It might be book II in the series, but you can start the series from here as the first book is only available in paperback (there is a story-so-far at the beginning or if you’ve read the Lady Elfrida books you’ll be at the same place in time).
Somehow, and I have no idea how, I’m about to release Book X (yes X) in the Earls of Mercia series, and that doesn’t include the three direct side-stories, or Lady Estrid, which could also be said to be a side-story, books. I decided it was time to take a hard look at myself, and why my very first historical fiction project is proving to be the longest so far.
The Earls of Mercia inspiration
The last century of Early England is a place well-trodden by non-fiction and historical fiction authors, so why did I choose to tell it through the eyes of a handful of people who almost slip through the historical record unnoticed because of the ‘giants’ of the period?
History is filled with those who get swept aside because other events overtake their achievements, and so it is with the Earls of Mercia. They were a family who ‘ruled’ continually from 993 to 1066 – a feat not even achieved by the Wessex royal family, begun by King Alfred, during the same time period. In the annals of the time they’ve been pushed to the side by the likes of Eadric Streona, King Cnut and the family of Godwine, by the events of both 1016 and 1066, and also by the fact that when the family married into royalty, it was destined to be short-lived.
I ‘discovered’ my first character – Ealdorman Leofwine – while meandering down the aisle in a university library. By rights, I shouldn’t have been there, not in that section, and equally, I shouldn’t have gone on to write my dissertation about him, but I did, but only after I’d made him into a fictional character. So just what was it that made him so appealing as a character?
As I read about the family, in Stephen Baxter’s, The Earls of Mercia, Lordship and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England, I was flabbergasted that this character existed and yet hadn’t been put to good ‘use.’ Ealdorman Leofwine, his sons, grandsons, and great-grandchildren were witnesses to all of the events I’ve mentioned above. Not only did they witness them, but they were involved as well. I remember picking up and reading Frank Barlow’s book on the Godwines and being disgusted that Ealdorman Leofwine, Earl Leofric, Earl Ælfgar and his sons and daughter get little more than the odd mention. The desire to tell a story only about the Godwines excluded the perfect foil for them. I couldn’t allow that to stand.
But, how to tell the story of a century, of four generations? Initially, my idea was to tell a retrospective story, through the eyes of the great-grandson who did survive the tumultuous events of 1066, using the idea of a scribe writing down the family’s history while he was imprisoned at the request of William the Bastard for well over a decade. I still have the words I first wrote. But, that was not the route I eventually went down. No, I wanted to make Ealdorman Leofwine more than just someone’s ancestor, I wanted to make him a person in his own right, even if I do harbour the suspicion that he might have been retrospectively given greater influence than he might have claimed.
And that is the path that I’ve continued to tread. My overarching ambition is to tell the story of the years from 993-1066, but each player must have their own story, they must all be allowed to live, before they die; they must all be people in their own right. And now, as I begin to retell the story that so many are familiar with, that of the reign of Edward the Confessor and the events that led to 1066, I’m pleased by my decision to ensure the Earls of Mercia have their own story to tell – and also by the fact that because of that, other historical characters are also having their story retold a little – the oft-forgotten or misunderstood characters, and that means kings as well as earls and great ladies.
I’m pleased that people who read about the Earls of Mercia are able to consider that the Godwines were not quite the ‘top-dogs’ they might appear to be from such a distance. Not that it doesn’t involve playing around with what some might call the ‘facts’ but that is the joy of historical fiction – in getting to know my characters, in playing around with the information that we do have, I can find other possibilities, and they are not quite as far-fetched as it might be believed.
I began writing the first book in the Earls of Mercia series in 2011. Since then I’ve been slowly working my way backwards through Early England, as well as slightly forwards in Denmark. It has meant that the first two books in the series have undergone some subtle changes as they’ve been rereleased in paperback and the copyright returned to me by my publisher. So, for any who haven’t started the books yet, it isn’t necessary to start with book 1, or even book 2, but if you’re going to, then the paperback version – The Earl of Mercia’s Father – is the correct edition to read. But I genuinely hope, that it should be possible to pick up any of the books and still be able to understand what’s happening and enjoy the individual title.
It’s taken a while, and the completely edited and slightly re-worked second book in The Earls of Mercia series has been available in paperback for about a year, but finally, I’ve had the ebook rights restored to me, and I’m able to share it with you all.
