When Gemma Lamb takes a job at a quirky English girls’ boarding school, she believes she’s found the perfect escape route from her controlling boyfriend – until she discovers the rest of the staff are hiding sinister secrets:
Hairnet, the eccentric headmistress who doesn’t hold with academic qualifications
Oriana Bliss, Head of Maths and master of disguise
Joscelyn Spryke, the suspiciously rugged Head of PE
Geography teacher Mavis Brook, surreptitiously selling off the library books
creepy night watchman Max Security, with his network of hidden tunnels
Even McPhee, the school cat, is leading a double life.
Tucked away in the school’s beautiful private estate in the Cotswolds, can Gemma stay safe and build a new independent future, or will past secrets catch up with her and the rest of the staff?
With a little help from her new friends, including some wise pupils, she’s going to give it her best shot…
This one is short and sweet but shouldn’t detract from the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this cosy mystery with a difference.
Dastardly Deeds at St Bride’s is definitely the book for all those who spent a childhood ensconced with a good boarding school book (The Chalet School, Malory Towers, St Claires etc). Sadly, there is no lacrosse, as the main characters here are all the teachers, but it is a charming story of our main character’s desire to start her life over again following an abusive relationship. There are a few mysteries to solve for her and a lovely cast of supporting characters, who all have their quirky sides, as does the boarding school itself.
I’ve been lucky enough to read book 2 and 3 already, and I will be sharing my reviews over the next few days, but I highly recommend checking out this new series if you love cosy mysteries (and tales of boarding schools).
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.
Three kingdoms. Two friends. Only one way to survive.
For fans of Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden comes the tale of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the battle-scarred kingdom of Wagria.
It is AD 972. Olaf Tryggvason and his oath-sworn protector, Torgil, are once again on the move. They have left the Rus kingdom and now travel the Baltic Sea in search of plunder and fame. But a fateful storm lands them on the Vendish coastline in a kingdom called Wagria.
There, they find themselves caught between the aggression of the Danes, the political aspirations of the Wagrian lords, and the shifting politics in Saxland. Can they survive or will they become just one more casualty of kingly ambitions?
Find out in this harrowing sequel to the best-selling Forged by Iron and Sigurd’s Swords.
This book is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.
Eric Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history at a very early age, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Bernard Cornwell, Jack Whyte, and Wilbur Smith. Those discoveries fueled his imagination and continue to influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005.
Today sees the release of book 3 in my series about young Icel, a much-loved character from my The Ninth Century series featuring King Coelwulf, the last king of Mercia. And so, now that Icel as a young man, and Icel as a crotchety older man are both firmly in reader’s minds, I thought I’d share more about the idea for the Eagle of Mercia Chronicles series.
My characters in the Ninth Century series feel like they very much arrived in my head fully formed. Coelwulf was obviously the first, but others quickly followed, and Icel, with his derisive comments about any of their accomplishments, was an early fan favourite, and one of my favourites as well. Surly, and outspoken, while offering little of his life before the period that my characters knew him, he really did speak to me when I was deciding on a new series to write for Boldwood Books. All those little comments he makes. I think the below is our first introduction to his character;
“In the reign of King Wiglaf I first became a man,” he’s fond of saying, although he never explains what act made him a man. Again, I’ve stopped questioning him. Edmund likes to when he’s either drunk too much, or is trying to distract himself from whatever attack we’re about to begin. And of course Rudolf hangs on Icel’s every word. They’re an excellent match for each other, the boy who never runs out of questions, and the man who never answers them.’ (The Last King)
All these hints at what he might really have been like when he was perhaps no older than Rudolf, another firm fan favourite, made me want to tell his story. It did help that Mercia, at the time he would have been a boy was in political turmoil. It also helped that the Viking Raiders were making an appearance in Saxon England as well throughout the 830s. But Icel is a fictional character, and while fictionalising my Saxon characters, the men and women I normally write about did actually exist, even if we only have their names. But Mercia, in the 820s and 830s suffered a series of successive kingships, many of which failed, and so while Icel is fictitious, he does allow me to give a more rounded view of the entirety of events. He will live through these tumultuous times, and that’s important when I wanted to write about these events as well as all the kings.
It also helped that, in my contrary nature as a writer of historical fiction, that I always want to offer something a little different to the oft-taken paths when authors write about Saxon England – the Vikings, the reign of Alfred, Ethelred the Unready and the Norman Conquest, as well as the Golden Age of Northumbria, are often chosen but there is just so much more in these six hundred years to write about. So, no one else was writing about Mercia as it begins to falter in the 820s and 830s, and so I thought, why not:)
I really, really hope you’ll enjoy book 3, Warrior of Mercia, which follows Icel to the kingdom of the East Angles. I can also assure you that Book 4 is well underway as well.
Icel is a lone wolf no more…
Oath sworn to Wiglaf, King of Mercia and acknowledged as a member of Ealdorman Ælfstan’s warrior band, Icel continues to forge his own destiny on the path to becoming the Warrior of Mercia.
