Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ten Seconds Before Midnight at the Edge of Empire

by Ed McWatt

Imagine, if you can, being a member of a fiercely proud island nation with a reputation for bleak weather and stubbornness, somewhere just off the forbidding Atlantic coast of mainline Europe. Factor in years of economic decline set against a background of anti-immigrant fear and a growing sense of dislocation from the rest of the civilised world. Now consider how it might feel to be facing an imminent break with the rest of the continent and all the financial and social uncertainty that such a fundamental change in government would bring...

Current residents of the UK may find this leap of empathy easier to make than other readers – the parallels between the modern day Brexit and the situation which confronted the Romano-British in the early 5th century CE are inescapable (even if slightly hyperbolically expressed above).

What do we know about the Britain that experienced this ancient precursor to Brexit?

As usual, from this distance, the evidence is patchy and mostly archaeological in nature. The buried hoards of coins, silver and gold objects and precious stones which have been discovered in recent decades across the east of England provide the best insight into the psychology of the time – or at least the psychology of the elite of the time. People were hiding enormous wealth and, from the very fact that it remained hidden for detectorists to find, were never in a position to recover it. From this we can infer brigandage, fear and the chaos of social breakdown in the waning years of Rome’s influence. That is, to me, what makes this little-covered period of history such a rich one for authors of fiction.

Several of these hoards stand out for what they tell us about the lives they must have touched. The Hoxne hoard (Suffolk) comprises the largest collection of Roman gold and silver objects ever found, many of which are the personal artefacts of real lives – make-up brushes, pepper pots, and lots and lots of silver spoons. It is estimated that the thousands of coins in the hoard would have represented around three years' pay for the province’s governor. No small change, and probably only the more portable parts of a larger fortune.

Hoxne Hoard Empress Pepper Pot - reproduced
under Commons Licence

The Mildenhall treasure, also found in Suffolk and also now in the British Museum, is remarkable for the grandeur of the enormous silver serving dish, exquisitely decorated with scenes of gods and maenads. It must have belonged to people with deep, historic ties to a mythology stretching back to classical Greece, in the context of a society where Christianity was the new orthodoxy. This evolving religious landscape is reflected in the Water Newton treasure (Cambridgeshire), which is made up of silver jugs, bowls and plaques (votive offerings, possibly) inscribed with the periods main Christian symbol, the chi-rho. Britannia was a country of religious diversity then as it is now.

The Mildenhall Treasure, British Museum
reproduced under Commons Licence

Textual evidence about this period is slight – there is a contested reference (it may actually be referring to similarly-named tribe in Italy rather than the Britons) from a 6th century report on Honorius's reign which has been read as the Emperor telling the island in 411 CE to "look to its own defence". The same source indicates that there was a management takeover at the very death, with the locals expelling the remaining Roman officials in 410.

Whilst we lack direct evidence, it can be assumed that no popular mandate ushered in the end of (undemocratic!) Roman Britain – the island was effectively abandoned by a retrenching Rome over decades, through the withdrawal of the troops which were the backbone of defence as well as law and order. Even at its economic zenith, Britannia carried a significant overhead due to the high cost of garrisoning the rebellious island when compared to the return it was capable of generating. Its geographical isolation and distance from the centre can only have further devalued the province in the minds of many emperors. By the 4th Century CE, maintaining it as part of the Empire had become an exercise in conspicuous munificence.

The entropy which was tearing at the Empire's fabric elsewhere began to unravel Britannia's defences, with a steady withdrawal of troops to support the claims of various usurpers (such as Magnus Maximus in 383 CE) and to defend Gaul and Italy against tribes from east of the Rhine. This is the opinion of Gildas, a monk writing a generation after the end of Roman Britain. Certainly, this slow weakening of human resources correlates with the building of physical barriers – the walls around towns and shore forts around the coast – as well as increased border incursions such as the Barbarian Conspiracy of 317 CE and the serious incursions of Picts in the late 390s. It seems that late Roman Britain faced growing external threats of military and migrant nature – Gildas paints a picture of a Saxon invasion, bravely resisted.

The factor which will have affected the most people most profoundly is financial: the country was getting poorer and poorer immediately before the break with Rome. Public building, once the pride of the local aristocracy, had ended by the late C4th – towns would have rapidly sunk into a state of disrepair. Some argue that the hoards point towards the polarisation of wealth, the creation of a super-rich elite controlling most of the remaining resources. Coinage provides some of the strongest evidence we have of Britannia's slide into destitution. Coin clipping (the practice of carefully shaving coin edges to harvest precious metal, whilst preserving the object as passable legal tender) becomes widespread in coin finds from the mid-4th Century CE, hinting at a scarcity of cash, both in physical and liquidity terms. Analysis of the finds shows that coinage reaching Britannia starts to decline in the 370s CE and the supply dries up entirely at the start of the 5th Century – indeed, the last coinage to reach the island from the imperial mints can be dated to 402. It seems likely that a lack of pay locally accelerated the army's withdrawal and a return to earlier methods of payment (barter, services) is likely.

Bredon Hoard - via Commons Licence

Happily, for those of us wondering what 2017 will bring to a stand-alone Britain, we can draw reassurance that we live in a society where violent struggle for land and livelihood no longer threatens our stable and peaceful lives, regardless of the changing political backdrop.

Anyway, I'd better end this piece here, as it's getting dark and I need to go and dig a hole in my garden for something..


Ed McWatt is a first time novelist from East Anglia in the UK. His novel 'The Silver Empress' is aimed at a young adult audience and tells the story of how the Hoxne hoard may have come to be buried. You can read an extract and find out how to buy the book at

Monday, November 28, 2016

Uther Pendragon: Man, Myth or Legend

by C.M. Grey

The Dark Ages of ancient Britain is an incredibly interesting period of time. We know so much about other times in history, but the Dark Ages is an era where we find few facts handed down to us. There are many stories, poems and myths, and many of these refer to the shadowy figures of Uther Pendragon and his far more infamous son Arthur. There are many people that would love to find proof of King Arthur’s existence; he is a figure that looms large in the imagination, and yet that proof continues to remain elusive. Uther, however, appears more often in the few written accounts that have survived as a man that actually lived, a man who may possibly have drawn the tribes of Britain together when it was needed most.

