Sunday, October 28, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, October 28, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Join us every week on English Historical Fiction Authors. We have saints and sinners, politics and war. Read about kings, queens, the common man and woman, and legends from ancient to post-WWII.

Kim Rendfeld takes the spotlight in this week's round-up. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Ecgberht: The Refugee Returns to Claim the Throne

By Kim Rendfeld

In 789, Ecgberht was a refugee in the Frankish court, driven from his home in Kent. His exile was another chapter in the long struggle between his kinsmen and Mercian King Offa.

Twenty-seven years earlier, Kent suffered a succession crisis, with the death of Æthelberht II. Over the next few years, five men claimed to rule the kingdom or at least eastern or western half of it. One of them was King Ecgberht II, who at the time claimed the western half. This Ecgberht is not our hero but was perhaps a relative. Medieval aristocrats were fond of reusing names, especially to remind subjects, allies, and enemies of prior rulers.

The chaos about who exactly was in charge of Kent was an opportunity for Offa. He might have felt entitled to the kingdom next door because Kent had acknowledged his predecessor, Æthelbald, as overlord by 731. Whether that relationship lasted until Æthelbald’s murder in 757 is unknown.

By 765, Offa imposed himself as overlord of Kent, and apparently held on to the kingdom for several years.

14th century image of Offa
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The Kentish people apparently weren’t happy with Mercian rule. In 776, Ecgberht II led soldiers to drive Offa out. They fought at Otford, and Kent likely won its independence, if we are to believe circumstantial evidence like coins with Ecgberht II’s name and charters with his name but not Offa’s. This time Ecgberht II ruled all of Kent.

We know Ecgberht II flourished between 765 and 779, but don’t know how his reign ended. King Ealhmund, our hero’s father, might have succeeded him. Evidence is scant. One piece is that his name appears on charters. Ealhmund’s relationship between Ecgberht II, assuming there is one, is unknown. Ealhmund did name his son after the warrior who triumphed over a foreign invader.

But Offa was not one to sit quietly. By 785, he reimposed his authority on Kent, issuing charters in his name without a reference to a Kentish king. Ealhmund’s fate is a mystery. Was he killed? Driven out?

Ecgberht, Ealhmund’s son, was still around. Considering that he lived until 839, 50 years after he went into exile, he might have been an adolescent when his father lost Kent. Offa likely saw Ecgberht as a threat, as he likely perceived anyone with a claim to the throne.

In 789, Offa enlisted the aid of his new son-in-law, Beorhtric, to help solve his problem—perhaps it was one of the reasons the Mercian king and his wife arranged of his daughter Eadburh to the king of Wessex. Until this time, Beorhtric probably had no quarrel with Ecgberht and no concern about Kent. But he did have this new alliance and might have felt obligated to fulfill it.

Driven from home, Ecgberht found refuge in Charlemagne’s court or in Francia. Either way, he would have had the permission of the Frankish king to be there, much to Offa’s aggravation. Ecgberht might have met fellow exiles during his time in Francia, including Eadberht Præn. Sharing the name of prior Kentish kings, Eadberht likely had been tonsured against his will—a common way to deny rivals their inheritance to the crown.

Seven years later, Mercian rule in Kent was again challenged. Offa died in July 796, and his son, Ecgfrith, succeeded him. Although Ecgfrith had be crowned co-ruler, he didn’t seem as strong as his father. Some aristocrats in Kent might have seen opportunity.

That same year, Eadberht Præn decided to leave the priesthood and seize power. He reigned for two years, having coins minted in his name and getting rid of a troublesome archbishop. In the meantime, Ecgfrith died, and his successor, Cenwulf, was able to stabilize Mercia then try to regain Kent.

Eadberht Præn was captured in 798 and taken in chains to Mercia. Things turned out horribly for him. Because he had been ordained, he could not be killed, but he suffered what some might see as a worse fate. Be warned: it is gruesome. His captors blinded him, chopped off his hands, and sent him to Winchcombe, an abbey Cenwulf had recently founded. Thus crippled, Eadberht Præn would never be able to rule again.

13th century image of Ecgberht
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In 802, Ecgberht decided to claim power, but he didn’t go for Kent. Instead he invaded Wessex. It’s uncertain why he decided on Wessex. Perhaps it was the easier target, and Ecgberht had not forgotten how Beorhtric had helped Offa steal what was rightfully his. The two likely met on the battlefield at Wiltshire. Beorhtric died, and Ecgberht seized the crown.

He didn’t stop at Wessex. During his 37-year reign, Ecgberht would extend his rule to include Surrey, Essex, Sussex, and Kent.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, including
“Offa” by S.E. Kelly
“Eadberht Præn” by S.E. Kelly
“Ecgberht” by Heather Edwards
“Æthelberht II” by S.E. Kelly


In Kim Rendfeld's Queen of the Darkest Hour, Queen Fastrada must stop a conspiracy before it destroys everyone and everything she loves. The book is available on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & NobleKobo, and Smashwords.

Kim has written two other books set in 8th century Francia. In The Cross and the Dragon, a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband (available on Amazon). In The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a Saxon peasant will fight for her children after losing everything else (available on Amazon). Kim's short story “Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur, is set in early medieval Britain and available on Amazon.

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.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, October 21, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Here's what you missed last week on English Historical Fiction Authors. Enjoy!

by Helen Hollick
(Editor's choice from the archives)

by Natalie Rose

Friday, October 19, 2018

Travelling in Comfort: The Importance of Horse Gaits in the Past

by Natalie Rose

Anyone familiar with horses and even those not so familiar with them will know about walking, trotting and galloping, maybe even cantering. There are however a pile of other gaits available, and in the past when animals were the only land transport available people really knew the value of them!

