Thomas Cromwell, for whom a whole plethora of correspondence exists. Otherwise much of the information is derived from grants of land or office, or legal disputes, which can give the impression that the mediaeval and Tudor nobility spent a large proportion of their time in litigation.

Even once the archives are unearthed, for me there was the problem reading Tudor handwriting.  I struggle with palaeography, partly through lack of formal training (although I went on courses to improve) and partly through poor eyesight.  In the end, I selected some key archives to be transcribed by an expert, Dr Lisa Liddy, whose amazing skills made my life easier.

Other sources are, of course, the chronicles and historical accounts written more or less contemporaneously, but these often had to be taken,  not exactly with a pinch of salt, but with the knowledge that the writers generally had a point of view of their own, which might be very different from that of the Greys, or even be so biased as to qualify as propaganda either for or against them.

As always, history is written by the winners, so the time a chronicle was written, its sponsor and their relationship with the Greys must all be borne in mind, if there is no primary evidence confirming or refuting the report.  The corollary to this is, is the importance of maintaining an unprejudiced stance yourself and not just creating more one-sided propaganda, whilst at the same time, trying to build, if not sympathy, at least understanding for your protagonists’ actions.

Something that fascinates me is the historian’s ability to know more than the people of the time. I can read the letters from Lord Leonard Grey to Cromwell, explaining events in Ireland from his perspective, alongside those written by the men who sought to oust Leonard from office.  He did not know the damage they were doing to his reputation, but I do.  His execution for treason was more of a shock to him, than it was to me!

Melita Thomas

# # #

About the Author

Melita Thomas is the co-founder and editor of Tudor Times, a repository of information about Britain in the period 1485-1625 www.tudortimes.co.uk. Melita has loved history since being mesmerised by the BBC productions of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ and ‘Elizabeth R’, when she was a little girl. After that, she read everything she could get her hands on about this most fascinating of dynasties.  In her spare time, Melita enjoys long distance walking. She is attempting to walk around the whole coast of Britain. You can follow her progress here. https://mgctblog.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @thetudortimes.

13 September 2019

New Book Spotlight: Song of the Centurion (Warrior Druid of Britain Book 2) by Steven A. McKay


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Autumn, AD 430. After the Princess Catia’s disappearance, and Bellicus’s adventures trailing her Saxon abductors south to the fabled Hanging Stones, the giant warrior-druid is finally returning home.

Battle-scarred, and mourning the loss of a loved one, Bellicus has learned from bitter experience that the gods rarely make things easy. Even if he can evade Horsa’s vengeful pursuit and get back to the North safely, his troubles may be far from over…

In a land beset by the rivalries of petty warlords, Dun Breatann has stood solid and secure for untold generations. Trouble brews though as King Coroticus has cracked under the pressure of his daughter’s abduction and, as well as starting a war with the neighbouring kings, he has become jealous, suspicious, and often blind drunk. 

When the king’s rage finally boils over during a winter feast, Bellicus finds himself with two choices – accept exile, or complete another seemingly impossible undertaking.

So much for the returning hero…

Accompanied by his massive war-dog, Cai, and the ever-loyal former centurion, Duro - who has his own painful issues to contend with - Bellicus must somehow survive a journey east into enemy-held lands. 

There, he will need to use his gods-given talents to the full if they are to survive the winter frosts and carry out the mad king’s orders without being captured or killed by the men of Dalriada.

Folklore, superstition, the healing power of song, and even a wondrous white stag will all play a part in the companions’ continuing adventures, but, no matter the outcome of their mission, it will take a miracle to untangle the mess they’ve left behind. Armies are gathering and, when spring returns, the people of Dun Breatann will find themselves under siege once again.

Will their legendary warrior-druid be there to defend them this time, or will the new ways sweep away the old once and for all? 

# # #

About the Author

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, Wolf's Head, came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. Blood of the Wolf is the fourth and final book in the Forest Lord series. Steven is currently researching and writing a brand new tale - tentatively titled "The Druid" set in post-Roman Britain. He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up. Find out more at his website
https://stevenamckay.com/ and find him on Twitter @SA_McKay.