To set the scene for when the Pendragons may… or may not have existed, we have to take into account that the term Dark Ages refers to the long period of time which started several decades before the Western Roman Empire fell in AD 476 and lasted to the beginning of the Renaissance period, which was around AD1300.

These dark ages were a time of little or no law and order, when civilisation, the written word and record keeping were at a very low point. Britain and most of Europe was in turmoil as the rule of Rome dissolved, all of which leaves modern scholars somewhat ‘in the dark’ as they search for their solid facts. Many of these ‘almost’ facts, these stories and tales of battles, the struggles of leaders and kings, were handed down verbally through generations as people sat around their fires and entertained each other with tales during the cold British nights. As they repeated them they changed, so many facts turned into myths.

To begin with, we know that the Romans conquered the Celtic tribes on their third attempt in AD43 and then ruled and subjugated them for nearly four hundred years. The tribes of Britain were much restricted during this occupation and, of course, were allowed no defences or army of their own. The aggressiveness and fighting spirit that so impressed Cesar when he arrived had been beaten out of them, so that when the Roman legions, the governors and their families began packing their possessions and gradually leaving the shores of Britain from around 410AD, the tribes were left almost defenceless. It must have looked incredibly tempting for other, more warlike groups to slip in during this slow Roman withdrawal and attempt to stake claim to the lands of Briton as their own.

Roman Legionary by Carole Raddato
from Frankfurt, Germany
[CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The empire had been slowly crumbling for a number of years; at first it was only the better connected that had been leaving the shores of Britain as they realised their empire was weakening. In the late third century, as the Romans governors still struggled to maintain some control, they built a chain of forts along the eastern coast of Britain in an effort to deter the increasing numbers of Saxon invaders, but when reinforcements and pay didn’t arrive from the empire the troops began to desert in earnest, and knowing this the Saxons came in even greater numbers. Irish tribes from the West also began arriving, and raiding Picts became more frequent visitors from across the Northern border of Hadrian’s Wall; the tribes of Britain were in a desperate state. They had gone from being a heavily governed, conquered and yet a protected people, segregated by their tribal identities into small communities, into easy pickings, victims to the invaders - they needed to unite and defend themselves, to become once again the tribes of old.

There have been numerous written accounts of the man that eventually united the tribes and came to rule the Britons. From Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (1136) we learn that the old king under the Romans, Constantine II had three sons. Constans, the eldest, was murdered, possibly by Vortigern, an advisor to Constantine before he assumed the throne upon the King’s death. The other two sons were Ambrosious and Uther, who was the youngest. Both younger sons had been sent into hiding during their early years, and while we know that Ambrosious grew up in Gaul under the tutelage of Roman teachers, we know little of where his younger brother Uther was brought up. It could also have been Gaul alongside his brother, however, I think it equally likely that it was among the tribes in his native Britain.

When the Romans left, the new King, Vortigern was in a difficult position. With his lands being attacked from all sides he decided to form an alliance with two Saxon brothers, Hengist and Horsa who, while agreeing to defend the kingdom from invading Irish and Picts, brought more and more of their own people in to populate the ravaged land.

By Sir Edward Parrott - The Pageant of British History
[Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons

Vortigern was not a popular King amongst the tribes. When the young Ambrosious returned from exile in Gaul to claim his father’s throne he sent out envoys and messengers and gathered the warriors under his banner with the promise that he would reclaim his father’s lands and defend the tribes from the invaders.

Pendragon Castle by George Robinson [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Wikimedia Commons

When the call went out, Uther joined his brother and then suddenly had to take command when Ambrosious was tragically killed in a battle against the forces of Vortigern.

Uther went on, so the stories, poems and legends say, to keep the tribes united as they fought the Saxons. The stories and legends only tantalise us further when they tell that he was advised throughout his time by a Druid named Merlyn and that it was with Merlyn that he travelled to Ireland to gather the standing stones there known as the ‘Giants Dance.’ Together they transported them back to Stanenges, to form the monument that we now know as Stonehenge.

When the call went out from, Uther joined his brother and then suddenly had to take command when Ambrosious was tragically killed in a battle against the forces of Vortigern.

Uther went on, so the stories, poems and legends say, to keep the tribes united as they fought the Saxons. The stories and legends only tantalise us further when they tell that he was advised throughout his time by a Druid named Merlyn, and that it was with Merlyn that he travelled to Ireland to gather the standing stones that were known there as the ‘Giants Dance.’ Together they transported them back to Stanenges, to form the monument that we now know as Stonehenge.

We are told by Geoffrey of Monmouth that on returning from Ireland Uther attacked his closest ally, Gerlois Duc of Cornwall and stole away with his wife Igraine to father the son who legends tell us was known as Arthur. Yet all of these stories are just the ‘almost-facts’ that come from the poems and stories of the time, because the Dark Ages was the time we know so little about. What little history there really is of this era allows our imagination the license to believe that legends did walk our earth, and because ‘something’ happened way back then, authors will piece these little truths together to tell a tale that ‘could’ have happened.

So, if you get a chance to sit by a fire this winter and stare into its dancing flames, spare a thought to the men and women who lived through those Dark Times, think about what it must have been like to live back then. Dark nights when spirits and Gods stared out from the shadows and when a peaceful night might be broken by the cry of alarm, that ‘the Saxons are coming!’


Wikipedia: Uther Pendragon  


C.M.Gray is an Englishman living in the hills outside Barcelona in Spain, yet has lived in many parts of the world from the clamour of Hong Kong to the vineyards of Burgundy France. An author, whose primary interest has been the Dark Ages of Britain, he has written two books about the life and adventures of Uther Pendragon. He loves finding a good story and enjoys writing one even more!

Find C.M.Gray on:
Author Website

Friday, November 25, 2016

The English Rose with the Heart of a Lion

by Anna Belfrage

Philippa of England is the first of only two English women to have been queens of Sweden.  (The second one was Louise Mountbatten who married widower and future king Gustav VI Adolf in 1923) Mind you, had Sweden been all that was on offer, Philippa’s father would not have been all that interested – at the time, Sweden was a “Here be dragons” place, in that no one really knew what might live in those impenetrable northern woods. Not even the Swedes did.

