I ended my book tour for A King’s Ransom at the Tucson Festival of Books, which was a delightful experience and one I recommend highly to all my fellow book-lovers.  While in Tucson, I met and became friends with a gifted writer who shares my passion for the past, Judith Starkston.  When I learned that she was completing Hand of Fire, a novel about the Trojan princess Briseis, famously captured by Achilles during the siege of Troy, I was fascinated; I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Troy.   Judith kindly sent me an ARC to read, but neither of us expected that I’d suddenly find myself needing to have my cataract surgery performed sooner rather than later.  I was delighted with the results of the surgery; I would not go so far as to say I was viewing the world in black and white and it suddenly flamed into vivid technicolor, but there is no doubt that everything is brighter and sharper now.  But the surgery wreaked havoc on my schedule and I have had to postpone reading Hand of Fire.   Fortunately, I can still introduce Judith and her story of Briseis and Achilles to my readers.

What inspired you to write this book?

It may sound strange, but I began to write in order to answer a question that had bothered me for a long time. For years I’d taught the Iliad, Homer’s epic poem of the Trojan War, and kept wondering with my students how Briseis, the captive woman who sparked the bitter conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon, could possibly have loved Achilles.

The Greek had killed her husband and brothers, destroyed her city and turned her from princess to slave—hardly a heartwarming courtship. She is central to the plot and yet she gets only a handful of lines. In those few words, the one clear notion expressed is her sorrow when she is forced to leave Achilles.

I should say I always liked Achilles, the existential hero who calls the whole war into question—which shows he’s no brainwasher—so the answer wasn’t some ancient version of Stockholm Syndrome.

What drew you to historical fiction?

I loved ancient history and literature as a student while I earned my Classics degrees. That is the base that trained me.

Many years ago, I walked through the British Museum with my toddler son on my shoulders. I was retelling the myths painted on the Greek vases in front of us. We were happily lost in our imaginative world. I turned to go to another display case and discovered a crowd behind me listening in. So I think I’ve been “writing” historical tales for a long time.

Tell us about Hand of Fire.

Hand of Fire is partly a romance—Briseis and Achilles fall in love but in an unconventional manner that includes a mystical element. Achilles is half-immortal and I made full use of that half of his conflicted personality.

In addition to the romantic element, Hand of Fire explores why some people, women especially, can survive great tragedy and violence against them, even managing to take delight in what life still has to offer.

It is a coming of age tale featuring a smart, strong-willed teenage woman in an ancient culture that, counter to our modern stereotypes of the past, expects Briseis to be powerful, literate and a leader. Briseis succeeds in rising to those expectations despite the circumstances arrayed against her—and she’s strong enough to take on the mightiest of the Greek heroes.

Can you tell us a little about your main character?

Briseis is essential to the plot of the Iliad, and yet we only know that she was a princess captured by Achilles. To develop who she was I needed both an understanding of what she could plausibly have done in the course her life and her inner psychology.

Intriguingly, the world Briseis lived in—the details of its everyday life, religious beliefs, language, etc. have only come to light recently—dug from the earth by contemporary archaeologists. The cuneiform libraries of ancient Anatolia (modern Turkey) and the Hittite Empire, where Troy and Briseis’s city of Lyrnessos were situated, have begun to be translated and provided the material I needed. I discovered in the evidence a powerful role for Briseis, that of a healing priestess, called in Hittite a hasawa.

That role made perfect sense for a woman who fell in love with Achilles, the warrior who is also a healer and a bard. The stories—one taken from clay-recorded history and one from mythology—meshed and a strong-willed redhead began to form in my imagination.

Would you classify your writing more as plot driven or character driven?

Hand of Fire is very much character driven. I wanted to figure out who Briseis could have been—after a while she became very real to me and when I found myself struggling with a scene it usually meant I was trying to make Briseis do something that simply wasn’t in her nature. Characters are a very bossy lot once you let them get into your imagination.

Achilles stumped me for the longest time. He’s larger than life, half-immortal and deeply conflicted. In an early version I had him as one of the point-of-view characters, but it didn’t work. I couldn’t hear his voice. I finally wrote his part of the story as epic poetry in iambic pentameter, which is the closest I could get in English to the hexameter verse of Homer. Once I used a medium that was mythological and writ large, he gradually revealed himself. Later I used that understanding to remove the poetry and slide in his character in the more standard format of scenes.

Which is more important in “historical fiction”: the historical or the fiction? How important is it to get the history right?

I think you have to tell a compelling story first, but also get the history right. I feel a special obligation to do that with Hand of Fire because Bronze Age Turkey is still a new field.

Until recently, various prejudices and giant blanks in our knowledge led scholars to assume the Trojans were culturally Greeks, but now we know Troy and all the area now called Turkey, which in the Bronze Age was made up of various kingdoms but dominated by the Hittites, had its own language, cultural traditions and style, quite distinct from the Greeks.  Older novels set in the Trojan War focus only on myth or follow the belief the Trojans were Greek.

In addition to my research via books, academic journals and archaeological site reports, I have travelled in Turkey, spent hours studying museum collections, talked with archaeologists, and experienced firsthand the geography of the settings of my book.

However, none of that desire to get the history right is worth anything if you don’t tell a story that your reader can’t put down.

What do you hope readers take away from your book?

Despite being a book about war with a lot of death and violence, the fundamental theme of Hand of Fire is one of hope. I think people will come away with a renewed sense of the resiliency of humanity and of women in particular.

Also, my aim was to build the Bronze Age world of these Greeks and Trojans vividly enough that readers feel like they’ve lived there. For most people, that’s a new and exotic world and yet it will feel surprisingly familiar in some ways. I guess you could call Hand of Fire historical escapism with a positive message.

Can you tell us about your future projects?

I’m in the middle of a historical mystery featuring the Hittite Queen Puduhepa as “sleuth.” She would be as famous as Cleopatra if she hadn’t been buried by the sands of time. Her seal is on the first extant peace treaty in history next to her foe, Pharaoh Ramses II. Now that she’s been dug out, I’ve taken her remarkable personality, which seems perfectly suited for solving mysteries, and I am writing a series. She ruled from her teens until she was at least eighty, so I think this series may outlast me.

Hand of Fire will be followed by at least one sequel and possibly a prequel of sorts focusing on Iphigenia and Achilles. This spring I made a research trip to Cyprus because the sequel to Hand of Fire will end up there—but it’d be a spoiler if I revealed how or why. (Also I’d have to know the answer to both of those and I’m not entirely sure yet…) Suffice to say Cyprus is a beautiful and dramatic island with a density of Bronze Age archaeological sites that is almost alarming. My husband and I had a delightful trip and maybe that’s reason enough.

Thank you, Judith, for a very illuminating interview.  My readers love it when writers lift the veil, allowing them to glimpse how a novel takes form and offering a view into the author’s inner world.  Hand of Fire is sure to appeal to anyone interested in history in general and the ancient world in particular.  I am looking forward to reading it.   Here is the link to Judith’s website.

This may be my last blog for a while, as I am soon to leave on a research trip to Israel.  I felt very cheated that I was unable to follow in the Lionheart’s footsteps when I was writing my account of his crusade.  So I am very excited that I will be able to track the shadows of Balian d’Ibelin, his Greek queen, and the tragic young king, Baldwin IV, through the streets of Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Acre.

September 25, 2014


  1. Stephanie Ling Says:

    Fun and fascinating interview, Sharon. It sounds like Judith has some more exciting projects ahead of her too!

  2. Jel Cel Says:

    Another author writing books I now want to read. At least we are at the first, no catch up list to read.

  3. Kasia Ogrodnik Says:

    Fascinating interview! You are right, Sharon, we- the readers- love when the writers let us in to their writing studios and show how their novels are formed.

    Safe travels and fruitful research trip in the footsteps of Balian and Baldwin.

  4. Isis Says:

    Pudukhepa?! I’m sold. She is one of my favourite historical figures, and virtually unknown! I’m so glad Judith is writing about her!

  5. skpenman Says:

    September 26, 1181 is the birthdate of my favorite saint, Francis of Assisi. Some of us might want to take a moment to remember this good man.
    And here is a good deed that Francis would heartily have approved of. With so much evil and misery in the world, we need to be reminded that there are people like this out there, too.

  6. Priscilla Says:

    Kudos to Judith for taking us inside a story I have loved since childhood! Her book is a wonderful read, and I look forward to more of her great storytelling.

  7. joan Says:

    Great interview! Every single aspect of Hand of Fire appeals to me! Can hardly wait to read it. I’m also intrigued with Iphigenia’s story so fingers crossed for this in future. I love your story, Judith, of toddler on shoulders in museum. How apropos, as this intimate way of sharing stories was the way it was done back then.

    Thank you Sharon, & wishes for a safe & adventurous journey. A dream come true, no doubt. And you get to meet Kobi…..wish him our best.

  8. Cristina Says:

    Sounds like a new and fascinating book for us to read! Thanks for pointing it out Sharon and for such an insightful interview with the author!