A travelling horse was a defined type of animal in the past. You were extremely lucky to be travelling on some kind of level, dry, well maintained road in the past and as such wheeled vehicles were virtually useless in most areas for at least half the year, if at all. Peasants would have been grateful for anything to get their feet out of the mud no doubt, but anyone who was anyone would have wanted a 'gaited' horse to ride. Trotting horses, so familiar today, were dismissed as bone shakers.

A single gene is responsible for producing odd gaits in animals and it tinkers with messages sent via the spinal cord, possibly making the cord itself more flexible. It sounds terrible and chaotic, but in fact the gaits produced are slightly more efficient than the other counterparts and as a handy by product, significantly smoother and more comfortable for humans!

In medieval times 'amblers' were much prized for long distance riding in comfort and most often used as 'palfreys' - light riding horses. What the 'amble' actually was is open to interpretation, as there are many different gaits for a horse to use and some can be extremely difficult for the layperson to identify with the naked eye as the legs are moving so fast! It's possible that any differing gait was termed an amble in order to bump up the value of a horse!

If you are a rider and want to test the theory, probably the closest ride to a medieval palfrey available in Britain today is on an Icelandic. Icelandics are short, hardy horses that can go for hours in a pace called a tolt. A tolt is like a power walk; to the observer it looks like it would feel like riding a sewing machine, but trust me, it is smooth as silk to ride - highly recommended!

"The period from around 1650 to the mid 1830s brought a revolution in British transport...The state of the roads at the beginning of this period was appalling. An Act of Parliament in 1555 holding each parish responsible for the roads passing through it had made no difference. But with the economy and trade expanding, some system for maintenance and improvement was desperately needed. The solution eventually reached was by way of travellers paying a toll, and this was the beginning of the turnpike system." - Brian Houghton, Coaching Days in the Midlands (1997).

The turnpike system was sometimes unpopular, but it did get the job done and wheeled carts and carriages could come into their own. Suddenly the other gaits were less important as the wealthy now wanted to ride in relative comfort, away from the sun or wind, snow or rain and trotting was perfectly acceptable for this purpose.

One of the interesting quirks of all this for a transport geek like me is that thesedays, when riding is such a common pastime, everybody rides trotting/galloping horses and the only strongholds left for a gaited breed in this country is within driving - standardbreds are used for harness racing where pacing is valued as it is ever so slightly faster than trotting.

Another is the Hackney, now a very endangered breed and inextricably linked with carriage driving despite the distinctive high-stepping trot they use having been designed to absorb some of the shock of a trot, to make things more comfortable for a rider. I am lucky enough to live in one of the heartlands of the Hackney breed in East Yorkshire (the other is Norfolk - I suppose long, flat roads were a good nursery for roadhorses).

"The Vale (of Pickering), the Wolds, the Holderness, probably employ a hundred thoroughbred stallions. One hundred mares are considered the complement for one horse: some of them, perhaps, do not get fifty. On this calculation there are from five to ten thousand horses bred between the Eastern Wolds and the Humber." - The Rural Economy of Yorkshire, William Marshall (1788).

I am very close to Howden, which used to host a famous horsefair, now sadly a distant memory, which would bring people flocking from all over the country to buy and sell horses. From the ballad 'Howden Fair':

It's I have been to Howden Fair,
And of what sights did I see there,
To hear my tale would make you stare,
And see the horses showing,
They come from east, they come from west,
They bring their worst, they bring their best,

Back in their heyday Hackneys would be raced, often under heavy riders more than 15st, on ordinary country roads. Although belting hammer and tongs along roads would make some modern equestrians wibble, it seems to have been easier on the horses than the horseracing we are familiar with today as horses were regularly competing at great ages. From Tom Ryder's wonderful 'The High Stepper', an account of 'The Pretender' at 33 years of age from a letter in The Sporting Magazine, July 1821:

"...the horse in question is now serving mares in Westmoreland and Cumberland....was bred by Christopher Rook (Wroot), Long Sutton, Lincolnshire. His first peformance was in that county, when he trotted two miles in 5 min, 54 sec., with a high weight, upon green sward. I well remember his first appearance in a market town in the north. The Johnny Raws smiled at his emaciated form, but the moment room was given for him to get upon his pins every other stallion that was exhibited retired into the shade in an instant....'it is remarkable that trotters, unlike gallopers, do not lose their speed from old age many having been known to trot as fast at 20, and even near 30 years of age, as they did in their prime'. It appears to be the case with this animal."

I'm sure it's always difficult for authors passionate about their time periods to decide when that line has been crossed - when have you put so much detail from your research in that your readers are starting to notice it and maybe even have a little snooze. I must admit, how people get about in my writing probably crosses that line, my characters never merely ride a horse, they pace or amble on a roadster or a palfrey, but I am allowing myself this indulgence in the hope of subtley educating about the fascinating, intricate world of transport before steam.

The High Stepper - Tom Ryder (1997)
Coaching Days in the Midlands - Brian Houghton (1979)
Horse Gaitedness: It's in the Genes - Natalie DeFee Mendik (April 17, 2013) -


Natalie is a farmer from East Yorkshire and raises and trains oxen, some of which go on to perform with stunt team "Les Amis". She has published two nonfiction books about oxen and the Bearnshaw series set during the Wars of the Roses and Tudor years is her first foray into fiction.

Bearnshaw: Legend of the Whyte Doe

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Crowning of a King 1066... Two Views

By Helen Hollick

On January 5th 1066, King Edward, (later known as the Confessor) lay dying at Westminster, London. He passed peacefully away either late on the 5th or in the early hours of the 6th, and Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex was crowned King in the newly built Westminster Abbey, on the 6th January. The first English King to be crowned there - and the last.