Philippa was the daughter of the future Henry IV, the last child born in his marriage to Mary de Bohun. Philippa’s birth in 1394 led to Mary’s death, and her early childhood must have been rather confusing, what with her father being exiled by Richard II in 1398, only to return in 1399, depose the king, and claim the crown himself. In one fell swoop, Philippa became a princess.

Henry’s usurpation was not welcomed everywhere, testament to which was the plot which had as its goal to murder Henry and his four sons while they were celebrating Twelfth Night at Windsor. Somehow, Henry got wind of the plot (some say due to a kind-hearted whore, some say due to the guilty conscience of one of the would-be plotters) and managed to gather up his brood and flee to the safety of London. While there was never any intention to kill Philippa or her older sister, I imagine these events would have affected a five-year-old. They certainly had a major impact on Henry, who would never feel entirely secure on his throne, not even when Richard II met his timely death some weeks later.

Henry claiming the throne
A royal princess was a valuable asset when building alliances. For Henry, negotiating splendid marriages for his daughters was also a way of legitimising himself as king – something he had to do, as there were quite a few who considered his claim to the throne secondary to that of Edmund Mortimer, fifth Earl of March, whose paternal grandmother was the daughter of Edward IIIs second son, while Henry was “only” the son of Edward IIIs third son. Fortunately for Henry, Edmund was a child at the time of the usurpation – but boys have a tendency to grow into men, which is why little Edmund and his brother Roger were to grow up very supervised, especially after their Mortimer uncle proclaimed Edmund king and rebelled against Henry.

All these political events would have coloured Philippa’s childhood, just as her future as consort to an as yet unknown prince would have impacted how she was educated and raised. By 1405, Henry IV had made his choice: his youngest daughter was to marry Erik of Pomerania, nominal king of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.  True power resided with Erik’s impressive maternal great-aunt, Margareta of Denmark, the lady responsible for unifying the Scandinavian realms under one very strong hand: hers.

Bogislav becoming Erik
Erik’s real name was Bogislav.  At the age of six he was elevated to the position of Margareta’s heir, this as a consequence of the personal tragedies that afflicted the great Margareta, culminating with the death of her only and very beloved son, Olof, in 1387. As he reached his majority, he was formally recognised as king in his various kingdoms, but Margareta had no intention of relinquishing control, and Erik had no desire to force her to, being wise enough to realise it would benefit them both is she called the shots. It was Margareta who negotiated for Erik’s bride. It was Margareta’s support and recognition, not Erik’s, that Henry wanted. The lady in question, often referred to as “the king without pants”, was an admired person, and I imagine Henry felt he was placing his daughter in safe hands.

What Philippa thought of all this, we don’t know. She was married by proxy late in 1405 – all of eleven – and come next summer she was accompanied by her father to King’s Lynn where she boarded a ship and sailed due north-east. She would never see any members of her family again.
Upon her arrival in Helsingborg, Philippa was twelve or so. Her prospective bridegroom was twelve years older – a full-grown man who was very much in the thick of things. Margareta was a firm believer in learning by doing, and so she involved Erik in all aspects of ruling his vast kingdoms. Their main concern was the Hanseatic League and what to do to curtail its power. Philippa was initially too young to understand all this – I imagine she had other challenges to overcome, such as learning the language.

Erik, as per a contemporary
In October of 1406, Philippa wed Erik. A splendid ceremony celebrated in the Lund Cathedral, and recorded as being the first time ever the bride wore white – from head to toe. Once wed, Philippa was crowned queen of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and upon all these solemn ceremonies followed a couple of weeks of partying, with the very tall, very handsome, groom treating his little bride with much respect and affection.

Of all the kingdoms presently under Margareta’s control, Sweden was the most restless, which was probably why Erik and Philippa made Kalmar in Sweden their home.  As per tradition, Philippa’s household was managed by a granddaughter to St Birgitta, which would explain why Philippa developed such an interest in the Brigittine order and its impressive combined nunnery and monastery in Vadstena.

As she grew older, Philippa became very devout and would expend considerable energies in supporting the Brigittines, with frequent visits to Vadstena.  But she was also a regnant queen, and Erik, who had grown up with a very strong woman, seems to have trusted his wife with several complex matters, such as more or less ruling Sweden single-handedly and acting as regent when he went off on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 1420s. By then, formidable Margareta had been dead for a decade or so, and Erik spent most of his time travelling from one corner of his realm to another. Sometimes Philippa accompanied him. Just as often, she preferred to remain in Sweden, a tangible reminder of the absent king.

Philippa won the hearts of her subjects by her demeanour and grace, and by all accounts her marriage was happy enough, albeit that she never experienced the joy of presenting her husband with a healthy heir. There are indications that she was brought to bed of a child, but the baby was either born stillborn or died very soon after. Philippa herself remained bedridden for some time afterwards, and already in 1416 the royal couple seem to have given up on future children, as Erik drew up an Order of Succession favouring his nephew.

Erik had his hands full with his various kingdoms – and even more so with the Hanseatic League, which did everything it could to foment dissatisfaction in Erik’s realms. The League felt threatened by a unified Scandinavia, and at some point the growing hostilities exploded into war. Philippa was dispatched to Sweden to convince the Swedes it was in their interest to side with their king.
“Hmm,” the Swedish nobility said, but Philippa was good at presenting her arguments, and so she rode off with the promise of Swedish support in the ongoing conflict.

Queen Philippa came into her own during the war with the Hanseatic League. In April 1428, the German merchants brought in a huge mercenary fleet to crush the Danish-Swedish feet, presently under anchor in Copenhagen. While Erik retired to a nearby island, Philippa refused to abandon Copenhagen and its inhabitants and was a loud and constant presence among the defenders, cheering them on with, I imagine, as much verbal skill as her famous brother Henry V. Except that she probably spoke Danish.

