We have a winner in our drawing for a copy of Priscilla Royal’s new medieval mystery, The Proud Sinner.  In fact, because of Priscilla’s generosity, we have two winners—Pat K. and Margaret Skea.  Pat and Margaret, congratulations.  I am sure you’ll really enjoy The Proud Sinner; I know I did.  You can contact Priscilla via her Facebook page or website or me via the Contact Sharon option on my website.  Margaret is a writer, too, author of two novels set in sixteenth century Scotland, Turn of the Tide and A House Divided.  She is also the recipient of a grant by Creative Scotland, and is currently in Germany researching her next book, a novel about Katharina Luther.  Here is a link to her website.
Priscilla’s publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, has just brought out a new edition of her first medieval mystery, Wine of Violence.   I was very pleased when they asked me to write a new forward for it, as this gave me an opportunity to explain why I think this is such an excellent series.   I have gotten permission from Poisoned Pen Press to post the first chapter of Wine of Violence on my blog.   If you have not read Wine yet, I am sure you’ll want to do so after reading this chapter.  Enjoy!

*     *     *    *   *


Chapter One

During the dark morning hours of a winter day in the year 1270, an aged prioress realized she was dying.
To her surprise the dying was much easier than she had ever imagined. The crushing pain in her chest was gone and she felt herself drifting upward with an extraordinary lightness. She was floating above the rush-covered floor, over which a dusting of sweet scented petals had been scattered, and away from that narrow convent cot where her earthly remains lay so still. Indeed, she wasn’t frightened. She was very much at peace.
Below her, a semi-circle of nuns continued to chant with haunting harmony, their warm breath circling around her in the bitterly cold air. Many had tears in their eyes at her death, she noted, especially Sister Christina, whose grief meant the most to the old prioress. She could not have loved the nun more if she had been a child of her own body, but Christina had become the child of her soul instead, and, knowing the young woman would remain in the world, the old prioress could leave it with an easier spirit. She smiled.
Still sitting by the convent bed was Sister Anne. The sub-infirmarian to the priory was pale with fatigue and her shoulders hunched as she bent over the hollow body that the prioress had just quitted. The old prioress shook her head. No, good sister, she thought, now is the time for prayer, not your concoctions. How often had she told the nun that when God wanted a soul, all those earthly herbs and potions would be useless? Yet the kind sister had been able to ease the mortal pain of her passing. For that I am grateful, the old prioress thought, and as she watched the nun lean over, testing for breath from the quiet body, she hoped Sister Anne would, as she should, find a comfort in giving that relief.
Against the wall stood Brother Rupert in front of her favorite tapestry of St. Mary Magdalene sitting at the feet of Our Lord. The good brother’s eyes were red from weeping, his head bowed in grief. How she wished to comfort him! He looked so frail to her now, his monk’s habit far too big for his diminished frame. Maybe he would join her soon?
She mustn’t hope. Earthly associations should have no place in Heaven, but she was insufficiently distanced from the world not to believe Heaven would be a happier place with Brother Rupert by her side, as he had been for more years than either could truly remember.
Heaven? Was she really going to Heaven, she wondered. A cold gust of doubt cut through the warm breath of the nuns and chilled her. Was that invisible hand lifting her young soul from her age-ravaged body really the hand of an angel of God?
She shivered. She had always tried to be worthy of God’s grace, serving Him to the best of her ability. She had tried to be humble, dutiful, and she thought she had confessed all her sins to Brother Rupert just before falling into the strange sleep that had preceded this freeing of her soul.
An icy uncertainty nipped at her. Had she remembered all her sins? Might the Prince of Darkness have blinded her, making her forget some critical imperfection? Some sin of omission perhaps? Was her soul truly cleansed or was there some small rotting spot that would fling her into a purgatorial pit where pain was as sharp as the agonies of hell?
An unformed impression, a memory, something nagged at her.
It wasn’t too late, she thought. Brother Rupert was standing near. Surely she could still reach him if she could just think of…
Then it came to her. Oh, but the mercy of God was indeed great! He had granted her the understanding to see the tragic error both she and Brother Rupert had made. Now she must get the message to the good priest. She must!
She struggled to reach her confessor, willing her soul toward the weeping man.
“Brother! Brother!” she cried. “I must tell you one thing more!”
She stretched out her hand, struggling to grasp him, reaching for the crude wooden cross he wore on a thin leather strap around his neck.
But something seemed to hold her back; some black force scrabbled to keep her soul from deliverance.
The priest had not heard her cry. He did not see her fighting to reach him.
She must tell him. She must! After all her years devoted to God, Satan should not win her soul over such a misunderstanding, a judgement she’d made with imperfect knowledge and mortal blindness. An innocent person would be hurt, even die, if she did not. She could not have that fouling her conscience.
She fought harder to reach her confessor, twisting, crying, moaning for help.
Suddenly a hand materialized from the tapestry. It grasped the old prioress firmly and pulled her back to the ground. It was a woman’s hand, and the touch was warm.
The old prioress looked up and saw St. Mary Magdalene smiling.
“Tell me, my child,” the saintly voice said. “I will tell Our Lord.” She gestured to the glowing man at whose feet she sat. “And He will forgive all as He always has.”
The old prioress wanted to weep for joy.
“Please tell him that I accused wrongly. It was not the one we feared, but rather the other!” she gasped.
And with that, the world turned black.