    Enjoy your trip to Israel!!! :)

  9. skpenman Says:

    I am glad you all enjoyed the interview. Judith is a very interesting person and that really showed in her discussion about her books.

    Some interesting happenings on September 28th in history.
    In 48 BC, the Egyptians murdered the Roman general Pompey, thinking it would please his rival, Julius Caesar; they were so wrong. And in 58 BC, the future notorious Roman empress Livia was born; for those of us who watched I, Claudius, whenever we hear the name Livia, we think, “Don’t eat the figs.” For those who haven’t watched it, rush out to buy it on DVD!
    In 1066, William the Bastard landed at Pevensey to launch his invasion of England, which would culminate a few weeks later in his victory at the battle of Hastings.
    In 1197, a day that really should be a holiday of some sort, the Holy Roman emperor and sociopath, Heinrich von Hohenstaufen, died unexpectedly at Messina, probably of malaria, though there were suspicions that he may have been poisoned. His death spared the Sicilians much suffering and most likely saved his empress’s life for he suspected Constance of taking part in a rebellion against him. I am sure the news also gave Richard I a great deal of satisfaction and scared the daylights out of the French king, for now two of the men who’d defied Church law to capture a crusader king were now dead; given what we know of Philippe’s temperament, he must have feared that he’d be next to suffer God’s punishment.
    Lastly, just for fun, I am throwing in this bit of information. On September 28, 1785, Napoleon Bonaparte graduated from the military academy in Paris at the age of 16. He was 42nd in a class of 51, thus proving that grades are not always helpful in predicting a student’s future.

  10. skpenman Says:

    A mixed bag for September 29th in history. In 1227, the pope excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, son of Constance de Hauteville and the unloved and unlovable Heinrich von Hohenstaufen. It was a bit embarrassing since he was on crusade at the time, but Frederick liked nothing better than embarrassing the Church; he was excommunicated at least four times if my memory serves and one pope even called him “the Anti-Christ,” which probably amused him greatly.
    And in 1328, Joan, Countess of Kent and future Princess of Wales was born. She would marry Edward, the Prince of Wales, and was the mother of a king, Richard II. She and her husband also have two of the coolest medieval nicknames: the Fair Maid of Kent and the Black Prince, although neither one was contemporary.
    In 1547, the brilliant Spanish author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes was born. Did anyone see the film with Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren, The Man of La Mancha? It did not get good reviews at the time, but I really liked it. And in 1564, the love of Elizabeth Tudor’s life, Robert Dudley, became Earl of Leicester. I think another Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort, had a far more forceful personality than Elizabeth’s Robin, but Dudley did manage to banish Simon’s shadow from Kenilworth Castle, which now seems very much a part of the Tudor past.

  11. Judith Starkston Says:

    Thanks for all the interest in Hand of Fire and my work-in-progress on Puduhepa. It is very encouraging to meet such enthusiastic historical readers. Hope you enjoy Briseis’s story.

  12. skpenman Says:

    On September 29th, 1399, Richard II was compelled to abdicate in favor of his cousin, the future Henry IV. Within five months, he was dead, his death deliberately shrouded in mystery; many historians believe he was starved to death. Whatever Richard’s failings as a king—and he certainly had them—he was also unlucky enough to be born in a time in which deposed kings had a short shelf life. Edward II fared no better than Richard, nor did the young princes in the Tower, whose fate also remains shrouded in mystery and controversy.
    Interestingly, though, this was not the case earlier in English history. Henry I, who was never accused of sentimentality, nonetheless did not kill his elder brother and rival for the throne, Robert, the Duke of Normandy. Henry, who was probably one of the most ruthless men ever to ascend the English throne, kept Robert a prisoner from his capture in 1106 until his death in 1134, twenty-eight years later. And when Stephen was captured after the battle of Lincoln in 1141, his cousin, the Empress Maude, held him captive but kept him alive and safe, even though his death would have removed her one rival for the throne. It may be that in the twelfth century, they took the claim that kings were the anointed of God more seriously than the men of the fifteenth century; certainly the belief that John had ordered the murder of his nephew Arthur did considerable damage to his reputation and prestige. As for the second Richard, while historians have not been particularly complimentary in judging his reign, he did take center stage in one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays, Richard II. And his deposition and death contributed to the belief that the name Richard was an unlucky one for an English king, with the Lionheart killed at the siege of Chalus, Richard II murdered, and Richard III slain at Bosworth field.

  13. joan Says:

    What an interesting thought, that 12th C kings may have taken more seriously the notion of God’s anointed.

  14. Theresa Says:

    Is it true that Henry I ordered that his brother’s eyes be put out with a red hot poker? Or is this another urban legend about English royalty. Either way I agree Henry was one of the most ruthless medieval English monarchs. Although William I and Edward Longshanks are also in this category.

  15. Kasia Ogrodnik Says:

    I know nothing about Henry’s brother treated this way, but I read about his grandchildren (by one of his illegitimate daughters) held hostages and punished with merciless cruelty on his orders for their parents’ rebellion against him, or perhaps I have just mixed the facts. I’m sure Sharon will dispel our doubts.

    Henry was ruthless indeed. I can still remember how deeply shocked I was by his treatement of Conan Pilatus of Rouen. Henry wasn’t the king of England at the time, but still, no excuses found for him. At least Robert thought so. He rebuked his younger brother for that act of cruelty and forced him to leave Rouen.

  16. skpenman Says:

    I don’t have time now, but I’ll get back later to talk about Henry I.

    Meanwhile, here is today’s Facebook post.

    On October 1st, 1189, Gerard de Ridefort, the Grand Master of the Templars, was slain at the siege of Acre. A pity he had not died at the battle of Cresson Springs in May, 1187, for if he had, there might never have been a battle at Hattin. Gerard goaded his fellow Templars into an attack at Cresson Springs, and virtually all of the Templars died that day. Gerard, however, managed to escape. He then had the same unholy luck weeks later at Hattin. The easily-influenced king, Guy de Lusignan, had heeded the advice of his council for once and agreed that they would remain at Sephorie instead of taking Saladin’s bait and rushing to the rescue of Tiberias, which was being besieged by the sultan in order to draw the kingdom’s army into a battle of his choosing. But Gerard then sneaked back after the other lords had gone and convinced Guy that it would reflect badly upon his manhood if he did not take up Saladin’s challenge. The result was an utter disaster for the kingdom, a victory by Saladin that soon led to the fall of Jerusalem. Saladin had executed all of the Templar and Hospitaller knights who’d survived the battle at Hattin, with one exception. Gerard was spared and later regained his freedom. Reynald de Chatillon is often blamed for setting events in motion that led to Hattin, but Gerard de Ridefort deserves even more of the blame in my opinion.
    Also on October 1st, this time in 1207, the future Henry III was born. He was one of the longest ruling kings, but not a particularly successful one. He did leave behind a legacy that many kings might have envied, though—Westminster Abbey.

  17. skpenman Says:

    October 2nd 1187 was the day that Jerusalem surrendered to Saladin, having been persuaded by Balian d’Ibelin not to take the city by storm, which would have resulted in the same sort of bloodbath that occurred when Jerusalem fell to the crusaders in 1099. Balian resorted to promises—the offer to ransom the citizens, using the money that Henry II had been providing over the years for the kingdom’s support—and threats—vowing that if they were not allowed to surrender peacefully, they would kill all of the 5,000 Saracen prisoners they held, destroy all of the sites in the city that were revered by Muslims, and fight to the death since they had nothing to lose. Balian’s desperate actions saved thousands of lives and Saladin’s reputation as a man of honor and mercy, for it is doubtful that history would have judged the sultan so favorably if he’d given the order that resulted in a massacre of the city’s inhabitants. The peaceful surrender of the city reflects well on all concerned. Thousands were ransomed with Henry’s money. Saladin’s brother, al-Malik al-Adil, asked for 1,000 of those who could not be ransomed (the money having run out) and then freed them immediately. Saladin agreed to “give” Balian another 500 of these unfortunates and spared the elderly from the slave markets, sending his men to guard the hospitals and protect the patients, agreeing to free the husbands of any women who were freed. It has been estimated that as many as 11,000 were enslaved, but had the city been taken by storm, as Saladin had vowed, it would have been catastrophic for all those trapped within its walls. When I said the surrender reflected well on “all concerned,” there was one notorious exception—the Patriarch of Jerusalem paid his own ransom and those of his household and then left the city with their saddlebags stuffed with as much silver plate and riches as they could carry away, money that could have saved many of the men, women, and children who would end up in the slave markets in Cairo.
    And on October 2nd, 1452, Cecily Neville, gave birth to her 12th child and 8th son, whom she named Richard, after his father, the Duke of York.