With King Ecgberht of Wessex defeated and Londonium back under Mercian control, the Wessex invasion of Mercia is over.
But the Wessex king was never Mercia’s only enemy. An unknown danger lurks in the form of merciless Viking raiders, who set their sights on infiltrating the waterways of the traitorous breakaway kingdom of the East Angles, within touching distance of Mercia’s eastern borders.
Icel must journey to the kingdom of the East Angles and unite against a common enemy to ensure Mercia’s hard-won freedom prevails.
Available now in ebook, paperback, large print paperback, hardback and audio.
Check out some blog posts I wrote for release day!
And you can follow the blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources too. I’ll be updating with links to reviews, and I’d like to say a huge thank you to my blog tour hosts and usual reviewers for going out of their way to make release day so special.
Carolyn Hughes is treating us to a fabulous blog post. Enjoy.
Writing what you don’t know…
One of the wonderful aspects of writing fiction – and perhaps especially writing historical fiction – is that your imagination will drive you to include scenes in which your characters engage in some activity or other that you know absolutely nothing about. So, you have to consult books, and the internet, and other resources, in order to fill in the yawning gaps in your knowledge.
In Squire’s Hazard, two such scenes involve my eponymous squire, Dickon de Bohun, in his struggle against a fellow squire, Edwin, who is making his life a misery with his bullying. Dickon knows he has to get the better of Edwin, but can’t bring himself to do anything dishonourable, or to snitch on Edwin and get him into trouble.
A wrestling scene arises when Edwin challenges Dickon to a match, to be held, in principle, away from the vigilant eyes of their masters. Edwin imagines he’ll trump Dickon easily, and make him look a fool in front of other squires. Though in the event it doesn’t go all his way. Dickon is somewhat caught off guard by Edwin’s challenge and, although he’s not keen to fight him, as he believes that clandestine wrestling would be frowned upon by their lord, he nonetheless agrees to the match, hoping that his own wrestling skills are good enough.
The second (extended) scene is that of a boar hunt. Hunting was something that the young squires engaged in, for entertainment, presumably, but also as part of their training. They learned about the process and ritual of the hunt, and practised skills that, as future knights, they might one day use in battle. I imagine they started out hunting small deer, and maybe foxes, but I wanted the hunting scene to have the potential for real danger. Thus I had the squires act as beaters in a hunt for boar – extremely dangerous animals. Powerful and fierce, and aggressive if cornered or protecting young, they could easily kill a dog and badly injure a man at the very least.
However, the purpose of the hunting scene is not simply to show this aspect of the squires’ life. It has a more sinister purpose: for Edwin intends to find a way of exploiting the danger of the hunt to deliver yet another of his “pranks” against Dickon. It is important to the progress of the story.
Needless to say, I knew nothing about either wrestling or boar hunting (or indeed hunting of any sort), and so I had somehow to discover enough about both to enable me to write reasonably convincing scenes. Of course, if I was a proper, “hands-on” researcher, I’d go out hunting boar, and challenge someone to a wrestling match, so that I could obtain first-hand experience. But I’m afraid I’m way past such energetic, not to say, risky, pursuits, so I confined myself to reading as much as I could about techniques, then using my imagination to round out the narrative.
In both cases I watched YouTube videos to see how things were done. I’ve done this for other activities I needed to know something about, such as charging at the quintain with a lance under your arm, and also the gentler pursuit of making cheese. YouTube is a wonderful resource: you might be surprised what you can learn from studying films produced by practitioners of all sorts of activities, and of course historical reenactors. It’s undoubtedly not quite as good as “doing-it-yourself”, but I hope I have made it work.
So, here are a couple of snippets of the result of my research and video-watching, the first a scene of the wrestling, the second, part of the boar hunt.
The wrestling match
Standing at the edge of the clearing, on the opposite side to Edwin, and some distance from the band of witnesses, he stripped off his belt and tunic and laid them carefully on the ground. Edwin then strode forward, his chest thrust out, to the grassy centre of the clearing. One or two of the onlookers cheered.
Dickon stepped forward too. Each of them took up a stance, legs tensed, arms out.
Then Edwin lunged, grasping Dickon’s wrist with one hand and his elbow with the other. He leered as he thrust a knee forward, clearly intending to unbalance Dickon. But Dickon flicked his free hand up and drove it hard against Edwin’s inner arm, making him let go. Unbalanced then himself, Edwin staggered, giving Dickon time to grab one of his flailing hands.
Squeezing it hard, he flipped it up and twisted it at the wrist, causing Edwin to cry out, then grabbed the rest of Edwin’s arm with his other hand. Quickly putting out a leg in front of Edwin’s and pushing hard against his arm, he threw Edwin over and he fell back onto the ground.
A collective groan rose from the group of bystanders, but Edwin recovered fast and, leaping up, he glowered at Dickon. ‘Right, de Bohun,’ he hissed, ‘now you’re really for it.’ He lunged again.