Why Harold?
Edward had no sons - possibly because he had taken a vow of celibacy (unlikely), or he was impotent, or even homosexual. He never blamed his wife Edyth, Harold's sister, for childlessness (even when he temporarily set her aside in the early 1050's after a massive falling-out with the Godwin family.) 

This crowning was the catalyst that started the events of 1066, and there are two views as to the right or wrong of it.

View One

Duke William of Normandy believed that Edward had promised him the Crown.
Born some time between 1003 and 1005, from 1017 until 1041 Edward had been exiled in Normandy. His mother, was Queen Emma - daughter of Richard I of Normandy, his father Aethelred (the Unready). When Emma took the Danish Conqueror of England, Cnut, (more familiarly spelt Canute - and yes, he of 'hold back the tide' fame) as her second husband, her sons, Edward and Alfred had to flee. Obviously Normandy under the protection of Emma's kindred was the safest place.

Edward would have known the young Duke William very well. William was the son of Richard II of Normandy, the result of a liaison with the daughter of a tanner. Richard died when William was eight years old, with no other heir, he became Duke. For more than thirty years Edward languished in Normandy (Alfred dying a most horrible death while trying to reclaim England), only recalled to be crowned King when Cnut and Emma's son died. (There were other possible contenders but Emma saw to it that her son got the Top Prize).

Here was a man indoctrinated with the Norman way of life, his friends were Norman, he knew Norman ways, not English customs.The powerful Godwin family - Harold's father had been given the Earldom of Wessex by Cnut, and various Godwin sons held various Earldoms -  had a major falling out with the King in 1051-2

It is possible, though not recorded, that William came to England during this time when the Godwin's were in exile - a legitimate visit to see his Great Aunt, Emma, who was by then elderly. Did Edward promise the throne to his young friend and kinsmen during this visit? Did Emma, perhaps suggest it to her Great Nephew - after all William was kin, the Godwinsons were not.

But the Godwins fought their way back to even greater power, and virtually ruled England in the King's stead. after 1052.

A few years before 1066 (1063/4?) we know that Harold was at William's Court. What we do not know is why. The Normans claimed it was to offer Edward's assurance that the English Throne would still become William's. To ensure Harold's loyalty to this end, he had to swear an oath on Holy relics to support William when Edward died.

He didn't support him. Quite the opposite in fact.

According to the Normans, the crowning of Harold II took place in unnecessary haste and the holy anointing undertaken by Stigand, the illegally placed Archbishop of Canterbury. (Rome had never approved his appointment) thus making the whole ceremony void.

When William heard of the outrage he immediately set about an invasion to secure his rightful place as King.

We know the rest .

View Two

It was unlikely that Edward would have promised the throne. There were other candidates, and the English Earls - even if not supporting Godwin -would never have accepted a Norman as King (fact proven by the way they welcomed Godwin back from exile in preference to Edward's foreign friends.)

For one thing Edward could still, in 1051/2, possibly have his own sons. For another it was English law for the Witan - the council to elect a king - the most 'Kingworthy' man. Yes, normally this was the eldest son for he would have been 'trained' for the job - but Edward had no sons.

There was one other possible heir: another son of Aethelred (not by Emma) was Edmund Ironside. He died fighting Cnut (hence Cnut became King), and his son, another Edward, and family fled - as it turned out, to Hungary, where  he was later found and invited back to England.  Edward the Exile returned to England in 1057, but died almost immediately. (The stories that he was murdered by Harold, who was escorting him, are nonsense. If Harold was going to do away with him why not a) conveniently 'not find him' or b) kill him en route - why wait until they got back to England?)

The Exile's son, Edgar, then about five years old, grew up at the English court and given the designation 'Ætheling' or throneworthy, (i.e. 'heir'). But he would still have been a youth in 1066, so probably regarded as not capable of ruling or leading an army against William. (One can see a parrallel in later years when Richard III was crowned instead of the two young princes - probably for exactly the same reason).

Edgar was briefly declared king after Harold's death in October 1066, but that hope failed against the might of William's army and determination. Edgar's name was absent from any witness lists of Edward's diplomas, and there is no evidence in the Domesday Book that he was a substantial landowner, both possibly indicating his young age.

The next most Kingworthy was Harold - proven as a leader, commander, warlord and administrator. It was also known that William would strongly object - they had to chose a man who was capable (at least in theory) of defeating him.

The coronation was not performed in undue haste - that familiar saying? 'The King is dead; Long live the King!' is there for a reason. Uninterrupted continuity. The Earls, Bishops, important people were gathered at Westminster for the Christmas Court. They had remained longer because the King was dying. They wanted to return to their homes and lands - the next  opportunity for a crowning would have been Easter - so of course the service took place at the earliest possible time. The 6th January.

And Stigand did not crown or anoint Harold - Ealdred, Archbishop of York did. There was no question of his legality.

But what of the claim that Harold had pledged an oath to aid William? It is more likely that Harold went to William hoping to achieve the release of his brother, Wulfnoth, and nephew, Hakon, held hostage by William since that temporary disgrace of Earl Godwin back in 1052. (I'll not go into detail, suffice to say the exile was caused by some Normans stirring trouble in Dover. Godwin refused to take their side, hence his falling out with the King. When Godwin was re-instated the Normans fled and took the two boys with them.)

Harold did return to England with Hakon, but Wulfnoth never saw his freedom again. Harold was probably forced to make that oath of loyalty. If he had not, he and his men would either have been imprisoned or killed - and Saxon honour at this time beheld a Lord to protect his men at whatever personal cost. What was more honourable for Harold? To deny Duke William and see his men slaughtered, or perjure himself to save their lives?