27 August 2019

Guest Post by Author Paul Walker: Weaving Historical Characters and Practices into a Compelling Fiction


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

London 1578 - a cauldron of conspiracy, intrigue and torture.  The might of Spain and the growing influence of the Catholic League in France all threaten the stability of Queen Elizabeth and her state.

My mother was a member of the Richard III Society and never tired of telling our family he was really a ‘good king’ and the antithesis of Shakespeare’s monster. The contemporary portrait of Richard in the National Portrait Gallery presents a thoughtful, intelligent face and it is not difficult to imagine him as a more sympathetic character than the one trashed by the Tudors.

Richard III

That was the start of my fascination with history and historical fiction. After decades as a reader of the genre, I resolved to try my hand as a writer. ‘If nothing else – you’ll enjoy the research,’ was the encouragement received from my wife. She was wrong. After a few months, I was impatient to get writing. I had picked a date in Elizabeth’s reign, mid-point between major plots and rebellions – 1578. Tolerance of those adhering to the old religion was fast disappearing and Walsingham’s network of intelligencers were industrious in securing Her Majesty’s state. In the end, my research stretched to three times the length of the writing, but I suppose that is a common finding of historical fiction authors.

My first book in a planned series of Elizabethan spy thrillers is State of Treason, published by Sharpe Books in June 2019. Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, is clearly a key figure in 1578, but my main character is a fictitious scholar, William Constable. The story is told from William’s viewpoint allowing freedom in the plot, largely within the confines of recorded events, and his assessment of historical figures. He is competent in astrology, mathematics and medicine with a modest reputation in Elizabethan London.

Astrology had a significant influence as a way of explaining and controlling the life of Elizabethans. Natal astrology was used to examine and predict events based on a birth chart. Medical astrology was used to determine an individual's weakness, diagnose illness, and prescribe cures. It was a prerequisite to healing and taught in every major university. It was not always clearly distinguished from astronomy, which described the motion of the stars and their influence on tides, weather and navigation.

Astrology is the declared reason for William’s summons to Sir Francis Walsingham. He also uses his skill in mathematics and surveyor of the stars as an excuse to meet with a group of men who plan an ambitious adventure to the New Lands and raids on Spanish treasure ships. He does this as an unwilling investigator into a conspiracy that threatens the state.

John Dee was a fascinating character whose expertise in astrology and mathematics made him a natural, if unseen, foil for William as his estranged mentor. A highly intelligent and learned man with one of the finest libraries in England, he was a trusted advisor to Elizabeth early in her reign. In later years, his interests turned to the supernatural and communication with angels. It was thought that he came under the influence of a dubious figure, Edward Kelley. Some claim that Kelley manipulated Dee and even persuade him that angels instructed him to lay with his young wife. Kelley and Dee’s second wife, Jane, both appear in the book, although I have been liberal with the dates of Kelley’s involvement with Dee.

John Dee

I took particular delight in incorporating John Foxe as a character who forms an unlikely friendship with William. A renowned advocate of Protestantism and author of a work commonly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (a bestseller at the time), it details the persecution and gruesome ends of protestant martyrs with special emphasis on England and Scotland. Foxe was also thought to have a benign and forgiving manner; unusual for the age. An examination of his likeness in this engraving suggests a gentle and compassionate man, at least to my eyes.

John Foxe

Little is known about the character of Francis Mylles, who is William’s main contact in Walsingham’s service. Notebooks and letters in the British Library indicate Puritan leanings and by 1580 he was one of Walsingham’s most important servants, controlling a network of informers. I portray him as a loyal and ambitious follower of Walsingham who may be helpful to William, but also a dangerous rival.