At first it felt an even match in terms of strength and skill. Dickon would trounce Edwin, then Edwin would do the same to him. But, as each of them tumbled onto the grass time and time again, Dickon realised that Edwin’s energy was waning: his grip was becoming weaker, and he was finding it harder to throw him over. Yet there was still power left in his own hands. When Edwin lurched towards him yet again, but with little vigour, Dickon threw up his hands to fend him off and caught him hard upon the nose.”
The boar hunt
At the outskirts of the wood, the master gathered the squires and dog handlers together.
‘Right,’ he said, ‘our master huntsman has already confirmed there’s a goodly number of boar here today, so it’s your job now to find them. You know the drill. Look for the signs: muddy wallowing hollows in the ground, areas of uprooted soil where the beasts have grubbed for food. And, of course, footprints: you know the shape you’re looking for, with the dewclaws at the back. When we’re confident we’ve found some, we free the dogs to scent them out. You follow on, fast but never recklessly, beating the animals forward towards the huntsmen.’
A mixture of exhilaration and anxiety set Dickon’s heart thumping. He knew what he had to do. But he’d not done it before and prayed he’d make no mistakes.
At first, it all went well. They found a number of fresh wallows, and trees nearby with muddy trunks, where the boars had scraped their mucky bodies clean. The ground was cratered with so many footprints, it seemed there might be several boar drifts in the forest. At length the hounds were set loose to pick up the scent. Quiet now, but with their tails still wagging, they scurried back and forth, sniffing at the tree bark and snuffling around the undergrowth. It wasn’t long before they were off, their handlers and the beaters chasing after them.
Thank you so much for sharing. It is a nightmare when you realise you want to write a scene and have no idea how it might actually have happened. Well done:)
Here’s the blurb:
How do you overcome the loathing, lust and bitterness threatening you and your family’s honour?
It’s 1363, and in Steyning Castle, Sussex, Dickon de Bohun is enjoying life as a squire in the household of Earl Raoul de Fougère. Or he would be, if it weren’t for Edwin de Courtenay, who’s making his life a misery with his bullying, threatening to expose the truth about Dickon’s birth.
At home in Meonbridge for Christmas, Dickon notices how grown-up his childhood playmate, Libby Fletcher, has become since he last saw her and feels the stirrings of desire. Libby, seeing how different he is too, falls instantly in love. But as a servant to Dickon’s grandmother, Lady Margaret de Bohun, she could never be his wife.
Margery Tyler, Libby’s aunt, meeting her niece by chance, learns of her passion for young Dickon. Their conversation rekindles Margery’s long-held rancour against the de Bohuns, whom she blames for all the ills that befell her family, including her own servitude. For years she’s hidden her hunger for retribution, but she can no longer keep her hostility in check.
As the future Lord of Meonbridge, Dickon knows he must rise above de Courtenay’s loathing and intimidation, and get the better of him. And, surely, he must master his lust for Libby, so his own mother’s shocking history is not repeated? Of Margery’s bitterness, however, he has yet to learn…
Beset by the hazards these powerful and dangerous emotions bring, can young Dickon summon up the courage and resolve to overcome them?
Secrets, hatred and betrayal, but also love and courage – Squire’s Hazard, the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE.
This book is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.
The paperback is available to buy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Waterstones.
Meet the Author
CAROLYN HUGHES has lived much of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, as she wrote and edited material, some fascinating, some dull, for an array of different clients, including banks, an international hotel group and medical instruments manufacturers.
Having written creatively for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction took centre stage, alongside gaining a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Squire’s Hazard is the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE, and more stories about the folk of Meonbridge will follow.
You can connect with Carolyn through her website www.carolynhughesauthor.com and on social media.
A haunting Anglo-Saxon time-slip of mystery and romance
Can echoes of the past threaten the present? They are 1500 years apart, but can they reach out to each other across the centuries? One woman faces a traumatic truth in the present day. The other is forced to marry the man she hates as the ‘dark ages’ unfold.
How can Dr Viv DuLac, medievalist and academic, unlock the secrets of the past? Traumatised by betrayal, she slips into 499 AD and into the body of Lady Vivianne, who is also battling treachery. Viv must uncover the mystery of the key that she unwittingly brings back with her to the present day, as echoes of the past resonate through time. But little does Viv realise just how much both their lives across the centuries will become so intertwined. And in the end, how can they help each other across the ages without changing the course of history?
For fans of Barbara Erskine, Pamela Hartshorne, Susanna Kearsley, Christina Courtenay.
