Mastodon The Writing Desk: January 2023

31 January 2023

Book review: What Writers Read, Edited by Pandora Sykes

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US 

This fascinating book is based on simple idea of asking thirty-five writers to talk about their favourite book. Some are well known, others less so, but I was impressed by the honesty and diversity of their choices.

Some are inspiring, some poignant, but each has something to say about the craft of writing – and what might have inspired them.

In her introduction Pandora Sykes says, ‘knowing an author’s favourite book feels like a delicious piece of insider information- like peeking behind their brain curtains to see the cogs turning within.’ 

They can be read in any order, and none are more than a few pages, with a short bio of the author at the end. Pandora suggests the format is ideal for those spare minutes in the bathroom or before nodding off for the night. My copy lives in the glovebox of the car, perfect for unexpected delays.

Al the contributors gave their work for free, and the proceeds are donate to the work of the National Literacy Trust.  

Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Pandora Sykes is a journalist and broadcaster. She is the creator of multiple podcasts and audio documentaries including The High Low, and is the host of The Missing. Her debut essay collection How Do We Know We're Doing It Right? was a Sunday Times bestseller, and she has written for the Sunday Times, Vogue, Guardian, GQ and Elle. She lives in London. Find out more at and find Pandora on Twitter @PINsykes

30 January 2023

Elizabethan Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue and Treason, by Helene Harrison

New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Elizabeth I. Tudor, Queen, Protestant.

Throughout her reign, Elizabeth I had to deal with many rebellions which aimed to undermine her rule and overthrow her. Led in the main by those who wanted religious freedom and to reap the rewards of power, each one was thwarted but left an indelible mark on Queen Elizabeth and her governance of England.

Learning from earlier Tudor rebellions against Elizabeth’s grandfather, father, and siblings, they were dealt with mercilessly by spymaster Francis Walsingham who pushed for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots due to her involvement, and who created one of the first government spy networks in England.

Espionage, spying and hidden ciphers would demonstrate the lengths Mary was willing to go to gain her freedom and how far Elizabeth’s advisors would go to stop her and protect their Virgin Queen. Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots were rival queens on the same island, pushed together due to religious intolerance and political instability, which created the perfect conditions for revolt, where power struggles would continue even after Mary’s death.

The Elizabethan period is most often described as a Golden Age; Elizabeth I had the knowledge and insight to deal with cases of conspiracy, intrigue, and treason, and perpetuate her own myth of Gloriana.

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About the Author

Helene Harrison studied at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, achieving both a BA and an MA in History before going on to complete an MSc in Library Management. Her passion for Tudor history started when studying for A Levels and completing a module on Tudor rebellions. Her Masters dissertation focused on portrayals of Anne Boleyn through the centuries, from contemporary letters to modern TV and film adaptations. Now she writes two blogs, one Tudor history and one book-related, and loves visiting royal palaces and snuggling up with a book or embroidery project. Find out more at Helene's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @TudorBlogger

29 January 2023

Special Guest Post by Amy McElroy, Author of Educating the Tudors

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Today, children going to school, college and university is part of everyday life but having an interest in the Tudors made me wonder what education looked like for them?

Of course, I couldn’t write about Tudor education without including figures of the likes of Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I but I also wanted to research the education of everyday people. Did they attend school? If so, did their curriculum differ from that of royalty? 

The more I dug into it the more I became fascinated by the subject. I found the differences in education even between Henry and his siblings, let alone humble people, to be enlightening. We know from records that Henry was a well-educated young man and it is a shame there is so little evidence remaining from common people on their experience of school. Whilst we do have accounts from colleges and even small snippets from school pupils it would be wonderful to know what children of humble birth thought of education. All I could do was put together the various options available and what a day at school may have included.

I looked into the various different schools but also other methods of education including apprenticeships and household service. Service may not seem to be educational but for young people in the Tudor era it taught them the skills they needed to earn a living or set up their own household. Apprenticeships may appear to be fairly modern so I was surprised to find the Tudors had formal apprenticeships with contracts and guilds governing many of the trades.

Writing about education and work had me contemplating what they did for fun so I went ahead and included a chapter on pastimes, it is strange to think of the Tudors playing football but they did! Maybe not exactly how it is played today but they played. The Tudors also gambled, they gambled on everything and it is amusing to look at household accounts and see Henry VIII owing hundreds of pounds in a dominoes game!

The tutors were my favourite aspect, I loved researching the different people who taught the Tudors. Who were they? What did they teach? There are of course names many people will recognise such as Roger Ascham and Juan Luis Vives but I enjoyed finding out more about the more obscure Bernard Andre, John Skelton and Giles Duwes. These men were responsible for tutoring some of the most famous Tudors we know but they were not the only ones to have an influence on education. 

Sir Thomas More and Desiderius Erasmus encouraged the spread of humanism across England. Whilst writing Educating the Tudors I became captivated by Erasmus so much so that I am currently researching a book on the man himself.

There were unfortunately fewer options available to females in terms of education which led me to researching how they spent their days. My next book therefore will be The Lives of Women in the Tudor Era where you can find out how females grew up, reached adulthood, married and the occupations they had.

Educating the Tudors has been an incredible journey from writing to publication. I have made some wonderful friends along the way and been given a wealth of advice and support. If anyone is thinking about writing, my advice is to go for it, it can be hard writing around work but any progress is still progress.

Amy McElroy
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About the Author

Amy McElroy was born in Liverpool and lived there until she moved to the Midlands for university where she studied Criminal Justice followed by Post-Grad Law. Amy is currently a civil servant, working full-time alongside her writing. She also has a blog where she reviews historical fiction and non-fiction. When not researching, writing or reading you can usually find Amy binge watching Lord of the Rings, Vikings or the Last Kingdom, yet again. Amy is currently in the last stages of writing her second book and has a third on Mary Tudor, Queen of France and fourth, Desiderius Erasmus in the pipeline with a few more ideas up her sleeves for the future. Amy doesn’t have any pets at the moment but is currently making plans to steal her brothers dog Cooper. She enjoys seeing her family back in Liverpool and visiting her dad in Spain, especially in the summer. You can find out more about Amy at her blog - and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @AmyMc_Books

26 January 2023

Special Guest Interview with Deb Stratas, Author of The Kingston Twins, Wartime Heart (The Kingston Women Book 2)

Available from Amazon CA

London 1941. Identical twins Tillie and Maggie Kingston have survived the chaos of the Blitz attacks but the war grinds on. Tillie and Trevor want to seal their love with a wedding, but how can they plan during wartime? 