His heart pounded. His lungs hurt as he gulped cold ocean air through his open and toothless mouth. Stinging sweat trickled down his reddened, unevenly shaven face, and Brother Rupert rubbed the sleeve of his rough robe across his age-dulled eyes.
Once he could have walked the familiar path between town and priory with ease. Now his legs ached with the effort of climbing and he had to will himself to the top of the sandy, scrub-grass covered hill.
“I’m getting old. I am getting old,” he muttered, as the moist wind stabbed each one of his joints.
At the hilltop, he stopped to rest and looked back into the distance. The morning sun of early spring had burned off the thickest fog, but the walls of Tyndal Priory, a double house of priests and nuns in the French Order of Fontevraud, were mere shadows in the drifting haze.
It didn’t matter. He could have shut his eyes and seen each stone of every building clearly. Since the winter of 1236, when Eleanor of Provence had come to England as the now aging King Henry’s wife, Brother Rupert had been chaplain, scribe, and administrating secretary to the recently deceased Felicia, Prioress of Tyndal. He had lived at the priory long before that, however, indeed from a day in his thirteenth summer when his rich merchant father proudly dedicated him to this woman-ruled Order so favored by kings, queens, and other elite of the realm. His father might have given him to the religious life as an oblate, but the boy came as a willing and eager offering. The monastic walls provided a secure refuge from a world he found frightening, a world filled with violence and lust.
Suddenly his eyes overflowed with tears, and he wiped his gnarled fingers across them hurriedly. “Ah, but I loved you, I did, and I miss you,” he said, watching as a swirling gust of mist seemed to lift his words into the sky and scatter them. “And for the sake of all our souls I will put the matter right, my lady. I promise you that.”
His words were fervent with an almost prayerful intensity.
Then he sighed, stretched the stiffness from his legs and started down the hill, tentatively at first, unsure in his footing. Once protected from the sea breeze, he could feel the warmth of the sun and his steps quickened.
His mood improved and he smiled. Indeed, in the warmth he now felt he could almost sense that the eyes of God were upon him.
They were not. They were human.
*     *      *     *      *
April 2, 2017


  1. Judi Abbott Says:

    I have this on my to be purchased list. Sooner rather than later!!! Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful author!

  2. Margaret Skea Says:

    Thank you to Priscilla and to Sharon - I’m excited to be one of the winners and looking forward to reading the book once I’ve met my deadline ‘dragon’ - my first of two books on Katharina Luther needs to be finished by the end of this month - a Slightly daunting task as I always find the last couple of chapters challenging.

  3. skpenman Says:

    All who visit my Facebook pages know that I am a fan of P.F. Chisholm’s marvelous mysteries, set in 16th century England and Scotland and revolving around Sir Robert Carey, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth Tudor. Diana Gabaldon shares my enthusiasm for Chisholm’s writing and she has written an eloquent essay about the latest Chisholm mystery, A Clash of Spheres, which will be published on Tuesday, April 4th. I was fortunate enough to be able to read an ARC (advance reading copy) and I can echo Diana’s every word. Real life screeched to a halt while I was ensconced in Robert Carey’s world, so be prepared to disappear for a few days while you read the book. Here is the link to Poison Pen Press, and below is Diana’s commentary.
    The following essay is by New York Times best-selling author of the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon.
    This is one of the most entertaining, elegant and deeply emotional books I’ve read in years. (I’m tempted just to write “EEEEEEEEE!” to sum up my response to it, but that seems inadequate, if heartfelt.)
    I’ve loved the Robert Carey series since the first book (A Famine of Horses), and every one thereafter has had all the elements that made the first so engaging: a fascinating look at little-known parts of Elizabethan history, wonderfully immersive details, hilarious dialogue, adventurous situations, and—above all—characters drawn with a deftness that catches the essence of a soul in a few words.
    Sir Robert is the center of it all, of course, but the story certainly doesn’t stop with him. He’s surrounded by a constantly evolving (and revolving) constellation of courtiers, reivers, Borderers (often synonymous with reivers), Sergeant Dodd (his surly, dour, stubborn, honorable sidekick), scholars, assassins, spies, royalty, and (to be sure) women. One woman in particular; the unattainable Elizabeth Widdrington, unhappily married to a cruel older husband and much too honorable to take Robert Carey as her lover, much as she wants to.
    This one’s not an ordinary historical novel
    All of this would be more than enough for your ordinary historical novel…but this one’s not an ordinary historical novel: it’s an orrery—you’ve doubtless seen one, even if you didn’t know what it’s called—it’s a mechanical model of the solar system. And those you’ve seen have undoubtedly been designed to fit the Copernican theory of astronomy: to wit, with the sun in the center and the various planets orbiting it at varying distances. But it was not always thus…
    Back in Sir Robert’s day—i.e., the late sixteenth century—there were competing views of the stars and their movements, and scholars who espoused the Ptolemaic system, in which the planets and the Sun all (naturally) circled the Earth, were more popular than the upstart (and obviously deluded) Copernicans. Only in a P.F. Chisholm novel will you have a delayed-fuse plot that centers (you should pardon the expression) on a formal scientific disputation regarding the position of the Sun in the solar system, held at the Royal Court of Scotland, between the King and an itinerant Jewish healer.
    Not that there aren’t plenty of other plots orbiting that one: religious persecution, murder in several shades, rejected lovers of all stripes and persuasions, and the head-butting politics of the constantly feuding Border surnames.
    Passing without touching
    The novel is an orrery, though; the underlying structure of the book reflects all the intricacies with which people orbit each other, mostly passing without touching, turning a light face or a dark as they travel through their personal space, their orbits influenced by love, jealousy, ambition, greed, insecurity, fear, revenge, longing, frustration, friendship and its loss—and the soul-wrenching effects of being responsible for other people.
    And at the center of it all is a tenderly human compassion that sheds its light through this system of moving bodies, for everyone from the King of Scotland to Sergeant Dodd’s horse.
    I finished reading the book, and immediately read it again. Been a long time since that’s happened.
    — Diana Gabaldon (2017)
    To learn more, read an excerpt, or to purchase, visit: A Clash of Spheres

  4. skpenman Says:

