A murder shocks the small town of Walden. And it’s only the beginning…
Walden, 1921. Local reporter Iris Woodmore is determined to save her beloved lake, Waldenmere, from destruction.
After a bloody and expensive war, the British Army can’t afford to keep the lake and build a convalescent home on its shores yet they still battle with Walden Council and a railway company for ownership. But an old mansion used as an officer training academy stands where the railway company plans to build a lakeside hotel. It belongs to General Cheverton – and he won’t leave his home.
When the General is found murdered, it appears someone will stop at nothing to win the fight for Waldenmere. Iris thinks she can take on the might of the railway company and find the killer. But nothing prepares her for the devastation that’s to come…
Murder at Waldenmere Lake is book two in the Iris Woodmore Mystery series set in the very early 1920s onwards. Check out my review for Death at Crookham Hall here.
Book 2, Murder at Waldenmere Lake, begins not soon after the events of the first book, and it’s good to see some familiar characters return to Walden. As with book 1, the mystery is firmly rooted in the concerns of the period, recovering from the events of World War 1 while contending with changes in society. I really love how well-researched the two novels are. I love a cosy mystery, but I adore it even more when the author goes that one step further and adds so much more authentic settings to the novel.
As with book 1, there’s a murder fairly early on in the novel, which seems impossible to solve, and events more quite sedately until there is another murder and events really begin to move at pace. And yet, even with the devastation Iris feels at the murder, she can’t seem to work out who was responsible, and indeed, some personal betrayal strikes her low as well.
The mystery, when it is eventually solved, is delightfully nuanced. Looking back, there might have been some hints I should have read more into, but I didn’t, and so, as with book 1, the big reveal is a surprise but a really well-constructed one. I adored this book. Iris is a great character, as is Percy and the people she interacts with.
A fabulously well-researched historical cosy mystery, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series.
Meet the author
Michelle Salter is a historical crime fiction writer based in northeast Hampshire. Many local locations appear in her mystery novels. She’s also a copywriter and has written features for national magazines. When she’s not writing, Michelle can be found knee-deep in mud at her local nature reserve. She enjoys working with a team of volunteers undertaking conservation activities.
Faberge is the third book in the Becky White thrillers series. I was compelled to read it by the title. Faberge eggs are certainly something to conjure an image in my mind.
As it’s the first book in the series that I’ve read, it’s taken me a little while to get to know the characters and to work out what’s happening. That said, it’s well worth the effort, for this is a very twisty and tightly woven thriller set in the UK, in the cities of Manchester and Preston, with a brief trip to London.
All three of our main characters, Becky, Will and Joanne, have their backstories, which we could be forgiven for thinking were irrelevant, but they’re not. What seems to be a seemingly random chain of events begins to have more and more relevance. The tension ramps up in the book as it tumbles toward its conclusion. This does have a tight and twisty plot.
A novel that was worth sticking with, and I would recommend that new readers perhaps start with the first book in the series just to give them a firm grounding for the events in Faberge, although the book works very well on its own – once you’ve worked out who all the characters are.
A thrilling thriller.
Meet the Author
Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire, UK. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.
Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.
When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her husband, youngest son, a Golden Retriever/Husky cross and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.
Connect with Jo
I can be found at my website www.jofenton137.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest (links below):
Giveaway to Win a Faberge mouse mat and notebook (Open to UK Only)
*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
I’m really excited to share the details of the Pagan Warrior blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Pagan Warrior is the story of the battle of Hædfeld, fought in the seventh century between the Northumbrians, and you got it, the Mercians – or rather, Cadwallon of Gwynedd but with Penda of Mercia as his firm ally. You can find more details here.
I might have written this book many years ago, but it’s had a refresh, and is now available in audio, narrated by the fabulous, Matt Coles, as is the second book, Pagan King. Warrior King will be coming later this year in audio. For this second week, 20th March-25th March, the ebook of Pagan King (book 2) is reduced globally to 99p/99c and equivalent. Follow the link below.
I’ve also, finally, managed to get book three, Warrior King, uploaded to all good ebook platforms, and they will be going live during this week. Kobo have so far won the competition. Use this link, which I will be updating, or try the one above, and hopefully, Warrior King will be linked to Pagan King as well. It means Warrior King is also available in hardcover from Amazon.