He chose the latter. Good for him.

Harold II Rex
So who do you think was right? Norman or English? 
Feel free to add your view in the comments below. 

Brief bibliography:
The Battle of Hastings Jim Bradbury
The Godwins Frank Barlow
The Life of King Edward the Confessor Frank Barlow
Edward the Confessor Frank Barlow
Harold the Last Anglo-Saxon King Ian W. Walker  
Anglo-Saxon England F.M Stenton
Kingship and Government in Pre-conquest England Ann Williams
Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest H.R. Loyn

There is a fuller list available on my website

[This is an Editor's Choice post which was published in its original form on 6 January 2016]


Helen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, she wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era, she became a USA Today bestseller with her novel about Queen Emma The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown.) She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy. She has written a non-fiction about pirates and one about smugglers in fact and fiction which is due to be published in 2019.

Same book - different titles

Newsletter Subscription:
Twitter: @HelenHollick

Click here for Helen Hollick on Amazon 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, October 14, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Never miss a post on English Historical Fiction Authors.

by Maria Grace

About EHFA 
Britain leaves us awed by ancient castles, palaces and museums. History pours out a legacy of battles, a developing monarchy, a structured class system, court-inspired behaviors and fashions, artwork and writings that have created a love for all things British. Some of us feel that we must fuel the fire ~ we have come together to share our historical work and to reach out to our much appreciated readers. Please enjoy our posts about the history of England, Scotland, Wales and all the Empire.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Female Spaces: Circulating Libraries and the Regency era Novel

by Maria Grace

James Fordyce, in his Sermons to Young Women, counsels strongly against novels, the very sort of books offered by local and easily accessible circulating libraries. (Despite the face he had not read them, of course. But I digress…) He declared:
What shall we say of certain books, which we are assured (for we have not read them) are in their nature so shameful, in their tendency so pestiferous, and contain such rank treason against the royalty of Virtue, such horrible violation of all decorum, that she who can bear to peruse them must in her soul be a prostitute, let her reputation in life be what it will be. Can it be true . . . that any young woman, pretending to decency, should endure for a moment to look on this infernal brood of futility and lewdness? (Fordyce 176-177).

Jane Austen and the Circulating Library

Happily for all of us, Jane Austen did not seem to share that sentiment. Not only was she a subscriber to circulating libraries, her patronage was sought after. On December 18, 1798, she wrote to her sister Cassandra: I have received a very civil note from Mrs. Martin requesting my name as a Subscriber to her Library which opens the 14th of January, & my name, or rather Yours is accordingly given. My Mother finds the Money … As an inducement to subscribe Mrs. Martin tells us that her Collection is not to consist only of Novels, but of every kind of Literature, 8cc. &cc.- She might have spared this pretention to our family who are great Novel-readers and not ashamed of being so;-but it was necessary I suppose to the self-consequence of half her subscribers." (Letters 38-39). So while Austen was very accepting of novels, the local librarian realized the concern and tried to address it, even as she worked to drum up patronage for her business.

Austen imbued her many characters with a love for books and libraries as well.
Fanny found it impossible not to try for books again. There were none in her father's house; but wealth is luxurious and daring-and some of hers found its way to a circulating library. She became a subscriber-amazed at being anything in pro pria persona, amazed at her own doings in every way; to be a renter, a chuser of books! And to be having any one's improvement in view in her choice! But so it was. Susan had read nothing, and Fanny longed to give her a share in her own first pleasures, and inspire a taste for the biography and poetry which she delighted in herself. (Mansfield Park) 
Though is this case, she does have Fanny eschew novels as reading material for her sister.

Others of Austen’s characters, like Mr. Collins, clearly shared Fordyce’s disapprobation of novels:
By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. (Pride and Prejudice)
What made circulating libraries so important to not just Jane Austen, but Georgian era women in general and what was the role of the humble novel in the whole affair?

Libraries as refuges of the female middle class and gentry

During the late Georgian and Regency eras, there were few public spaces which could be enjoyed by women of good reputation, but limited means. Tea, coffee and chocolate houses might be enjoyed, if one could afford them. But women had no clubs like men did—a place to offer refuge from the day to day. They did though have the possibility of the circulating library.

Though libraries did require a subscription in order to rent books, one could go to the library whenever she wished without paying a fee beyond that subscription. Not surprisingly, circulating libraries became fashionable meeting places for women to see and be seen by others. They offering their patrons sitting areas were raffles and games could be played; some offered expensive (and often distinctly feminine) merchandise for sale. Perhaps most significantly, they offered women an opportunity to read on a large scale including histories, philosophies, biographies, travel, poetry, and plenty of fictional works. (Hilden, 2018) Austen seemed to use the character of Fanny Price to suggest that circulating libraries could ideally be a means for the intellectual liberation of women of small means. (Erickson, 1990)

Not everyone held such positive attitudes toward circulating libraries. Considering libraries largely originated as repositories of theological publications, one cannot escape the irony that by the end of the eighteenth century, circulating libraries drew criticism as sources of corruption. Critics, like Fordyce, suggested that the novels that made up the as much as seventy five percent of a circulating library’s business were responsible for encouraging idleness as well as corrupting the taste and morals of young ladies especially.(Kane, 2011) Many believed that reading novels would give impressionable (and somewhat irrational) young ladies unrealistic expectations about life. (Hilden, 2018)

Because after all, women were far too stupid to be able to tell the difference between a Gothic horror and real life. It is interesting how is seems Austen took this belief head on in Northanger Abbey in the character of Catherine Morland. Though for a bit there it seems as though Catherine might have been just a touch confused as she makes assumptions about General Tilney, by the end, Henry Tilney assures her that her instincts were right even if she got the exact details a bit mixed up.