    I would like to wish a belated Happy Easter and Happy Passover to my readers and friends. I am so sorry for my long absence, but it was not by choice. Because of a recent flare-up of back pain, I’ve had to severely limit my time at the computer and yes, the Deadline Dragon is downright gleeful about this, the rotten reptile.
    April is one of the most prolific months when it comes to significant medieval happenings and I’ve already missed so many that it will probably take me into the summer to catch up. But I shall try, beginning with this post about the death of the Lionheart on April 6, 1199, since it gives me a chance to write about Eleanor, too, which is one of my favorite things to do. This had to have been one of the most tragic events of her long and turbulent life. I was watching a 60 Minutes show last night that included a heartbreaking interview with the parents of children slain at Newtown, and something was said that really resonated with me. I’d never realized it but there is no word for a parent who has lost a child. We become orphans when our parents die, a widow or widower when we lose a spouse. But it is as if we recognize that this is a grief for which there are no words. Here is my post, which includes passages from A King’s Ransom.
    On April 6, 1199 at 7 PM, Richard I of England, AKA the Lionheart, died at the age of forty-one eleven days after he’d been shot by a crossbow at the siege of Chalus, a wound brought about by his own carelessness, for he’d neglected to wear his hauberk and his legendary luck finally ran out. It was not an easy death, for gangrene is a painful way to die. Eleanor was with him as he drew his last breath, having raced from Fontevrault Abbey to Chalus after getting word of hi fatal injury. His queen, Berengaria, was not.
    A King’s Ransom, pages 597-599
    * * *
    Richard’s eyes opened when she took his hand in hers. He’d been sure she’d get there in time, for she’d never let him down, never. “So sorry, Maman….” So many regrets. That he’d not made peace with his father. That he’d not been able to free the Holy City from the Saracens. That Philip could not have been Berenguela’s. That the French king had not drowned in the Epte. That he’d taken the time to put on his hauberk. That his mother must now watch him die.
    She held his hand against her cheek. “You’ve been shriven, Richard?”
    “Yes….So many sins….Took half a day….”
    He was dying as he lived, and that made it so much harder for those who loved him. But then she remembered what she’d been told about his father’s wretched last hours. After learning that John had betrayed him, he’d turned his face to the wall and had not spoken again. Only as his fever burned higher had he cried out, “Shame upon a conquered king.” An anguished epitaph for a life that had once held such bright promise. No, better that Richard laugh at Death than die as Harry had. His body was wracked with pain, but at least he was not suffering Harry’s agony of spirit. She could not have borne that.
    Time had no meaning any longer. She assumed hours were passing, but she refused all offers of food or drink. How long would God torment him like this? Leaning over, she kissed his forehead. “You can stop fighting now, my dearest. Your race is done.”
    He’d not spoken for some time and she was not sure he could hear her, but then he said, “Did….I….win?”
    “Yes, Richard, you did. You kept the faith.” She did not remember the rest of the scriptural verse. She would later wonder how she could have sounded so calm, so composed. But it was the last gift she could give him. “Go to God, my beloved son.”
    After that, he was still. They could hear church bells chiming in the distance. Somewhere Vespers was being rung, people were at Mass, life was going on. Andre had not thought there was a need for words of farewell, not between them. But now he found himself approaching the bed, suddenly afraid that he’d waited too long. “Richard.” He held his breath, then, until the other man opened his eyes. “Listen to me,” he said hoarsely. “You will not be forgotten. A hundred years from now, men will be sitting around campfires and telling the legends of the Lionheart.”
    The corner of Richard’s mouth twitched. “Only….a hundred years?” he whispered, and Andre and Eleanor saw his last smile through a haze of hot tears.
    * * *

  5. skpenman Says:

    A few random thoughts. First of all, I want to thank all of you for your very kind expressions of sympathy about my on-going back sabotage. You guys are the best! And I have some good news. I’ve been told that in May Netflix will begin broadcasting the second season of The Last Kingdom, based upon the Bernard Cornwell series that we so love. Also, I wanted to express my admiration to Prince Harry for being so candid about his grieving for the loss of his mother and for encouraging people to consider therapy when they are struggling. Princess Diana had a positive impact on public opinion when she was photographed cuddling a baby with AIDS, and her sons are following in her footsteps. We live in an age in which celebrities wield considerable influence and it is encouraging when they choose to use that clout for good. Lastly, I am about to besiege Kerak Castle, which was once in Outremer and today is in Jordan. Wish me luck; hopefully, I’ll not need it.

  6. skpenman Says:

    April 23rd is World Book Day. How many of you knew that? I confess I didn’t. I am guessing that it was not coincidental that this date was chosen to celebrate books, for it is the traditional birthdate and death date of England’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare. For medieval events, Adeliza of Louvain, the widow of Henry I of England, died on this date in 1151. She is a major character in Elizabeth Chadwick’s Lady of the English, which I highly recommend.
    I hope you all are having an enjoyable weekend. Mine is looking up, for I am about to launch an attack upon one of the de Lusignans. As my readers know, they usually deserve all the grief they get, but in this case, Amaury is lucky and the d’Ibelin brothers ride to his rescue. I’ll have more fun in the next chapter, when I can besiege the great crusader castle at Kerak.

  7. skpenman Says:

    I am so sorry that my visits here continue to be hit or miss. Between trying to coddle a troublesome back and keeping the Deadline Dragon at bay and now laying siege to Kerak Castle, my nerves are vibrating like a drawn bowstring these days. I will do my best to assure you from time to time that I am still amongst the living and have not joined the Witness Protection Plan. Here is an old post from 2012 that I hope none of you remember since I hate to have to foist reruns upon you.

  8. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    Mark July 16th on your calendars, my fellow Game of Throners, for that is when it finally, finally comes back. Also, HBO is giving serious consideration to spinoffs of the series. Now…has anyone heard news—or even rumors—about when we can expect the 6th book from Master Martin?

  9. skpenman Says:

    Writers and publishers and readers are living during a revolution: I believe the advent of the Internet and e-books has been the most transformational development involving books since the invention of the Gutenberg Press. I think it terrifies publishers, but for the most part, writers and readers have learned to embrace it. Just speaking for myself, I could not imagine writing one of my historical sagas on an electric typewriter the way I did for Sunne back in the Dark Ages, and research is far easier now than it was in those bleak Pre-Internet days. But this is only one example of the way technology has changed the way we do things. Here is an interesting list of twenty things made obsolete by these changes.

  10. skpenman Says:

    “On the day of her wedding, Isabella awoke to the sound of screaming.”