I'm pleased to welcome author Deb Stratas to The Writing Desk

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book, The Kingston Twins, Wartime Heart is brand-new in January 2023. It’s the sequel to The Kingston Twins, Bravery in the Blitz which tells the story of twins Tillie and Maggie Kingston, facing war in 1939 London. By the end of the first book, Tillie and Maggie are in the thick of wartime struggles. Tillie drives an ambulance, and Maggie serves on a WVS canteen. The Blitz carries on for fifty-seven nights straight, decimating Britain’s capitol, and causing heartbreak to the entire Kingston family.

Wartime Heart starts where the last book ends – as the Blitz finally ceases, and Londoners pick up the pieces of their ragged lives. Tillie has found her true love Trevor, and is eagerly making wedding plans – until Trevor joins the Royal Air Force. Maggie feels compelled to do more for the war effort, and signs up for the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). 

Surprising herself, she tests well in advanced skills and is assigned a job as an ack-ack girl. She longs for her love, Micah, but he is trapped in German-occupied France with his family. As anti-Jewish sentiment rises, she fears for his survival. Will she be reunited with her love? And what of Tillie – can she find lasting happiness with Trevor? What other wartime struggles will the Kingston family face and overcome as they all reveal incredible wartime heart?

As with all my books, I invested many months in research to bring wartime London to life – the daily challenges, life in the ATS, way of speaking, and so much more. I hope you’ll find yourself immersed in Maggie and Tillie’s lives as they navigate the drudgery of war in 1941 and beyond.

Why did you write a sequel to Bravery in the Blitz?

I always wanted to tell Maggie and Tillie’s stories in at least two parts. Bravery in the Blitz introduces us to a fascinating set of family members – each with their own internal struggles. The first book focuses more on Tillie’s story as she discovers self-worth, and finds her soulmate. Wartime Heart is Maggie’s tale. As the quieter twin, she struggles with self-confidence in the shadow of her dazzling sister. 

She comes of age as an independent woman, finding her own friends, and making significant war contributions operating anti-aircraft guns to protect London’s skies. And of course, she has her own love story! It’s not without trials and heartbreak, as we start to see the real horror of Hitler’s plans for the Jews. But Maggie is strong, and fights for a once in a lifetime love.

What advice do you have for writers interested in writing a series?

My best advice is plan out your series. I always create a high-level outline for each novel, as well as a chapter-by-chapter summary. As I write, things evolve, but I generally stick to my overall plan. Ensure you build a story arc for each character that carries through the series. Your readers get invested in them, and want to know what they are doing, and how they are progressing. 

Leave a few dangling storylines at the end of each book to leave your readers wanting more. Ensure each of your characters has a unique voice, and develop it along the way. Show progression and growth. As always, do your research so that your characters, timeframes, language, dress, way of life are realistic to the time period.

What interests you in writing women’s WWII fiction?

Like so many of you, I’ve had a decades-long fascination with World War II England –particularly the women. For me, what they did for six long years is nothing short of heroic. They sent their husbands, fiancés, sons, and loved ones to fight for freedom, perhaps never to return. 

Putting on brave faces, they took care of their families, stood in hours-long queues for dismal rations, and took on jobs to make ends meet. As the war progressed, they were also called to service. In the tens of thousands, women young and old answered the call – signing up for the army, navy, air force, land army, and special services. And all the while, staying cheerful as they “kept calm and carried on.”

I’ve read hundreds of books – both fiction and non-fiction – about these courageous women, and there are still many stories yet to be told. As the few remaining women who survive from that time are quickly fading away, it’s critical to keep these incredible tales alive. I hope I’m doing my part in raising up these women as the heroines they were.

How much time do you spend researching vs. writing?

Like most historical fiction writers, I love research. History is endlessly fascinating, and the research phase for any book is rewarding. It’s important to me to get even the tiniest details right, so I spend a lot of time researching daily life in WWII London – food, fashion, household management, even what movies were playing in the cinema – all are important to the believability of the narrative. 

With Wartime Heart, I dove deeply into ATS life, especially the role of ack-ack girls on anti-aircraft bases. I must admit, it’s hard to transition to the writing phase as research is so much fun. Roughly, I spend about 60/40 – 60% researching to 40% writing. This doesn’t include editing or marketing. I’m planning a long-postponed trip to London this summer, and I can’t wait to visit my favourite spots, as well as explore historically important locations to continually inform my writing.

Will there be a third book in The Kingston Twins series?

Of course! I’ve already started the research for The Kingston Twins, Katie’s War which will delve into the war experiences of Tillie and Maggie’s younger sister, Katie. Fingers crossed; I hope to publish it by the end of 2023.

Deb Stratas

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About the Author

Deb Stratas tells well-researched and highly readable stories about powerful women in extraordinary circumstances. The Kingston Twins, Bravery in the Blitz and The Kingston Twins, Wartime Heart are the first novels in her British WWII series about brave sisters, Tillie, Maggie and Katie. Deb is well known for her Diana Spencer historical fiction trilogy with its accompanying non-fiction At Home with Diana. Deb is based in Toronto, Canada and cherishes spending time with her two amazing adult children, their spouses, and two grandchildren. Find out more at Deb's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @deb_stratas

23 January 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Flame Tree, by Siobhan Daiko

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

In the spring of 1939, dashing young William Burton and the beautiful Constance Han set sail from London on the same ocean liner to Hong Kong.

Romance blossoms while they enjoy games of deck quoits and spend sultry tropical evenings dancing under the stars. Connie is intrigued by Will’s talent for writing poetry, and she offers to give him Cantonese lessons to help him with his new job— a cadet in the colonial service.

But once in Hong Kong, Connie is constrained by filial duty towards her Eurasian parents, and their wish for her to marry someone from her own background. She can't forget Will however and arranges to meet him in secret under the magnificent canopy of a flame of the forest tree—where she fulfils her promise to teach him to speak Chinese.

Before too long, trouble looms as Japanese forces gather on the border between Hong Kong and mainland China. Will joins a commando group tasked with operating behind enemy lines, and Connie becomes involved in the fight against local fifth columnists.

When war breaks out, they find themselves drawn into a wider conflict than their battle against prejudice. Can they survive and achieve a future together? Or do forces beyond their control keep them forever apart?

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About the Author

Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and a rescued cat. Siobhan was born of English parents in Hong Kong, attended boarding school in Australia, and then moved to the UK—where she taught modern foreign languages in a Welsh comprehensive school. She now spends her time writing page-turners and enjoying her life near Venice. Her novels are compelling, poignant, and deeply moving, with strong characters and evocative settings, but always with romance at their heart. You can find more about her books on her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @siobhandaiko

21 January 2023

Special Guest Interview with Kurt Kandler, Author of If You Really Want to Help: Redefining the War on Poverty

Available from Amazon US and Amazon UK

Good intentions are not good enough. Everyone wants to see extreme poverty alleviated, but too often well-meaning do-gooders believe that good intentions and their carefully crafted solutions are sufficient. But poverty is more than just a material issue, and the poor are
more than a set of problems to be solved.