Philippa cheering on her forces in Copenhagen
(Illustration to H.C.Andersen's story about her)
The mercenary fleet approached, more than 260 ships determined to destroy Copenhagen once and for all. But the Danish city wasn’t giving up without a fight. Cannon roared, both from land based firing platforms but also from innovative floating batteries which could get that much closer to the ships flying the distinctive red and white Hanseatic pennant. When the Danish and Swedish ships joined the melee, the Hanseatic fleet chose to flee, while a very victorious queen pumped her arm in the air and hollered “Yay!” (Well, whatever the 15th century equivalent of that would be)

Angered and humiliated, the Hanseatic League reformed and returned in force in June of 1428. This time, they emerged victorious, sinking most of the Danish and Swedish ships in Copenhagen’s harbour. But Philippa escaped, as did Erik, and soon enough they had new ships ready to go, forcing the Hanseatic League back into their own harbours.

It must therefore have been with a certain buzz of success that Philippa in 1429 decided to undertake the long journey north from Copenhagen to Vadstena, there to meet various of the Swedish nobles. While in the best of health when she rode off, by the time she reached Vadstena she was ill. She died on the eve of Twelfth Mass and was buried under the floor of the chapel she herself had added to the Brigittine Abbey church.

Philippa, stainglass window in Vadstena
(Photo: Mariusz Pazdziora)
Her husband was, by all accounts, quite distraught. Her Swedish subjects even more so. With Philippa’s death, what little loyalty they had ever felt towards Erik dissipated like mist in the sun. In 1434, Erik was deposed as king of Sweden, and over the coming years he would also lose the Norwegian and Danish crown, retiring to Gotland and the far more lucrative pursuit of piracy.

Philippa was not quite 36 years old when she died. A short life, we would think, and I suppose Philippa would have preferred not to die as she did. But for all its brevity, Philippa’s life was full of adventure, all the way from the trip she undertook in 1406 to meet her husband, to her inspired leadership during the Bombardment of Copenhagen.  She is remembered in Sweden as a good and capable queen, a Lancaster rose who thrived in the colder climates of the north, who ruled wisely and well, and had the heart of an English lion.

All pictures in public domain and/or licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Regency Holiday Lights

by Maria Grace

Twinkling lights are an iconic emblem of the holiday season. Even before the Christmas tree was widely in vogue, the Regency Christmastide season had its own array of holiday lights.

Yule Log 
The Yule log is perhaps the best known of the traditional holiday lights.

  Chambers Yule LogThe Yule Log, an enormous log of freshly cut wood, would be gathered by teams of farmhands, and hauled to the house with great ceremony and merriment. Once on the hearth, the log might be anointed with oil, salt and wine, with suitable prayers made.

The log was lit on Christmas Eve, with splinters saved from the log from the previous year. The fire was to last until the end of Christmas Day at least and was kept smoldering until Twelfth Night. The Yule Log was believed to bring prosperity and protection from evil. Families kept a remnant of the log all the year long so protection would remain across the seasons. Even the ashes were believed to hold power. They would be scattered over fields to promote fertility

Christmas or Yule Candle

At the end of the 18th century, it became the custom for chandlers and other merchants to present regular customers with the gift of a large candle at Christmas. This large candle would be lit at sunset on Christmas Eve and burn until Christmas service (or dawn) the next day.

Traditional superstitions said that dire consequences, ill fortune or even the death of a family member, would ensue if the candle should burn out too soon. Typically the Yule Candle would be place at the dining table and lit a sunset by the head of the household who would also be the one to extinguish it, should that be necessary. Once lit, it was not to be moved nor any other candle lit from its flame.

Christmas Eve supper was served in the light of the Yule Candle. To prevent bad luck, an even number of people had to sit down to the meal and all leave at the same time after the meal ended. Servants might be pressed to join the family at the table to ensure the desirable even number of diners.

The light of the Yule Candle was thought to convey special blessings to anyone touched by it. Holiday breads were stacked around it, so they would be kept fresh by its light. Precious possessions might also be placed within its glow so that they might be protected from harm. 

The stub of the Yule Candle and any drippings were also though to offer protection and healing. The wax might be used on cuts and sores or to mark the backs of farm animals to ensure their health and productivity in the coming year.

Plum Pudding
Christmas Pudding Flames (8307898057)
A flaming Christmas Pudding

The Sunday before advent was known as Stir Up Sunday, the day for plum puddings to be made. The day became known as “Stir Up Sunday,” not because of the great deal of stirring done, but because of This is because the opening words of the main prayer in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 for that day are: ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people...’

Christmas pudding is prepared with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the 12 apostles then it is "stirred up". All family members must take a hand in the stirring, using a special wooden spoon (in honor of Christ's crib and stable). The stirring must be done clockwise, from east to west to honor the journey of the Magi, with eyes shut, while making a secret wish.

After the family stirred the pudding, tiny charms might be added to the pudding to reveal their finders’ fortune. The trinkets often included a thimble (for spinsterhood or thrift), a ring (for marriage), a coin (for wealth), a miniature horseshoe or a tiny wishbone for good luck, and an anchor for safe harbor. The pudding was then steamed in a cloth bag and hung up to age until Christmas Day.

When the pudding was served, a sprig of holly was placed on the top of the pudding as a reminder of Jesus' Crown of Thorns. It was then doused with brandy and lit. A portion of the pudding was saved for New Years to assure good luck.


Dragon playing snapdragon
Snapdragon is a parlor game. Raisins were piled in a bowl, topped with brandy and lit on fire. Players would try to snatch raisins out of the blue brandy-flames and eat them without getting burned—or lighting anything else aflame. The winner is the one with the most raisins (and I imagine least burns) and will be blessed with good luck in the following year.

While brandy burns with a relatively cool flame, I’m not sure I would suggest this for the next family Christmas party. Though not nearly so dramatic, charades is probably much safer!

Ayto, John. An A-Z of Food & Drink. Oxford University Press:Oxford. 2002
Broomfield, Andrea. Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History. Praeger:Westport CT. 2007
Davidson,Alan . Oxford Companion to Food, Oxford University Press:Oxford. 2000
Glasse, Hannah .The Art of Cookery made plain and easy, 1784.
Godey's Lady's Book, Dec. 1860
Griffen ,Robert H. and Ann H. Shurgin editors. The Folklore of World Holidays,Second Edition. Gale:Detroit.1998
Knightly, Charles. The Customs and Ceremonies of Britain. London:Thames and Hudson. 1986
Revel ,Rachel. Winter Evening Pastimes or The Merry Maker’s Companion. 1825
  Yule Log
  Yule Log
  Yule Log
  The Yule Candle in the Regency

[This is an Editors' choice archive post, originally published on 14th December, 2013]


 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy and All the Appearance of Goodness.  The Trouble to Check Her was released in February 2016 Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.