Now, I’ve changed the name again (I know, sorry) but it needed something to mark it as different from its two previous editions (Ealdormen and Viking Enemy) as it’s not quite the same book it used to be. It’s better – infinitely better – and more importantly for me, and hopefully for my readers, it now ‘fits’ much better with the stories I’ve written about Lady Elfrida. I’d made brief mention of her when I initially wrote the book, but I needed to bring her into it more, and indeed, I’ve done just that.
So, a new cover, a new title, and some additional bits and a few bits taken out, but still, Ealdorman Leofwine and his trusty allies, taking on King Æthelred, King Swein of Denmark and the rest of the ealdormen in England.
I hope you enjoy, and if you happen to fancy popping a review on the new edition, that would help me hugely. Thank you. Happy reading.
Here’s the blurb;
“Every story has a beginning.
Leofwine has convinced his king to finally face his enemies in battle and won a great victory, but in the meantime, events have spiralled out of control elsewhere.
With the death of Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, England has lost an ally, and Leofwine has gained an enemy. And not just any enemy. Swein is the king of Denmark, and he has powerful resources at his fingertips.
In a unique position with the king, Leofwine is either honoured or disrespected. Yet, it is to Leofwine that the king turns to when an audacious attack is launched against the king’s mother and his children. But Leofwine’s successes only bring him more under the scrutiny of King Swein of Denmark, and his own enemies at the king’s court.
With an increase in Raider attacks, it is to Leofwine that the king turns once more. However, the king has grown impatient with his ealdorman, blaming him for Swein’s close scrutiny of the whole of England. Can Leofwine win another victory for his king, or does he risk losing all that he’s gained?
The Danish King’s Enemy is the second book in the epic Earls of Mercia series charting the last century of Early England, as seen through the eyes of Ealdorman Leofwine, the father of Earl Leofric, later the Earl of Mercia, and ally of Lady Elfrida, England’s first queen.”
The reworked and edited book 1 – The Earl of Mercia’s Father is available in paperback. Hopefully, I’ll get the ebook rights restored to me in 2021.
One of the big plusses for choosing the character of Lady Estrid for my most recent novel, was her large and illustrious family and their far-reaching influence over Denmark, Sweden, Norway and England. It meant there was already an excellent story to tell.
While I quickly managed to slot all the different relatives into order (well, I have been writing about them for a while), I’m aware it’s not the easiest of tasks, and so, I have put together some genealogical tables of the main families to make it that bit easier.
Due to a lack of information, I have made little mention of the rest of Estrid’s half-sisters, of which she had three or four. I feel it perhaps also helped the story a little – it was complicated enough as it was without giving them the capacity to meddle in affairs in Denmark. I have also made the assumption, that because I don’t know who they married, that they didn’t make international alliances, as Estrid did.
To break it down into more palatable chunks, Lady Estrid’s mother was married twice, once to King Swein of Denmark (second) and also to King Erik of the Svear (first). King Swein was also married twice (in my story at least – as it is debated), to Lady Gytha (who I take to be his first wife) and then to Lady Sigrid (who I take to be his second wife.) Swein was king of Denmark, Erik, king of the Svear (which would become Sweden), and so Sigrid was twice a queen, and she would have expected her children to rule as well, and her grandchildren after her. Sigrid was truly the matriarch of a vast dynasty.
She would have grandchildren who lived their lives in the kingdom of the Rus, in Norway, in England, and Denmark.
And Sigrid wasn’t the only ‘double queen.’ Lady Emma, twice queen of England, was first married to King Æthelred and then to King Cnut, Estrid’s brother.
Not that it’s possible to speak of Lady Emma’s children from her two marriages, without considering the children of her first husband’s first marriage. King Æthelred had many children with his first wife, perhaps as many as nine (again, a matter for debate), the below only shows the children mentioned in Lady Estrid. Readers of The Earls of Mercia series, and the Lady Elfrida books, will have encountered the many daughters, as well as sons.
One of the other family’s that had the most impact on Lady Estrid, was that of her third husband, and father of her two sons, Jarl Ulfr.
Ulfr had a brother and a sister, and while little is known about the brother, it is his sister who birthed an extremely illustrious family, through her marriage to Earl Godwine of Wessex. (The family tree doesn’t include all of her children.)
Four such powerful families, all intermarried, make for a heady mix.