    That is the opening sentence of the chapter that is keeping me stranded at Kerak Castle and off Facebook. Readers of Lionheart may remember Isabella, who would become Queen of Jerusalem. She definitely has my sympathies. Imagine being compelled to make a marriage that neither she nor her mother and stepfather want, a marriage that will shackle her to political enemies of her parents, and indeed, they soon will refuse to allow her to visit her mother. She finds herself in a desolate, desert fortress midst a landscape as barren as the moon (not that she’d know that, of course.), not far from the Salt Sea, now called the Dead Sea. Now she also finds herself under siege by Saladin and a large Saracen army. Oh, and she is only eleven years old.
    The siege of Kerak also is the source for one of the more famous anecdotes regarding Saladin. The mother of the young groom (he was 17) was not a shrinking violet and undaunted by the arrival of a sieging army in the middle of the wedding festivities. She had a dish from the feast sent out to Saladin under a flag of truce, saying she’d not have anyone go hungry at her son’s wedding. Saladin thanked her, then asked in which tower the bridal couple were lodged. When told that, he promised that he’d not have any of his siege engines aim at that particular tower.
    Now back to the siege. Happy Mother’s Day to my American readers.

  11. skpenman Says:

    The siege of Kerak in 1183 lasted about a month. Mine feels as if it lasted for a year or two, but that is an optical illusion. I am sorry I did not get to visit it during my trip to Israel (it is now in Jordan, of course), but there are numerous videos of the castle on YouTube, which can be a writer’s second-best friend, the best one being Google, which is a true blessing for quick research questions. The siege ended when Saladin withdrew his army at the approach of the leper king, Baldwin, and his army. Meanwhile, because Kerak only had one entrance, it was cut off from the world—and its rescuers—when the besieged destroyed the bridge across their deep moat to keep the Saracens from forcing their way into the castle with the retreating defenders. It was not a drawbridge, but an actual bridge, an unusual set-up that I’d not encountered before. The castles in Outremer were constructed to be as difficult to enter as possible, with single postern gates that usually were entered at an angle, and far more arrow slits than windows. So Kerak seemed like a very gloomy place to young Isabella. And Saladin would try again the next year to capture Kerak, so I get to do this all over again in the next chapter. Isabella and I can hardly wait. ☹
    Meanwhile, here is a funny story about Huck the Roof Dog, who likes to survey the neighborhood from his family’s roof. So many passersby were knocking on their door to alert them that they put up a sign in their front yard, assuring people that “Yes, we know he’s up there.” Huck sounds like a cool dog, so of course he has become an Instagram star.

  12. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    I believe this petition has been posted on my Facebook pages before, but I wanted to increase its visibility. We all knew Leicester hoped to benefit via a flood of tourist money by Richard III’s honorable burial in the cathedral. I am okay with that, too, but not with this new money-making scheme. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to label it “sacrilege,” but it certainly seems exploitative to me and I don’t think it should be done. In all honesty, I have my doubts that a petition will change their minds, but it does offer a chance to vent for those who do not approve. So if you feel the way I do, vent!

  13. skpenman Says:

    We are all in mourning today. I feel heartbroken by the latest terrorist atrocity in Manchester—and outraged that there are monsters among us capable of such cruelty. I will never understand how anyone could aim their evil at the innocent, and it is all the more shocking when children are deliberately targeted. Our sympathy and prayers are with our British brethren. Our former motherland remains very dear to Americans. There is some consolation in knowing that such tragedies always show people at their best, strangers helping strangers, sharing their grief and embracing their common humanity, as in the story below.

  14. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    It is painful to read this, a tribute to the twenty-two loving souls we lost at Manchester, but I think we owe it to them to remember, never to forget them. That seems very appropriate now, for Monday is Memorial Day in the US.

  15. skpenman Says:

    I am sorry that I continue to be so scarce around here. I’ve been working hard at fending off the deadline dragon, while still dealing with more pain than I deserve. (My sins are just not that spectacular to warrant this!) Poor little Isabella can’t catch a break, either. She is twelve now, isolated at a dangerous desert fortresses with the In-Laws from Hell and Saladin has decided to take another crack at Kerak Castle, so she is facing her second siege in less than a year. I suspect she is also wondering just what sort of sins she could have committed to bring all this down on her head. Meanwhile, how is this for a wonderfully odd historical nugget? Saladin’s brother, al-Adil, is making ready to join him at the siege. He’d been ruling Egypt very effectively for the sultan for a number of years, but he has now been given command of Aleppo (yes, that very sad city had a troubled past even back in the MA.). He’d had to leave his family behind in Egypt and it took a while for him to be able to arrange safe transportation for them from Egypt to Syria. In the scene I am about to write, he will be reunited with his wives, concubines, children, household retainers, servants, and slaves. Naturally their caravan includes a large number of horses, mules, and camels. And according to one medieval chronicler, the family’s pet giraffe! No way I could resist writing about that.

  16. Mac Craig Says:

    On Wednesday, at a retirement party (not mine!), I saw my friend Sara, for whom you signed a copy of Sunne in Leicester, during the Richard III Tour. We discussed your upcoming historical novel and agreed that we should both wait patiently. It was a shame that Isabella’s best husband was fated to perish in that strange accident.

  17. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    I have been trying since Sunday evening to write about the latest terrorist atrocity, but words have failed me. I feel overwhelmed by the human capacity for evil, as so many of you must feel, too. But I was able to take some comfort in this message from the family of Christine Archibald, a young Canadian woman who’d moved to London to be with her fiancé and who died in his arms. What a memorable epitaph: Tell them Chrissy sent you.

    The first London Bridge attack victim to be identified was Canadian national Christine Archibald, 30, who had moved to London to be with her fiance.

    “Please honor her by making your community a better place,” a spokesperson for her family said. “Volunteer your time and labor or donate to a homeless shelter. Tell them Chrissy sent you.”