I spent part of my childhood in Nairobi, Kenya and have a special place in my heart for the people and their country. I'm especially pleased to welcome author Kurt Kandler to The Writing Desk to discuss his inspiring new book:

Why this book? Why now?

I turned 60 a couple years ago. I hadn’t struggled with starting milestone-decades before, but the decade with a 6-handle felt different. It meant I was entering the fourth quarter and there wasn’t going to be overtime. 

What changed the most was a newfound, palpable, sense of urgency to focus on the things that I said I was going to do but hadn’t. The big things. The things that needed to get done. One of those things was writing this book.

.As for why this book…. 

When we started 410 Bridge in 2006, we knew we wouldn’t be successful without generous support from this side of the bridge. What wasn’t so obvious at the time, but quickly became clear, was that while Western support was essential, it wasn’t enough. If we were really going to make a difference, we needed to change the paradigm of how the West engaged the poor. 

This book plays an important role in that. It tells the story of how 410 Bridge came to be and lays out an approach to extreme poverty that doesn’t see the poor and as a set of problems to be solved – a water problem, education problem, economic problem, or health problem. It sees the poor as the solution to their poverty problem.

What is your preferred writing routine?

As you might imagine, I travel a lot. One might think that spending hours on a plane would be conducive to dedicated writing time. I didn’t find that to be true. No, if this book was going to get done, I had to approach it much like a diet or fitness…. Small, consistent, steps over time.

Bethany and I found our rhythm. We set deadlines for small increments of content and tried to stay as disciplined as we could to meet those deadlines. The key to me was that they were digestible increments. We didn’t try to fool ourselves into thinking we’d get more done than my schedule would allow. 

Why did you include so many personal stories of people in-country?

I’ve been extremely blessed to meet some incredible people over the years. Their stories of struggle and triumph are the reason I do what I do. 

In my book I try to convey a fundamental principle – a way of thinking that changes how we engage the poor. That principle was spawned from a question I was asked by a mentor many years ago. He asked, “Do you really believe that the poor are the solution to their poverty problem?” 

I had to think long and hard about that question because the natural gravitational pull in our work is toward the problems the poor face – water, education, economic empowerment, etc.  The lie is that if we solve those problems, we solve the poverty problem. I found that not to be true.

We say it this way… The poor are not a set of problems to be solved. They are the solution to their poverty problem. If we truly embrace that concept, it changes everything about how we engage to help.

Is there a particular story of impact that stands out to you?

Definitely!  It’s the story of Stephen and Sabina. Stephen was a drunkard, a terrible husband, father, and citizen in his community. He had little hope for a better life for his family and spent his days drinking with the other men in his community. Sabina, relegated to being the sole provider for her family, could make ends meet, especially with Stephen squandering what little she made on alcohol.

The catalyst for their transformation came from a farming training program for Stephen and a business training for Sabina. While the training of skills and techniques were important, it wasn’t what helped them break the cycle of poverty. What helped them the most was the worldview shift – the story they were telling themselves to be true. That story…. Their worldview was driving the choices they made, and the choices they made drove the actions they took. They are an amazing couple with an amazing story.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered?

I’m not sure if it was completely unexpected, but I close the book in a unique way. We employ 100% indigenous staff in all the countries where we work. These are the folks on the front lines doing the hard work. I asked them to imagine being in a room filled with Western donors. These donors had the capacity to help – both time and money – and they wanted to make a real difference. If they could tell them anything, how would they finish these two sentences?

If you really want to help, start ______________

If you really want to help, stop ______________

Their answers are raw and convicting. If we really want to help, we would be well-served to listen to what they have to say.

Kurt Kandler

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About the Author

Kurt Kandler is the co-founder and Executive Director of The 410 Bridge, founded in 2006. The organization is committed to redefining the war on poverty. Redefining what it means to win it, what it means for the people living in extreme poverty and, most importantly, redefining how we fight the battle together.  410 Bridge works in four countries and has served hundreds of thousands of people with clean water, economic development, education, and health & wellness programs that are designed within a Christ-centered, community-initiated development model. Kurt and his wife of 32+ years— Erika—call Atlanta home and have an expanding family of four children and two grandchildren (for now…) He has an amazing duck tolling retriever named River who, like Kurt, finds her happy place on the water. To learn more about Kurt, check out his website here: and To find out more about 410 Bridge and its work, check out their website here:

20 January 2023

Special Guest Post, Symbols and Secrets of Hampton Court Palace by Adele Jordan, Author of A Spy at Hampton Court

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

1585, London: Queen Elizabeth is gravely ill and her spymaster, Francis Walsingham, has received intelligence that there is a plot to assassinate her. He sends his protégé Kit Scarlett and Scottish agent Iomhar Blackwood to gather information. To their horror, they discover there is a plot to blow up Hampton Court Palace.

Symbols and Secrets of Hampton Court Palace

A book called ‘A Spy at Hampton Court’ could not possibly be written without a very lengthy trip to the palace itself, followed by an album full of photographs taken that day, and copious research on books written by the various palace curators. What Tudor fan wouldn’t enjoy having such an excuse to immerse themselves so completely in the Tudor palace? The key challenge for me when writing this book, was making the reader feel as if they were walking the palace corridors in the 16th century, especially when half of the palace was altered in the 17th century. 

Among the grand tales of the monarchs that called this palace home, what truly makes these stories come to life? There may be modern panels retelling these stories, but they do not have the power to transport one back in time. When writing, any writer will agree it’s the details that have the ability to send the reader back hundreds of years that are as valuable to you in research as the great tales. These were the details I went in search of on my visit to Hampton Court last year. 

Most Tudor fans love to glimpse the world of Henry VIII and his wives, and so it’s no surprise when walking the Tudor parts of this palace that their identities are the ones that we glimpse time and time again, more so than any of his children: Mary I, Elizabeth I and Edward VI. It’s clear that on many occasions, Henry VIII introduced elements into the architecture of the house that celebrated changes. Yet, he was a man who also sought to erase those changes from history, attempting to eradicate all signs of his former queens in the palace, bar one. Fortunately for us, some of these symbols still survive today. 

There are hundreds of symbols in the palace. Among the tapestries detailing biblical tales, there are carvings in the architecture and embossed friezes full of the Tudor Rose, with red and white petals for the Houses of York and Lancaster, plus the portcullis heraldic badge, form Margaret Beaufort, Henry VIII’s grandmother. Yet between the repetitions we see time and time again, here are a few secret symbols you can find if you look hard enough. 