Praise for Julia Ibbotson
Praise for A Shape on the Air:
“In the best Barbara Erskine tradition …I would highly recommend this novel” – Historical Novel Society
“Amazing …a really great book …I just couldn’t put it down” – Hazel Morgan
“Well-rounded characters and a wealth of historical research make this a real page-turner” – Amazon review
“Enthralling” – Amazon review
“Julia does an incredible job of setting up the idea of time-shift so that it’s believable and makes sense” – Amazon review
“Viv/Lady Vivianne … lovely identifiable heroine in both time periods … I love her strength and vulnerability. And Rory/Roland is simply gorgeous!” – Melissa Morgan
“gripping … a very real sense of threat and danger, an enthralling mystery … a wholly convincing romance, across both timelines” – Anne Williams
Julia Ibbotson is fascinated by the medieval world and the concept of resonances across time. She sees her author brand as a historical fiction writer of romantic mysteries that are character-driven, well-paced, evocative of time and place, well-researched and uplifting page-turners. Her current series focuses on early medieval dual-time/time-slip mysteries.
Julia read English at Keele University, England, specialising in medieval language/ literature/ history, and has a PhD in socio-linguistics. After a turbulent time in Ghana, West Africa, she became a school teacher, then a university academic and researcher.
Her break as an author came soon after she joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2015, with a three-book deal from Lume Books for a trilogy (Drumbeats) set in Ghana in the 1960s. She has also indie-published three other books, including A Shape on the Air, an Anglo-Saxon timeslip mystery, and its two sequels The Dragon Tree and The Rune Stone. Her latest, Daughter of Mercia, is the first of a new series of Anglo-Saxon dual time mystery/romances where echoes of the past resonate across the centuries.
Her books will appeal to fans of Barbara Erskine, Pamela Hartshorne, Susanna Kearsley, and Christina Courtenay. Her readers say: ‘compelling character-driven novels’, ‘a skilled story-teller’, ‘evocative and well-paced storylines’, ‘incredible writing style’, ‘intricately written’, ‘absorbing and captivating’, and ‘an absolute gem of a trilogy’.
I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Floats the Dark Shadow.
Protest Against Women Being Admitted to the Ecole des Beaux Arts—Floats the Dark Shadow
“Down with women! Down with women!”
The shouts of the male students clanged in Theo’s head, as she watched them march inside the huge iron gates of the École des Beaux Arts. She had woken groggy and wretched after crying late into the night, but determined to meet Carmine here, for Mélanie’s sake.
“They are yapping dogs.” Carmine didn’t yap, she snarled.
“Puppies with power,” Theo agreed unhappily. Her headache grew worse with each angry shout. She probably should have gone back with Averill yesterday, but she’d needed to be alone after seeing Alicia in the morgue.
“Out with the women! Out! Out! Out!”
“No!” “Stop!” “Cowards!” Cries rose from the crowd as a new pack of male students drove the two distraught women students across the vast courtyard, through the gate, and into the street. The protesters outside quickly drew them into the center of a protective circle. Theo had seen the same arrogance and brutality when she marched for the vote in San Francisco. Why had she expected Frenchmen to be any better, especially when they granted their women even less power than American men did? Her friends were the exception, and even they preferred the image of the perfect muse—a seductive, destructive Salomé who would rend their souls the better to inspire their poems.
“Go back to your embroidery!” a whey-faced student taunted.
“Go back to your diapers!” Another student surged to the front of the pack. He looked like a scruffy fox—a rabid fox. “You can use baby caca for your paints!”
“They are the ones full of caca,” Carmine fumed. “Only men can create le grand art! You remember Mélanie’s Cassandra.”
“It was beautiful!” Theo affirmed as insults pelted them like rocks. “It was everything they say art should be and it had soul. It had passion.”
“That’s why they didn’t give it an award. Too much life. Not posed pain—real pain. They need their art to be dead, like a rabbit strung up for a still life.”
The futility of Mélanie’s sacrifice tormented Theo, but Carmine brought back Mélanie’s hope for her art, her courage in fighting for what she believed. The demonstrating women shared that hope and that courage.
“Your brains are stuffed full of ruffles!” the whey-faced one sang out, winning hoots of laughter from his friends.
Theo thrust off the smothering misery of the morgue and stalked to the gates, looking into the paved quadrangle where the irate students marched and shouted. Men she presumed to be professors and administrators hovered anxiously in the background, but some of the male students and teachers squeezed through the gates to join the growing crowd supporting the women. Turning to look across the street, Theo saw a man who must be a journalist scribbling madly in a notebook. Behind him, half-hidden in the arch of a corner doorway, a young woman watched the protesters. Theo caught her eye and beckoned her to join them. She smiled a little but shook her head, looking anxiously from side to side.
“You’re ruining everything!” a petulant voice called out. “All sorts of stupid new rules and restrictions came trailing on your petticoats.”
“We don’t need new rules!” Theo shouted back, adding her voice to the other women. “We don’t want special treatment! We want the same treatment, the same classes, the same models!”
“And the same medals!” Carmine yelled. “That’s why you’re really afraid! You’ll have to compete with women for the prizes you’ve been keeping to yourselves.”
“Why should I be afraid of that!” another student taunted. “No woman is better than I am!”
Remembering Mélanie, Theo seethed with scorn. “These women got higher scores than you did.”
That brought a deluge of cries. “Liar!” “Bribery!” “You don’t belong here!” “You belong on your backs!”