  18. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    The siege of Kerak continues; at the rate I’m going, mine is going to last longer than the real one. At least al-Adil’s family’s tame giraffe is safely on the way to her new home in Aleppo. So before I get back to operating mangonels and smashing towers and making life miserable for the castle residents, here is an important medieval date for the Angevins.
    The young king was dying in a manor house at Martel in the Limousin, stricken with what they called the bloody flux and we call dysentery. He’d sent word to his father, but Henry did not believe him, for he’d lied again and again and twice Henry had been shot at when trusting to a flag of truce.
    P. 527 of Devil’s Brood. The Count of Perche and the Bishop of Agen have arrived with a message from Henry.
    * * *
    “King Henry bade me tell you that he freely and gladly grants you full forgiveness for your sins, and that he has never ceased to love you.”
    Hal’s lashes swept down, shadowing his cheeks like fans as tears seeped from the corners of his eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered, although the bishop was not sure if it was meant for him, for Henry, or for the Almighty.
    “I bring more than words,” he said and, taking a small leather pouch from around his neck, he shook out a sapphire ring set in beaten gold. He started to tell Hal that this was Henry’s ring, but saw there was no need, for Hal could not have shown more reverence if he’d produced a holy relic.
    “He does forgive me, then!” he cried and gave the bishop such a dazzling smile that for a moment the ravages of his illness were forgotten and they could almost believe this was the young king of cherished memory, the golden boy more beautiful than a fallen angel, able to ensnare hearts with such dangerous ease. Then the illusion passed and they were looking at a man gaunt, hollow-eyed, suffering, and all too mortal. Too weak to do it himself, Hal looked entreatingly at the bishop, saying, “Please….” When the bishop slid the ring onto his finger, he smiled again and closed his eyes.
    * * *
    Hal lingered for a while longer, drawing his last breath at twilight on Saturday, the eleventh day of June, 1183, the festival of the blessed St Barnabas the Apostle. Despite having lived his last weeks as little better than a bandit, he was genuinely mourned.

  19. skpenman Says:

    The news is horrible again, with shootings in VA and San Francisco. And the tragedy in London is heartbreaking. So far 12 confirmed dead, but they say dozens are missing. The image of desperate mothers throwing their children out of windows is beyond horrific. There seems to have been at least one miracle; according to an eye-witness, a woman threw her baby from the 9th floor and a man managed to catch it. I hope that is true. Below is the post I wrote earlier in the day when I was thinking only of fictional suffering and sorrows.
    I am happy to report that the second siege of Kerak is finally over. I then went on to ravage Samaria and ended the chapter by killing off a major character. Luckily, I am not squeamish about bloodshed, at least on the printed page.
    Last week I mentioned in a post that Saladin’s brother, al-Adil, and his family had a pet giraffe. That was the sort of fascinating tidbit that I love to work into my novels, which is one reason why I so enjoyed writing Lionheart. I had my best contemporary sources by far for that book, including two chronicles written by men who’d accompanied Richard on crusade and two written by men who personally knew Saladin. Oh, the rich details they scattered through their histories! I learned about the French king’s white falcon that he lost over Acre; he offered a large reward for its return and was enraged when it was captured and given to Saladin. There was Richard’s more infamous encounter with a hawk in Sicily, a scene so much fun to write that I had to struggle not to laugh aloud. Then there was the celebrated Fauvel, the chestnut stallion that Richard came to cherish. Or Richard wading ashore at Jaffa, a sword in one hand, a crossbow in the other, a description that came from a man who was an actual eye-witness to the events at Jaffa. Richard’s near=death encounter with the mystery malady, Arnaldia, and another close call with malaria. Saladin’s bouts with colic. Remarkable details about how a medieval army was organized and an account of Richard’s attack on a huge Saracen ship, where his sailors dived into the sea and tied up the enemy ship’s rudders, causing it to wallow helplessly. Chroniclers rarely make life that easy for historical novelists.
    I mention all this because I found another intriguing side-story, and like the giraffe, I couldn’t resist weaving it into the narrative of my current book. Al-Sania was a member of al-Adil’s inner circle, running his chancellory after al-Adil took command in Aleppo. He’d been born and raised a Christian, but he converted to Islam after falling in love with a Muslim girl. What a back-story he must have had! He was controversial in Aleppo because he hired so many Syrian Christians to help run the chancellory, causing the local residents (called Aleppans) to make sardonic jokes about it. It is so rare to be given glimpses of the lives of people lower down on the social pyramid and I am delighted to be able to share it with my readers.

  20. skpenman Says:

    I hope all my readers are enjoying the weekend, and a special shout-out to my American male readers who are lucky enough to have children on this Father’s Day. Sadly, medieval fathers too often came up short, at least the ones I write about. Since King John has flaws beyond counting, it is only fair to give him credit when he did something right, and he seems to have been a good father, both to all his illegitimate children and to those he had with Isabelle. (This is for you, Owen!) Below are some occurrences on this date in history.
    On June 18, 1155, Frederick Barbarossa, father of Richard’s nemesis, Heinrich, was crowned Holy Roman emperor by Pope Adrian IV, who is the only Englishman to occupy the papal throne. Frederick is considered one of the great rulers of the Middle Ages, and it is intriguing to speculate how the Third Crusade may have gone had he not drowned on his way to the Holy Land.
    On June 18, 1429, Joan of Arc led the French in a decisive victory over the English at the battle of Patay, a triumph that helped to turn the tide in the One Hundred Years’ War.
    Lastly, on June 18, 1942, Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool, England. So today is his 75th birthday. Hope it is a good one, Sir Paul, who was known to those of us of a “certain age” as the Cute Beatle.

  21. skpenman Says:

    I am feeling like the Grim Reaper for the bodies are falling fast and furious in Outremer. I had to kill off a major character in the last chapter and I will be bloodying my hands with two deaths in the next chapter…..yikes. Anyone who has read my books knows that by the end, the landscape is usually littered with bodies. But I rarely have to deal out so many deaths in such close succession. I think one of the hardest deaths I’ve had to write was that of Ellen de Montfort, wife of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. Here is a scene from her death in childbirth chapter on June 19, 1282.
    The Reckoning, p. 485
    The chamber was deep in shadows. Llywelyn was alone with his wife, sitting very still in a chair by the bed. He did not look up as they entered, not until Elizabeth said his name. He showed no surprise at sight of Davydd, showed no emotion at all. Davydd stepped forward, still not knowing what he would say. “Llywelyn….” He stopped, started again. “I’m sorry. Christ, but I’m so sorry….How does she?”
    Llywelyn was holding Ellen’s hand in his, staring down at the jeweled wedding band, the ring she’d called her talisman, her luck. Just when Davydd had decided he was not going to answer, he said tonelessly, “She is dead.”