  18. skpenman Says:

    On October 3rd, 1226, my favorite saint died at the age of 45, Francis of Assisi. Nearly 800 years later, the first Franciscan pope also became the first pope to take the name Francis. I think the saint would approve very much of his namesake, for they share much in common—kind hearts, generosity, and humility. We know St Francis loved animals and I strongly suspect that Pope Francis does, too. He has too much compassion not to extend it to all creatures, great and small.

    Also on October 3rd, in 1283, Davydd ap Gruffydd, brother to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and Prince of Wales since Llywelyn’s death, was executed in a truly barbaric manner—being dragged through the streets of Shrewsbury to the gallows where he was drawn and quartered. I will spare you the gory details. Unlike Francis, Davydd was no saint; I am not even sure we can say he was a good man, although he was undeniably a very charming one, for otherwise he could never have been forgiven so often for his betrayals. (Needless to say, he was great fun to write about.) But whatever his sins, he did not deserve to die like this. Sadly, the only monument to that death is a small plaque in Shrewsbury on the wall of Barclay’s Bank, the site of his execution.

  19. skpenman Says:

    On October 4th, 1160, the unfortunate French princes, Alys, daughter of Louis VII, long-suffering betrothed of the Lionheart, was born. Her life got off to a rough start, as her mother died in childbirth. As most of you know, she became a political pawn, as Henry refused to allow the marriage to take place, and indeed, rumors began circulating that Henry had taken her as his mistress. I don’t think he did, for Henry had his flaws, but the one thing he was not was an idiot, and it would have been the height of idiocy to bed the French king’s daughter and his own son’s fiancée. Poor Alys was then caught up in the power play between Richard and Philippe. And when she was finally freed, Philippe, who was about as warm and fuzzy as a cactus, married her off to a teenage boy half her age. But she got the last laugh, for I am sure he expected her marriage to be childless given her age, which would then have given him a claim to her new husband’s lands. She did have a daughter, though, and Eleanor of Castille, queen of Edward I, traces her descent to Alys.
    Also on October 4th, 1539, Henry VIII wed Anne of Clives. I wouldn’t say that was the wedding night from Hell, since Philippe’s wedding night with the Danish princess, Ingeborg, was even worse, though it probably came close.
    I may be gone for a while now, as we are celebrating our Eleanor of Aquitaine tour this weekend and on Tuesday, we go to Israel!!! But I will eventually surface again, hopefully with some good travel stories.

  20. Kasia Ogrodnik Says:

    Safe travels, dear Sharon! I am looking forward to the travel stories and photos.

  21. Lawrence Low Says:

    Hey there Sharon,

    I noticed that every comment/reply to this post has been from a lady, so maybe it’s time for a male voice :) I do wonder, what percentage of your readers are female? I have read 7 of your novels (I like veracity in historical novels).

    Interesting premise… I read Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles a while back, which is based on a completely different premise, and found it both intriguing & poignant. I guess the ancient Greeks weren’t at all homophobic, what with the Sacred Band of Thebes and Alexander himself being rather flexible in this respect, haha.

    Oh by the way, wanted to ask you : was the episode where Leicester threw open the gates of Rouen but then Philippe declined to enter based on fact, or an artistic licence? Some sources say it was an obvious trap, so Philippe was wise to decline; but what do you say? There is an analogous episode in Chinese military lore, so I’m kind of curious.

    Have fun in the Holy Land!

  22. Malcolm Craig Says:

    Mr. Low,

    I have been on both of Sharon’s tours, and in each case participation was largely female. I was one of 3 men out of 36 participants on the Eleanor tour in 2011 and one of 5 (including the same 3 again) out of 32 on the Richard III tour in 2013. Besides Dr. John Phillips and me, the other 3 men on the tours have been husbands of participants. It was my good fortune that John was available as a roommate on the second tour, since I received my wife’s permission to join it too late to get a single room. You can draw your own conclusions about the composition of Sharon’s readership; there is certainly male participation on her Facebook page. My academic training is in medieval history, and what attracted me to Sharon’s novels when I read When Christ and His Saints Slept in 2003 was the veracity (whenever possible) in her writing.

  23. Theresa Says:

    October 13
    The Roman Emperor Claudius died on this day in 54 AD after eating poisonous mushrooms. His wife Agrippina was believed to have arranged the murder so that her teenaged son Nero (by a previous marriage) would become emperor. Nero would have his mother murdered five years later, so one wonders if Agrippina was really doing the right thing in poisoning Claudius.

    On this day, 1307 another ruler made an ultimately disastrous decision when Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of all members of the Knights Templar in his country. Philip died seven years later. All three of his sons died without surviving male issue, therefore leading many to believe that his family were cursed.
    What is interesting, is that the legend of 13 being an unlucky number was supposed to have originated from either Claudius’s death (He was emperor for 13 years) or from the arrest date of the Knights Templar.

  24. Lawrence Low Says:

    Hey Malcolm (in the middle? of the roses? hehe),

    Very interesting observation there! I guess 1 in 36 would be about the approximate odds/ratio on the roulette wheel, in the lingerie dept or the yoga class, lol. I am quite egalitarian in my reading, I don’t much care about the gender of the author (or her following) so long as I like the work. I find Philippa Gregory a tad too “feminist”, Hilary Mantel a lot too clever for the flow of the story (too talky, too little action) while many of the male authors, while they do a rousing battle scene, sometimes the intrigue & characterization gets samey-samey. I couldn’t get thru GRR Martin’s extremely long-winded opus (when is Winter ever coming!). My Dad taught History & English, so that explains a bit… I also play heavy consim wargames on occasion.

    Did the tours include staying in castles & eating medieval style food?

    2 of my favourite historical authors are Mary Renault & Steven Pressfield. Okay, maybe not the most stringent veracity, but the writing moved me. When you’re an expert, veracity matters. Since I’m not an expert in European Medieval History, I happily assume that most of it is true :)

  25. Kasia Ogrodnik Says:

    Dear Malcolm, apparently you have forgotten about our dear Koby, who has abandoned us for reasons obscure and about our naughty Ken John, who always made me laugh.

    I didn’t realize it was THAT bad during the tours. Are you actually saying that only you and John (I had the rare honour to “meet” him thanks to my FB adventure) out of staggering 5 had any idea of the objects of your pilgrimages? :-) If yes, you were really lucky to share your hotel room with him.

    Lawrence, let me seize the opportunity and invite you to the realm of Henry the Young King (Sharon’s Hal from Devil’s Brood). You will find Malcolm there. Interviewed by me :-)

  26. Kasia Ogrodnik Says:

    Just click on “Kasia Ogrodnik” :-) I missed that part…

  27. Lawrence Low Says:

    Hello Kasia!

    Yup, in the last pic he looks remarkably like…. George Dubya Bush!
    Hmmm… Hal’s realm would be in…. Purgatory somewhere? The bloody flux from which he expired… sounds suspiciously like Ebola…. well before the days of Hazmat suits! I do hope they washed their hands afterwards!

    Amazing lotta research you did in getting all the depictions. Too bad they didn’t have cameras then. Or paparazzi :)))

  28. skpenman Says:

    Hi, Lawrence. You asked a few questions while I was away. While most readers of historical fiction are women, I have always seemed to attract large numbers of male readers, too, which is surely one reason why my publishers make sure that my book jackets are never aimed at a purely female readership.
    No, while we visited a number of castles on the Eleanor and Richard tours, we did not stay in any, although we did get to stay at the former lazar house of Fontevrault Abbey, which is now a very nice hotel.
    As for the episode involving the French king, Philippe Capet, and the Earl of Leicester, that was indeed reported by a reputable chronicler. I often tell people that history is more surprising than fiction, especially when the Angevins are involved.

    I am finally home from my Outremer adventure, but I have done little but pay off the huge sleep debt I accrued during my trip. It was an amazing experience and I will definitely blog about our time in Jerusalem, our days in Jaffa and Acre, and our hike to the top of the Horns of Hattin, site of Saladin’s great victory over the army of the kingdom of Jerusalem. But I am getting ready to spend a few days in Minnesota with Stephanie and Paula on my first genuine, non-work-related vacation in over twenty years. Once I am home again and I’ve managed to placate Holly for two kennel stays in two weeks, I will tackle the blog. Till then, I’ll pop by here when I can. Lots of interesting historical happenings while I was gone, but I am sure Rania and Koby and others have held down the fort for me. Koby is very good at multi-tasking, for he was also guiding us around Acre, ako Akko, and giving me some excellent suggestions about the battle at Hattin. And yes, I did hear about Stephanie’s coup; she doesn’t seem to grasp the fact yet that coups are supposed to be carried out in silence and stealth, never announced in advance

  29. Lawrence Low Says:

    Thanks for replying personally, Sharon!

    Always a thrill to revisit the site of a great battle…

    Enjoy your well-deserved vacation!