Most recently, Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon was released in October 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Did Lull Advise Charlemagne to Get Tough on Pagans?

By Kim Rendfeld

What was it like for Saint Lull in 785, when he got the news Continental Saxon ruler Widukind, responsible for church burnings and mass murder, had agreed to accept baptism, with Frankish King Charles as his godfather?

Lull was between age 75 and 80. A disciple of the missionary Saint Boniface, the English-born churchman had worked for 40 years to restore the faith where Christians had lapsed and wanted to spread it to pagan lands. Lull might have recently retired to the abbey at Hersfeld. Before his death on Oct. 16, 786, he composed a few verses celebrating Charles’s conquest.

Perhaps he did more than watch from the sidelines. Lull was an advisor to Charles (Charlemagne), and historian Richard A. Fletcher suggested Lull might have encouraged the Frankish monarch to get tough with recalcitrant pagans.

It is possible for several reasons. Boniface, who had anointed Charles’s father as king of the Franks, had chosen his close friend Lull to be his successor as the archbishop of Mainz. Lull had joined Boniface in Germany after a pilgrimage to Rome, and rose through the clerical ranks. He was a deacon in 745, priest in 751, and bishop in 752. His ascendance in 753 to an influential position in a city that was almost 800 years old was bittersweet. In instructing Lull to keep building churches, Boniface told his disciple he was nearing the end of his life. Lull wept at this foretelling.

An advocate for strict discipline and the authority of bishops over all monasteries and convents, Lull might not have been the easiest guy to get along with, as Saint Sturm, abbot of Fulda, would attest. After Boniface’s martyrdom in 754, they fought over where the relics would have their final resting place, and Lull retaliated when he lost. (See the link below for more on that.)

Statue of Saint Lullus in Bad Hersfeld
(photo  by 2micha GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons)

The King Needs Allies in the Right Places

Charles was only a child when this tiff happened, and history doesn’t record what he thought about it. Twelve years later, a dying Pepin split his kingdom between his two sons, Charles and Carloman. The brothers didn’t get along, and Charles needed allies. Lull was a good choice. His diocese was near Carloman’s realm, and Charles would have liked that Lull, educated at monasteries in Malmesbury and Nhutscelle, was a learned man. In fact, Lull was constantly asking for more books.

Charles also made friends with Sturm, who had not forgotten his earlier dispute with Lull. I suspect the feeling was mutual. Yet the two clerics might have agreed on one thing: protect their abbeys, along with Fritzlar, from the pagan Saxons. The monastery at Hersfeld, which Lull had founded with Charles's support around the time Charles became king, was less than a week’s journey from the Saxon fortress Eresburg. Sturm’s abbey at Fulda was a two-day journey after that.

Lull and Sturm would have known about the long-standing hostility between the Christian Franks and the pagan Saxons. But Charles’s first war in Saxony in 772 was different; it was the first time religion became a factor. Charles borrowed a tactic from Boniface and ordered the destruction of a monument sacred to the pagans, a pillar in this case. It’s not too much of a stretch to think Lull or Sturm reminded him of the story where Boniface felled a sacred tree and pagans had converted.

Boniface chops down a tree sacred to pagans,
engraving by Bernhard Rode, 1781
(public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Why Charles, now sole ruler of the Franks, invaded Saxony at that time is open to speculation. Perhaps, the Saxons had stopped paying yearly tribute won from the previous war 14 years before, while Pepin, and then Charles were distracted with the wars in Aquitaine. Charles might have thought to let such insolence go unanswered would weaken him. Perhaps, Charles was trying to protect Church interests in pagan lands, or he saw the Saxons as a threat with the fortress of Eresburg so close to Frankish territory.

Charles had a military victory that year, but the wars with brutality on both sides would continue on and off for decades. At one point, he appointed Sturm to watch over affairs in the conquered Eresburg. In 779, age and illness caught up with Sturm. On his deathbed, he asked his brethren to pray for him and singled out Lull “who always took sides against me” for forgiveness.

Time to Be More Aggressive?

I would like to think Lull welcomed the attempt at reconciliation, but he probably had other things on his mind. At this point, he had supported missionary work for 34 years. He likely remembered the pagans who had burned Saint Lebwin’s churches in Deventer and the attacks on Fritzlar and the nearby fortress of Büraburg. Just the previous year, the Saxons again burned churches all the way to the Rhine and slaughtered indiscriminately.

And then there was the abbey in Hersfeld, which sat on land Sturm was told to leave many years ago because it was too close to Saxony to be safe. Lull was setting it up as a center for learning, a monastery that would rival Fulda. He might have already wanted to translate Saint Wigbert’s relics to Hersfeld, making it an attraction for pilgrims and their alms.

Might Lull have encouraged Charles to be more aggressive? The best answer I can give is it’s possible.

In 782, the same year Charles avenged a disastrous military defeat in the Süntel with a mass execution (4,500 if we are to believe the Royal Frankish Annals), he issued a capitulary to the Saxons. Among other things, it made capital offenses of pagan practices such as burning the dead. The capitulary put the force of law behind the missionaries’ efforts. Perhaps in Lull’s mind and others’, a few souls would be lost, but they were going to hell anyway. This was a way to prevent them from dragging others with them.

Charlemagne accepts Widukind's submission,
1840 painting by Ary Scheffer
(public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Now the Saxons were in a hard place. If they followed their old gods, they risked execution. If they ignored the deities responsible for victory in battle and successful harvests they risked starvation and the ability to be ruled by their own. Led by Widukind, they decided to keep fighting. So did the Franks.

Near the end of 784, Charles took the extraordinary step of going to war in the winter, using Eresburg as a base. Most early medieval wars were fought in summer, when animals could graze and soldiers could get food by raiding farms on enemy lands. The lack of crops and fodder made fighting in winter risky. Apparently the pressure was too much for Widukind. He and Charles made a deal: Widukind would convert to Christianity and submit to Charles, and Charles would offer his protection as his lord.