For the modern reader, not only are the family dynamics complicated to understand, but so too is the geography. Sweden was not Sweden as it is today, and the reason I’ve insisted on calling it the Land of the Svear. But equally, Denmark was larger than it’s current geographical extent, covering Skåne, (in modern day Sweden) as well. The map below attempts to make it a little clearer. Norway is perhaps the most recognisable to a modern reader, but even there, there are important difference. King Swein claimed rulership over parts of Norway during his rule, and so too did King Cnut. But, Denmark isn’t the only aggressor, there were rulers in all three kingdoms who wished to increase the land they could control, King Cnut of Denmark, England, Skåne and part of Norway, is merely the most well-known (to an English-speaking historian.)
Lady Estrid is available now in ebook and paperback, and there will be more fascinating facts when the book goes on ‘tour’ for the next ten weeks starting from 2nd November.
(Amazon affiliate links are used in this blog post.)
Last July, I decided to hand my notice into work to write ‘full-time’. In a fit of panic at my decision, I wrote a book in about 5 weeks. That book was The King’s Mother.
This year, to celebrate my one year anniversary, I decided to celebrate by doing the same thing! (Yes, I know, why give myself more work to do? (I don’t know)).
Anyway, I’ve loved the challenge and it is a bit of a rush to fling yourself headlong into something. So, I’m proud to present Kingmaker – the story of Queen Eadgifu of the Anglo-Saxons. She is not a new ‘character’ for me, but rather one I’m returning to, after her appearance in The First Queen of England.
Queen Eadgifu has been a joy to write, and I’ve loved the challenge of writing one novel that covers the entire lifetime of a person, as normally, I tend to stick with just a decade at most.
I really hope that you, my readers, will find Lady Eadgifu as fascinating as I have, and also, that the middle of the tenth century will feel a little more accessible.
Here’s the blurb;
“This is the tenth century in Anglo-Saxon England between the reigns of Alfred the Great, and Æthelred the Unready.
As England’s first Viking Age grinds to a halt in a war of attrition that will see Jorvik finally added to the kingdom of the English, one woman will witness it all.
Seventeen-year-old Eadgifu knows little about her new husband; he’s old, he only wants to marry her because she’s so wealthy, he already has ten children, and he’s Edward, king of Wessex. He also hopes to claim Mercia as his own.
That he’s the son of King Alfred, the man credited with saving Wessex from the Viking Raiders adds no mystique to him at all.
Many say he’s handsome, but Eadgifu knows they speak of the man twenty years ago. Her mother won’t even allow her to be alone with him before their wedding.
But an old man will not live forever. The mother of his youngest sons can be more powerful than the wife of the king of Wessex, especially in the newly made kingdom of England where king’s lives are short and bloody, and war with the Viking Raiders is never far away.
And, and, there is another surprise as well, for not only is The Queen Dowager ready for preorder, so too is the last book in the trilogy, and the last book on Lady Elfrida. Once a Queen will be released on 25th July 2019.
I will be sharing more information as the release date grows closer!
To be in with a chance to win one of three ebook copies of The Queen Dowager, just leave a comment below and I’ll randomly select 3 winners on 15th June 2019, and then make contact with the lucky three!
So, it’s been a while, but both The Queen Dowager, and Always A Queen, are near to being released. I decided to write both books together, one after another, and to ensure that this second trilogy about Lady Elfrida truly did justice to the intriguing woman I believe she was. (It’s also involved a major overhaul of the first two books in The Earls of Mercia series, which will also be available in paperback soon).
The cover for The King’s Mother has been ready for a while, but the cover for Always A Queen is still under construction.
But, aside from that, I thought I’d share a bit of the ‘blurb” for The Queen Dowager.
“No woman had ever held so much power and lost it on the whim of her son, the king. Six years of political ostracism has brought Lady Elfrida low. Desperate to be welcomed back to Court, she risks all to make an ally of England’s Viking enemy. Failure risks exile. Forever.”
‘Mann has a secret he can tell no one, and it’s not that the beguiling whores of Slutet believe he’s the best shag they’ve ever had.
No, being able to summon anything he wants, from thin air, is not something he wants to share. Neither is the fact that he has no recollection of his past, or that, as time goes on, his life never ends. (He doesn’t mind if the whores want to tell everyone about his prowess in the bedchamber, mind, and neither does he mind sharing it with all who come asking).
Not that his summoning power is his only secret, but the end of the millennia and a meeting of apparent strangers might be about to answer the questions he never even realised he had.
Whether a Nine or a None, Mann has a duty only he can fulfil, and this cycle, he’s failed, spectacularly. But there’s always tomorrow, or, rather, yesterday, to do it all over again, if he can only find what he lost.’
As a Nine or a None, Mann must uncover his destiny by revisiting the past.