  30. skpenman Says:

    I am sorry I have been AWOL this week, but my back pain flared up again on Monday, much worse than during our time in Israel. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make the trip to Minnesota on Friday, but my chiropractor, AKA Master David the bone-setter, the name I’ll use when I let him infiltrate one of my books, worked his usual magic and I think I ought to be able to manage it as long as I am careful—and lucky, of course. I get home next week and once I’ve rested up, I’ll start working on the blog about the Israeli trip—and making Facebook visits again, of course. Tomorrow is the date of Jane Seymour’s death and Saturday marks the deaths of King Stephen and Geoffrey Chaucer; it is also the date for the battle of Agincourt. I am sure that Rania will do these events justice, though, with some help from Koby if the army gives him the time.

  31. skpenman Says:

    I am home, happy but exhausted. I must thank Stephanie and Paula for introducing me to the alien concept of “vacation,” where people do not multi-task, do not work at all, just relax and have fun. Of course the work portion of my travels was highly satisfying, too; we were in Israel, after all!
    I am resting up now, while my chiropractor does his best to get my recalcitrant back into alignment again, but I will be doing a blog about my travels, of course, and sharing a lot of photos on Facebook. Meanwhile, here is a photo of Holly and her kennel soul-mate, Bebe. They were obviously having so much fun together that I did not feel quite as guilty about putting her in the kennel as I usually do.
    PS The photo is on Facebook, of course, since I can’t post in the comments section here. :-(

  32. joan Says:

    Welcome back Sharon, from Minnesota & Israel! I’m looking forward to your posts. I can’t imagine how you would have felt in that ancient land.

    Best wishes for a quick recuperation.

  33. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    Thanks, Joan! It was an amazing experience to visit a place so steeped in history and–sadly–blood.

    I am a day late, but I can’t ignore the death of one of my favorite medievals, the honorable Robert of Gloucester, half-brother to the Empress Maude, who died on October 31st, 1147. Robert’s loss forced Maude to retreat back to Normandy, for he’d been her mainstay during her quest for the crown. One of my favorite scenes in Saints was when Robert’s iron control finally cracked and he shocked Maude by lashing out at her, claiming—quite truthfully—that he’d have been a better ruler than either Stephen or her. But he was barred from the throne by his illegitimate birth; interesting to speculate how different English history would have been had that not been true. Of course that would mean England would have been denied the Plantagenet dynasty, and that would have been a catastrophe for historical novelists!
    November 1st, 1210, is another sad day in the history of medieval Jews, for John ordered the imprisonment and torture of the wealthier ones until they paid the tallage that he’d imposed upon them of 66,000 marks. According to the historian John Baldwin, Philippe Capet was then inspired to resume his own harassment of French Jews. While virtually all medieval Christians harbored some degree of anti-Semitism, a poison they breathed in from birth, John’s primary motivation here seems to have been financial; he needed the money. Philippe, however, was motivated both by bias and greed; in stark contrast to his father, Louis VII, who did what he could to protect the Jews in his realm, Philippe believed in the blood libel.
    And on November 1st in 1500, the 16th century sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini, was born. I mention him because he also penned an autobiography that is great fun to read, even if it does contain more fiction than fact. Benvenuto seems to have been the life of every party and his colorful accounts of his swaggering adventures (including murder) offers a fascinating view of life in Renaissance Europe.
    Lastly, a belated Happy Halloween to one and all. And today is All Saints Day, an important date on the medieval calendar.

  34. Gabriele Says:

    Sharon, I’m sure any other dynasty would have proved up to the task. I got my share of dysfunctional families and drama in the Roman novels, and that Ottonian/Salian family saga plotbunny that recently hit me, offers a fair deal of historical turmoil as well, including sons rebelling against fathers (for example Liudolf from Otto’s fist marriage to Edgytha of Wessex, against his father, when he learend Otto II from the second marriage with Adelaide of Burgundy was crowned king and successor).

  35. Kasia Ogrodnik Says:

    Welcome back, Sharon! We missed you and your daily posts. And the vacation- fully deserved!

    I would like to add that 1 November 1179 saw the aforementioned Philippe crowned king at Reims by his uncle Guillaume. It was also the occasion when our Hal overshadowed his brother-in-law and he didn’t have to do anything to do this, just be dare, flashing his radiant smiles and bedazzling all the present with his good looks and the air of carisma around him :-) I would give anything to see him that day and later when taking part in the grand tournament at Lagny-sur-Marne (even if he lost his helmet there).

  36. Kasia Ogrodnik Says:

    Happy 854th wedding anniversary to Henry the Young King and Marguerite who were married at Newbourg on this day when still a very small children, “crying in their cradles” as Roger of Howden put it (Henry was 5 and Marguerite two). It’s a little bit sad that Henry II deprived them of the memories of their own Big Day, even if theirs was an arranged marriage (as it always was in the world they lived in), but Henry’s ambitions were boundless (even if he considered the Vexin rightfully his).

  37. Veronica Meenan Says:

    So nice to have you back Sharon and glad you enjoyed your trip and your unaccustomed holiday. I hope you’re now feeling rested and refreshed.

    Also just to mention that on your recommendation I have read the first two of Sharan Newman’s Catherine LeVendeur mysteries and enjoyed them very much. I have the book about Melisende on my Kindle and am looking forward to reading it as well - after I have read C J Sansom’s new book ‘Lamentation’, which I’ve just started.

  38. skpenman Says:

    Thanks, Veronica. I’ll pass your compliment along to Sharan.

    I was busy watching football yesterday, the first chance I’ve had to do that in a month, so I am a day late with this entry. On November 2, 1470, one of medieval history’s most ill-fated princes was born, the first son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. The boy was named after his father and was born in sanctuary at Westminster, where Elizabeth had taken refuge after Edward fled England for exile in Burgundy, one jump ahead of his cousin and former ally, the Earl of Warwick. It was an inauspicious start for young Edward as his father’s fortunes were not looking very promising at that moment and few expected that he’d be able to recapture his lost throne. He did, of course; Edward was always at his best when things were at their worst. He was also at his worst when things were at their best, though, and his premature death at age 40 would doom his sons, his brother Richard, and the Plantagenet dynasty. Ironically, November 2nd was also the date of the Duke of Buckingham’s execution in 1483. I see this as ironic because I remain convinced that Buckingham is the most likely suspect in the disappearance and probable deaths of the “princes in the Tower,” young Edward and his brother, Richard. Although Edward was never crowned, he is still known as Edward V, rather illogically since Henry II’s eldest son, who was crowned—twice—is not counted among England’s kings. My theory is that the Tudors insisted upon recognizing young Edward as a crowned king in order to bolster their contention that Richard III was a usurper, and that future historians simply followed suit. That still does not explain, of course, why Hal, the young king, has been obliterated from England’s royal history; his queen, Marguerite, who was also crowned, is not even accorded a mention in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

  39. joan Says:

    Doesn’t seem fair! Well Kasia is working hard to remedy this.

  40. Stephanie Ling Says:

    A King’s Ransom is up for Goodreads’ Choice Awards this year, and I think most of us here would agree that it was our favorite read of 2014. If you haven’t already done so, would you go over to Goodreads and vote for it? What better way to show our support for Sharon and her phenomenal book?

  41. skpenman Says:

    Thanks, Stephanie, for sharing this! Below is my Facebook post about it. Some of my Facebook readers weren’t keen about sharing their Facebook information when voting, but that isn’t necessary if they don’t log in via Facebook. I know quite a few of my blog readers like to keep as far away from Facebook as they can!

    I had very good news yesterday. A King’s Ransom has been nominated on Goodreads as one of the best historical novels of 2014. I first learned of this honor from one of my Facebook friends; my readers could put M-16, the CIA, or the Mossad to shame when it comes to surveillance! But my publicist and editor at Putnam’s soon e-mailed me about it, too. Some very good books are nominated, but I still hope lots of people vote for Ransom, of course; otherwise Richard will be impossible to live with, .
    I amuse myself sometimes by imagining Henry and Richard engaging in some celestial rivalry about their respective books, arguing whose books got better reviews or were on more bestseller lists or gained the most Amazon stars, etc. And Eleanor merely smiles, knowing that she is a greater celebrity in modern times than either of her men. Meanwhile, John is sulking since he has always had to share billing in my books with his brothers and suffered the indignity of having Dragons stolen out from under him by his Welsh son-in-law, Llywelyn Fawr. When it comes to the public (as opposed to academic) perception of our Angevins, I’d say Eleanor and Richard win that one, for Henry is probably best remembered for words he never said: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” And sadly the forgotten son in his own family remains just as unknown today; mention Geoffrey and you’re likely to get a blank look and a “Geoffrey who?” At least John and Richard can share in the reflected fame of Robin Hood!

  42. Kasia Ogrodnik Says:

    Congratulations, Sharon!

  43. joan Says:

    Congratulations Sharon! I’m not surprised, knew it was exceptional right from the get-go. Love that you have an undercover network out there!

    So if I don’t log in via FB, do I submit my email info? I do want to vote.

  44. Malcolm Craig Says:

    Sharon, as I said at our farewell dinner in Paris (June 2011), it was a delight to be with 36 other people, ALL of whom knew who Geoffrey of Brittany was! Off to vote for King’s Ransom.