Secret gems of Henry VIII’s Wives

Catherine of Aragon’s Pomegranates

A common symbol for Catherine of Aragon was the pomegranate, an ancient symbol for fertility and also regeneration. The pomegranate was part of her coat of arms and became part of the English heraldry upon her marriage to Henry VIII in 1509. Barely any of Catherine of Aragon’s symbols survive at the palace, for Henry ordered them to be taken down after he ended his marriage with Catherine, but there are two examples that can still be found.

In a set of stairs to the left of the great hall, there is stonework over a doorway bearing Tudor roses on the right-hand side to symbolise Henry VIII, and Spanish pomegranates on the left. 

In the Chapel Royal, there are a series of panels, on one of which is a heraldic badge of a Spanish pomegranate and a Tudor rose. 

Anne Boleyn’s Badge and Initial

Just as Anne Boleyn was ousted in the most dramatic way from the palace and royal life, evidence of her being queen was also removed from the palace, yet a couple of examples did survive the work of the masons. 

The first survives in Anne Boleyn’s Gateway, within the stone ceiling under the archway. Beside the central Tudor Rose, there is a small circle, embossed with the letters ‘H’ and ‘A’, linked with a lover’s knot. In another of these circles is the Boleyn Falcon, associated with Anne Boleyn’s badge, bearing a crown. One could argue this was overlooked by the masons, as it was so high over their heads. 

Further survivals of Anne Boleyn’s symbol exist in the Great Hall. The first is carved within the wood panelling of the hall, found on the left-hand side of the entrance. The room is littered with her symbols, for there are 43 falcons on the roof of the hall, embossed over the windows and on the hammer beams. Perhaps the masons found this task of reaching the tall roof rather too difficult. One such falcon badge was recently discovered by antiques expert Paul Fitzsimmons, who purchased it from another dealer. 

The stonework was in disrepair and covered in grime and wax, but with careful restoration work, he was able to prove alongside the curators of the palace that it was one of Anne Boleyn’s heraldic badges: a crowned falcon sitting atop a tree stump that flowers with Tudor roses. By removing a layer of black paint, and with conservation, they revealed the original paint of white, red and gold. Tracy Borman, Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, was able to assist the work. Together along with conservators, they proved the badge was authentic to the time. It is currently on display in the great hall. 

Jane Seymour’s Phoenix

Jane Seymour is the one queen who Henry VIII did not try so hard to remove all sign of from the palace, for he still had paintings of her, long after her death, and even had another commissioned in 1545, long after she had passed. He celebrated her as the one wife he loved, though of course, you could argue she was the one wife who gave him a son, or even the wife who escaped the chance for his opinion to change of her, for she died of natural causes. One of the most interesting survivors of her symbols is an embossed phoenix that rises from a tower engulfed in flames, on the ceiling of the Great Watching Chamber.

In the chapel, part of Jane Seymour secretly hides there. Beneath the altar, they say Jane Seymour’s heart rests, separated from her body at Henry VIII’s orders. Her body rests alongside Henry VIII in St George’s Chapel in Windsor. 

One of the most striking paintings now sitting in what is known as the Haunted Gallery, is ‘The Family of Henry VIII’ (c1545).

The portrait illustrates King Henry VIII sat at the very centre, flanked by Jane Seymour and his son, later to be Edward VI. Within the canopies of the painting are Henry’s other children, Mary I and Elizabeth I. There are also two depictions of palace staff, now believed to be court jesters. What is unusual about this painting is that it is an imaginary scene, for Jane Seymour is shown to be alive, with their son grown, when she died shortly after his birth, around eight years before the painting was created. In this painting, we see more of what matters to Henry. 

For instance, we only see Queen Jane, though at this time he was married to Catherine Parr, someone who is now considered imperative in the restoration of Mary I and Elizabeth I into the line of succession. Her absence from the painting when the daughters are present is noticeable and emphasizes once more how Henry wished to commemorate Jane more than any other queen. It could be interpreted as a state of mind. Perhaps a vivid symbol of how Henry saw his family, shortly before his death. 

Within this painting, we also have a glimpse of another key set of symbols in the palace. Through one of the arches in the paintings we see the heraldic King’s Beasts, with gilt horns, carved in wood, and aloft columns. By including these beasts in the painting, it perhaps alludes to the belief Henry had in that his ancestry, and his blood, gave him the right to rule. 

Animal symbols among the King’s Beasts

In 2009, 8 beasts were recreated that symbolised Henry VIII’s and the Tudor heraldry, to commemorate 500 years since his accession. Originally, Henry VIII’s version of the palace garden was home to 90 royal beasts, atop poles adorned in green and white stripes, each one designed to emphasize his ancestry and qualities as a king. These days there are just 8 in Chapel Court. 

1. Golden Lion of England

The lion has been part of royal heraldry since William I and his accession to the throne in 1066. The three lions is thought likely to date to the 12th century and Richard I’s reign. The recreation lion at the palace holds a vane that bears the reverse of the traditional Tudor rose, with white petals on the inside and red petals on the outer side. The lion is thought to symbolise strength and courage. 

2. Falcon of the Plantagenets

Used first by Edward III and carried on by the House of York and the Tudors, the falcon is traditionally seen perched on a pillar with one of its claws raised. When Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, he adopted the symbol into his heraldry, as part of the union of the families. The falcon is thought to represent resolve, determination and the high status of the monarchy. 

3. Silver Yale of Beaufort

Introduced by the Beaufort family, and used by Henry VII and Henry VIII, the silver yale is a mythical creature. It bears the body of an antelope, a lion’s tale, horns, and the tusks of a boar. Margaret Beaufort had the yale as part of her family symbol, which was then passed onto her son and grandson. The yale represents defence and prowess in battle. 

4. Seymour Panther

The panther was used both by Jane Seymour, and the Beaufort family. The Seymour Panther is no normal cat, for it has the tale of a lion and the claws of an eagle. Unusually, it’s often presented as being enraged, with flames spurting out of its ears and mouth. Henry VIII added the original beast to the privy garden of the palace in 1536 when Anne Boleyn was executed, and Jane became queen. The panther is thought to be a symbol of Christ. 

5. White greyhound of Richmond

Used by the House of Lancaster and Edmund Tudor. A white greyhound, sitting on its back paws, chained and collared. It holds a vane bearing the emblem of the fleur-de-lis, another heraldic symbol, representing France. It represents loyalty and honour. 

6. Red Dragon of Wales

Used by the Tudor dynasty to symbolise monarchy over Wales. The red dragon holds a vane with the flag of St George. First adopted by Owen Tudor, to emphasise his Welsh heritage, it represents valour and bravery. 