Lull must have felt triumphant to hear the news. Finally, missionaries would be able to do their work unimpeded. Finally, Saxon souls would be saved. He might have gone to his death at peace with the knowledge, despite a conspiracy against Charles from Franks or Thuringians unhappy with the deal. What he didn’t know was that the wars would resume in a few years.

Related: A Fight over Who Gets the Martyr's Relics


The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge

The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Alban Butler

The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity by Richard A. Fletcher

St Lullus” Athelstan Museum, Malmesbury

"Hersfeld" by Oswald Hunter-Blair, The Catholic Encyclopedia

The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England

Willibald: The Life of St. Boniface

Kim Rendfeld’s rereleased novel The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar opens with the destruction of the Irminsul, a monument sacred to the pagan Continental Saxons, and Charlemagne’s deal with Widukind plays a key role in her work in progress, Queen of the Darkest Hour.

You can order The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a Saxon peasant who will fight for her children after losing everything else, at AmazonKoboBarnes & Noble, and iTunes. Kim's first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband, is available at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and other vendors.

Connect with Kim at on her website, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Early History of English

By Annie Whitehead

Here’s a little test: Torpenhow. Know how to pronounce it? Know its derivation? If it helps at all, it’s in Cumbria, and it’s a hill… and its name means hill hill hill. That’s English for you. But why? How did our language become so, well, strange? Or should that be weird? Why do we have so many different words for the same thing, and why does our spelling not even abide by its own rules?

I think the first clue might be that, as historian Ann Williams remarked, “We have little idea about what ‘spoken’ English was like before 1100 - virtually all the surviving texts are written in the literary standard (Standard West Saxon in modern scholarship) which was never a spoken language. The abrupt change in the Peterborough Chronicle in 1121 (pictured below) marks the moment when the scribe ceased to write in Standard West Saxon, and began to write in something like the local spoken dialect.”

And in reply, historian Stephanie Evans Mooers Christelow had this to add: “There is also the fact that people speak the language of their mothers: French men who married English women had bicultural children who most likely spoke English. French soldiers stationed in English towns had to learn English, and the French who resided in English villages did as well. According to the Cambridge History of the English Language, French vocabulary and syntax did not begin to significantly affect the English language until about 1300.”

So, there are two intriguing pieces of information here: a hint at the marked differences between written and spoken language, and the fact that it’s too easy, and inaccurate, to blame all our language anomalies on the Norman Conquest. So where did they come from?

Two thirds of England’s rivers take their names from ‘Celtic’ words, for example, Avon. We have place names which are a mixture - in the case of Much Wenlock, Much is from Anglo-Saxon mycel, meaning great, Wenlock comes from Celtic wininicas, white area, and the Anglo-Saxon loca, (place.) We have Roman influence, too, with castra (fort), seen in places such as Chester, and Manchester. Of course, the Anglo-Saxons did build forts of their own - burhs, which give Britain all the burgh and borough place names. But the Anglo-Saxons didn’t just come to fight, and/or defend, they also came to stay. They cleared places, to make space for their settlements, and gave us word endings like ley, ly, leay and leigh, which all mean 'clearing'. The Scandinavians followed suit and also added place names - by, booth, and thwaite.

The Normans did add a few of their own - Ashby was given to the de la Zuche family, (giving us Ashby de la Zouche) and Bewdley came from Beau Lieu (beautiful place).

But the Norman-French did not settle in with the same comfort as the Anglo-Saxons and the Scandinavians, nor in the same number. As we saw above, the commoners kept speaking English, which was still evolving, nevertheless, and came to add many French words.

There is a wealth of information to be gleaned from the study of our place names, and as Margaret Gelling says in her Signposts to the Past, “The linguistic agility which enables modern English speakers to accept Salop as a form of Shropshire is paralleled by the ease with which Keighley is an accepted spelling form of a name pronounced Keethley.” (If you can, get a copy of her book and marvel at her enlightening discourse on the ‘correct’ pronunciation of Shrewsbury!)

Of course, places names have different pronunciations not just because of language development, as in the case of Shrewsbury (Shrowsbury/Shroosberry.) So what can regional dialect tell us?

What Fettle Mun is a book on Cumbrian dialect by Tim Barker. Remember Torpenhow? Well, it is pronounced Tra’penner, or Truhpenner. The Tor bit is from an ancient British word, meaning hill. The Pen is from Celtic (Welsh) and it means hill. How is Old Norse, and it means… hill. Yes, Barker confirms that our language is definitely a hybrid.

Cumbria has the same root as the Welsh word for Wales - Cymru. The shepherds’ counting system, Yan, T’yar, tethera, methera, pimp, is very close to the Welsh for 1-5 (Un, dai, tri, pedwar, pimp).

The Lakeland dialect contains lots of thees and thous, similar to older English - Dost thou is still in evidence is phrases like Duster, as in "Duster want a cup o’tea?"

English development is not unique, but it is unusual. Other languages have remained more pure; Canadian French, for example, is much closer to medieval French, and American English bears traces of that spoken by those on the Mayflower who, being English, would nevertheless have talked of fall coming after summer, and of having ‘gotten’ things.

But here in England we can find even earlier traces. Staying in Cumbria, The Dictionary of Cumberland Dialect (Ed. Richard LM Biers) tells us that gang means go, remarkably similar to the Old English (OE) for 'going' : gangan.

At the other end of the country, In Broad Norfolk, Jonathan Mardle tells us that in the ninth century the Danes invaded the East coast and martyred the Christian king, Edmund. People in East Norfolk used to call the carrion-crow ‘Harra the Denchman’ (Harold the Danishman) which suggests a very long folk-memory of the Anglo-Saxon terror of the heathen vikings.

Norfolk shepherds also have a counting system which sounds rather familiar - Ina, tina, tether, wether, pink.

They still call a song thrush a Mavis, the OE name, and they retain OE plurals - childr, housen. There is much of what we would term biblical language:  "Go ye into the village."