Libraries and the Rise of the Novel

Publishers also registered concerns about the circulating library, afraid that it would negatively impact their business. But James Lackington, proprietor of the Temple of Muses, noted in the 1794 edition of his memoirs, “thousands of books are purchased every year, by such as have first borrowed them at libraries.” (Erickson, 1990) Moreover, publishers found that increasing numbers of their print runs were purchased by circulating libraries. In 1770, about forty percent of a novel’s print run were sold to libraries. That number increased into the early nineteenth century. (Erickson, 1990)

To economize somewhat, libraries ordered their books with the cheapest possible bindings. Home libraries usually ordered books in cloth or, more expensive, leather bindings. Circulating libraries used a conspicuous marble patterned paper binding that distinguished library books from all others as Austen noted in the way Mr. Collins identified a library book in Pride and Prejudice. These cheap bindings also meant the books lacked the durability of privately owned books and, surviving copies of some of the period's novels are very rare. (Erickson, 1990)

Libraries as publishers

In order to keep up with demand for new books, later in the 18th century, some of the circulating libraries began to take on the role of publisher as well. Although they lacked the broad distribution channels that traditional publishers had, they held a unique distinction.

Unlike traditional publishers, these smaller presses published many works by female authors, although these were often published anonymously to avoid prejudice by the reading public.

Minerva press

Minerva Press Circulating Library in London, created by John Lane, was the largest circulating library in the 18th century. The library advertised over 20,000 titles, compared to the 5,000 titles most libraries averaged, with 1,000 considered works of fiction. (Hilden, 2018) Minerva Press, became known for printing Gothic horror and sentimental romance novels, including The Mysteries of Udolfo by Mrs. Radcliffe (that Catherine Morland read during Northanger Abbey.)

Though some argued that were hurriedly written to a formula by obscure women writers, these publishers “changed to course of publishing and really opened the door to the social acceptability of female authors, as well as created a better variety of fictional novels.” (Hatch, 2014)

It is interesting to note how much the impact of circulating libraries on publishing resembles the transformation of the publishing industry in the first decade of the 2000’s with the advent of the e-reader and electronic publishing down to the criticisms offered toward authors and books published by them.


“British Newspaper History”. Accessed September 6, 2018

“Book Shops” Georgian Index. 2003 Accessed August 29, 2018.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Tor, 1988.

Austen, Jane, Terry Castle, and John Davie. Northanger Abbey; Lady Susan ; The Watsons ; Sanditon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Austen, Jane, Marilyn Butler, and James Kinsley. Mansfield Park. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Austen, Jane, Claude Julien. Rawson, and John Davie. Persuasion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Austen, Jane. Ed. R. W. Chapman. Jane Austen's letters to her Sister Cassandra and others. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Benson, Mary Margaret. “Parasols & Gloves & Broches & Circulating Libraries.” Persuasions # 19, 1997 Jane Austen Society of North America.

Erickson, Lee. "The Economy of Novel Reading: Jane Austen and the Circulating Library." Studies in English Literature, 1500-190030, no. 4 (1990): 573-90. doi:10.2307/450560.

Feather, John. The Provincial Book Trade in Eighteenth-Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985.

Fordyce, James. "From Sermons to Young Women." Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity. Ed. Vivien Jones. London: Routledge, 1990. 176-79.

Glover, Anne. Regency Hot Spots: Bookseller Shops and the Subscription Library. Regency Reader. November 6, 2015. Accessed August 1, 2018.

Hatch, Donna. Circulating Libraries in Regency England. Historical Hussies. Friday, November 7, 2014. Accessed July 0, 2018.

Hilden, L. A. Circulating Libraries in Regency England. L.A. Hilden. July 23, 2018. Accessed July 31, 2018.

Jacobs, Edward and Antonia Forster. "'Lost Books' and Publishing History: Two Annotated Lists of Imprints for the Fiction Titles Listed in the Circulating Library Catalogs of Thomas Lowndes (1766) and M. Heavisides (1790), of Which No Known Copies Survive." The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 89 (1995): 260-97.

Kane, Kathryn. Before the Call Number: The Pressmark. The Regency Redingote. January 16, 2015. Accessed August 29, 2018.

Kane, Kathryn. Regency Circulating Libraries — Why, How and Who? The Regency Redingote. October, 211, 2011, Accessed August 12, 2018.

Manley, K. A. "London Circulating Library Catalogues of the 1740s." Library History 8 (1989) 3,74-79.

Mc Leod, Lesley Anne. Who Doesn't Love a Library? Lesley Anne McLeod. Wednesday, November 8, 2017.

Sanborn, Vic. The Circulating Library in Regency Resorts. Jane Austen’s World. August 30, 2010. Accessed August 15, 2018.

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

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, or follow on Twitter.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, October 7, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's articles from English Historical Fiction Authors, and don't forget to comment on the Giveaway post!

by Samantha Wilcoxson

by E.M. Powell

by Ruadh Butler

A paperback copy of Delirium by Emma Rose Millar is being offered (UK readers only) - Comment on the original post by 11:59pm (PST) Sunday, Sept. 7,  for a chance to win. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Merchant Visits Waterford in the Summer of 1170

by Ruadh Butler

The sun is high in the sky, the wind is from the south-east and above you the square sail of your merchant vessel bulges like a bishop’s belly. It is the middle of April 1170 and you have a whole season of trading ahead. You are determined that this year will be your best year. This year is the one where you score a fortune. News of hostility between King Henry II and the exiled Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, means little to you, hardly more than the stories out of North Wales where a civil war is said to rage between the sons of Prince Owain of Gwynedd. For you are a trader, a merchant out of Gloucester, and your only concern is to get your cargo of that city’s famous iron, textile and leather products across the Irish Sea.