The whey-faced student yelled out above the others. “Go find yourself a husband!”
The scruffy fox lifted his cane above his head, waving it furiously. “Yes! A husband will teach you to paint with your tongue!”
The men laughed and wagged their tongues at them. The crass insults gave Theo a surge of furious energy. “Did you swing the same cane at the Charity bazaar?” she yelled at the fox. “Did you beat your way through those women too?”
“I was never there!” he yelled back, though the whey-face one suddenly turned even paler and backed out of sight. The fox looked stunned, then shrugged off the defection.
Theo put a hand to her head, remembering the painful cut that some man had inflicted. Hot anger flowed through her. “You are just as much of a coward!” she accused the fox. “More of a coward. Your life’s not at risk—just your vanity!”
Suddenly, the woman she had seen half-hiding in the doorway darted from her haven and ran down the street. Perhaps because of their silent communication, she came straight to Theo and Carmine. She was quite petite, barely five feet. She had a gentle, shy countenance, lit by eyes full of steely determination.
“The police are coming,” she warned, pointing back down the cross street.. “I saw them at the end of the block.”
“Let’s hope they arrest these men!” Carmine said. “But with our luck, they’ll punish us for daring to protest.”
“Go now,” one of the women students said to the protesters. “But thank you for joining us.”
“We should leave,” Theo said to Carmine as the women began to disperse.
“I will walk with you to the corner and circle back around. I don’t want to be arrested!” the young woman said.
Quickly they walked down the rue Bonaparte toward the quai. “You’re American, aren’t you?” Theo asked their companion.
She nodded. “Yes, and you?”
“From Mill Valley, California. That’s near San Francisco. My name is Theodora Faraday.”
“And I am Julia Morgan. We were neighbors. I am from Oakland. I came to Paris last year because the École promised women would soon be admitted.”
“You see they will use any excuse to refuse you,” Carmine muttered, squaring her shoulders. She set her hat at a jauntier angle and plucked at her sleeves to puff them out.
“I want to study architecture,” Julia said firmly. “This is the most prestigious school in the world. There is no equivalent.”
“What are you doing meanwhile?” Carmine asked.
“I am working in the architecture atelier of Marcel de Monclos and submitting my designs to international competitions.”
“Have you won any?” Carmine asked.
“Indeed I have. I am gaining a reputation. Surely the École will admit me.”
“Surely they will,” Theo affirmed.
“Perhaps,” Carmine said gloomily.
Julia stopped when they turned the corner that brought the Seine into view. “I must go back to work.”
“Bonne chance,” Theo wished her good luck. Tiny and soft-spoken as she was, Julia obviously had the tenacity to triumph over the forces allied against her sex.
When children she knows vanish mysteriously, Theo confronts Inspecteur Michel Devaux who suspects the Revenants are involved. Theo refuses to believe the killer could be a friend—could be the man she loves. Classic detection and occult revelation lead Michel and Theo through the dark underbelly of Paris, from catacombs to asylums, to the obscene ritual of a Black Mass.
Following the maze of clues they discover the murderer believes he is the reincarnation of the most evil serial killer in the history of France—Gilles de Rais. Once Joan of Arc’s lieutenant, after her death he plunged into an orgy of evil. The Church burned him at the stake for heresy, sorcery, and the depraved murder of hundreds of peasant children.
Whether deranged mind or demonic passion incite him, the killer must be found before he strikes again.
Yves Fey has MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from UCLA. Yves began drawing as soon as she could hold a crayon and writing at twelve.
She’s been a tie dye artist, go-go dancer, creator of ceramic beasties, writing teacher, illustrator, and has won prizes for her chocolate desserts. Her current obsession is creating perfumes inspired by her Parisian characters.
Yves lives in Albany with her mystery writer husband and their cats, Charlotte and Emily, the Flying Bronte Sisters.
I’m so excited to share that the first book in my Earls of Mercia series is once more available via Amazon Kindle. With the rerelease of the book, I wanted to share a little about what drew me to this story over a decade ago.
Ealdorman Leofwine , was the ealdorman of the Hwicce (c.994-1023), one of the ancient tribal regions in Mercia, which was a part of England, at the time the story begins. It is possible he may have been related to Ælfwine, who is named, and dies at the Battle of Maldon (more below).
Ealdorman Leofwine and his descendants, who would hold positions of power until the Norman Conquest of 1066, are a unique family in this tumultuous period. No other family, apart from the ruling family of Wessex (and even then there was a minor hiccup caused by those pesky Danish kings) held a position of such power and influence and for such a long period of time, as far as is currently known. The position of ealdorman was not hereditary. It was a position in the gift of the king, and Saxon kings ruled with a varying number of ealdormen. To understand Leofwine’s significance, it’s important to understand this. Unlike an earl – a term we are all perhaps far more familiar with – but specifically a medieval earl in this regard – that position was both more often than not hereditary AND meant that the person involved ‘owned’ significant properties in the area they were earls over. This is not how the ealdormanic system worked in Saxon England, as it’s currently understood.