  45. Stephanie Ling Says:

    Sharon asked me to let everyone know that she had the second of her two planned cataract surgeries today. Everything went fine, but she will likely be away from the computer for a while as she progresses through her recovery. I will certainly pass along everyone’s good wishes to her in the meantime!

  46. joan Says:

    Best wishes Sharon for a restful recovery!

  47. Kasia Ogrodnik Says:

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your speedy recovery, dear Sharon! Warmest wishes!

  48. Stephanie Ling Says:

    Joan and Kasia, her recovery went perfectly, so likely she’ll pop on here to say hello soon. ;-)

  49. skpenman Says:

    It must seem as if I do more disappearing acts than Houdini, but as Stephanie explained, I had the second cataract surgery this week, and this time it was not as easy. I had one bad day with a lot of discomfort and my vision was so blurred that I wished I could trade Holly in for a Seeing Eye dog. But thankfully, I am doing much better now and very grateful that it is over and done with. It is nice to be able to use the computer again, too; I’ve been working today on a Goodreads Q & A session which has been a lot of fun, giving me an opportunity to talk about writing in general and Ransom in particular. Next on the agenda is doing a blog about the trip to Israel. Oh, and I suppose I will need to get back to the book. I don’t know how much longer I can keep the deadline dragon trapped up in the attic; I hear ominous thumping noises in the night and his smoky breath has begun to pollute the upstairs air.
    Thanks to Rania for so admirably continuing our Today in History posts. Hers are always much more comprehensive than mine, as I tend to post only about events or people of special interest to me, and not surprisingly, they almost always are medieval.
    I hope to be able to start posting photos, too, of our travels—with all credit to my official photographer, Ms Paula Mildenhall!

  50. skpenman Says:

    This is a fascinating (at least to me) article in which George RR Martin discusses what Westeros really looks like, the HBO series notwithstanding.

  51. joan Says:

    Well it’s good to know that cataract surgery does not impede the flow of humor! I saw the most beautiful image on the bus the other day, right in front of me……a working dog lying on the seat next to her mistress, with her golden head on the lady’s lap.

    Sharon, I hope you’ll alert us to the Goodreads Q & A session, though now that I’ve signed in, I imagine I’ll be keeping informed through their messages. Is FB the only way we can see your pix of Israel??

  52. skpenman Says:

    See below, Joan, for today’s Facebook post.

    I had good news this morning. Ransom made it to Goodreads semi-finalist round for Best Historical Fiction; wherever they are, I suspect that Richard casually mentioned this to Henry this morning. Voting in the semi-finalist round is today through the 15th.

  53. joan Says:

    I’ve already voted!! Fingers crossed!!

  54. skpenman Says:

    Today is Veteran’s Day and I thought it would be fitting to post this link to the ceramic poppies that are now spilling out of the moat at the Tower of London, 888,248 to be precise, one for every British or Commonwealth soldier who died in WWI. Think about that for a moment; it is hard to grasp it, that so many young men lost their lives, that there was so much suffering, and all for what? I’ve always thought that the most haunting epitaph for this bloody, needless war was the one spoken by Sir Edward Grey in August, 1914: “The lights are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetimes.” All we can do is to remember all those who died and grieve for what might have been.

  55. joan Says:

    Thank you for posting the site, Sharon, which I must pass along to my sisters. We were there in early Sept, looking forward to the installation which was well under way, & it was indeed a sight to behold, not to mention a very emotional experience. I took many photos. To think we were going to see the Tower for the first time, then this extraordinary addition! Sometimes, the timing is just perfect!

  56. skpenman Says:

    I am very happy to report that Time and Chance is now available as an e-book in the UK–at long last! Here is the link. I think this is a very eye-catching cover, she says modestly. Now all of my books, both historicals and mysteries, are available as e-books on both sides of the Atlantic, for my British publisher was able to get Saints back on the Amazon Australian site, after it had inexplicably been dropped.

  57. skpenman Says:

    November 13th was an interesting day in medieval history. On this date in 1143, King Fulk of Jerusalem died in a hunting accident, that was gruesomely detailed by William, Archbishop of Tyre (and a character in Outremer), probably the best historian of the MA:
    “It happens in those days, when autumn was over, that the king and queen were sojourning for a time in the city of Acre. In order to vary the monotony by some agreeable recreation, the queen expressed a desire to go out of the city to a certain place in the suburbs where there were many springs. That she might not lack the pleasure of his company, the king attended her with his usual escort. As they were riding along, the servants who had preceded the train happened to rouse a hare which was lying in a furrow. It fled, followed by the shouts of all. The king, impelled by evil fate, seized his lance and joined the pursuit. In vigorous chase, he began to urge on his horse in that direction. Finally the steed, driven to reckless speed, stumbled and fell. The king was thrown headforemost to the ground. As he lay there, stunned by the pain of the fall, the saddle struck his head and his brains gushed forth from both ears and nostrils. The members of his escort, overcome with horror at the frightful accident, rushed to his aid as he lay upon the ground. They found him unconscious, however, unable to speak or understand.”
    William then describes the queen’s grief: “She tore her garments and hair and by her loud shrieks and lamentations, gave proof of her intense grief. Flinging herself upon the ground, she embraced the lifeless body.”
    Fulk was taken back to Acre, where William says he lived for three days, never regaining consciousness. Fulk was, of course, a former Count of Anjou before his marriage to Queen Melisende gave him the crown of Jerusalem. He was the father of Geoffrey and the grandfather of Henry, and his children and grandchildren were therefore related to the English royal House. Sharan Newman has written a compelling biography about Fulk’s strong-willed, capable queen, Melisende, Defending the City of God.
    Also on November 10th, this time in 1160, Louis VII of France wed his third wife, the fifteen year old Adele of Blois, barely a month after his second wife, Constance of Castile, died giving birth to a daughter, the unlucky Alys. Henry was not pleased by this attempt to bind the powerful lords of Blois to the French crown, and countered the move by marrying his five year old son, Hal, to Louis’s infant daughter Marguerite, despite having promised Louis that the children would not be wed for years. Henry believed that diplomatic promises were more like suggestions than actual commitments, to paraphrase the Pirate’s Code in one of the Jack Sparrow films.
    Finally, in 1312, the future Edward III was born. I’ve never been interested in writing about Edward, and apparently a lot of writers shared my indifference, for I can’t recall many novels featuring him. Any one remember any?

  58. Theresa Says:

    Edward III certainly had his fair share of family trauma, the unhappy marriage of his parents. Not to mention his father being deposed and murdered by his mother and her lover. (Not William Wallace - as I once had to inform someone)
    Edward’s own marriage was far happier as he was fortunate to marry one of the ‘good queens’ of English history. I don’t recall anyone writing anything negative about Philippa of Hainault.

    I remember reading a Jean Plaidy novel about Edward III called ‘The Vow on the Heron’. Although that was many years ago, and I don’t read her books anymore. Edward III has a small part in Anya Setons Katherine which I highly recommend reading.

  59. skpenman Says:

    I agree, Theresa; Katherine is a wonderful book.

    Here are two books that I now have on my Kindle Fire, and am looking forward to reading them. Many of you are familiar with Kathryn Warner’s excellent website, the place to go for anyone wanting to learn about the reign of the ill-fated Edward II. Well, Kathryn has written a biography of Edward which I am sure will be of interest to many of my readers. It certainly is to me!
    And Marcia DeSanctis has a new travel book out, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go. It looks fascinating, and I am delighted to report that she has a chapter titled On the Trail of Eleanor of Aquitaine; who wouldn’t want to read that, right? In addition to our Eleanor, Marcia also devotes attention to Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Catherine de Medici, George Sand, Marie Antoinette, Josephine Baker, Heloise and Abelard, among others, while taking readers to visit some of the most beautiful places in France.

  60. Kasia Says:

    Fascinating posts, Sharon, as always! I especially enjoyed the one about Fulk, even the gruesome details :-) I would love to read Ms Newman’s biography of Melisende one day.

    I don’t remember what was my source, but weren’t Louis and Adele married on November 13th? I’ll check the source and let you know. Perhaps it has its dates wrong…

    I hope you have fully recovered after the surgery. I am looking forward to the Israel post.

  61. joan Says:

    Thanks Sharon. I have Kathryn’s book on my Cmas wish list & hope the travel book will come out in paperback. After reading a bit of it I must have this one too (love some of the titles in the list “More Women’s Travel Lit”) And Sharan Newman’s bio has been on my list for awhile…..all I need is a lottery win!

  62. skpenman Says:

    The travel book is out in paperback, Joan. I am really looking forward to reading it.