The navigation of ships is a central theme in State of Treason and its sequel. The art of navigation developed rapidly in the sixteenth century in response to explorers who needed to find their positions without landmarks. A cross staff was in common use in the mid sixteenth century to calculate latitude. The major problem with this was that the observer had to look in two directions at once - along the bottom of the transom to the horizon and along the top of the transom to the sun or the star. A more advanced instrument was the backstaff. A major advantage of the backstaff was that the navigator had to look in only one direction to take the sight - through the slit in the horizon vane to the horizon while simultaneously aligning the shadow of the shadow vane with the slit in the horizon vane. The shadow staff in the book, invented by William, is an imagined forerunner of the backstaff, whose invention is generally attributed to the 1580’s, but was probably in use before that date.

I came to John Hawkins and Humphrey Gilbert, famous privateers and explorers, later in plot development of State of Treason. They are major players in my follow-up book (untitled and due for publication later in 2019), which follows preparations for a venture to the New Lands from West Country ports. Hawkins was rewarded for his aid in uncovering the ‘Ridolfi Plot’ against Elizabeth and in 1578 was appointed Treasurer of the Royal Navy. Some questions remain about the true nature of his part in the Ridolfi affair and his continued friendship with the Spanish Ambassador.

John Hawkins

Both these men had a reputation for bravery and daring, but could also be cruel, hard and unforgiving. Gilbert advocated the killing of non-combatant women and children in military campaigns in Ireland and Hawkins is well-known as one of the first slave traders across the Atlantic. How does William get on with these two figures? Does he admire or despise them? You’ll have to read the books to find out more.

Paul Walker

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About the Author

Paul Walker is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in a number of universities and run his own business, he now divides his time between non-executive work for an educational trust and writing fiction. His writing is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.  State of Treason is the first in a planned series of Elizabethan spy thrillers. The plot is based around real characters and events in London of the 1570’s. The hero, William Constable, is an astrologer, mathematician, physician and inventor of a navigational aid for ships. The second book in the series will be published in October 2019. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PWalkerauthor

23 August 2019

Special Guest Post by Matthew Harffy, Author of The Bernicia Chronicles


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

AD 643. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the sixth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Heading south to lands he once considered his home, Beobrand is plunged into a dark world of piracy and slavery when an old friend enlists his help
to recover a kidnapped girl. 

STORM OF STEEL and the ships of the Anglo-Saxons

One of the many great things about writing historical fiction is doing the research, particularly visiting sites that appear in the novels. There is nothing quite like walking on the same ground as the characters you are writing about to get into their mind-set.

My series, The Bernicia Chronicles, is set in seventh century Britain, mostly in what is now Northumberland and Yorkshire, and when I manage to visit the locations, it is always a wonderful experience. People ask why I didn’t choose to write novels set in some far away warm and sunny clime. Of course, apart from how expensive it would be to travel abroad, I didn’t really choose the time and place I write about, the setting chose me. But that is a whole different blog post!

It has become a bit of a running joke in my family that when I write about a new place I always end up visiting it long after completing the novel in which it appears, often even after publication. This means I have no chance to rectify any mistakes I may have made. As usual, my wife and daughters are right. In Storm of Steel, the protagonist of my series, Beobrand, travels to the north of France, to Rouen, more precisely.

The book has already been published and I have yet to visit that city! However, not only does Beobrand travel further afield than in previous novels, he also spends a lot of the action aboard different ships. As I am not an experienced sailor by any means, I decided this was one aspect of the story that needed some hands-on research.

Matthew in Weymouth

Of course, there are very few replica ships from the early medieval period, so I decided on the next best thing: a chartered fishing boat. I contacted the skipper, Euan McNair, before the trip and told him the purpose of my visit and he was incredibly helpful. It turned out he was also a sailing instructor and ex-Royal Navy, and so he knew everything there was to know about the winds and tides of the English Channel that would affect my characters on their storm-swept voyage.

Sirius and skipper

Heading out from the harbour at Weymouth aboard his boat, Sirius, McNair took me and my friend Gareth (who took all the great photos) along the coast showing us likely locations for where a seventh century ship might be wrecked in rough seas.