It is difficult to track many of the ealdormanic families of this period, and the previous century, but there are a few notable individuals, all who bucked the usual trend, which no doubt accounts for why we know who they are.
Perhaps most well-known is Ealdorman Athelstan Half-King, who was the ealdorman of East Anglia from about 934 to 955/6 when he fell from favour at court during the reign of King Eadwig and retired to Glastonbury Abbey. Before he did so, he ensured that his son, Æthelwald, was elevated to the position of ealdorman in his place. This was most unusual, but then, he came from a powerful family, fiercely loyal to the ruling House of Wessex, if not actually a member of them. Athelstan Half-King is believed to have been the son of Ealdorman Æthelfrith, a Mercian ealdorman when Lady Æthelflæd was the Lady of Mercia. Athelstan was one of four brothers. His older brother seems to have either briefly retained the ealdordom after their father’s death in Mercia, or been accorded it a few years later, but when he died, Athelstan Half-King didn’t become ealdorman of Mercia in his place. No, he remained in East Anglia while his two brothers, Eahric and Æthelwald, held ealdordoms in Wessex (Eahric) and Kent (Æthelwald). They didn’t become the ealdorman of Mercia either. The ealdordom passed to a different individual.
When Ealdorman Æthelwald of the East Angles died a few short years later (Athelstan Half-King’s son), his place was taken by Ealdorman Æthelwine, the youngest of Athelstan Half-King’s children. But, the family failed to hold on to the position, despite Ealdorman Æthelwine being married three times, and fathering three sons, one of whom died at the battle of Assandun in 1016. The next to hold the ealdordom of the East Angles after the death of Æthelwine was Leofsige, who was the ealdorman until he fell foul of the king in 1002. In the early 1000s Ulfcytel emerges and may have been married to one of the king’s daughters, but is never officially accorded the title of ealdorman.
Another famous ealdorman was Byrhtnoth of Essex, who died at the Battle of Maldon in 991. But Byrhtnoth was not the son of the previous ealdorman, and indeed, he married the daughter of a very wealthy man and in turn was raised to an ealdordom in Essex at exactly the same time that Ealdorman Athelstan Half-King was being forced to retire from his position in East Anglia. (Byrhtnoth’s wife’s sister had briefly been married to King Edmund (939-946, before his murder). While there are some arguments that Byrhtnoth was from a well regarded family, his appointment was not because of an hereditary claim. It’s known that he was father to a daughter, but not to a son. As such his family did not retain the ealdordom on his death. Indeed, it seems as though Essex and the East Anglian earlordoms were united for a time under Leofsige.
The argument has been put forth that the position of ealdorman may have come with properties that were the king’s to gift to the individual to enable them to carry out their duties in a particular area. The Saxons had a number of types of land tenure, bookland, was land of which the ‘owners’ held the ‘book’ or ‘the title deed.’ (There are some wonderful charters where landed people had to ask for the king to reissue a charter as theirs was lost, often in a fire. There is a wonderful example where King Edgar has to reissue a charter for his grandmother, as he’d lost it while it was in his care). Other land tenure was ‘loan land,’ that is land that could be loaned out, often for a set number of ‘lives.’ Ealdormen might then have held bookland that was hereditary, and not in the area they were ealdorman of, and loan land that was in the king’s to gift to them within the area that they were the appointed ealdorman.
Many will be familiar with the family of Earl Godwin and his sons (thanks to the influence of the Danes, the term ealdorman was replaced by earl, which was the anglicised version of jarl). Much work has been done on the land that the Godwin family held when the great Domesday survey was undertaken during the reign of William the Conqueror. It will quickly become apparent that while they had areas where they held a great deal of land, these were not necessarily the areas over which first Godwin and then his sons Tostig, Harold, Gyrth, Leofwine and Sweyn held the position of earl. Most notably, Tostig was earl of Northumbria from 1055-1065, and yet the family had almost no landed possessions there.
And this is where we return to Ealdorman Leofwine and his family. While everyone knows about Earl Godwin and his sons, they didn’t hold their position for as long as Ealdorman Leofwine and his family. Earl Godwine is first named as an earl in charter S951 dated to 1018. By that period, Leofwine of the Twice had already held a position of importance since 994. The families of both men would converge as the events of 1066 drew nearer, and indeed, Godwine’s son, Harold, was married to Ealdorman Leofwine’s great-granddaughter when he was briefly king of England.