  63. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    On the historical front, yesterday, November 16th, 1272, Henry III died, and I can only think of the wisecrack that Dorothy Parker made when she heard that Calvin Coolidge had died; she said, “How could anyone tell?” Henry had become an afterthought, a living ghost by then. He was not a successful king, but he left a splendid legacy that many more successful kings might well have envied—Westminster Abbey. And he was a devoted husband and a loving father, which might not count for much on the political stage, but it is not a bad epitaph for any man.
    And today, November 17th, 1558, Mary Tudor died, thus enabling her brilliant younger sister, Elizabeth, to become queen. Mary was only 42, but she always seems older when we think of her, doesn’t she? She probably would have given a great deal to have her own epitaph read that she was a devoted wife and loving mother. Instead, history has judged her as Bloody Mary. I wonder if the drink is named after her?

  64. skpenman Says:

    Since I posted that heartbreaking story about a father singing to his dying baby, I thought I owed you all a post sure to make you smile. So here it is.

  65. skpenman Says:

    I want to alert you all that the Contact Sharon feature on my website has stopped working and apparently this has been true for several months. So there are quite a few messages that I never got, and quite a few readers are probably wondering why I never responded to their queries. I imagine that most of you will post on Facebook if you have a question for me, but in case any of you have used the website in the past few months, at least now you understand my silence. If anyone needs to contact me privately, it is better to do it via e-mail for now, at

  66. skpenman Says:

    I hope all of my American friends and readers are coping with this brutal fore-taste of winter, and for all of you lucky enough to live in the Southern Hemisphere, count your blessings!
    Here is a fun quiz from one of my favorite websites, According to my results, I’d be most likely to put enemies into the stocks, enjoying the psychological humiliation they would endure. I am tempted to take the quiz on behalf of several of my more bloodthirsty characters and see what gruesome punishments they’d have preferred.

  67. joan Says:

    Good lord, I’d use the rack!! I like a quick approach to problems. These quizzes are fun, I’m always sending them on to my sisters

  68. Hand of Fire: book club with Judith Starkston | hergraceslibrary Says:

    [...] to pick them up! For anyone interested in reading further, Sharon Kay Penman has a lovely follow-up interview blog with [...]

  69. skpenman Says:

    Since most of us are shivering in frigid temperatures, this seemed a good time to post these links to this remarkable story of husky sled dogs making friends with polar bears in Churchill, Canada. Some of you have probably seen it already, but for those who haven’t, it is worth viewing.

  70. joan Says:

    Awww, how wonderful! Don’t you wish we could cuddle up to a great big furry animal? I’d choose a panda & if we could have a relationship with a wild animal it would be a lion or tiger.

  71. skpenman Says:

    On a football Sunday, you all know I am not going to be posting much. But here are a few comments, mainly about the Yorkists. Yesterday was the birth date in 1428 of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who thought of himself as a Kingmaker but who fatally underestimated his cousin, Edward. On this date in 1499, Perkin Warbeck was hanged and on November 23, 1503, Edward and Richard’s sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy and devoted daughter of York, died at Mechelin at age 57. History usually identifies women by their husbands. There are a few exceptions, though. Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the most noteworthy, for this queen of France and England is known for the duchy she so loved. Another exception is Margaret, who is often called Margaret of York in recognition of her fierce family loyalties.
    Oh, and on November 23, 1272, the royal council in London sent word to Henry III’s eldest son that he was now England’s king. Edward had left the Holy Land by then, but he showed no urgency in returning home to claim his crown, not reaching England until August of 1274. He was recovering, of course, from the attack by an Assassin wielding a poisoned dagger and yes, I have wondered how dramatically history would have been changed, especially for the Welsh and Jews and Scots, if Edward’s attacker had better aim. The other reason why he saw no reason to hurry was that there were no other claimants for the throne, so he could take his time. Lastly, the legends to the contrary, his queen, Eleanora, is known to have loved him, but she did not suck the venom from his wound after the attack. Just for the record, it is never a good idea to try that with poisonous snake bites, either.

  72. Emilie Laforge Says:

    I loved reading The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and as a result, look forward to reading this story. Thanks to Sharon and Judith for this very interesting interview and making sure that I never run out of good books to read.

  73. skpenman Says:

    Emilie, have you read Colleen McCullough’s Song of Troy? I recommend that one. I have not read The Song of Achilles but friends of mine have (including you!) and the reviews were very positive.

    November 24, 1190 was a date of a marriage that changed the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Guy de Lusignan’s queen, Sybilla, had died in October with their two young daughters; I am sentimental enough to hope that she was too ill to know that her children had died. Guy’s enemies were quick to argue that he had no claim to the crown in his own right, which had vested in Sybilla, now dead. They insisted that the throne should now pass to Sybilla’s half-sister, Isabella, but there was one huge stumbling block. She was wed to a man who was as suspect in the eyes of the Poulains as Guy himself was, Humphrey de Toron, whom I described in Lionheart as a man with the soul of a poet in a world of warriors. No one thought that Humphrey would make a good king, least of all Conrad of Montferrat, a swaggering adventurer who’d saved Tyre from falling to Saladin. Many thought Conrad would be a fine king, so a plan was set in motion to end Isabella’s marriage and then marry her off to Conrad despite the awkward fact that this marriage would be invalid under canon law. Humphey protested, of course, but he lost much sympathy when one of Conrad’s supporters challenged him to a duel and he refused to accept. His young wife was made of sterner stuff, though, and she balked, saying that she loved Humphrey and did not want to leave him. But history is filled with the sad stories of women forced to marry against their will. If even the Empress Maude could not withstand her father’s demand that she wed Geoffrey of Anjou, an eighteen year old girl had little chance of prevailing, not when her own mother urged her to yield. Isabella was eventually persuaded that it was her duty to marry Conrad, that he was their only hope of keeping Saladin from a total conquest of their beleaguered kingdom. As soon as the divorce was rushed through by compliant bishops, Isabella and Conrad were wed in the siege camp of Acre. The Lionheart’s nemesis, the Bishop of Beauvais, was up to his nasty neck in this illegal business; he would be. But Isabella then showed that there was more to her than beauty and royal blood, for her first act of authority was to restore to Humphrey the family lands that had unfairly been taken from him several years earlier. Humphrey never remarried and died young. Isabella’s own history had more than its share of sadness, too. While she seems to have found happiness with her third husband, Henri, the Count of Champagne, that marriage was cut short by Henri’s untimely death, and she had to marry again in haste, so urgent was the need for a strong king. Isabella was wed four times and widowed three times before her own death when she was only thirty-three.

  74. Emilie Laforge Says:

    Sharon, I haven’t read Song of Troy so one more book now added to the TBR mountain. ;)

    Poor Isabella, so much drama and upheaval in 33 years. How sad that Henri dried in a freak accident. He’s one of my favorite characters out of all your books, Sharon, and I really wish faith had dealt him a better hand.

  75. Kasia Says:

    Fascinating posts, Sharon! I really came to like your Humphrey de Toron. Your Henri reminds me of his uncle, Henry the Young King. You may argue that the former had more political acumen than the latter, but you have to agree that they both must have been great charmers :-)

    Emilie, I cannot agree more- Isabella was a tragic queen, but I feel even more sorry for Henri’s mother. Marie lost both her sons, after all, and both in the flower of their youth. Fortunately for her she did not live long enough to see Thibaut die at the age of twenty-two. I do hope you have seen my Henry the Young King birthday post :-)

  76. joan Says:

    Henri of Champagne was one of my favorite male characters too, Sharon, after Llewelyn Fawr (naturally) & the powerful & enigmatic (to me) Simon de Montfort. Then there’s the females! So many strong women, Isabella to be greatly admired. Because I’m rereading Margaret George’s Mary Queen of Scots & the Isles, I found the recent articles on Freelance History Writer interesting, on Arbella Stuart. I feel that many women of the MA were driven to neurosis (if not naturally endowed with it), & maybe even psychosis. The strength it took, not only to survive but to become marvels of their age.

  77. Kasia Says:

    I’m re-reading When Christ and His Saints Slept, chapter 1, today :-) I doubt whether any of the chroniclers described the White Ship sinking better than you, dear Sharon :-)

  78. Emilie Laforge Says:

    I agree with you Kasia, regarding Marie de Champagne. I would love to know more about her. She seems to have led an interesting life. As for your post celebrating the Young King’s birthday, last night’s high winds caused a power outage in my area so I was unable to read it. I will remedy that tonight for sure. Oh and I owe you a very long e-mail.

  79. skpenman Says:

    It was an excellent post, as always, Kasia. And you cited at least one book in your sources that I was not familiar with–thank you!