You can follow the blog tour, and I’ll be sharing posts here as well. A quick shout out to thank all the blog hosts and Cathie at The Coffee Pot Book Club for organising.
For today (March 21st) check out a post about two of the royal residences of Bernicia at the time, Bamburgh and Ad Gefrin (Yeavering). (There are lots of photos, thank you to Helen Hollick for uploading them all).
My latest release, King of Kings, is a tale of five kings, and one enemy. But what was the background in what we would now know as England?
The tenth-century sees the creation of what we would recognise as ‘England’ – the combining of Wessex with Mercia, with the additions of Kent, the kingdom of the East Angles, the Danish Five Boroughs, and the kingdom of York, and also the independent kingdom of Bamburgh. But telling this story is complex. When people think of England, they might not know all these smaller kingdoms. They might not know, particularly, what the Danish Five Boroughs (Leicester, Nottingham, Lincoln, Stamford and Derby), were because if you google the Five Boroughs, you’ll be told about New York (this has happened to me).
Everybody knows about King Alfred of Wessex holding back the tide of the advancing Viking raiders throughout his reign from 874-899. And if everybody didn’t know before, then Uhtred, Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon warrior, has done much to ensure we know about it now.
But again, it’s not quite so simple. The Saxon kingdoms of the seventh century onwards numbered seven, alongside Wessex, there was also Kent, Mercia, the kingdom of the East Angles, Northumbria, Essex and Sussex. These kingdoms eventually merged to give us just Wessex, Mercia, Kent, the kingdom of the East Angles and Northumbria (which itself comprised of two kingdoms, Deira centred on York, and Bernicia, centred on Bamburgh). So, all seems clear there? But no.
When the Viking raiders began their concerted attacks on Britain in the late ninth century, Alfred of Wessex promulgated a treaty with one of their leaders, Guthrum, forging an independent kingdom of the Viking raiders, which stretched along something known as the Alfred-Guthrum line. Loosely, this meant that land to the east was in the control of the Viking raiders. All that survived of those kingdoms south of the Humber was Wessex and the western part of Mercia. The Viking raiders had already overrun Northumbria. The kingdom of Jorvik, centred on York, was part of a Dublin/York kingship, where the kings of York/Jorvik had often already been the king of Dublin, and this kingship was firmly in the hands of a family claiming descent from Ivarr (the Boneless), one of the men who’d led the concerted Viking raider attacks of the 860s and 870s which we might find termed The Great Heathen Army.
This, then, reimagined what we think of as England and these Saxon kingdoms weren’t the only ones to face attack from the Viking raiders. The many Welsh kingdoms shared sea borders with the Dublin Norse, and the small kingdom of Manx (the Isle of Man) became incredibly important, as did all of the islands that surround western and northern Scotland. Orkney, at this time, was settled by the Norse.
When Alfred died in 899, he was king of Wessex. His son, Edward, would become king of the Anglo-Saxons, ruling over Wessex and Kent, and then after the death of his sister, Æthelflæd, the Lady of Mercia, staking his claim to western Mercia as well as those parts of the Five Boroughs, essentially Norse held lands, known as the Danelaw, which Æthelflæd had ‘won’ back for Mercia.
‘Here in the early part of this year, with God’s help, she [Æthelflæd] peaceably got in her control the stronghold at Leicester and the most part of the raiding-armies that belonged to it were subjected. And also the York-folk had promised her – and some of them granted so by pledge, some confirmed with oaths – that they would be at her disposition.’[i]
This was a time of intense unease, almost constant warfare. And not everyone was happy about the advances the surviving Wessex royal family made. Edward died at Farndon, in Mercia, perhaps putting down a Mercian rebellion or, a Welsh one. Farndon wasn’t far from the border with the Welsh kingdoms.
But Edward’s death, and the subsequent death of his son Ælfweard only sixteen days later, brought about a sea change. Ælfweard wasn’t Edward’s oldest son; that was Athelstan, a youth seemingly banished to live with his aunt in Mercia when Edward remarried (if the later pseudo-historian, William of Malmesbury is to be believed who makes the claim that it was Alfred’s wish that Athelstan be brought up in ‘the court of his daughter Æthelflæd and Æthelred his son in law.’[ii]
Athelstan was immediately recognised as the king of Mercia. Not long afterwards, he also became king of Wessex. And his ambitions didn’t stop there.