When Ealdorman Leofwine died, his son, Leofric, didn’t become ealdorman in his place. Leofric was a sheriff during the period between his father’s death and his own appointment. And indeed, Leofric’s son, Ælfgar was elevated to an earldom before his father’s death, and so was not initially the earl of Mercia. However, on this occasion, and because of a political situation that was rife with intrigue, Ælfgar did become the earl of Mercia after his father’s death, and after Ælfgar’s death, his young son also took the earldom of Mercia. The family survived the events of 1066, but they didn’t retain their hold on the earldom. The House of Leofwine were a family to not only rival that of Earl Godwine’s, as far as it’s known, but they were also the ONLY family to retain a position as an ealdorman/earl for over seventy years. And yet, very few know about them, and indeed, in many non-fiction books, they’re not even mentioned. And that was the perfect opportunity for me to write about the fabulous family, largely inspired by a non-fiction book, The Earls of Mercia: Lordship and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England by Stephen Baxter.
Speculation is rife that the victim, estate manager Alex Sterling (44), was found by Lady Beatrice (35), the Countess of Rossex, niece of King James. Lady Beatrice, who has finally come out of hiding following her son’s departure to boarding school, has been managing the project to refurbish and redesign the Events Suite at Francis Court, alongside Perry Juke.
Heading up the murder investigation is Detective Chief Inspector Richard Fitzwilliam. Rumour has it that he and Lady Beatrice have a fractious history…
Awful man! How dare Fitzwilliam suggest Lady Beatrice’s sister is the number one suspect for Alex’s murder. It could be any one of the staff who were on-site that morning. Well, she’ll show Mr High and Mighty Fitzwilliam! With her attention to detail, her clever dog Daisy, Perry’s imagination, and his partner’s contacts at Fenshire CID, they’ll find the murderer before him.
Spruced up for Murder is a really enjoyable cosy mystery with just the right amount of action and suspense, and I confess, it was one that kept me guessing until almost the end.
Lady Beatrice has been living in semi-seclusion since the death of her husband, some years earlier in mysterious circumstances, concentrating on raising her son. But, now that he’s away to boarding school, her mother and sister have plans afoot to get her out of her seclusion. Only while busily refurbishing one of the event rooms at her family home (open to the public and complete with a cafe – which is very important to this story, as is the local pub) a body is discovered.
The mystery that follows is well thought out, and the author does a really good job of making it quite complex, with a number of really well-fleshed-out characters along the way. There is a skeleton in the closet, which soon worms its way into this investigation, and there are more than enough shady characters for the reader to suspect. As well as a slightly too straight-laced cop who gets right under Lady Beatrice’s skin for reasons that will soon become clear.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, so much so that I’ve already nabbed books 2 and 3 in the series and will be reviewing them over the next few months. This gets one of my, so I’ve been told, quite rare 5/5 stars over on Goodreads. I really loved the little news snippets the author weaves into the story from the local society rag. If you love a cosy mystery, then you will really enjoy this one:)
Meet the author
Hello. I’m Helen Golden. I write British contemporary cozy whodunnits with a hint of humour. I live in small village in Lincolnshire in the UK with my husband, my step-daughter, her two cats, our two dogs, sometimes my step-son, and our tortoise.
I used to work in senior management, but after my recent job came to a natural end I had the opportunity to follow my dreams and start writing. It’s very early in my life as an author, but so far I’m loving it.
It’s crazy busy at our house, so when I’m writing I retreat to our caravan (an impulsive lockdown purchase) which is mostly parked on our drive. When I really need total peace and quiet, I take it to a lovely site about 15 minutes away and hide there until my family runs out of food or clean clothes
I’m delighted to welcome Elizabeth St John to the blog to tell me a bit more about the research she undertook when writing The Godmother’s Secret.
If you knew the fate of the Princes in the Tower, would you tell? Or forever keep the secret?
In a complete moment of serendipity, I discovered that a 15th century ancestress, Elysabeth St.John, was the godmother to Edward V, the eldest brother of the missing Princes in the Tower. When I was looking for inspiration for my new book, The Godmother’s Secret, I literally entered my own name into our digitised family tree to see who else was recorded. I had just completed my 17th Century historical fiction trilogy “The Lydiard Chronicles” and was looking for a whole new generation to fall in love with. As a little background, my books are inspired by my own family stories that I have discovered through our ancestral records, diaries, letters, and the locations they lived in. I’m fortunate the St.John family was prominent in English history, and so we left quite a trail—which can be both good and bad!
So, back to Elysabeth St.John, Lady Scrope. In medieval times, a godmother was considered a blood relative, and was responsible for the spiritual wellbeing and security of their godchild. A serious commitment. Where the history gets interesting is Elysabeth St.John was also the half-sister to Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. Elysabeth’s husband, Lord John Scrope, was a close ally and relative of Richard III. Margaret was married to Thomas Stanley, a powerful northern lord an ally of Edward IV and Richard III. So not only was Elysabeth (a Lancastrian) godmother to the York heir, and married to a fervent York supporter, she was also aunt to the Tudor claimant. For anyone familiar with the Wars of the Roses, and the ultimate battle at Bosworth Field, you’ll know how that worked out. Talk about family feuds!