    On the evening of November 25, 1120, an event occurred that truly did change the course of European history. The White Ship’s sinking is often compared to the sinking of the Titanic, for both were “state of the art” vessels, both packed with highborn, wealthy, and powerful passengers, and the loss of both ships sent shock waves reverberating through their worlds. We can only speculate how the deaths of the Titanic passengers affected history, but we know for a certainty that the loss of the English king Henry’s only legitimate heir led to a civil war, a time so chaotic and wretched that the chroniclers claimed the people believed that “Christ and his Saints slept.” This sad period in English history, also known as The Anarchy, resulted in the coronation of a bold, strong-willed twenty-one-year old who would prove to be one of England’s great kings, Henry II, who founded a dynasty that would rule for over three hundred years. But if the White Ship had safely navigated the Narrow Sea separating Normandy and England, not only would Henry not have become king, he most likely would never have been born.
    This is what a chronicler had to say about this maritime tragedy: “Here also perished with William, Richard, another of the King’s sons, whom a woman without rank had borne him, before his accession, a brave youth, and dear to his father from his obedience; Richard d’Avranches, second Earl of Chester, and his brother Otheur; Geoffrey Ridel; Walter of Everci; Geoffrey, archdeacon of Hereford; the Countess of Chester; the king’s niece Lucia-Mahaut of Blois; and many others … No ship ever brought so much misery to England.”
    And here is a quote from my novel When Christ and his Saints Slept, page 22, as the sole survivor of the more than three hundred aboard the White Ship clung to the ship’s mast, waiting for death to claim him, too.
    * * *
    When he heard the voices, muffled and distorted in the fog, he felt a weary wonderment that his ordeal was over, that God’s good angels were coming for him at last. But they came not in winged chariots, as the priests had taught. Instead they glided out of the fog in a small fishing craft, its hull painted yellow and black, its single sail as bright as blood.
    Berold tried to yell; it emerged as a hoarse croak. But they’d already seen him, were dipping their oars into the sea. And then they were alongside and one of the men had nimbly scrambled out onto the mast, cutting him loose, and Berold realized that for him, salvation had come in the unlikely guise of three Breton fishermen. He had been spared to bear witness, to tell the world that the White Ship had gone down off Barfleur Point, with the loss of the English king’s son and all aboard, save only a butcher’s lad from Rouen.
    * * *
    November 25th was also the date of the battle of Montgisard in 1177, in which the young leper king, Baldwin IV, and Reynald de Chatillon won an unlikely victory over Saladin. While this victory undoubtedly boosted the morale of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and gave the tragic Baldwin a rare moment of happiness, it did not change the balance of power and less than ten years later, Saladin would win a stunning triumph at the Horns of Hattin. Its primary significance today is that it is another fictional battle I must fight. :-)

  80. Kasia Says:

    Thank you, dear Sharon, but I’m not sure which of my posts you mean :-)

  81. Kasia Says:

    Emilie, don’t worry about the e-mail. I know how busy life can be. Which doesn’t mean that I am not looking forward to it- to the contrary :-)

  82. skpenman Says:

    The one you just did about Hal’s nephews, Kasia.

  83. Kasia Says:

    I see. Thank you! I am honoured. I really enjoyed writing it, the research being the best part of the process. As always :-)

  84. skpenman Says:

    I hope that all of my friends and readers who will be doing holiday traveling today get to their destinations safely and on time, with a minimum of hassles and stress. We’re getting a Nor’easter tomorrow, but Thanksgiving is expected to be cold and clear. All good wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to all of us who celebrate it.
    And here is an entertaining quiz to occupy yourselves with. Have you ever wondered which of Henry VIII’s six wives you most identify with? Probably not, I know. However, here is your chance to find out. I was relieved to learn that I would have been Anne of Cleves in a past life, for I always thought she got the best deal of Henry’s wives—she didn’t have to sleep with him.

  85. joan Says:

    Ditto for me, Anne of Cleves.

    Happy Turkey Day to everyone!

  86. Emilie Laforge Says:

    Kasia, I’m delighted to see that my godson is in such great hands. I hope one day you’ll try to write a book/novel. Your writing is excellent and you are a great storyteller. I tried to post a comment to your latest blog post but I’m not sure if you have to aprrove it before it gets posted or maybe it just disappeared on me.

  87. Kasia Says:

    Thank you, Emilie! Your godson is doing really well. As for the book or novel, we’ll see :-) I don’t have to approve comments before they get posted- I’m afraid it really might have disappeared.

    Happy Thanksgiving to Sharon and all my friends who celebrate!

    Sharon and Joan, I am my namesake Catherine Paar, although I have always admired Katherine of Aragon… The last of Henry’s wives will do though - if I were to point the most couregous woman in history it would definitely be her :-)

  88. skpenman Says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to all. I hope those who had to travel got there safely. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays for it is all about family and friends and recognition of our blessings. Add delicious meals and football and who could ask for more?
    Historically, the 27th of November was the date of death in 1198 of one of the most interesting and courageous medieval women, Constance de Hauteville, Queen of Sicily in her own right, unhappy wife and happy widow of the royal sociopath, Heinrich von Hohenstaufen, and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederic II, one of the most colorful and controversial rulers of the MA. Constance had a remarkably eventful life—nearly being killed in a Salerno riot, captured and turned over to her husband’s rival, Tancred, only to escape as she was being taken under guard to Rome. She is most famous for getting pregnant for the first time at age 40 and then arranging to invite all of the local matrons to watch her give birth after learning that Heinrich’s enemies were claiming her pregnancy was a hoax. She also involved herself in a rebellion against her despot husband, horrified by the cruelty he was inflicting upon her Sicilian subjects, and likely would have been punished far worse than Henry punished Eleanor if not for an opportunist mosquito who chose that time to give Heinrich the malaria that claimed his life. (It has also been suggested he was poisoned, but while that is certainly plausible, historians tend to accept the malaria story) Constance at once kicked all the Germans out of Sicily and took the reins of power on behalf of her three year old son. Sadly, she outlived Heinrich by little more than a year, spending her last months in a desperate attempt to safeguard Frederick’s inheritance. She is the star of my first (and probably last) short story, A Queen in Exile, which appeared in George RR Martin’s anthology, Dangerous Women. She also made appearances in both Lionheart and A King’s Ransom. Here is my depiction of her death in Ransom, pages 567-568
    * * *
    Constance de Hauteville had celebrated her forty-fourth birthday on All Soul’s Day, but she knew it would be her last. She was dying. She’d been ill for months, and not even the doctors of the famed medical school in Salerno had been able to offer either hope or relief from the pain. She’d been very bitter at first, for she’d had little more than a year of freedom, a year to rule Sicily, to rid her kingdom of the Germans, to have her son with her—a privilege that Heinrich hade denied her, for he’d given Friedrich into the care of the Duchess of Spoleto soon after his birth. One year, one month, and twenty-seven days to have been a queen, a mother, and, God be praised, a widow. Not enough time. Not nearly enough.
    She’d faced it as she’d faced every crisis in her life, without flinching, without self-pity or panic. What mattered was her son, still a month shy of his fourth birthday. She’d done all she could. She’d exiled Markward von Annweiler, who’d been made Duke of Ravenna and Romagna by Heinrich. In May, she’d had Friedrich crowned as King of Sicily, letting Otto and Heinrich’s brother Philip fight over the imperial crown. And she’d turned to the only man powerful enough to protect her son, the new Pope, Innocent III. In her last will and testament, she’d named Innocent as Friedrich’s guardian until he came of age. Now, in what she knew to be her last hours, she could only pray that it would be enough, that her son would be kept safe, his rights defended by the Church, and that he would not forget her too quickly.
    * * *

  89. Malcolm Craig Says:

    Stupor mundi. He did not always get along so well with the occupant of the papal throne.

  90. skpenman Says:

    No, he certainly did not, Mac :-)

    I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings—a very happy one for Eagles fans, of course!
    November 28th is the date upon which several significant deaths occurred. In 1170, the Welsh prince, Owain Gwynedd, died, after a highly successful reign; like his famous grandson, he would be honored with the epithet—Fawr or Great. Sadly, his death resulted in a struggle for power amongst his sons and the most capable of the lot, the poet-prince Hywel ab Owain, would lose his life in an ambush not long after Owain’s death. And on November 28, 1291, Eleanora of Castile, the queen of Edward I, died after a brief illness at the age of forty-nine. Her grieving husband honored her memory with the twelve spectacular Eleanor crosses, erected at each place where her body had rested as it was conveyed from Lincoln to Westminster. (Three of the twelve survived) As you all know, Edward is not one of my favorite kings (although he was fun to write about), but this was a very romantic gesture—even I’ll admit that. I’d put it in the same class as the founding of a friary by Llywelyn Fawr to honor Joanna’s memory. Lastly, the tragic young Earl of Warwick, Edward, son of George of Clarence, was judicially murdered on this date in 1499. Plantagenet blood would become a lethal legacy during the Tudor dynasty.

  91. Kasia Says:

    Dear Sharon, I hope my e-mail with Thanksgiving wishes safely reached your inbox. If not- Belated Happy Thanksgiving :-)

    I do not know much about Frederick ‘Stupor mundi’ the politician :-) All I know is that he was a great falconer and his book on falconry remains the important source. I also remember what I read about his wedding at Worms and his famous menagerie that - let’s face it- took the active part in the ceremony itself :-)

  92. joan Says:

    Sharon, have you or any of your readers read Professor John Rohl’s book “Purple Secret: Genes, Madness, & the Royal Houses of Europe”? Mary Queen of Scots has now got me googling “inherited porphyria” & am wondering if this book is worth buying? Interesting to think she may have had the disease. Now this will be an interesting subject to raise with my son-in-law this Christmas.