East Anglia became part of the Danelaw. The Danes inter-mingled and Danish became part of the East Anglian dialect. Then came the Flemish weavers in the 14th century. Then an influx of Dutch and Walloon weavers in the 16th century - the ‘strangers’ - brought the word ‘lucum’ (attic window) from the French ‘lucarne’. So not all of our French words come necessarily from Norman French. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Those who came to England early on spoke a Germanic language (Indo-European). The word for father in a document of AD800 is faeder. In Old High German it’s Fater and in Old Frisian fadar or feder. Modern German gives us Vater. We can see the connection. The Story of English (McCrum, Cran & MacNeil) adds that other Frisian words, ko (cow) lam (lamb) goes (goose) boat (boat) dong  (dung) and rein (rain) suggest that had the Conquest not happened, we might all be speaking something akin to modern Dutch.

We should therefore expect some hybrids (as we’ve seen in the place names) and some alternatives with the arrival of the Normans eg wedding/marriage. Although why we don’t have Lapin for rabbit, when it was the French who introduced rabbits to England - can anyone tell me?? (Seriously, I would love to know!)

But leaving aside hybrids, dialect and alternatives, why the different spellings of seemingly similar words?

OE contains barely a dozen Celtic words, and most of them, as we have seen, are geographical. And most place names are English or Danish. OE was not uniform, it had local varieties which as we’ve seen are still discernible today, and also regional accents as diverse as 'Geordie' in the north-east, Dorset with its soft ‘burrs’ and Kent, with speech patterns that go back to Jutish origins. The impact of Old Norse (ON) is harder to gauge because words were so similar to OE. But it has given us beck, laithe, garth - all generally found in areas of Viking settlement in the north, as is riding, a word for an administrative unit, which as an interesting aside, is also used in Canada for a parliamentary constituency.

Certain developments affected vocabulary: the coming of Christianity brought biblical words - Greek and Latin - and gave OE the ability to speak of concepts (frumweorc: from fruma, beginning, and weorc, work, which gives OE for creation), and the Conquest brought a linguistic ‘apartheid’ in areas of religion and law, with the introduction of words like felony, perjury, attorney, bailiff and nobility.

But many of our unusual spellings simply boil down to phonetics. The English had two letters for the th sound (þ and  ð) which became virtually interchangeable. They had no silent letters; every letter was pronounced. But there were weaknesses in the system - the same letter, c, was used for cold and child (cild) and king (cyning).

G was both hard and soft, and was also used for a sound similar to the ending of Scottish ‘loch’, as well as the j sound in hedge, which was written with a cg spelling (hecg). The sh sound was written sc - (scip = ship).

So h, c and g were being used for several sounds.

There were similar problems with vowels; with no clue given in the spelling as to the length of the vowels. The scribes experimented with double letters and accents, but it wasn’t ideal. They had no silent letters, remember, so vowels couldn’t be used as clues to pronunciation.  But post-1066, double vowels came to be used (sweet, queen).

The Normans might not have had everyone speaking French, but they introduced new ways of hinting at pronunciation of English - sc became sh, cw became qu, and cg became dg, as in hedge.

They brought in the letter w, but this looked too much like v v (havving), so doubling up went out and the silent e was added to aid pronunciation (have, live). And suddenly it starts to become clear why we have all our spelling anomalies.

For anyone wondering about  through, trough, throw, threw, thorough, bough, and tough, I recommend David Crystal’s book, Spell it Out, for it would seem that a lot of our peculiar spellings were born of a need to show how words should be pronounced.

So, whilst the Normans might not have altered the way we spoke, they certainly altered the way our words were spelled.

It is my intention to revisit this subject, and in a future post I will look at how Old English and Anglo-Norman turned into what we call Middle English, and how, why and when even the nobility stopped speaking French.

See Part II of the Story of English Here
[all the above images are in the public domain, via Wikipedia]


Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and it has been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion.

Her second novel, Alvar the Kingmaker, is a tale of intrigue, deceit, politics, love, and murder in tenth-century Mercia. It charts the career of the earl who sacrificed personal happiness to secure the throne of England for King Edgar, and, later, Aethelred the Unready. It too has just been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion.

Most recently, she has contributed to the anthology of short stories, 1066 Turned Upside Down, in which nine authors re-imagine the events of 1066, and which has just been awarded HNS Editors’ choice and long-listed for Book of the Year 2017.

Author Page
Alvar the Kingmaker
To Be A Queen
1066 Turned Upside Down

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Henry VI: Part Two

by Derek Birks

Henry VI

At the end of my first post about Henry VI (click here for Part One), I posed the question: would Henry VI learn from his mistakes? 

I think you might already suspect the answer but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he does after 1450.

King's College, Cambridge: Endowed by Henry VI
After the failure of Cade’s rebellion in 1450, Henry was given another chance to get it right. Up to 1450 his rule was characterised by the three Ps: prayer, piety and peace which underpinned not only his spiritual life but also his kingship. There is nothing wrong with the three Ps at all, except that a successful king had to consider other aspects of life too. Most medieval kings thought prayer and piety very important, but they also knew they must understand what their subjects – especially their leading subjects – wanted from them.

I don’t believe Henry was a fool but I do think he was an idealist. In fact, the influence of his ideals on his policies meant that at times of crisis he sometimes made the wrong call. I see this as perhaps the most important failure of his disastrous reign.

What factors dominated politics after 1450?

By 1450 Henry had been married to Margaret of Anjou for five years without producing an heir to the throne. A male heir is what every king needed. Though it has been suggested that Henry’s apparent awkwardness with the naked body made his marital relations difficult, it seems to me that Henry took his royal duties seriously enough.

Of course, if Henry did not have a child then the crown would most likely pass to Richard, Duke of York. When, in the troubled summer of 1450, most of Henry’s inner circle of advisers were killed, rebel manifestos already argued that the Duke of York should play a greater role in advising the king. Yet York had been recalled from France in 1447 and sent to Ireland where he was very far indeed from the political epicentre.

Clearly Henry mistrusted or feared the Duke of York but, up to 1447, York appears to have been a loyal crown servant. Supplanting York as a commander in France was Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset – a man with modest qualifications as a military leader. After the rebellion in 1450, Somerset was brought home and became a close royal confidant.