He also explained how the different tides, surges and prevailing winds would affect seagoing vessels. It was an invaluable experience, especially as I got to see the rocks, cliffs and coastline of Dorset from the perspective of a sailor rather than a landlubber.





We only went to sea for a few hours on a boat fitted with all the modern gadgets, GPS, radar, radio, and let’s not forget the diesel engines. Clearly this is a far remove from the ships that feature in Storm of Steel.



While a considerable amount is known about the vessels sailed by the Norsemen a few centuries after the period in which my novel is set, less is known about the ships of the Anglo-Saxons. As no Anglo-Saxon ship has been found with evidence of a mast and sail, there is much debate about whether they actually had sails or were instead rowed everywhere.

A book with insights into both sides of the argument is Dark Age Naval Power by John Haywood. As well as analysis of historical evidence and archaeology, great work has also been done by E. and J. Gifford, who reconstructed a half-scale replica of the ship from the Sutton Hoo burial. They named it the Sae Wylfing and rigged it with a mast and sail and carried out a series of practical tests proving it could be navigated very effectively under sail.

Both of these works, and common sense led me to believe it is almost certain that ships from the period had sails. The Romans, whom the Saxon tribes had interacted with for centuries, used wind power, as did the people from Scandinavia a couple of hundred years later, so, despite there being no firm evidence to prove it, I think it highly unlikely that the Angles, Saxons and Jutes had not worked out how to rig a mast and sail in their ships.

Sutton hoo ship
I was lucky enough to see the Sae Wylfing on display at Sutton Hoo, which helped give me extra understanding of the construction of the ship and the placement of the oars, the rigging, and the mast.


While researching the book, I also read Tim Severin's wonderful book The Brendan Voyage. In it he recounts his epic journey in a leather-skinned currach in which, along with a small crew, he travelled between Ireland and North America, thus proving that the tale of St. Brendan's voyage in the sixth century could in fact be a fictionalised account of a real journey, using the different islands of the North Atlantic as stepping stones to the New World.

This resource was invaluable to me. The first-hand account of travelling the North Atlantic aboard a Dark Age vessel enabled me to add extra colour and depth to the descriptions of the seafarers’ life in Storm of Steel.


I loved researching and writing this book and I have been overjoyed by the comments of some reviewers with experience of sailing who have mentioned that the seafaring passages are very believable and realistic. This is the ultimate goal of any historical fiction author, and makes all the effort worth it.

The next novel in The Bernicia Chronicles series, Fortress of Fury, involves a siege and a great fire. Now, where did I leave those matches?

Matthew Harffy


# # #

About the Author

Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria's Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters. When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog. Find out more at Matthew's website www.matthewharffy.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @MatthewHarffy.

All Weymouth coast photos Copyright Gareth Jones 2018.
Sutton Hoo photos Copyright Matthew Harffy 2018.



The Bernicia Chronicles:


Wolf of Wessex:

Novella – Kin of Cain:

22 August 2019

The death of Sir Charles Brandon, Tudor Knight, 22 August, 1545


King Henry VIII had few close friends, and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was his closest throughout his life. Brandon’s father, Sir William Brandon, was standard bearer for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field - and is thought to have been killed by King Richard III on 22nd August, 1485.

Young Charles Brandon was brought up at King Henry VII’s court and became a favourite of the king  as well as a childhood friend of his second son - the future King Henry VIII.  

In 1515 Henry VIII sent Brandon to France to escort back to England his young widowed sister, Mary Tudor, whose husband King Louis XII of France had died. Brandon risked his life by secretly marrying Henry's sister (against the king's explicit orders) before they returned to England.  He was forgiven (although he was never able to repay the massive fine.) 

Charles Brandon's Garter Stall Plate
St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

Brandon's military exploits in France mostly ended in failure, although his prowess as a champion jouster made him one of the most popular Tudor knights.  

Charles Brandon led the jousting at the meeting of King Henry VIII and King Francois I of France at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520, and in 1523 commanded the English army in an attack on Calais. He was High Steward at the wedding of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533 and was rewarded with land as part of the dissolution of the monasteries.