‘Here King Edward died at Farndon in Mercia; and very soon, 16 days after, his son Ælfweard died at Oxford; and their bodies lie at Winchester. And Athelstan was chosen as king by the Mercians and consecrated at Kingston.’[iii]
It’s difficult to imagine that Athelstan wasn’t a warrior of fierce renown. His aunt and uncle, the lord and lady of Mercia, had spent much of their rule, both together, and then after Æthelred’s death, Æthelflæd had continued alone, driving back the incursion of the Viking raiders, or the Norse as it might be easier to term them. Athelstan must surely have taken his place in these battles. And yet, while he was eager to hold tightly to the kingdoms of Mercia, Kent and Wessex, he was also prepared to unite people through peace, and this is where the story, King of Kings, begins. With Athelstan, the first crowned king of the English.
[i] Swanton, M. trans and edit The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, (Orion Publishing Group, 2000), p.105
[ii] Mynors, R.A.B. ed and trans, completed by Thomson, R.M. and Winterbottom, M. Gesta Regvm Anglorvm, The History of the English Kings, William of Malmesbury, (Clarendon Press, 1998), p.211
[iii] Swanton, M. trans and edit The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, (Orion Publishing Group, 2000), D text p.105
(I’m re-sharing an old post which I’ve amended slightly, and added some new graphics).
England, Wales, Scotland, the smaller kingdoms of Mercia, Wessex, Northumbria, East Anglia, Kent, Powys, Gwynedd, Dal Riada – for the uninitiated (including myself) the sheer number of kingdoms and kings that peopled the period in British history before 1066 can appear as a bewildering display of names, places, times and events, and perhaps never more so than when a historian is trying to sell a book and so makes a statement in their title that applies to that particular king.
Phrases such ‘the Golden Age of Northumbria’, ‘the Mercian hegemony’, ‘the rise of Wessex’, they all mask so many events that I find the phrases very unhelpful and perhaps worse, misleading.
I think that Athelstan and his younger half brother, Edmund, probably deserve their titles as Kings of the English. And it’s not just my opinion either. There was, according to Sarah Foot in her book on Athelstan, a concerted effort by the king and his bishops to have him stand apart from his predecessors – to be something ‘different’ to them. They named him king of the English, not king of Mercia (a post he held briefly before another of his younger brothers died) and not king of Wessex, for all that he was both of those things.
They changed his title, they crowned him with a crown, not a helmet. They wanted Athelstan to be something other than his grandfather, King Alfred, and his father, King Edward. It was a bold statement to make, and one they continued when Athelstan died too young and his half-brother, Edmund replaced him. He too was crowned using, it must be supposed, the same Coronation service. (For full details have a peek at Sarah Foot’s book on Athelstan – or read the first few chapters of King of Kings as the service appears in it as well).
So why the change? Essentially the old Saxon kingdoms, for all that they were preserved in the naming of the earls/ealdormens designations, had been swept aside by the Viking raiders. The old kingdoms had become a handy label to apply to certain geographic areas, and the kings of Wessex, whilst keen to hold onto their hereditary titles because of the permanence their own royal line had managed to acquire, were equally as keen to do away with regional boundaries. There was, it can’t be denied, a concerted and almost unrelenting urge to drive any Viking raider or Dane or Norwegian (the Norse) from British soil, and this is what Athelstan and then Edmund were tasked with doing.
Yet the idea of ‘English’ wasn’t a new concept. Why else would Bede have called his great piece of religious historical writing “The Ecclesiastical History of the English people’, if there hadn’t been a shared consciousness that the people in England, all be it in their separate kingdoms, didn’t have a shared heritage? Why the idea suddenly took flight under King Athelstan could be attributed to a new sense of confidence in Wessex and Mercia at the time. They were confident that they could beat the Viking raiders and they were convinced that England belonged to them.
Or perhaps it was more than that? The destruction wrought by the Viking raiders on the separate kingdoms must have been a stark reminder of just how insular the kingdoms had become, and the Viking raiders showed everyone just how easy it was to run roughshod over the individual kingdoms. Only in unity could the Saxon kingdoms of England survive another onslaught; only with unity could the Saxons hold onto their kingdoms they’d claimed about 500 years before.