  22. skpenman Says:

    Another day, another squabble with the Deadline Dragon, who has so outworn his welcome. I am currently doing medical research which is not fun; if I spend too much time dwelling on the grim details of a disease, I start to worry that I’m infected with it, too! Well, not always; so far I have not been worrying that I contracted Baldwin’s leprosy. We tend to think of it as a disease of the past, but that is not exactly true. I’ve read that 250,000 people worldwide have leprosy, most of them in India. It is estimated that a person is diagnosed with it every two minutes, but in the US, only 150 people a year contract it. The difference is that we now have the means to treat it, whereas Baldwin had little to combat it besides prayer. And of course we now know that it is nowhere near as contagious as people once thought and up to 90% of the population has a natural immunity to it. This is hardly the most cheerful way to begin a post, but at least I am sparing you all a detailed discussion of the symptoms!
    On the historical front, June 21st, 1377 was the death date of the Plantagenet king, Edward III. He was not yet 65, so I think we can consider his death in our favorite What If game. Had he lived for another ten years, for example, his grandson Richard would have followed him to the throne as a man grown, not a child, and that would surely have changed British history; for better or for worse, who knows? Watching from the Hereafter, Henry II might have felt a twinge or two of envy for Edward’s parenting skills He had five sons and they gave him none of the troubles and grief that Henry’s four sons gave him. Edward is known for his devotion to his wife, Philippa, and then for his infatuation with his mistress, Alice Perrers. I have been trying to think if he has ever been the subject of a novel, but nothing came to mind. Readers?

  23. Mac Craig Says:

    My recollection is that Edward had slowed down considerably, perhaps afflicted with what we now call Alzheimer’s. His eldest son, the Black Prince, who died the year before his father, was born while Edward III was still in his teens. In some ways, his having so many sons led indirectly to the War of the Roses.

  24. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    Interesting post, Mac, thanks.

    Probably many of my fellow Game of Throners have seen this already, but for the slower ones like me, here is the trailer for the new season. Yes, after waiting two or three centuries, we now have to wait less than three weeks. Winter is coming.

  25. Theresa Says:

    Can’t wait for GOT.

    As for Edward the Third, the only novel I can recall with him (in a small part) was Anya Seton’s Katherine.

    On a non Royal note, however June 25 1903 was the birth date of Eric Arthur Blair later to become George Orwell. Only say this because I recently saw the stage adaptation of his novel “1984″ (some might say quite relevant for these times)

  26. skpenman Says:

    We definitely want to remember George Orwell, Theresa!

    A quick escape from the Deadline Dragon to post about this date in history, and yes, it is a repeat, but from three years ago, so surely no one remembers it by now?
    A significant death occurred on June 29, 1149, when Raymond, Prince of Antioch, was slain at the battle of Inab after foolishly engaging a much larger force. Raymond was the uncle of our Eleanor, and her supposed partner in incestuous infidelity during her brief stay in Antioch during the Second Crusade. This is highly unlikely; the best discussion of her supposed bad behavior can be found in Ralph Turner’s biography in which he demonstrates how sexual slander was the weapon of choice against women in the MA, and guess what, it still is.
    But—drum roll here—Raymond’s death was probably not the most significant one to happen on the battlefield that day. IMHO, that would be Renauld, the Lord of Marash, one of Raymond’s vassals. Why? Because Renauld left a young widow named Agnes de Courtenay. Agnes was very beautiful and very unlucky. She was widowed at fourteen and she was fifteen when her father, the Count of Edessa, was captured by the Saracen emir, Nur al-Din, who refused to ransom him, instead ordering him blinded and thrown into an Aleppo dungeon, where he eventually died. Although Agnes no longer had a marriage portion to tempt would-be suitors, when she was in her early twenties, she caught the eye of the young lord of Ramla, Hugh d’Ibelin, who was willing to marry her anyway. Unfortunately for Agnes, Hugh was then captured by the Saracens. When Agnes went to appeal to the Count of Jaffa, the King of Jerusalem’s brother, hoping to gain help in raising Hugh’s ransom, the count became just as smitten with her as Hugh had been. One chronicler claims that she was taken by force, but she married the count, Amalric, instead of Hugh, and during six years of marriage, she gave birth to a son, Baldwin, and a daughter, Sybilla. Amalric became King of Jerusalem on his brother’s unexpected death without heirs, but Agnes’s bad luck continued to dog her and Amalric was compelled to end their marriage as a condition of becoming king; it was elective.
    So Agnes never wore a crown herself, although she probably thought she wore one of thorns, for she became very bitter, not surprisingly. But her two children would both be crowned and her son Baldwin would tragically go down in history as the Leper King. The turmoil and political in-fighting that ravaged the kingdom due to his illness set the stage for Saladin’s triumph at Hattin. Had Baldwin been healthy, Hattin would never have occurred, for as great as the victory was for Saladin, it depended upon the circumstances that had led to the king in 1187—Guy de Lusignan—making one of the most bone-headed and reckless blunders in military history. Magically cure Baldwin of his leprosy, no Hattin. Remove Baldwin and his sister completely from the equation, again no Hattin. And that is what would have happened if Renauld of Marash had not died on that June day in 1149 due to another foolish military mistake, this one made by Raymond of Antioch.
    Had Renauld survived, he and Agnes would have remained married and she would not have been placed in a situation where she aroused the lust of the Count of Jaffa. And of course, no Hattin, no Third Crusade, and the history of England, France, and Germany would have been dramatically changed, as well. There is a great line in The Lion in Winter in which Eleanor reminds her sons that she’d have stayed married to the French king if she’d given him sons instead of daughters, saying wryly, “Such is the role that sex plays in history.” That could apply to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, too.
    In other happenings, on this date in 1509, Margaret Beaufort died. I will heroically refrain from commenting further. And in 1613, the Globe Theatre burned to the ground; fortunately it was rebuilt the following year. Even more fortunately, it has now been recreated in magnificent detail on the banks of the Thames. When readers ask me what to see if they have limited time in London, I’ve always advised them to be sure to visit the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and at least one of the city’s great museums. Now I’ve added a matinee performance at the Globe to my recommendations.