Thomas Cromwell’s reforms to the royal household created the new position of ‘Lord Great Master’ to oversee everything. Charles Brandon was the first to hold this post until his death, when King Henry said that in all their long friendship Charles Brandon had never knowingly betrayed a friend or taken advantage of an enemy. He is reported to have asked his council, ‘Is there any of you who can say as much?’

Charles Brandon lived a full and active life right up to the day he died on 22 August, (by coincidence on the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth, the same day as his father) 1545 at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. He'd attended a meeting of the Privy Council in Guildford the day before his death, and his fourth wife Catherine was at his bedside with his daughters Frances and Eleanor to comfort his last hours.

He'd asked for a modest funeral and to be buried in the college church of Tattershall in Lincoln. King Henry decided instead that Brandon should be buried with full honours at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, where he had been made a Knight of the Garter.

I visited Windsor Castle as part of the research for my new book, and discovered Brandon's tomb in the fourth bay of the south quire aisle, near the south door, partly covered by a wooden bench seat and under a life-sized portrait of King Edward III.  It seems that it was originally as modest as he would have wished, but the chapel records show that in 1787 it was 'ordered that leave be given to lay a stone above the grave of Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk, according to His Majesties directions'. 

The resulting stone was put in place during the repaving of the quire aisles and nave. The simple inscription states only that Charles Brandon married Mary, daughter of Henry VII,  widow of Louis XII of France.


I also discovered that the jousting helm mounted on the wall adjacent to his tomb is not a funerary helm and is not thought to have any connection with Brandon.

Brandon was sixty-one when he died, and fortunately unaware that both his young sons, Henry and Charles, would die within an hour of each other of the sweating sickness on the 14 July, 1551. I think Brandon would have been amused to know he lies alongside King Henry VI - and a few yards from the equally unimpressive tomb of his lifelong friend and benefactor, King Henry VIII.

Tony Riches

21 August 2019

Special Guest Post by Author Judith Arnopp ~ Keeping perspective in A Song of Sixpence: The Story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

In the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth, a small boy is ripped from his rightful place as future king of England. His Sister Elizabeth is married to the invading King, Henry Tudor. Years later, when the boy returns to claim is throne, Elizabeth is torn between love for her brother and duty to her husband. As the final struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster is played out, Elizabeth is torn by conflicting loyalty, terror and unexpected love.


There is just something about the Tudors, whether it is the costumes, the politics, or the violence, they are never boring. There are so many avenues to follow, and new perspectives to take up. I am not mad-keen on revisionist history which is in danger of turning everyone into a saint but I am keen on looking on events from a new perspective. The thing that makes Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies great for me, is that instead of showing the Tudor world through the eyes of a victim, she shows it instead from the viewpoint of an abuser.

Usually Cromwell is depicted as a grim, self-serving monster, reaping, without compunction, the victims that come between him and his all-consuming ambition. Mantel’s genius is to consider how he came to be that way, and why.

There are no thoroughly evil people, even the hardest criminals among us justify our actions. Cromwell was doing a job, a dirty job that few others could have done. In the end he was consumed by his own ruthlessness, destroyed by his own laws. In the last screen of the BBC production of Wolf Hall, when he is embraced by the increasingly manic King Henry VIII, the realisation of his own eventual end is written clearly in Cromwell’s eyes. And, for the first time (possibly) in history, and in literature, we have empathy for him. That is the beauty of perspective, the joy of approaching a well-known subject in a fresh manner. It opens our eyes.

Tudor history, well, all history I suppose, is full of people yet to be treated in this way. Historical fiction is replete with stock figures, cardboard ‘monsters’ and plastic ‘saints.’ My hope is that Mantel has helped other writers of historical fiction to see the benefits of viewing these things afresh. I don’t mean white-washing, I mean trying to understand and perhaps empathise.