It was a message that was learned quickly and taken to heart. Athelstan worked to reunite more of the Saxon kingdoms with the growing ‘England’, and he tried to do so by both diplomacy and through war. Yet, the Viking raiders hadn’t finished with England, and nor were they her only enemies. This also lies at the heart of Athelstan’s ‘masterplan’ his treaty of Eamont (if it truly happened – Benjamin Hudson in his Celtic Scotland is not convinced). Athelstan wanted to be a mighty king, but he also wanted England, and the wider Britain (also a concept already understood otherwise why else would that cantankerous monk – Gildas – have called his even earlier work than Bede’s “On the Ruin of Britain?”) to be united in their attempts to repel the Viking raiders. He was a man with a keen vision of the future and it was a vision that his brother continued, with slightly different direction and results.
The ‘English Kings” saw safety in unity, and of course, an increase in the power they held went hand-in-hand with that.
Yet at no point during the Saxon period can it be said that the emergence of ‘England’ as we know it, was a given certainty. Throughout the period other great kings had tried to claim sovereignty over other kingdoms, but never with any permanence. The earlier, regional kings, were powerful within their own lifetimes and within their own regions. Few, if any, were able to pass on their patrimony complete upon their death. This was a time of personal kingship, and it was only under Athelstan and Edmund that the leap was taken away from this to a more permanent power base.
Not that it was a smooth transition and it did have the side-effect of allowing other men, those not related to the royal family, to evolve their own individual power bases in the old Saxon kingdoms. The ‘English’ kings had to do more than just rule their own kingdom, they had to rule their ealdormen and earls, their warriors, bishops and archbishops. The number of names of kings might start to deplete in the after math of Athelstan and Edmund’s kingship, but in their place spring up more and more powerful men, men that these English kings had to rely on.
Becoming King of the English was very much a mixed blessing, bringing with it new and greater responsibilities and more, it brought with it the need to expand personal government further, to have a greater persona to broadcast.
For Sophie it’s a trip home and for Hector it’s time to meet Sophie’s parents… Though their trip has village tongues wagging about a stop at Scotland’s notorious elopement spot, Gretna Green.
No matter what, it’ll make a nice break from the murder and mayhem that has been plaguing their beautiful Cotswolds village. But Sophie and Hector are barely on the road before they’re being hassled by reckless drivers and at their first rest stop a body is discovered.
Then comes a series of ‘accidents’ that leave poor Hector a little worse for wear. Is someone after Hector? Who could even know he was in the Highlands?
Accidents or not, can they find some way to keep Hector safe?
Murder in the Highlands is the latest book in the Sophie Sayers cosy crime series, usually set in a small Cotswold village, but not on this occasion. Sophie and Hector (who isn’t Scottish) are off to Inverness for a well-deserved holiday with her mother and father.
But as ever, dark going-ons and strange occurrences follow them on the long journey north, and Sophie is left feeling that there’s a mystery to solve, but unsure what it can be about, and even worse, that it somehow involves Hector.
I really enjoy this series of books – Sophie is a fun character, if troubled with an overactive imagination – as a writer, and her character is a writer, I’m right there with her. Hector is usually the more grounded of the two, but this time, even he’s starting to worry about what’s happening.
While there is no sighting of the Loch Ness monster, this is a fun mystery firmly rooted in Inverness, which the author has visited extensively, and the mystery is one of the stronger ones in the series that plays out, perhaps, in a more conventional way to earlier books in the series.
A great addition to the cosy crime series, which is going from strength to strength.
Meet the Author
Debbie Young is the much-loved author of the Sophie Sayers and St Brides cosy crime mysteries. She lives in a Cotswold village where she runs the local literary festival, and has worked at Westonbirt School, both of which provide inspiration for her writing. She is bringing both her series to Boldwood in a 13-book contract. They will be publishing several new titles in each series and republishing the backlist, starting in September 2022.
Love, Loss and Life In Between is a really lovely collection of short stories focusing on acceptance, moving on and recovery. I confess, I feared the stories might be upsetting, but they really weren’t. I was lucky enough to read the ebook last year, but now I’ve listened to the brand new audio as well. I really enjoy the option to listen as well as read books, especially ones I’ve read before.
Garden Therapy, with its slight otherworldliness was delightful, and A Mermaid’s Tale was a beautiful account of a young girl coming to terms with the loss of her mother, whereas Catalyst was quite edgy. Not Just for Christmas is a tale many pet owners with feel resonates with them.