7. Black Bull of Clarence

Used by the House of York and Henry VIII, the black bull is embellished with golden hooves and horns. Originally a badge for Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, the second son of Edward III, he was the ancestor of the House of York. It became a royal badge later, used by Edward IV and then Henry VIII. 

8. White Hart of York

Used by Richard II, the House of York and the Tudor Dynasty. The white hart or stage stands upright, with a golden chain and collar, bearing a vane with a Tudor rose. The hart was originally adopted as a Yorkist badge and used in Edward V’s coat of arms. It’s believed it’s derived from Richard II’s mother’s coat of arms, Joan of Kent. Legend has it, it was chosen as a pun associated with his name – Rich – hart. The white hart is said to represent purity, piety and spirituality. 

There are few other interesting things to see in the palace if you know where to look…

- Eavesdroppers in the great hall. These are small effigies of faces, peering over the hall as people ate, reminding all that Henry VIII hears all that goes on in his court!

- Contemporary Graffiti on the King’s staircase, mostly people’s names, but there is a Tudor-style shoe engraved into the stone.

- There are a couple of hints which offer a glimpse of the original builder of Hampton Court Palace. Firstly, the Coat of Arms of Wolsey in Clock Court, situated on the rear of the Boleyn Gatehouse. Secondly, the figure of Cardinal Wolsey in a stained-glass window of the Great Watching Chamber, surrounded by heraldic symbols, installed in 1845. Finally, Thomas Wolsey’s tapestries in the Great Watching Chamber survive to this day, which recount biblical and moral tales.

- In the chapel, the royal motto ‘Dieu et mon droit,’/“God and My Right” appears 32 times, along with 60 gilded winged angels.

These are some of the fascinating symbols and secrets that can be found in Hampton Court Palace today. When writing the third instalment for the Kit Scarlett Mystery series, these were the details that brought the palace to life for me again and again. Some details found their way into the book, and others didn’t, but it’s the brief glimpse we have of these symbols as Kit Scarlett is running through her adventure that can transport the reader back to the palace corridors in Elizabethan England and remind us just what the ruling powers concerned themselves with displaying for their courtiers to see.

Adele Jordan


Hampton Court Palace 

Hampton Court Beasts | Hampton Court Palace | Historic Royal Palaces (

Anne Boleyn In Hampton Court Palace - How To Find Secret Symbols, Initials & Her Falcon! (

Hampton Court: Behind Closed Doors | Hampton Court Palace | Historic Royal Palaces (

Hampton Court Palace I Historic Royal Palaces (

Architecture – The Chapel Royal (

Mainly Museums - Hampton Court – the Tudor Palace

British School, 16th century - The Family of Henry VIII (

Queen Anne Boleyn’s falcon badge on show - Marhamchurch Antiques

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About the Author

Adele is a writer with a fascination for history. Her focus is fiction in the Tudor era, telling the stories of women and adventure. Whether it’s inspired by true events or created purely from imagination, she desires to write stories from this captivating era that haven’t been written before of those on the edges of society, the paupers, the spies, the workers and those who have not had a voice. Adele studied English at the University of Exeter before moving into an eclectic career of publishing and marketing. Having worked with the National Trust’s photography department for two years, Adele travelled the country to visit the landscapes and historical places that have carved England and Wales’s heritage. When Covid struck, the job disappeared overnight, and Adele committed her time to ghost writing and authoring her own stories. Since then, she has had over fifty successful books published in pseudonyms and hopes to turn that success into stories now written in her own name. Find out more at Adele's website and follow her on Twitter @ALJordan_writer

19 January 2023

Historical Fiction Spotlight: His Castilian Hawk (Audiobook Edition) by Anna Belfrage

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

From Anna Belfrage comes a new release – a story of love and loyalty set against the backdrop of Edward I’s harsh conquest of Wales,
set in a medieval world brought vividly to life. 
Publication date is September 28, 2020, 

For bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, being given Eleanor d’Outremer in marriage is an honour. For Eleanor, this forced wedding is anything but a fairy tale.  Robert FitzStephan has served Edward Longshanks loyally since the age of twelve. Now he is riding with his king to once and for all bring Wales under English control.

Eleanor d’Outremer—Noor to family—lost her Castilian mother as a child and is left entirely alone when her father and brother are killed. When ordered to wed the unknown Robert FitzStephan, she has no choice but to comply.

Two strangers in a marriage bed is not easy. Things are further complicated by Noor’s blood-ties to the Welsh princes and by covetous Edith who has warmed Robert’s bed for years.

Robert’s new wife may be young and innocent, but he is soon to discover that not only is she spirited and proud, she is also brave. Because when Wales lies gasping and Edward I exacts terrible justice on the last prince and his children, Noor is determined to save at least one member of the House of Aberffraw from the English king.

Will years of ingrained service have Robert standing with his king or will he follow his heart and protect his wife, his beautiful and fierce Castilian hawk?

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About the Author 

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.
More recently, Anna has published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. While she loved stepping out of her comfort zone (and will likely do so again )  For more information visit Anna's website http://www.annabelfrage.comYou can also visit her blog and follow Anna on Twitter @abelfrageauthor.

18 January 2023

Special Guest Interview with Virginia Crow, Author of Caledon

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

After the destruction of the Jacobite forces at Culloden, Scotland is divided, vulnerable and leaderless, with survivors from both sides seeking to make sense of the battles they have fought against their fellow Scots.

I'm pleased to welcome author Virginia Crow to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

Caledon is an historical fantasy, set in the aftermath of the final Jacobite uprising. The main character, James Og, is a self-confessed coward who has fled the battlefield of Drumossie, but what he finds in the Sutherland Highlands is a new life and a new purpose, from which there can be no turning.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I really don’t have one! I tend to just write a few sentences here and there, just whenever the mood takes me. Often, it’s in the morning as I work in the afternoon and evening, but even that does not always stand to reason. One thing which is apparently unusual, is that I write phonetically, so it is quite literally a case of listening to the voices in my head! For a long time, I thought this was how all authors wrote, but I’ve recently discovered this is not the case.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write for yourself. There is nothing worse than a book which has been written by an author who has no connection to the content. You may not be able to afford a mansion, or even a house(!), on the profits you make, but you will have a true and honest reflection of yourself in your book.

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

Marketing is the bit of being an author with which I most struggle. With the cost-of-living crisis into which we’re entering, books are often the last thing people can afford to spend their money on. One of my best forms of advertising is to enroll in sales, like the Smashwords ones. It doesn’t make money, but it does raise an awareness of me as an author, and the books I write.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

While I was researching Caledon, I unearthed some truly incredible and horrific things. It is generally accepted that the government troops were brutal, and I certainly found a lot of evidence to support that, including an event which took place in Ullapool where a man’s family were executed in front of him as a way of making him confess to his role in assisting Charles Edward Stuart’s escape. 