  93. skpenman Says:

    Yes, it did, Kasia; thank you. Do you celebrate a similar holiday in Poland? The only other country I know that has its own Thanksgiving is Canada.
    Joan, I never even heard of this book, but it sounds interesting. I’ll ask on Facebook if any of my readers are familiar with it.

    This is one of the most entertaining quizzes I’ve come across—meant to determine how long any of us would have survived in Tudor or Elizabethan England. The questions are really fun. Oh, and I wouldn’t have lasted more than a month. No great surprise there; flourishing Richard III’’s white boar badge would have been sure to attract the beady eyes of Tudor and his minions.

  94. joan Says:

    Less than a month for me. I’m wondering what you answered to the lawyer question, Sharon. I bought a little White Rose lapel pin in York that I sometimes wear….wouldn’t have done back then though.

    Thanks for checking with your FB readers, Sharon. If no one knows of it, I think I’ll go for it.

  95. skpenman Says:

    My answer was a bland “recognize the quote,” Joan. Maybe if I’d reached for my dagger, I’d have lasted longer than a month?

    How can Budweiser do this? Even Scrooge had to smile at those traditional Christmas ads, which simply showed the Clydesdales pulling a sleigh through a tranquil snowy landscape as Christmas songs played softly in the background. Has Budweiser forgotten that people love their Clydesdales? Their ads almost always are voted the most popular in the Super Bowl. Bah, humbug.

  96. skpenman Says:

    Joan, I posted about the Purple Secret book on Facebook; I’ll let you know if we get any responses.

  97. skpenman Says:

    My Spaniel, Holly, has a soul-mate in this Golden Retriever. She would so have done the exact same thing.

  98. skpenman Says:

    One of my readers was kind enough to alert us to this on my Facebook page. Amazon is offering the Brother Cadfael e-books today at only $1.99.

  99. joan Says:

    Thanks Sharon……hope you received my email. I’m still laughing over that dog competition!

  100. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    Yes, I did, Joan. I learned that Holly’s new hero is Finnish. She has definitely taken him as her role model!

    Here are the winners of the Goodreads best books of 2014 contest. And yes, Coeur de Lion is still sulking at not making it to the final round. Not totally his fault, though, for kings are not taught how to be good sports. I explained to him that he should be honored by the nomination since there were some very talented writers in the mix, but he just cocked an Angevin brow at that, looking very much like his sardonic sire. I foolishly mentioned that, irritating them both.

  101. skpenman Says:

    Many of us find William Marshal to be a very interesting and sympathetic figure and so I am happy to report that there is a new biography of WM out, The Greatest Knight, by Dr Thomas Asbridge, the British historian who is the author of the excellent history, The Crusades. It is definitely high on my To Read List. It was just published in the US, but British readers will have to wait till its January publication. And this would be a good time to re-read Elizabeth Chadwick’s novel with the same title, The Greatest Knight, which is also high on my To Read List and is hugely popular with my readers.

  102. joan Says:

    Uh-oh, another book to add, but how can one resist? And I’ll reread the 2 Elizabeth Chadwick novels to get me into the spirit of things.

  103. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    I may as well admit I am addicted to Christmas music. I start listening to it earlier than all but Santa and his elves and am one of the last holdouts when it comes time to pulling the plug for the season. Of course one year I also kept my Christmas tree up well into February. So when I found this posted on the Mediev-l list, naturally I could not resist checking it out and then sharing it with you all. So here is Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer—in Latin. This link gives you the lyrics, but it also has a link for those of you with a burning curiosity to hear how it sounds.
    Since we’re on the subject, we usually have at least one posting about Christmas songs every December. So….what are your favorite Christmas songs or carols? And do you have any that make you want to kick Santa and reach for something stronger than eggnog? For me, my favorite is What Child is This, set to the music of the hauntingly beautiful Greensleeves. I also love Silent Night, The Little Drummer Boy (my dad’s favorite) Christmas Eve—Sarajevo by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I’ll be Home for Christmas (the saddest of them all, IMHO) and yes, Dominick the Christmas donkey. The one I absolutely loathe is I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, followed by Santa, Baby. I am not fond of All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, either. As you can tell, I don’t much like novelty Christmas songs—even though I do like Rudolph, the outcast reindeer (preferably not in Latin) and I confess I can’t help smiling when I hear Grandma got run over by a reindeer, for the sheer absurdity of it; it helps, too, that it is not a song played over and over ad nauseam. Okay…..what about you, dear readers?

  104. Malcolm Craig Says:

    One of my favorites songs comes from your home state, Sharon: Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” I am very fond of Sarah McLachlan’s “Wintersong” album, which includes covers of songs by fellow Canadian artists Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell, as well as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “What Child Is This?” and “Silent Night.” For ancient Yuletide music, it is hard to beat “The Castle of the Holly King,” one of the splendid Holiday recommendations our friend Wendy has made.

  105. skpenman Says:

    I love almost everything Bruce sings, Mac. Joni Mitchell has a voice like an angel’s harp.

    I came across a marvelous quote today that I want to share, something said by H.G. Wells: “Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.” Concise, elegant, and oh, so cynical. Hard to improve on that.
    December 6th 1421 is the birth date of the man whose fate was one of the saddest of all the English kings. There were kings who did not have the proper temperament to rule—Henry III and Edward II and Richard II come to mind, as does John, whose inability to trust crippled his reign. The youngster known as Edward V despite never being crowned is surely a tragic figure. But I also find Henry VI to be a tragic king, for he had to struggle with mental illness and was eventually murdered, unless there are any of you willing to believe that he really died of “melancholy” as Edward IV’s PR agents put about. 

  106. Theresa Says:

    Poor Henry VI, he was probably one of the most ill-suited men ever to be King of England. I was always struck by how different he was compared to his father Henry V. One so warlike and the other- well more of a monk than anything else.
    Speaking of men who lacked the qualities deemed essential for ruling. Henry Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary Queen of Scots, was born on the 7 of December 1545. I can’t recall a single book, be it fiction or otherwise, that depicts him in a favourable light. The only halfway positive comment came from Mary Stuart’s uncle the Cardinal of Lorraine who described Darnley as being “an agreeable nincompoop”.

  107. joan Says:

    Christmas songs & my fellow countrywomen/men, some favorites here. If anyone can do justice to Lightfoot’s Song for A Winter’s Night, it’s Sarah McLachlan. But watching a video of him singing it in later years, well it doesn’t get much better than that. Always enjoy great artists in their later years, with wisdom & experience layered onto the original genius. This one makes me cry. Sarah’s What Child is This? is another brilliant rendition from a brilliant singer/songwriter. Joni Mitchell was on Travis Smiley recently, discussing her new compilation of 53 songs. She had some very interesting things to say about love & I think you can still watch the video online. I also love the Welsh singer you mentioned once, Sharon, singing Silent Night. And must listen to Handel’s Messiah in December. Carol of the Bells for 12 cellos by The Piano Guys is fabulous. Adestes Fideles brings me back to childhood & midnight mass & candles & singing & a long walk home with family in the crisp white snow with diamond snowflakes gently falling.

    As for Henry Lord Darnley, did Mary have an inkling of his character before she married him? It’s very sad how her life disintegrated into such a neurotic mess.

  108. Theresa Says:

    Sharon I think Queen Mary was applying the “look good on paper” guy theory to Lord Darnley. This being that he was of royal blood, both Scottish and English, had studied in France (her favourite place) and he was also a catholic. Unfortunately his other qualities were not apparent until after their wedding.

  109. skpenman Says:

    Elizabeth was wicked clever, too, Theresa, by first offering Robert Dudley, who was believed by the world to be her lover, which Mary took as an insult, of course.

    Here is a fun quiz on British castles which most of you should do well on. I got 8 of 10; can anyone beat that?…/07/well-know-britains-castles/

  110. Malcolm Craig Says:

    Joan, when I played Wintersong for our oldest son, who enjoys Gordon L., he was afraid he would not like Sarah’s cover of “Song for a Winter Night,” but he did. I enjoy both versions, of course. Ian and Sylvia make another fine Canadian pair, though I do not know of any seasonal songs they have done, unless you count “Cutty Wren.” Tyson’s “Someday Soon” is one of my favorite songs, both the I & S version and the cover by Judy Collins.

  111. joan Says:

    Malcolm, mentioning Judy Collins opens up a whole other world……I love her & Pete Seeger singing “Turn, Turn, Turn” back in the day. Often listen to it on youtube. The purity of that voice! “Someday Soon” is also a favorite & not only because I long ago had a cowboy in my life who had a Quarter horse & worked the rodeo! And I love that my son & daughter appreciate so much of that great music. I feel really fortunate to have lived through such extraordinary times.

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