This really was a delightful collection of short stories. The author has a lovely turn of phrase and manages to evoke strong feelings in her characters which make them believable, so that in only a few words the reader is already rooting for them.
Highly recommended, as was the author’s previous short story collection, of which you can find the review here.
The audio adds a delightful new dimension to these short stories. The narrator, Sandie Keane, has a lovely warm tone, and manages these uplifting and sorrowful tales with real compassion and understanding. Highly enjoyable.
Meet the author
Suzanne lives in Middlesex, England with her husband, two teenagers, a crazy cocker spaniel and an adopted cat that thinks she’s the boss.
Suzanne’s writing journey began at the age of twelve when she completed her first novel. She discovered the fantasy genre in her late teens and has never looked back. Giving up work to raise a family gave her the impetus to take her attempts at novel writing beyond the first draft, and she is lucky enough to have a husband who supports her dream – even if he does occasionally hint that she might think about getting a proper job one day.
Now an author of four novels including the Silent Sea Chronicles trilogy and her debut, Visions of Zarua, Suzanne hopes the dreaded ‘W’ word will never rear its ugly head again!
She loves gardening and has a Hebe (shrub) fetish. She enjoys cooking with ingredients from the garden and regularly feeds unsuspecting guests vegetable-based cakes.
She collects books, is interested in history and enjoys wandering around castles and old ruins whilst being immersed in the past. She likes to combine her love of nature and photography on family walks, but most of all she loves to escape with a great film, binge watch TV shows, or soak in a hot bubble bath with an ice cream and a book.
Having attended Drama school in Liverpool as a teenager Sandie moved into a variety of jobs varying from Hotel Management/Merseyside Police/Motherhood to name just a few but for 25 years she taught worldwide as a Pilates Tutor Trainer.
During lockdown Sandie’s interest turned to Audiobooks and it was from there she embarked on her own journey as an Audiobook Narrator.
I’m sharing an excerpt from Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound by Paul Duffy.
I was still young when the fulcrum began its pitch. Fortune’s wheel clanking around in its inscrutable way. It was the year that the sky ships were seen in Ard Macha. A silver host, spectral and gold illuminated the heavens, emerging from the cloud with their glistening sails and their ghostly hosts peering down, blazing with light on the men below who shrank from them in terror. And in that year also, the crozier of the bishop of Cluin Ioraird spoke to its owner, words of radiance and doom setting the kingdom alight.
Though we saw no such miracles to presage coming things, the Tiarna had a dream. He saw a great light rise from the mound on Cnuc Bán. A sídhemound guarding the high pass over the valley and below – a stag belling, a wild dog of two colours devouring a heron’s nest and above, a sun rising in the west, spreading brightness over a darkened east. A weapon shining at the heart of the mound. A weapon of immense power.
The Tiarna ignored the words of his wife and councillors, he disregarded his ollamh, he closed his house to the monk and chewed his thumb long into the night. Night after night ruminating beside ashen fires, forging his resolve. Until, one darkening day, he sat on his horse commanding the unthinkable. Watching us scrabble and shift moss-thick stones from the ancient cairn. We worked in silence, frantic in our task, working to quieten the dread that rang out in each of our heads. To stave off the flesh-creep as hour after hour, we watched the sun pass its peak and begin to drop away westwards over the shoulder of the cairn. The mound’s passive bulk thrumming with threat, and the geis-breaking sound of stones rolling free, rising to swallow everything else. Swallowing the champ of the standing horses, the rare lilts of the wind through the woodland below, the keening of buzzards circling. We cast the stones out beyond the kerbing into the heather, hoping they would land soft. Flinching at each cracking strike as they collided with hidden rock among the furze. Dread and skeletal hands clenching slowly within our skulls as the darkness thickened in the east.
‘Ho,’ Lochru cried out – the first human sound in hours and he came around the curve of the mound, his palsied face white, his hands trembling. He motioned to the Tiarna who urged his horse onwards. Tuar, his ollamh and the monk, Milesius cantering on also. We all followed to where the youth Fiacra stood, unnaturally still, his eyes fixed upon something in the scree. With great reluctance, he raised his hand and pointed at an opening which showed amongst the loose stone. Two rough pillars leaning towards each other, forming a narrow doorway as wide as the span between fist and elbow.