It is difficult to imagine the full scale of the chase against the Young Pretender, or the number of innocent lives which were snuffed out as the Butcher Cumberland hacked his way through the Highland landscape – the Geneva Convention was still a number of years off!

But perhaps the strangest thing to get used to when I was writing, was the research into the change of the physical geography of the landscape. It’s difficult not to imagine little Highland crofts standing alone on an isolated, rugged hillside, but it was the events which followed the 45 which led to that view. Even as late as editing, I was referring to the shieling the clan hide in as “a croft”. 

My editor had stern words with me about that one and all references to crofts have now disappeared from the book! The plantations which cover the hills were not there, but neither were the hills barren. Instead, the native woodland would have snaked up the rivulets of the hillsides and overhung the upland streams across the moors. Thankfully, there are still places in the Northwest Highlands where you can find this, so a trip or two out there was not only desired but justified!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

There are a number of scenes in Caledon which took the writing out of my comfort zone, but one of the most difficult was to bring James Og’s Eile from the page and into the minds of the readers. The Eile are creatures which share a bond with the clansmen.  There is a raven; a wolf; a pine marten; a wildcat; a stag; and then there is the other one! 

Although it remains something of an enigma during most of the book, when it does make a full appearance, it had to be really something. I wanted to build it up into the enormity of the creature it was intended to represent, so each time it appears it only adds to the suspense. I hope it worked – I’ll let the reader decide!

What are you planning to write next?

Caledon is the first of six books. So far, I’ve written four of them, as well as having written the last scene of Book Six about twenty times! I knew from the off that it would be six books because it had to cover approximately six years, reaching its climax in an event which occurred in 1752. And I knew exactly how I wanted the books to end, as well, and I’m so pleased with the ending! I sometimes reach the final scene of my books and feel like they are missing something, but Caledon ends in the only way it can.

Hopefully, Book Three of the series will be released in 2023, but life has a habit of getting in the way of these things – time will tell!

Virginia Crow

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About the Author

Virginia grew up in Orkney, using the breath-taking scenery to fuel her imagination and the writing fire within her. Her favourite genres to write are fantasy and historical fiction, sometimes mixing the two together. She enjoys swashbuckling stories such as The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and is still waiting for a screen adaption that lives up to the book! When she's not writing, Virginia is usually to be found teaching music. She believes wholeheartedly in the power of music, especially as a tool of inspiration. She also helps out with the John o' Groats Book Festival which is celebrating its 4th year. She now lives in the far-flung corner of Scotland. A doting spaniel-owner to Orlando and Jess, Virginia soaks up in inspiration from the landscape as she ventures out with her canine companions. Find out more from her website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @DaysDyingGlory

17 January 2023

Book review: De la Pole, Father and Son: The Duke, The Earl and the Struggle for Power, by Michèle Schindler

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I once lived near the village of Ewelme in Oxfordshire, and know the historic church, with an impressive font. I didn't know the magnificent carved cover of the font is a reproduction of one presented by John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk in 1475, as he was baptised there, or that his mother, Alice de la Pole, (also the subject of a book by Michèle Schindler) who has a tomb in the church, was the granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer.

These are typical of the fascinating nuggets from the past that Michèle Schindler sprinkles throughout her impressively researched dual biography of father and son - which is also the story of the Wars of the Roses.. 

'Married' at the age of seven to the six-year-old heiress Margaret Beaufort,  John de la Pole didn't have an easy start in life, as his father William was condemned for treason against King Henry VI, banished and murdered at sea.  

John de la Pole's  first marriage was never consummated, but his next, to the thirteen year old Elizabeth of York, daughter of Richard, Duke of York, made him a committed Yorkist.

After his son is born (following the confusing tradition of naming his son after himself), Michèle Schindler shifts into a higher gear with the story of how John, Duke of Suffolk and his son, John, Earl of Lincoln struggle for power.

I recommend this book for anyone who wishes to have a deeper understanding of the Wars of the Roses and events leading up to the Battle of Bosworth.  

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Michèle Schindler studied at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, reading English Studies and history with a focus on mediaeval studies. At the same time she worked as a language teacher, teaching English and German as a second language. In addition to English and German, she is fluent in French, and reads Latin. She is also the author of 'Lovell Our Dogge' and 'Alice Chaucer'.  Find out more at Michèle's blog and find her on Facebook and Twitter @FLovellInfo

(A review copy was kindly provided by Amberley)

13 January 2023

Special Guest Post: A Marriage of Fortune, by Anne O'Brien

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

England. 1469: A fortunate marriage will change history.
A scandal could destroy everything...

Who were the Pastons?

The Pastons were the famous 15th century letter-writing  family from Norfolk, famous for their commentary on the events of the Wars of the Roses.  

What was it about them that urged me to write their story? 

In 1735 the family papers of the recently deceased William Paston, Earl of Yarmouth, fell into the hands of a local historian.  They included a cache of documents.  Within this exciting discovery of 421 Paston letters, 107 were written by a woman, by Margaret Paston.  What a remarkable woman she was, from a minor Norfolk gentry family called Mautby before she married John Paston I.  She was a woman who could read and write.

What did Margaret write about in her letters?  Was it simply household shopping lists and care for her children?  

The letters are far more complex and compelling for an historian and a novelist.  Margaret's letters commented on the whole range of family life: she wrote about domestic quarrels, legal disputes, the siege and loss of castle at Caister, family scandals, disobedient daughters and obstinate sons; and then there are the love affairs, some gone disastrously wrong and others marvellously right.  

Did Margaret write her own letters?

Margaret usually dictated her letters - she could read better than she could write - but they were always signed in her hand.  Were women of this class more literate than we have always thought? We know about the literacy of Marie de France, of Christine de Pisan and Julian of Norwich, and of Margery Kempe.  Were there more literate women in purely domestic settings?  Perhaps all we have lacked is the evidence when letters have not survived.  Here for us in the Paston letters is the evidence, and how fascinating to read the intimacy and range of subjects that Margaret was prepared to share with her clerk or priest who wrote for her.

How could I resist writing a sequel about this family, to complete their story.  No one has ever placed this charismatic family into a novel, but Margaret's life seems to me the perfect subject.  Margaret Paston expressed her feeling with force and passion in times of family crises.  What a superb window these letters opened for me as a writer of historical fiction who enjoys discussing women in their rightful, and often ignored, place in history.

Do we know what the Pastons looked like?  Can we visualise them?

Sadly we do not know what they looked like; there are no portraits, nor are there any verbal descriptions.  But we can hear their voices loud and clear, reaching us from six hundred years ago.  They deserve to be heard.