The ship below your feet is called Kittiwake and you have captained her for almost ten years. Wide bottomed and single-masted, she has seen you safely into ports all over Europe, from faraway Bordeaux to the dangerous waters of Flanders and Frisia. In the last week, Kittiwake has seen you and your six-man crew safely down the Severn to Bristol where you had traded wrought-iron for cheap wine, and to Cardiff where you bartered for sheepskins and ale. The wine you sold to the Lord of Oystermouth, the ale to a Flemish colonist in St Bride’s Bay. At the behest of your wife back in Gloucester, you paid for Mass to be said at St David’s Cathedral. And the next morning you knew that it had been money well spent for the squalls which had dogged your journey down the Welsh coastline had finally vanished thanks to the priests’ intercession.

Kittiwake is really more of a coastal vessel, but she has proven herself on the open ocean before, and the short crossing from West Wales to the south-eastern tip of Ireland takes only six hours thanks to perfect sailing conditions. You trim your sails, and point your bows towards a faint grey blur on the horizon. It is a mountain in the midst of Ireland that some amongst your crew call Mount Leinster. Several hours into your journey, you spot land. The nearest town to Wales, Wexford, is normally your overnight stop before you head north to the great market of Dublin. However, you’ve heard stories of a Norman knight from Ceredigion, Robert FitzStephen, and his violent takeover of Wexford the summer before, of disruptions to trade and his ejection of the Danish townsfolk, of your usual business contacts in the city. That all screams ‘lower prices’ and so you pull the steering board to your stomach and change course. Kittiwake is going west and you soon pass between the mainland and some little islands filled with squawking gulls. It is already late afternoon and ahead on a long thin peninsula you see a fire burning brightly. It is only as you draw nearer that you see the beacon out on Hook Head, warning sailors of the danger of the low lying landmass and maintained by the monks of St Dubháin.

As you round the cape and enter the estuary you feel the weight of the tidal race as it slams against Kittiwake’s hull. However, the wind is with you and although you are driven towards the western shore by the current you have the skill to keep her at a safe distance.

The river narrows as you sail northwards, the forests which hang heavy on both sides seem to close in around you. Your crew’s voices drop to barely a whisper as if they fear that to speak loudly will lead to attack from assailants unseen. There are muddy beaches with little coracles pulled up on shore. There are small settlements here and there, but each seems deserted of people. You pilot Kittiwake to the deepest parts of the river anyway. The wind has dropped and your men have taken to the oars. Ahead a lone hill guards the point where the river splits in two. You were told in Wales that the arm heading north is called the River Barrow while the other, bearing west, is the River Suir. It is on that western course where the great Ostman city of Waterford lies, but you are already wondering if you have taken a wrong route for surely you would have seen some hint of the city by now? You have travelled fully six miles from the sea. Evening is falling and you determine to keep going along the wide winding river. It is only as the Suir turns north-west four miles later that you breathe a sigh of relief for, above a vast marsh, Waterford has come into view.

Map of Waterford during the late medieval period
(Richard Roche, The Norman Invasion of Ireland; Anvil Books, 1970)

The first thing you see over the swaying mass of bulrushes and sparse trees is Reginald’s Tower. It is the most eastern point of the city and is at least thirty feet tall. Though made out of timber, it is covered from top to bottom in daub so that it looks like it might be made of stone. A long wall, similarly constructed from daub and wood, stretches for a fifth of a mile along the riverbank to where a second stronghold, Turgesius’ Tower, reaches skyward in the extreme north-west. Below this wall, numerous jetties extend into the midst of the Suir and you can already see that the wharf is crammed with shipping, the beach with merchants, tents and their wares. The opposite bank of the wide river is blanketed in heavy forest for as far as you can see inland.

Reginald's Tower was reconstructed in stone on the site of the Viking
building around 1200 by the victorious Normans (Ruadh Butler)

With all the jetties full of vessels, you spot a second landing point – a deepwater pool has been cut out of the marshland and a smaller wharf has been constructed under Reginald’s Tower. You push the steering board away from you and, still under oar, Kittiwake pulls towards the wharf below the tower. Ahead you see where the walls of the triangular city join and you call out the orders that bring you safely into a berth.

The man on the wharf shouts a greeting in several languages – Gaelic, Norse and Danish – none of which you understand. In dress he is little different to the Englishmen who work your ship, although his clothes bear a strange swirling Irish designs along the hem. At his hip is an axe. You call back questions in Norman French and then in your native English, but he does not understand. You try a third time, in stammering Latin and, somewhat surprisingly, he seems to comprehend, replying in equally poor Latin that there is a daily fee for using the port and that you have to pay it directly to the Jarl. It is not expensive and soon you and some of your crew are walking through the tight little streets made from splits logs inside the city walls. You estimate that in total Waterford covers around twenty acres. Each house bears the signs of commercial activity: a blacksmith, a silversmith, a leather worker, an inn – every abode in the city doubles as a shop. Every house has a garden too. Many have cattle or pigs or geese and the largest have high stone fences separating them. There are houses outside the walls of course but they are of less quality, the homes of the poor.