  27. skpenman Says:

    Many of you enjoyed Stephanie Churchill’s The Scribe’s Daughter, so I am sure you will be very pleased to learn that Stephanie’s second book will soon be out. The title is The King’s Daughter and it takes up the story of Kassia’s sister, Irisa. Like the first book, it is vividly written, suspenseful, and dramatic, with characters you will care about; I know I did. It will be published on September 1st but can be preordered on Amazon. Here is the link, which will take readers to their own Amazon site.
    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I continue my Grim Reaper duties, getting ready to dispatch yet more characters to the Great Beyond. And I have not even fought the battles at Cresson Springs and Hattin yet! Please wish me luck; I’ll likely need it.
    Now I would like to wish a Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends and readers and a Happy July 4th to my American Facebook friends. A good way to remember how fortunate we were to have such remarkable men as our Founding Fathers is to watch a film I love, 1776, which showcases the genius of three great Americans—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and my own favorite Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin—and reminds us of the strife and turmoil that swirled around our birth as a nation.

  28. Theresa Says:

    Are there any books you’d recommend on the American Revolution? I’ve become rather interested after seeing segments of the musical Hamilton on You Tube. I initially thought this musical would be unappealing to me, however seems I was very very wrong.
    (Unable to afford airfare and tickets to see the real thing at the moment though)

  29. skpenman Says:

    The only fiction I can think of, Theresa, is Howard Fast’s April Morning, but I can recommend a number of non-fiction books. Which would you prefer, fiction or non-fiction?

    Greetings from the Grim Reaper again; yes, I am still mired down doing another death scene…sigh. Wish me luck; the way things have been going, I will need it.
    It is a natural segue-way from the Grim Reaper to Game of Thrones. I think I usually have a high body count by the end of one of my books, but mine read like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm when compared to a blood-soaked opus by the magnificent Master Martin. Here is a link to a story about the coming season of Game of Thrones.

  30. Theresa Says:

    As a teenager, I did read some of John Jake’s family chronicles about the American Revolution, but that was a while ago.

    I am partial to both fiction and non. The only book I’ve ever read of Howard Fast was Spartacus, but I may have to go and read more of his work

    Still mourning the Red wedding. Yet Ellen De Montfort’s death was the saddest depicted in your books Sharon. Although the Richards came pretty close.

  31. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    I will get back to you with some recommendations, Theresa, and will also ask my Facebook readers for fictional recommendations. I think Bernard Cornwell has a series set during this time, though I have not read it yet.

    I think Ellen’s death was the hardest of all for me to write, Theresa, though there is competition for that bleak “honor.”

    Well, the bodies are falling like autumn leaves, three major characters in just two chapters, with another one coming up in the next chapter. And I have not even gotten to the battle of Hattin yet! This probably would be a good place to assure my readers that there really are survivors and the ending will not resemble a medieval Apocalypse. In other words, not as tragic as the ending of The Reckoning, which I still consider my hardest book to write and to read. In fact, The Land Beyond the Sea actually concludes on what could be called an upbeat note, for it shows human nature at its best, and we desperately need reminders of the capacity of people for heroism and empathy and mercy.
    July 4th is, of course, Independence Day in the US. But it was a very significant date in the history of the MA, for it was on this day that the Battle of Hattin was fought, which would result in the launching of the Third Crusade. I have always tried to visit the places I write about, even though I realized that on-site inspection was not all that necessary in most cases. Often the landscape had changed so dramatically over the centuries that any medieval echoes had long since faded. A good example of that is Kenilworth Castle; I visited it a number of times, but never felt Simon de Montfort’s presence. Queen Elizabeth’s lover, Robert Dudley, had made Kenilworth his own and that still holds true long after his death. Many castles are just memories today and many battlefields have fallen victim to modern development. Some important medieval cities—like Toulouse—have long since seen their pasts vanish in their rear view mirrors.
    Fortunately, for history lovers, we still have York and Carcassonne and Siena and battlefields like Bosworth. And while I was researching The Land Beyond the Sea, I discovered how valuable it was for me to see the battlefield at Hattin for myself. For that visit—and that inspiration—I am deeply grateful to my Israeli friend, Valerie Ben David. We’d rented a car but Hattin was off the beaten path. So I was delighted when Valerie generously offered to take us out to see it for ourselves. Once we got there, I at once realized what a blessing she’d conferred on me. I’d not realized that the ground was so rough and rock-strewn and dangerous. I was immediately able to understand how difficult it would have been to send horses up the steep slopes of this extinct volcano. The utter bleakness of the landscape made it even easier to imagine the despair of the kingdom’s soldiers, soon to be sacrificed in one of history’s most bone-headed military blunders. I’d known, of course, that the Franks were doomed by their lack of water, that some of them surrendered because they were half-mad with thirst by then. But knowing this was not the same as standing on the hill where they’d made their final stand and to see glimmering in the distance like a shimmering mirage—the Sea of Galilee. It was almost too easy then to identify with their desperation, trapped by a large Saracen army that would show no mercy, choking on the smoke from the fires Saladin had set to undermine their will to fight on, sweltering under the heat of the relentless summer sun, with the blue waters of Galilee so close and yet so far. And for that insight, I thank Valerie. In this case, seeing it for myself made a great difference. When you all get to read the battle scene, I hope you agree with me!

  32. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    Game of Throners are starting the countdown till Sunday evening; I hope it is premiering tomorrow, too, in other countries and there is no wait for anyone. Meanwhile, here is an excellent and insightful interview in Time Magazine with George RR Martin. I found it riveting, especially his confession about how difficult it was for him to write the Red Wedding chapter, so much so that he actually skipped it and then came back later. He also reveals his one real disagreement with HBO, a change they made that he did not agree with. I found that very interesting since that I’d totally approved of that particular HBO change. I’m curious to see how the rest of you feel? On this point, are you on Team GRRM or Team HBO? Here is the link. Enjoy.

  33. skpenman Says:

    EW’s snarky James Hibberd is back with his review of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. There are so many people now reviewing Thrones that you could spend all your time till the next episode reading them, but I enjoy Hibberd’s commentaries the most. Even the Washington Post got into the act today, with a first page review on their website. This upset a few of their readers, who complained about giving screen time to a “fantasy television show.” That prompted even more people to explain to them the functions of a mouse and touchpad which allows them to scroll down without having to read such stories. Hey, if watching Thrones for the past six years has done anything for us, it has helped to hone our collective sense of sarcasm, right? Those shocked WP readers would probably be stunned to be told that the New York Times has been reviewing Thrones for years. The reviews were almost all raves and the audience it attracted was amazing for a cable show—over sixteen million of us tuned in to catch Arya’s great line, “Tell them winter came to House Frey.” This was a mind-boggling 50% increase over the audience for last season’s premiere episode.