Beaufort was not just any old peer. His family, like those of the king and York, was descended from Edward III. He was closer in blood to Henry than York was, though barred from the succession by letters patent of Henry IV. We do not know whether Henry wanted to restore the Beaufort line to the succession, but he must have considered the possibility and York saw Somerset as a clear rival. No, not just a rival; he was the enemy, for he was receiving the very rewards that York believed his status warranted, whilst York had acquired only debts from his government service.

How did the Rivalry between York and Somerset cause Henry problems?

Henry probably thought it best to leave York in Ireland – out of sight, if not entirely out of mind – but I fear he should have paid attention to the maxim: ‘Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.’

As I’ve pointed out in a previous post, Richard, Duke of York, took his position in the state very seriously indeed and whilst he remained loyal to the king, he did not wish to see his status eroded by the presence of Edmund Beaufort at court. He must have been spitting blood in Ireland, looking on during Cade’s rebellion as Henry’s government floundered.

So, in September 1450 York returned to England without Henry’s permission and arrived at Westminster with a large retinue. He had come, he said, to proclaim his loyalty and offer himself publicly as the man to lead the king’s government and remove corruption. This was a popular, if rather elusive - and illusory - aim. York waged a propaganda war against Somerset, posing as the champion of justice. He called in favours from his many clients, raising their hopes of gaining advancement in a ‘new order’ with York at the helm. His influence in parliament was especially strong but sadly parliaments were called only at the bidding of the king.

How did Henry respond to York’s Challenge?

Henry, not unreasonably I would suggest, issued a response which declined York’s kind offer and emphasised that he preferred the collective advice of a council to that of one man.

Whilst this sounds laudable enough, it did not stop Somerset’s rise and his appointment in 1451 as Captain of Calais gave him access to a powerful military garrison. Yet, at the same time, the war with France went from bad to worse and soon Gascony was lost.

By February 1452, York had had enough. Action was required and he launched another propaganda campaign to muster support. A surviving letter from the Duke of York to the folk of Shrewsbury shows us clearly his attitude to both the king and Somerset. He cited the: “envy, malice and untruth of the Duke of Somerset” and stressed: “it not being my intent to displease my sovereign lord, but seeing that the said duke ever prevaileth and ruleth about the king’s person and that by this means the land is likely to be destroyed, I am fully determined to proceed in all haste against him with the help of my kinsmen and friends.”

However you dress it up, York was talking rebellion. He raised an army and camped at Dartford. The king also raised an army and camped at Blackheath. This is 1452 remember – before the first battle at St Albans in 1455 which is often regarded as the start of the Wars of the Roses. Two armed camps then, with cannons and so on, but no battle. Why not? Well mainly because York’s support amongst those who mattered – i.e. lords – was minimal. Those we know as the great Yorkist supporters of a few years later, the earls of Salisbury and Warwick, were firmly in the king’s camp. Besides, no-one really had the stomach for a fight. The councillors talked York out of it in the end and, on a promise that Somerset would be arrested and put on trial, York capitulated. However, having disbanded his army, he found that Somerset was neither arrested nor tried.

Whether by luck, good judgement or the diplomacy of the Neville lords, Henry had averted rebellion. Yet, had the Duke of York not committed open treason and escaped unpunished?

Herein lay a critical failure of Henry VI: he did not have a ruthless bone in his body. York walked free having brought the kingdom to the brink of chaos. Was this because Henry was a simpleton? No. Was it because he was in the thrall of Somerset? Hardly! It was the three Ps again. Henry wanted peace between his warring factions. A more ruthless man, a more pragmatic king, would have realised that York had overstepped too far and had to go. One could say it was admirable on Henry’s part, but it was a genuine political risk to leave such a powerful man at large. For the time being York went away to lick his wounds, whilst Somerset found ways of punishing his followers if not the man himself.

If York was humiliated and rebellion averted, what went wrong?

Margaret of Anjou from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book
In the latter part of 1452, things were actually looking up for Henry with victories in France and then in the spring of 1453 came the news that Queen Margaret was finally pregnant. It seemed Henry’s fortunes had turned, but it was not to be. In July the English army in France was annihilated at Castillon and its heroic general, the Earl of Shrewsbury, killed.

Shortly after this catastrophe, the king himself suffered a breakdown. Perhaps it was prompted by news of the defeat, or perhaps by the reality of his wife’s pregnancy, but in truth we’ll never know. It may just have been lying in wait in his genes ready to pop out and cause maximum disaster – well it certainly did that!

Henry was incapable of movement, let alone thought. In a personal monarchy this meant there was a vacuum at the centre of power. Nothing important could be done without the king’s approval, so effectively nothing important could be done… For two months the king’s condition was kept secret but that could not go on forever. It’s ironic in a way that despite all the frequent criticisms of Henry’s weakness or folly, it is his absence that propels the government of England into the abyss.

In mid-October 1453 the queen gave birth to a son, the heir Henry so desperately needed. But later in October the King’s Council met to discuss what to do about Henry’s condition. Somerset clearly intended to rule as some sort of regent, hoping that the council would be swayed in his favour by York’s previous misdemeanours. If York was allowed to return to the council, there would not be room for both of them.

In 1452 York was isolated but in the year since then, far away from the royal court, something very important had happened: York had found some powerful friends.

This new development will be the focus of my next post in this series, which will focus on Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.

Previous posts in the series, see The Magnificent the War of the Roses, and Henry VI: Part One.

Henry VI: By Unknown - National Portrait Gallery: NPG 2457 [Public Domain]
King's College Chapel, Cambridge: By Dmitry Tonkonog (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Margaret of Anjou: By Talbot Master (fl. in Rouen, c. 1430–60) - Cropped image of File:Presentation of the Book of Romances.jpg, a scan of the manuscript illuminated by the Talbot Master (British Library, Royal 15 E VI, f. 2v), Public Domain


Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family. The fourth and final book of the series, The Last Shroud, was published in the summer of 2015.

The Elders will return in Scars from the Past, the first of a new series, in November 2016.

Connect with Derek through his Website, Blog, and Twitter (@Feud_writer). The Rebels & Brothers series is available on Amazon UK and