We stood steaming in the cold. Shudders passed among us and Milesius, hand on the psalter hanging in a satchel at his side, mumbled Latin incantations. The Tiarna gazed coldly. He looked to where his son, Conn stood by, leaning on a spear. I saw the subtle question in the Tiarna’s eye. I saw Conn’s face lowering to the ground, refusing the wordless request and, to disguise Conn’s refusal, the Tiarna’s voice came sudden and barking.
‘Send in the Sasanach,’ he said without looking in my direction and my bowels dropped within me. I stared ahead at the terrible and absolute blackness, a blackness that inhaled the failing light, and did not move. Lochru came towards me, grabbing my arm and pulling me past him with a blow that cupped the back of my skull. I staggered forward, feet twisting among the stones, and fell to my knees before the doorway, backing instantly, as if from a wild beast. I looked to the Tiarna on his horse and Milesius at his side. Their faces as hard as the stone of the hill. I breathed through my nose, a forceful breath. Another. And another. I made the sign of the cross, rose, commending myself to God and the Saints Patricius, Féichin, Lasair and stepped forward.
I moved towards the dragging blackness. Towards the mouth of the underworld. Towards the realm of the sídhe. I approached as if approaching cold water, step by step, clenching something deep within. My hand reached out to touch a pillar and its frigid surface drew the warmth from me. I turned side-on, a welling panic, though I did not stop. I slid my shoulder into the gap and pushed my chest through, feeling the pillars scrape at once along my spine and breastbone. I dipped my head, without looking back and entered the dark.
The space within forced me to crawl and I advanced blindly, my bulk blocking the light from the opening. The stones pressed in all around so that I could neither stand nor turn. Pools of water splashed beneath me, a dead air, stale in my lungs. My eyes moved wildly around, though nothing changed in the depthless dark. Hands slipped and scraped and I struck my head frequently on the uneven roof. Yet I moved, and in moving there was hope.
Here’s the blurb
On a remote Gaelic farmstead in medieval Ireland, word reaches Alberic of conquering Norman knights arriving from England. Oppressed by the social order that enslaved his Norman father, he yearns for the reckoning he believes the invaders will bring—but his world is about to burn. Captured by the Norman knight Hugo de Lacy and installed at Dublin Castle as a translator, Alberic’s confused loyalties are tested at every turn. When de Lacy marches inland, Alberic is set on a collision course with his former masters amidst rumours of a great Gaelic army rising in the west. Can Alberic navigate safely through revenge, lust and betrayal to find his place amidst the birth of a kingdom in a land of war?
Paul Duffy, author of Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound (2022), is one of Ireland’s leading field archaeologists and has directed numerous landmark excavations in Dublin as well as leading projects in Australia, France and the United Kingdom.
He has published and lectured widely on this work, and his books include From Carrickfergus to Carcassonne—the Epic Deeds of Hugh de Lacy during the Cathar Crusade (2018) and Ireland and the Crusades (2021). He has given many talks and interviews on national and international television and radio (RTÉ, BBC, NPR, EuroNews).
Paul has also published several works of short fiction (Irish Times, Causeway/Cathsair, Outburst, Birkbeck Writer’s Hub) and in 2015 won the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. He has been shortlisted for numerous Irish and international writing prizes and was awarded a writing bursary in 2017–2018 by Words Ireland.
King Edgar the Peaceable of England (959-975) died a young man still, perhaps no older than thirty-two. He left two surviving sons, (one of his sons, Edmund, having died in 971 at a young age.) Neither of his surviving children was an adult and they both had different mothers. Edward, the child of a woman perhaps named as Æthelflæd, and Æthelred, the surviving child of Edgar and his queen, Elfrida, who had ruled at Edgar’s side for about a decade. Edward was probably no older than fifteen in 975, Æthelred perhaps as young as eight. While the kingdom of the English might well have endured years of peace, the same could not be said for the royal court.
The factionalism of the great Benedictine monastic reform movement has much to do with this. As part of the reform movement, a huge amount of land changed hands. As ever, religion was a mask for what was happening at a more basic level. It could just as easily be interpreted as a land grab. In the wake of the death of the king, ‘Attacks on church property were widespread. From York to Kent and Sussex, from the Severn valley to the Fens the death of Edgar was a signal to those who wished to recover property.’ Whether Edgar intended for his royal son, born to a consecrated mother and father to succeed after him or not might have been irrelevant when faced with two opposing parties – one supporting the older Edward and one Æthelred, both of whom had religious men as their supporters.