And remember, the princes went missing. Their bodies were never discovered, and no one was ever found guilty of murdering them. Even the bones that are claimed to be theirs in Westminster Abbey are not authenticated. Their disappearance is the biggest mystery in English history. As a historical fiction novelist, I could weave in genuine family facts and create my version of their story. About halfway through the first draft I came across a piece of research (basically a dynastic marriage) that made my story plausible, which was really exciting. As far as if my version is true? It’s historical fiction. As writers, we create narratives from the known facts, sift through rumours and gossip until we find the source – or can dismiss them.
Of course, wading into the biggest controversy in English history is bound to raise some eyebrows. Did Richard III kill his nephews? Was Margaret Beaufort to blame? Why did the Duke of Buckingham suddenly rebel after the princes disappeared? Or was the whole murder accusation Tudor propaganda? I hope readers enjoy the way I’ve presented the story of the Princes in the Tower.
Wow, what a fabulous story, and connection. Thank you so much for sharing. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
What if you knew what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Would you tell? Or would you forever keep the secret?
November, 1470: Westminster Abbey. Lady Elysabeth Scrope faces a perilous royal duty when ordered into sanctuary with Elizabeth Woodville–witness the birth of Edward IV’s Yorkist son. Margaret Beaufort, Elysabeth’s sister, is desperately seeking a pardon for her exiled son Henry Tudor. Strategically, she coerces Lancastrian Elysabeth to be appointed godmother to Prince Edward, embedding her in the heart of the Plantagenets and uniting them in a destiny of impossible choices and heartbreaking conflict.
Bound by blood and torn by honour, when the king dies and Elysabeth delivers her young godson into the Tower of London to prepare for his coronation, she is engulfed in political turmoil. Within months, the prince and his brother have disappeared, Richard III is declared king, and Margaret conspires with Henry Tudor to invade England and claim the throne. Desperate to protect her godson, Elysabeth battles the intrigue, betrayal and power of the last medieval court, defying her husband and her sister under her godmother’s sacred oath to keep Prince Edward safe.
Were the princes murdered by their uncle, Richard III? Was the rebel Duke of Buckingham to blame? Or did Margaret Beaufort mastermind their disappearance to usher in the Tudor dynasty? Of anyone at the royal court, Elysabeth has the most to lose–and the most to gain–by keeping secret the fate of the Princes in the Tower.
Inspired by England’s most enduring historical mystery, Elizabeth St.John, best-selling author of The Lydiard Chronicles, blends her own family history with known facts and centuries of speculation to create an intriguing alternative story illuminating the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.
Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An acclaimed author, historian, and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Lydiard Park and Nottingham Castle to Richmond Palace and the Tower of London to inspire her novels. Although the family sold a few country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them— in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story.
Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth-century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St.John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth-century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort.
Nestled high in the Tuscan hills lies Villa Volpone, home to renowned crime writer Jonah Moore and his creative writing course. It’s also the last place retired DCI Dan Armstrong expected to spend his retirement! Dan’s no writer, but maybe this break will help him to think about the next chapter in his own life story?
A gruesome murder…
But only days into the course, Jonah Moore is found stabbed to death with his award-winning silver dagger! And Dan finds himself pulled out of retirement with a killer to catch.
Eleven possible suspects.
The other guests all seem shocked by Jonah’s death, but Dan knows that one of them must be lying. And as he and Italian Commissario Virgilio Pisano begin to investigate it quickly becomes clear that everyone at Villa Volpone has secrets to hide…
But can Dan discover who the murderer is before they strike again?
Murder in Tuscany is a sun-drenched tale of an erotic writer’s retreat marred by the murder of the alleged ‘bestselling’ author running the event.
Retired DCI Dan Armstrong, dreaming of writing that bestseller, has been set up by his ‘mates’ in the police force with the unusual retirement gift of a 2-week writing course in Tuscany. The only catch is that it’s for writing erotic fiction when Dan dreams of writing historical fiction about the Medici. What follows is a gentle and engaging tale of writers, would-be-writers, and course leaders, all mixed up with a touch of intrigue, and then, at about 30% through the book, the murder, which Dan ends up feeling honour-bound to help solve, and not just because his Italian counterpart in the police is missing his English speaking deputy. And it is quite a strange murder when the true facts slowly start to reveal themselves.
This is a tale that will amuse writers, but there’s also more than enough in here for fans of cosy mysteries. There’s a lot of eating and descriptions of Italian food as Dan begins to fall in love with the place so that by the end of the book, the soon-to-be-divorced ex-police inspector is making some big changes in his life.
Much of Murder in Tuscany is certainly setting up this character and place for future investigations, but the story still has a very much ‘closed-room’ feel of a country house murder mystery, with some surprisingly modern takes.
I thoroughly enjoyed Murder in Tuscany, and I look forward to reading more in the series.
Meet the author
T A Williams is the author of over twenty bestselling romances for HQ and Canelo and is now turning his hand to cosy crime, set in his beloved Italy, for Boldwood. The series will introduce us to retired DCI Armstrong and his labrador Oscar and the first book, entitled Murder in Tuscany, will be published in October 2022. Trevor lives in Devon with his Italian wife.