In the crucial year of 1469, where A Marriage of Fortune begins, picking up the threads from The Royal Game, Margaret was widowed, mother of five sons and two daughters and the matriarch of the family.  Faced with an array of trials and tribulations, Margaret became an irresistible force.  She proved to be an ambitious woman with a will of iron, who could efficiently multi-task, a clever, managing woman who, as a widow, kept her hands securely on the Paston reins.

What were the issues and problems which would make this family such a fascinating subject for a novel?

Revelling in their newly acquired Caister Castle, it was soon clear that there possession of it was far from assured.  Their bitter enemy the Duke of Norfolk, with an avaricious eye and a King weakened by ill-health and clamouring magnates, would leave no stone unturned until he took it from them.  Struggling to retain it against the odds, Margaret and her sons were taken into the heart of battle as well as a disastrous siege.

At the same time, at home here was the rebellious daughter Margery who, refusing all Margaret's urgings  to make a 'good' match, followed her heart and married the landless family bailiff, creating  a family rift that was difficult to heal.

Equally irritating for Margaret was the flamboyant Paston son and heir at the the Court of King Edward IV, who found it impossible to commit himself to more than a clandestine exchange of vows with Anne Haute, first cousin of Queen Elizabeth Woodville.  It was a marriage that would have taken the Pastons into the centre of royal social circles if only Mistress Haute could entrap Sir John and lure him into making his clandestine marriage into a realistic entity.

Meanwhile Margaret's younger son flirted effortlessly and would not wed until he found the 'Valentine' love of his life, except that neither he nor Margaret could find the money to secure the permission of Mistress Brews father.  Would Margery Brews ever secure the Paston love of her life as a husband?

Further clashes of will lay in store for Margaret when faced with her younger daughter Anne, whose youthful infatuation for a Paston servant was doomed to failure.  Poor Anne was destined for a loveless marriage.

Then, hovering over all, there was the deviously ambitious mother-in-law, Agnes Paston, sharp and combative, whose manipulation of a family will could undermine the Paston's hold on all their lands.

And not least, Margaret's sister in law Elizabeth, a sad pawn in the marriage stakes, who lost one husband to battle, then found another, but one who trod the uneasy line of treason.

These stories are played out against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses, where the Pastons struggled to keep ownership of the jewel in their crown, Caister Castle, which in 1469 came under siege from the Duke of Norfolk.  The Pastons were forced to make uncomfortable choices in their loyalties when seeking out a patron who would support them in Norfolk politics.  The Earl of Oxford was a valuable addition to the Paston armoury but it took the Paston men onto the battlefield at Barnet where their role on the losing side opened them to charges of treason.  

For me as a writer, these letters allow us to peer into the lives of an exceptional group of women as the Pastons fought to climb the ladder from peasant to gentry.  The characters come to life and shine through the dark days of the Wars of the Roses.  Throughout all the conflicts Margaret retains her sense of humour and her tight hold on both family and business affairs as she juggles the inter-weaving strands of her life and those close to her.  Margaret Paston is a women who demands our admiration in A Marriage of Fortune.

Anne O'Brien

‘A compelling tale of a family caught up in the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses, told with characteristic verve by one of our most accomplished novelists. Be warned: it's dangerously addictive.' Tracy Borman

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About the Author

Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history. She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life. Find out more at Anne's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @anne_obrien

12 January 2023

Book Review: Artorius: The Real King Arthur, by Linda A. Malcor and John Matthews

Available for pre-order 

This book is a compelling debate by Linda A. Malcor and John Matthews, both Arthurian experts, about the theory that the legend of King Arthur originates from a Roman soldier, Lucius Artorius Castus.

The authors consider the evidence for this idea in surprising detail, considering all we have are two, second century inscriptions and a ring. The first memorial inscription, is set into a wall at the Church of St Martin in Podstrana, Croatia, and the second is a broken memorial plaque, found close to the first. 

Both inscriptions are heavily abbreviated, so it takes a bit of detective work to work out the story of Lucius Artorius Castus.  

The ring, which was found in Essex, is inscribed ARTOR FORTUNA and is in the British Museum, As well as his name, the ring could be evidence that Lucius Artorius Castus was in the right place at the right time.

The authors suggest is is 'almost impossible' to dismiss the way his life seems to echo the Arthurian legends. These stories have been have developed over three centuries, and have their roots in twelfth century chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Many of the best known elements, such as the sword in the stone, are of course later additions, as the tales are retold and elaborated.

An easy read, this well-researched book will appeal mostly to those with an interst in looking beyond the myths and legends.

Tony Riches

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About the Authors

Linda A. Malcor has a Ph.D. in Folklore and Mythology from UCLA. Her specialties include Narrative, Celtic Studies, Medieval Studies, and Indo-European Comparative Mythology. Her nonfiction currently focuses on the late second-century Roman Empire. She also teaches English as a Foreign Language. Her blog can be found at and Linda can be found on Facebook.
John Matthews has been a full time writer since 1980 and has produced over 100 books on myth, faery, the Arthurian Legends and Grail Studies, short stories, poetry and children’s books. He has devoted much of the past forty years to the study of Arthurian Traditions and myth in general. In 2003 he was the historical advisor to the Jerry Bruckheimer movie ‘King Arthur’. Find out more at John's website

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

10 January 2023

The Blazing World A New History of Revolutionary England, by Jonathan Healey ~ Review by Dr Linda Porter

Available for pre-order

In comparison with the over-hyped ‘Disneyfication’ of the Tudors, the 17th century has almost slipped from popular consciousness. This is little short of astonishing, given its drama and cast of extraordinary personalities. In most English schools the study of History has been whittled down to Henry VIII and the two World Wars of the twentieth century, as if nothing of any note happened in between.  Yet in the seventeenth century the English executed one king for treason, deposed another and lived as a republic for eleven years. 

I have sometimes wondered whether, if fifty people were stopped on any English High Street, how many of them would even know about our non-monarchical experiment. I suspect the number would be vanishingly small – and also that readers of the tabloid press might even be offended by the notion, despite the current crisis of the House of Windsor. Yet the seventeenth century is the gateway to the world in which we live, still strange enough to be exotic but also less distant than the sixteenth. As an undergraduate I did my ‘long essay’ (it would now be called a dissertation) on the Civil Wars. I can still remember the thrill of reading the Putney Debates for the first time. To me, there was something recognizably ‘modern’ in these discussions.  

I still smile when I remember the judgement passed on the participants in the Civil Wars by ‘1066 And All That’: the Cavaliers were ‘Wrong but Wromantic’ while the Roundheads were ‘Right but Repulsive’. Like most witty epithets, it contains a grain of truth. But there was, of course, more to the seventeenth century than the Civil Wars and in his wide-ranging new history of revolutionary England, Jonathan Healey has given us a masterly account of a period that urgently needs to be reclaimed and recognized for its importance and interest.