Essentially, both sons would have been too young to rule England. King Eadwig, their uncle, had hardly provided good and secure rule during his brief reign from 955-959, when he was no older than fifteen. But, there was no other choice unless note was made of the family of Ælfgifu, wife to Eadwig, and her collection of brothers, the most famous of whom was Æthelweard, an ealdorman who is thought to have written a Latin translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle referred to as the Chronicon. The family claimed descent from Æthelred I (865-871), Alfred’s older brother.
Edward was chosen to rule with the support of one of these two powerful factions, and Edward’s coronation was conducted by Archbishop Dunstan. Yet some believed Æthelred should be king, no matter his young age, and Æthelred’s support was led by Ealdorman Ælfhere of Mercia. Ealdorman Ælfhere had gained his position under King Eadwig, and had remained powerful despite the seeming division of England back into its constituent parts of Mercia and Wessex in 958 and 959. Perhaps this then, might have been a solution – a division of England once more. Yet ‘questions of division or underkingship were replaced by a straightforward struggle for the throne of the entire kingdom.’
Young Edward was murdered. What we don’t know, unlike with the murder of his grandfather (Edmund (939-946) was murdered by Liofa, possibly a thief), is who killed Edward, known as Edward the Martyr.
The A text of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle is the simplest version of the story for 978, ‘Here King Edward was killed.’
The C text offers, ‘Here in this year King Edward was martyred, and his brother, the young ætheling Æthelred, succeeded to the kingdom; and he was consecrated as king the same year.’
‘Here King Edward was killed in the evening-time in 18 March at Corfe passage; and they buried him at Wareham without any royal honours.’ The ASC E (979 for 978) text reads.
Elfrida was known to live close to Corfe, but the E version of the ASC is one of the youngest manuscripts to have survived, dated to about 1121, when it was written in one hand. It is possible then, that the entry in the E version of the ASC had benefitted from some much later additions, thanks to the Saints lives which portrayed Elfrida as the murderer of her husband’s oldest son! It is the A version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which is the more contemporary of our surviving sources.
It was openly acknowledged that Edward was killed, and in his place, Æthelred, at no more than perhaps twelve years of age, became king. This can only have been possible with support for Æthelred. Those backing Æthelred’s claim must have been strong enough to counter any other bid for the kingdom. It no doubt helps that there were few others who could legitimately claim the kingship for themselves. Had they turned to any latent claim presented by Ealdorman Æthelweard, who by now was possibly a man in his late thirties or forties (his death is believed to have taken place in about 998 when he stops attesting Æthelred’s charters), then his sons might not have been deemed acceptable to rule after him, having been born to a man not consecrated as king, and a woman who was certainly not regarded as a queen. This, then, would have merely delayed the inevitable question of the succession once more after Æthelweard’s death.
So, who killed Edward, or ordered his death? Did Elfrida, England’s first anointed queen, commit regicide in an attempt to win back the influence she unexpectedly lost on the death of her young husband, when her step-son was appointed as king?
There were certainly some who believed she had a hand in the murder of the young man.
The involvement of Elfrida directly in the murder of her step-son is ‘derived ultimately from the Passio Sancti Eadwardi Regis et Martyris, an account of Edward’s life, murder and miracles probably written in the 1070s by the Anglo-Norman hagiographer Goscelin and itself based partly on an earlier account of St Edward which may have been written at Shaftesbury in the early years of the eleventh century.’
‘When a certain day was nearing evening, the illustrious and elected king came as we have said to the house where his much-loved brother dwelt with the queen, desiring the consolation of brotherly love; there came out to meet him, as was fitting, nobles and chief men, who stayed with the queen, his mother. They formed among them a wicked plan, for they possessed minds so accursed and such dark diabolical blindness that they did not fear to lay hands on the Lord’s anointed….The thegns then holding him, one drew him on the right towards him as if he wished to give him a kiss, but another seized roughly his left hand and also wounded him. And he shouted, so far as he could: ‘What are you doing – breaking my right arm?’ And suddenly leapt from the horse and died.’ So informs the Life of St Oswald written during the life of both Elfrida and Æthelred II, by Byrhtferth, although we will never know if they were aware of what was written. It does not specifically name Elfrida as responsible for the king’s murder.