Picture of the Three Sisters river basin at Cheekpoint with the
River Barrow at the top and River Suir flowing to the left
(Irish Cruising Club Sailing Directions, tenth edition 2001)

Under Reginald’s Tower is the biggest of all the houses in Waterford, bigger even than St Olav’s Church which you pass on your journey. It is built like a feasting hall, and is obviously the home of the leading man in the city. It is in that direction that you walk. Being a man of Gloucester which still bears Roman walls, and having visited some of the greatest cities of Europe, Waterford doesn’t impress you much. But as you pass through you begin to understand its importance. Twenty different languages are spoken and you cannot mistake the jingle of coins as they swap hands. Commodities of every type are bartered, far more range than in Gloucester or any of the Welsh towns on the coast. Only Bristol or Chester could rival the range of products! You see Frankish and Flemish and Frisian men; men in great turbans from distant Outremer; you hear Portuguese and Spanish and see great vats of wine bearing the arms of Cadiz and Sicily.

A flimsy looking wattle fence divides the great hall from the rest of the city and you are searched for weapons as you enter the building. It is dark inside, but you have been in a feasting hall before and know all the customs. Up on the dais are three men and you are introduced to them in the Danish and Irish tongues. Jarl Ragnall is the oldest man and beside him sit two younger men both called Jarl Sihtric. Each is head of one of the leading families in the city, and each vies for supremacy over the other. Factional infighting breaks out often and it is only in times of crisis that these men come together as one. For more than a century that has been in order to face the might of the O’Brien Kings of Munster, to either accept their terms as overlord, or to fight them. Now, however, a different threat faces the city and all three men, upon hearing details of your journey, demand answers of you.

Ragnall himself asks about a Welsh baron called Sir Richard de Clare. You have heard of him of course and his castle at Striguil on the border with England, and you tell him all that you know. Ragnall is disappointed with your answers outlining Sir Richard’s military power. The two Sihtrics then begin their interrogation. They ask how long it would take Sir Richard to raise an army, how many ships he could assemble and where he would land if he were to journey to Ireland. They demand to know about the deal he struck with the King of Leinster. That strikes a chord in your memory. You do remember hearing how an Irish king promised his daughter in marriage to Richard de Clare! The deal was that the Norman baron would fight for the king and in return he would become heir to the land of Leinster.

"Will he come to Waterford," Ragnall demands, and you don’t have an answer for him.

Almost as an afterthought, one of the Sihtrics demands a few coins for your berth on the city wharf and then grants permission for you to trade in the market the next day. Dismissed, you leave the hall and walk back through the city. Tallow candles burn behind shuttered windows, but it is a clear night and the moon casts enough light for you to safely find your way back to Kittiwake.

Gloucester is famous around Europe for the quality of its iron products and you soon sell out of those. Your cargo of textiles and leather goods last longer but they are all sold by the time the market wraps up the next evening. You and your crew spend the night drinking and making merry in Waterford and leave, a little bit worse for wear, at dawn. Kittiwake’s hold is now stuffed with animal hides – cow to be made into vellum by Frankish monasteries; sheep, wolf, marten and otter skins to make clothes to guard against the winter cold; and bird skins, the most valuable of all. You also had three large Irish dogs and many sacks of wool. Your destination is Flanders where such commodities are in high demand. With the profits you will journey down the coast to Aquitaine where you will purchase wine to sell in Gloucester and Bristol.

The thought of all those profits warms you as you journey back down the River Suir towards the Irish Sea. No light burns in the Hook Head beacon as you round the cape. You follow the coast eastwards, hoping to make Wales by late afternoon, but you have only gone a few leagues when something catches your eye. On a little headland just a mile from Hook Head you see a ship pulled up on a beach. On closer inspection you identify it as Norman built. Above it is a vast pennant, blowing in the wind and you recognise the coat of arms: crimson chevrons and a golden field. They are the colours of Sir Richard de Clare. You tug on the steering board and direct Kittiwake further out to sea for you don’t want to be part of their sort of trouble. Strongbow has come to Ireland and the Norman conquest of Waterford will soon begin.


Ruadh Butler is the author of Swordland and Lord of the Sea Castle. They tell the story of the 12th century Norman invasion of Ireland. The third in the series, The Earl Strongbow, will be published by Accent Press on October 4th.


Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Crime and Punishment Under Henry II

By E.M. Powell

King Henry II of England is best known in the popular imagination for the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket, a murder for which the King was blamed. Four knights broke into Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170 and slew Becket in the most brutal manner.

The Murder of Thomas Becket c 1480 Public Domain- British Library

Whatever one’s view of the volatile Henry, there is one achievement from his thirty-five-year reign that stands above all others: his reform of the English legal system, which laid the foundations of the English Common Law. When he came to the throne in 1154 at the age of just twenty-one, his realm was in deep disarray following civil war. He urgently needed to re-establish royal authority and impose order and set about doing so with his customary relentless drive. The judicial system was the subject of much of his attention and he was aided in this by the talented Becket, who was his chancellor at the time.

Henry II enthroned, arguing with Thomas Becket c. 1307 - c. 1327 Public Domain- British Library

Henry addressed reform of both land law and criminal law. With land law, cases relating to an individual being dispossessed or those in which inheritance was in dispute were now settled in a trial by jury. The jury system was far quicker and more efficient than the system it replaced. Given that said system was one of trial by combat, one can see why it was not just the efficiency of the new system that made it so popular.

His reform of criminal law was even more impressive. He issued new legislation at Clarendon in 1166 and Northampton in 1176. It was at Clarendon where the procedures of criminal justice were first established, addressing how serious felonies such as murder, robbery and theft would be dealt with. Juries of presentment were established, consisting of twelve lawful men in each hundred (a subdivision of a county) and four in each vill (village). These juries were not there to decide on guilt or innocence, but to support an accusation of a serious crime.