We start with James I, the first Stuart king, whose reign tends to be overlooked nowadays. Healey demonstrates the strengths as well as the weaknesses of his rule and, through the judicious and always entertaining use of anecdotes with which the book is liberally supplied, reveals the backdrop to the coming storm. 

He is especially good on the economic woes of the Jacobean period, the run of bad harvests that caused so much suffering, James’s visceral dislike of Puritans (possibly an outcome of his harsh, loveless upbringing during his long minority as James VI of Scotland) and the stirrings of disquiet in parliament. He also emphasises the crucial importance of the proliferation of print and its effect on society, which would only grow as the century progressed. 

Nor does he overlook the more familiar names of the reign, especially the Duke of Buckingham, whose ambition, he says, ‘soared like a comet, though his talent would stutter like a damp sparkler’. There are many more of these pithy pen-portraits for readers to enjoy throughout the book. To give just one further example, admirers of Prince Rupert, once every schoolgirl’s romantic hero, will be disconcerted to see him dismissed as ‘a thuggish toff.’ 

The bulk of the book deals, as one would expect, with the Civil Wars. Healey’s narrative of the course of the conflict and especially of that most confusing of years, 1647, when the fighting had halted but the conflict was not over, is clear and well-balanced. He handles the proliferation of ideas, the role of the Army and the tragic inability of Charles I to comprehend the real weakness of his position, which led to renewed bloodshed the following year, with consummate skill. 

Again, we see the importance of pamphlets and news-sheets in crystallizing arguments about the very future of England. Men like Ireton and Lambert, almost forgotten figures now, are brought vividly to life. Lambert, in particular, a fine soldier and author of England’s only written constitution, ‘The Instrument of Government’, emerges from these pages as one of the great lost figures of English history. He still awaits a biographer who can do him justice.

Healey is also illuminating on the two most well-known players in the drama. His judgement on Charles I will not comfort Royalist historians but I think it is sound. ‘Charles himself,’ he writes,’ must carry much of the blame: he had been a stuffy authoritarian, but never ruthless enough to be a successful tyrant.’ This encapsulates Charles’s tragedy perfectly. The country, of course, suffered hugely as a result. Yet Healey is no great admirer of Cromwell, either, seeing him as a man of overweening ambition but with too narrow a vision to ensure the success of the republican experiment. The latter, I think, is unarguable. 

On Cromwell’s ambition much depends on whether his constant references to God’s providence were merely hypocritical excuses for opportunistic aggrandizement of power. ‘What if a man should take upon himself to be king?’, Oliver is said to have mused to Bulstrode Whitelocke. He did, of course, refuse the title when it was offered to him. But his style of government made the return of monarchy easier. Again, Healey is admirably succinct and clear on the fall of the republic in 1660, when the tensions between the Army and the Rump Parliament, rumbling beneath the surface for years, came disastrously out in the open again.

Charles II’s reign began with widespread rejoicing and a broad base of support. Good will soon dissipated amid the relentless discrimination against Protestant dissenters, notably the Quakers (and, later, Catholics as well), humiliating defeats in war against the Dutch, the horrors of plague and fire, and distaste at the perceived moral depravity of the court. 

Healey’s Charles II is a fun-loving party animal who simply could not keep his penis in his breeches. But we are also reminded of the growing interest in science, with the creation of the Royal Society and the many advances of the time in astronomy, cartography, agriculture and social provision. Healey makes the point, perhaps a new one to many people, that the English knew so much more about themselves and their country by the end of the seventeenth century.

On Charles II’s ill-fated younger brother, James II, Healey is, understandably, brief. During the Exclusion Crisis of 1679-81 attempts were made to bar the Catholic Duke of York from ascending the throne. Charles II, had a large tally of illegitimate children, including plenty of sons, but no legitimate male heir. Charles was far from fond of James but believed implicitly in the importance of legitimate succession. Despite James’s Catholicism, he was accepted as king in 1685 and faced down a rebellion by the eldest of his brother’s offspring, the Duke of Monmouth. 

However, James’s attempts to combine better treatment for his co-religionists with a palpable drift towards absolutism became much more alarming when his wife, Mary of Modena, produced an apparently healthy male heir in the summer of 1688. As Healey puts it: ‘At the sound of a screaming newborn, the European balance of power was overturned.’ T

he prospect of a pro-French Catholic monarchy in the British Isles was too much for James’s nephew, the Protestant William of Orange, husband of Princess Mary, James’s elder daughter by his first wife, and, until then, his heir. Supported by the Protestant establishment, William invaded and was offered the throne in his own and his wife’s names. James famously fled, dropping the Great Seal in the Thames as he left. This petulant act did little to impede the opposition and, despite the ‘Glorious Revolution’ being much less glorious than it has generally been depicted, especially in Scotland, the Stuarts were still on the throne at the turn of the eighteenth century.

The ideals of those who had supported the ‘Good Old Cause’ of republicanism in England might, at first glance, seem to have been crushed forever. Yet they found root in the American colonies, cherished by those Commonwealthmen who had fled after Charles II’s restoration. It was a small flame but one never entirely extinguished, until it burst forth again a century later. From the American Revolution it leaped across the Atlantic to France and its light shines still, however dimly, on the world in which we live.

Sitting down to write the history of this extraordinarily eventful period of English history is a task not for the faint-hearted. Perhaps the greatest strength of Jonathan Healey’s book is how much it reveals of the lives and interests of those whom their contemporaries were pleased to describe as ‘the middling sort’. During the seventeenth century their voices were being raised – and heard – more vociferously and eloquently as the years went by. He is also very good on the role of women in society. Indeed, his title is taken from a work of science fiction by the eccentric Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle, who fancied herself something of a polymath.  

Painstakingly researched and elegantly written, The Blazing World is that rare achievement – a window into a past that is at once profoundly different and yet startlingly familiar. It deserves every success.

Linda Porter

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About the Author

Linda Porter has a B.A. and a D.Phil from the University of York. She spent nearly ten years lecturing in New York, at Fordham and City Universities among others, before returning with her American husband and daughter to England, where she embarked on a complete change of career. For more than twenty years she worked as a senior public relations practitioner in BT, introducing a ground-breaking international public relations programme during the years of BT’s international expansion. The attractions of early retirement were too good to miss and she has gone back to historical writing as well as reviewing for the BBC History Magazine, The Literary Review and History Today.. Find out more at Linda’s website and follow Linda on Twitter @DrLindaPorter1

Linda Porter’s most recent book is Mistresses: sex and scandal at the court of Charles II