Another near contemporary source. The Sermon of the Wolf to the English states that, Edward was betrayed and then killed, and afterwards burned and [Ethelred was driven out of his country].’ This dates from 1014, and therefore follows Æthelred’s loss of the kingdom to King Swein of Denmark. Again, it is not a contemporary source.
But later writers persisted with the story. Henry of Huntingdon, a Norman chronicler wrote. ‘It is said that his stepmother [Ælfthryth/Elfrida], that is the mother of King Æthelred, stabbed him [Edward] with a dagger while stretching out a cup to him.’ And so named Elfrida as the physical murderess.
William of Malmesbury, another Norman writer, also associates Edward the Martyr’s murder with Elfrida, despite that fact that Edward treated his ‘stepmother with proper warmth of feeling….The woman however, with a stepmother’s hatred and a viper’s guile, in her anxiety that her son should also enjoy the title of king, laid plots against her stepson’s life…On his arrival, his stepmother, with a woman’s wiles, distracted his attention, and with a kiss of welcome offered him a drink. As he greedily drank it, she had him pierced with a dagger by one of her servants….Ælfthryth [Elfrida] fell from her pride of royalty into a dire repentance, such that for many years at Wherwell she clad her delicately nurtured limbs in haircloth.’
It is perplexing to consider the alleged involvement of Elfrida in the death of her stepson with the cult of Edward the Martyr that subsequently developed. Indeed, it has been noted that in the will of Athelstan, Æthlered’s son who died in 1014, and who was raised by Elfrida, he makes a bequest to Shaftesbury to St Edward (where Edward was later buried). ‘And I give to the Holy Cross and St Edward at Shaftesbury the six pounds about which I have given directions to my brother Edmund.’
This then seems more than a strange thing to do if the family were keen to dismiss the concerns that Elfrida was involved in the king’s murder. Neither, and despite the reports that Edward the Martyr was not a pleasant individual, has it been considered that the murder was carried out because ALL believed they would benefit from a new king. Edward the Martyr, in the written details about him, does not have a good reputation, as the Vita Oswaldi itself states.
‘Certain of the chief men of this land wished to elect as king the king’s elder son, Edward by name; some of the nobles wanted the younger because he appeared to all gentler in speech and deeds. The elder, in fact, inspired in all not only fear but even terror, for [he scrouged them] not only with words but truly with dire blows, and especially his own men dwelling with him.’
At such a distance in time, it’s impossible to determine what happened. Dismissing the later saints lives and aspersions cast on Elfrida, by Adam of Bremen, Osbern of Canterbury, Florence of Worcester and Henry of Huntingdon (all Norman writers), one thing is clear. Whatever had happened to pave the way for Æthelred to become king, it was accepted by the vast majority of the witan and the holy men. Sometimes, mention is made that Æthelred’s coronation was delayed, taking place on 4th May 979, maybe while negotiations took place, but this delay was perhaps not that unusual – there was a delay in Edward the Elder’s coronation, and also Athelstan’s. Was it a delay because Æthelred was unacceptable, or merely one of politic? Or is it merely a confusion with the date, 979 for 978, or something else? Was Æthelred considered too young in 978 to undergo coronation? Was he ill? Sometimes, we forget the frailties of our forebears, too keen to see political intrigue everywhere.
What can be said is, no matter the alleged involvement of the royal family in the murder of one of their own, the words of later chroniclers and those who may have written at the time but with an agenda to tarnish the name of the Wessex royal family, no one faced murder charges for what happened. The murder was acknowledged, but those responsible faced no penalty for it (as far as we know – certainly, none of the prime suspects fell from favour). Whatever led to the murder of Edward, his absorption into the royal line of saints (and there were many, many royal saints in the Wessex family in the tenth century – Edgar’s mother was regarded as saintly, as was his only daughter, Edith, after her death, and indeed, that daughter’s mother, Wulfthryth) it was those looking back at the return of the Viking raiders throughout the last two decades of the tenth century and the eleventh, which resulted in not one, not two, but three Viking kings claiming England for themselves, who thought to tarnish Æthelred’s already tainted reputation as a failed military commander by adding the charge of ‘complicit in the murder of his step-brother’ to the already, very long list of charges levelled against him. But of course, none of these were contemporary accounts.
And so, it seems, we might never know the truth of what befell Edward the Martyr, and certainly, there are no truly contemporary accounts to say Queen Elfrida either physically committed the murder, or ordered that it be carried out.