It is something I strive for in my own writing. There are negative characters, we need those for the sake of the plot, but I always try to provide a reason for their behaviour. No one is born ‘bad’; life experiences form our characters, and even the worst offenders among us never see their own actions as monstrous. When you study a character in depth, you will, in most instances, find possible motives or an event that altered their path.

There are few characters in my novel A Song of Sixpence who are traditionally treated negatively. Margaret Beaufort, for one, is usually an ageing, overly pious, sometimes neurotic termagant but there is nothing to suggest this in the historical record. She was very religious, most people were, but there is no suggestion that she was unhinged. Devoted to her son Henry, she worked tirelessly and determinedly to restore his rightful inheritance. It wasn’t until much later that she schemed to put him on the throne. There is nothing wrong with that, she should be praised for it. I am sure we’d all fight tooth and nail for our children.

When it comes to her relationship with Elizabeth of York, I have some suspicion Margaret may have been an interfering mother-in-law. Many of us have experienced those, but why do we always suppose her intentions were negative? Maybe her motives were born of affection and concern. The historical record suggests that she and Elizabeth of York were quite close so, in my novel their relationship is a slow burner; they start off at odds but mutual goals ensure they end up as friends.

And then there is Henry VII. Traditionally he is seen as a miser, the thief of another man’s throne, but he couldn’t have been all bad. He lived in harsh times. He saw the throne as his right – we all fight for what we see as our rights, don’t we? Once he was king, he did a good job – when he died the royal coffers were comfortably full; he put down all the pretenders to his crown, and made numerous advantageous alliances. He also left an heir, Henry VIII. There is very little more required of a ‘good’ king.

In A Song of Sixpence Henry is at first insecure, unsure of Elizabeth, and distrusting of his courtiers but in all likelihood, given what he’d witnessed of Richard III’s reign, he had good cause. He is quiet, calculating and wise. I’ve mixed negatives with a dollop of good intentions and, I hope, produced a credibly complex character.

As for Elizabeth of York whose fictional representation is usually meek, and sometimes cowed, I have tried to provide her character with more depth. History presents her as a good queen, obedient and supportive of Henry VII. She took no part in the politics of Henry’s reign, but her charitable work is well recorded. She kept close to and cared for her sisters and also had a direct hand in the upbringing and education of her younger children, keeping them close to her and teaching them their letters.

Prior to their marriage, Henry and Elizabeth had fought on opposing teams. It is more than likely that there were some initial misgivings on both parts. In A Song of Sixpence, I tried to explore Elizabeth’s inner mind, her thoughts. She is determined to be a good queen, has ambition for her children, love for her country and fights to break down the barriers between her and Henry.

When Perkin Warbeck appears on the scene, claiming to be her brother Richard, the younger of the two princes who disappeared from the Tower in 1483, her emotions are conflicted. She does not know if Warbeck’s claim is true. If he is indeed her brother, what will she do once Henry gets his hands on him? How will she stand by and watch her husband execute her brother? Yet, if he is her brother and he is victorious, can she stand by as he destroys her husband and takes her son’s throne. She is faced with a complex situation and an unenviable mix of emotions.

I take great pleasure in reconsidering historical figures. My other novels depict Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Parr, Margaret Beaufort and I am currently working on Queen of England, Mary Tudor. For me, the thing that makes Tudor era a great setting for my fiction is the host of figures still to cover; Margaret Pole, Katherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour and ultimately … when I pluck up sufficient courage … there is Henry VIII himself. The scope is endless, the prospect exciting, and my time in Tudor England far from over. I hope you will join me there.

Judith Arnopp


# # #

About the Author

A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith Arnopp holds an honours degree in English and Creative writing, and a Masters in Medieval Studies, both from the University of Wales, Lampeter. Writing both fiction and non-fiction, Judith works full-time from her home overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales where she crafts novels based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women from all roles of life, prostitutes to queens. Her books are available in paperback, Kindle and some are available on Audible. Find out more at Judith's website www.judithmarnopp.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JudithArnopp

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