Anyone who was accused of such crimes would be put in prison to await trial. Those trials could only be heard by the King’s justices, who travelled the country to do so. Henry first introduced his system of itinerant justices at Clarendon but refined the system at Northampton. England was divided into six circuits, with three justices, the justices of the general eyre, allocated to each.  Twelfth century chronicler Roger of Howden lists the eighteen justices itinerant and their circuits for 1176.

Detail of an historiated initial 'I'(udex) of a judge c. 1360- c. 1375 Public Domain - British Library

One of the justices listed was Ranulf de Glanville. De Glanville was one of Henry’s staunchest allies, securing key victories for the King in the rebellion of 1173-74 and rising to the position of Justiciar of England. The ‘Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England’, produced in the late twelfth century, is the earliest treatise on English law and is commonly referred to as ‘Glanvill’, though it is unlikely that de Glanville was its author.

The justices provided a system of criminal investigation for the whole country. The impact of the arrival of the travelling court should not be underestimated. It could consist of several hundred people, all of whom were tasked with supporting the royal justices in administering the law in the name of the lord King. As well as being administratively impressive, it would have been a spectacle that reinforced Henry’s power over all his subjects. It would also have instilled awe and fear in all those who witnessed it, especially those who were accused of a serious crime.

The accused were brought before the justices. Proof of their guilt or innocence could be established in a number of ways, such as witness testimony, documents or the swearing of oaths. Unlike criminal trials today, the jury acted as witnesses and not an impartial panel. They would give the account of what had happened.

Five judges and three plaintiffs c. 1360- c. 1375 Public Domain - British Library

In cases that were not clear cut or in those of secret homicide where there were no witnesses, the justices used the ordeal. Ordeal could be by cold water or by hot iron. The blessing of the water and the iron served to bring the notion of God’s judgement, judicium Dei, into the proceedings.

There was great ceremony and a long build-up attached to the ordeal, which would have added to the pressure on the accused to confess. The accused would be taken to church four days before the day on which the ordeal was due to take place. They had to wear the clothes of the penitent, fast and hear several masses. If they still did not confess, the ordeal would take place.

Two judges addressing a prisoner held by a court officer c. 1360-c. 1375 Public Domain - British Library

The most innocent of hearts must have quailed. Stripped to only a loin cloth, the accused would be led to the pit, which was twenty feet wide and twelve feet deep and full of water. A priest would then bless the water. God would now be the judge: His blessed water would receive the accused if innocent, reject him if he was guilty. The accused would be bound, thumbs to toes, and lowered in from a platform.

With ordeal by hot iron, the accused had to undergo the same preparation of fasting and penitence. A length of iron would be blessed and heated in a fire until it was red hot. The accused would have to take it in one hand and carry it for three paces. The injured hand would be bandaged and then examined three days after the ordeal. If it had healed, then innocence was proclaimed. If it had not, then the accused was guilty.

Both forms of ordeal were terrifying and horrific in themselves, and the lengthy preparations would have only added to the pressure to make a confession. Once the accused made a confession, it could not be retracted. In 1215, the Church forbade priests to take part in the ordeal, bringing an end to its use.

A man hanging from gallows c. 1360-c. 1375 Public Domain - British Library

For those found guilty, the King’s punishment awaited. Hanging was reserved for the worst crimes. Thieves and robbers could lose a foot and, from 1176, their right hand. The law also had a final judgement it could impose, even if the accused was acquitted by undergoing the ordeal. If it was judged that the accused had a particularly bad reputation, as sworn to by the jury, then the accused was to leave the King’s lands as an outlaw and had to swear under oath that they would never return.

And lest anyone think that they could take the law into their own hands and administer punishments themselves, the King’s justices had a clear system of heavy fines for those who would dare to do so. Order would prevail. Henry, the consummate administrator, had thought of everything.

All images are in the Public Domain and are part of the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. 
Bartlett, Robert, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford, 1986)
Bartlett, Robert, The New Oxford History of England: England under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075–1225 (Oxford, 2003)
Hudson, John, The Formation of the English Common Law (London, 1996)
Pollock, Frederick, and Maitland, Frederic William, The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I (Cambridge, 1898)
Warren, W. L., Henry II (Yale, 2000)


E.M. Powell’s historical thriller Fifth Knight novels have been #1 Amazon and Bild bestsellers. Her new Stanton & Barling medieval murder mystery series starts with THE KING’S JUSTICE, followed by THE MONASTERY MURDERS.

As well as blogging for EHFA, she is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers The Big Thrill magazine and is the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society.

Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. Find out more by visiting

Monday, October 1, 2018

Giveaway - Delirium by Emma Rose Millar

A paperback copy of Delirium by Emma Rose Millar is being offered (UK readers only)

Saint Anne’s Lunatic Asylum, London

One woman whose secret has driven her to the brink of insanity; another who claims she can tell fortunes and communicate with the dead. With seemingly no way out – and everything at stake – only one of them has the tenacity to survive. 

Lies, murder, obsession... Delirium.

Delirium was shortlisted for the Chanticleer Book Awards in 2017, and is Emma's third novel. Her first novel, Five Guns Blazing won the Chaucer Award, Legend Category in 2015; her novella, The Women Friends: Selina was shortlisted for the Goethe Award for Late Historical Fiction in 2016. She is currently writing her fourth novel, The Perfumier, based on the life of Italian poisoner, Giulia Tofana. She will also be having some historical children's poetry published by The Emma Press in Birmingham in 2019.

For a chance to win, simply comment below - and don't forget to leave your contact details!

The giveaway will close at 8pm (BST) Sunday 7 October 2018 and the winner will be notified shortly afterwards

*This giveaway is now closed*