  34. skpenman Says:

    This is a truly amazing story and all caught on video. A man was walking his golden retriever, Storm, by the Long Island Sound when the dog suddenly plunged into the water. When he started to swim back to shore, he had something in his mouth, so his owner began to video-tape it. When the dog reached the beach, his owner saw that Storm had rescued a drowning fawn. Depositing it safely on the beach, Storm began to lick and nudge the baby deer, as if trying to make sure it was okay. Thanks to Storm, it was, and it is now recovering in an animal rescue. And Storm? He has become an internet sensation and his owner rewarded him with a batch of dog cookies. See it for yourselves.
    The most remarkable dog rescue that I’d ever heard happened about thirty years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. A couple was walking their Labrador retriever along an Oregon beach when he suddenly ripped the leash out of the woman’s hand and plunged into the ocean. They were alarmed for it looked as if he were swimming out to sea. But he’d heard what they had not. A fifteen year old girl was out there, drowning. When he reached her, she caught hold of his collar and he towed her to shore, saving her life without question. He made the cover of People Magazine for that heroic feat…..made all the more astonishing by the fact that he was totally blind. He’d found the drowning girl by scent and her faint cries for help, and was able to swim back to shore by following the sounds of his owners’ voices, calling to him. You can see why that lodged in my memory. There are many stories of dogs saving their owners, even giving their own lives to do so, but this was a case of a dog risking his life to save a total stranger.
    But dogs seem hard-wired to love people, as they have proven so often over the centuries. They are not hard-wired to save deer from drowning, so how did Storm know this fawn was desperately in need of help? And what motivated him to save it? I can think of only one answer—empathy.

  35. skpenman Says:

    I did not think there’d be another animal rescue story this week to top the amazing one of Storm, the Golden Retriever, saving the baby deer from drowning. But there was. Here is the link to a video you all MUST watch; it has to be seen to be believed and is sure to put a smile on the face of every viewer.

    And since the film Dunkirk is about to open, here is an interesting article about some little-known facts concerning the miraculous evacuation of Dunkirk. One of the most moving stories I’ve read is Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose, dealing with both the powers of friendship and the heroism exhibited at Dunkirk.

  36. Michelle Curry Says:

    Sharon, hope your back is not troubling you so much now. I just wanted to let you know that my family and I have just returned home (to Ireland) from a holiday in North Wales and between child-oriented activities I managed to get us to make some pilgrimages to see some sights I’d been reading about in your books for the last 25 years. We visited Dolwyddelan and Criccieth castles, Rhaeadr Ewynnol and both Llywelyn Fawr’s tomb at Llanrwst and Joanna’s tomb at St. Mary and St. Nicholas in Beaumaris (not that easy to find, I was afraid I’d got the wrong place but there she was in the doorway!)

    You might be pleased to know that Cadw are trying to give people some more information about the Welsh princes to put their sites into context, although I feel there is much more to be done - compared to all-singing-all-dancing effort put into Longshanks’ castles such as Conwy and Caernarfon. Criccieth had a nice exhibition on the Princes of Gwynedd and a hilarious game for children where they have to get a ball to go through a game course where you “choose an heir” for Llywelyn Fawr - in order to get to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, you have to send the ball via Tangwystl and Gruffydd rather than Joan and Davydd. Which is hugely misleading because Davydd being his father’s heir is a very well known fact and the cause of much contention at the time. But don’t worry, I left a comment in the visitors’ book ;)

    I have 3 daughters and hopefully they appreciated our little trip back into medieval Wales - although I think the glamour of Caernarfon appealed to them more! I left them in no doubt that Longshanks is the “baddie” though!

  37. skpenman Says:

    Here is James Hibberd’s recap of Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones.

    Now on to “real” history, which is almost as bloody and messy as Master Martin’s fantasy.
    Some interesting happenings on this date. On July 25, 1261, Emperor Michael Palaologis succeeded in recapturing Constantinople for the Byzantine Empire. It had been lost to the Latins when the greedy lords of the Fourth Crusade assaulted and sacked the wealthy city of Constantinople rather than having to go all the way to Jerusalem. And on July 25, 1554, Mary Tudor wed the Spanish king, Philip, surely one of the most depressing of royal marriages. Mary is undeniably a sad figure with her traumatic childhood and abusive treatment by her own father and her false pregnancies. But I’d find it easier to be sympathetic to her if she hadn’t burned so many of her own subjects at the stake. And moving from Mary the zealot to a man who was anything but, my favorite French king, Henri of Navarre. On this date in 1593, Henri converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in order to gain the French throne, saying “Paris is worth a Mass.” Henri was one of the most popular French kings and seems to have genuinely cared about his subjects. Even though it happened centuries ago, I still think it tragic that he was assassinated. I’ve always wanted to write about Henri and his spirit has been good company over the years. But I’ve had to tell him I’d probably need nine lives like a cat in order to fit him in. Being a good-natured soul, he has forgiven me, but being a king, he is sure he can eventually win me over, so he is still hanging around the house. He gets along with the Angevins better than I’d have expected. (Do I sound like someone urgently in need of a vacation?)

  38. Theresa Says:

    Sharon was Michael Palaologis mentioned in The Reckoning. Was he the ruler who had his nephew or cousin castrated, then blinded. From memory I think this was mentioned in Italy when the De Montfort brothers were swapping stories about wartime atrocities?

    On a less grisly topic, I would welcome a story on Henry IV. He has to be my favourite French Monarch.

  39. skpenman Says:

    My memory is not that good, Theresa! But based on the time line, he probably was the Byzantine emperor I was referring to in that scene. I am glad you share my appreciation for Henri of Navarre. I never can resist a man with a sense of humor.

    You all must be as weary of reading my apologies as I am of posting them.

  40. skpenman Says:

    Uh, oh, for some reason, only the first sentence of my Facebook post appeared. Trying again.

    You all must be as weary of reading my apologies as I am of posting them.

  41. skpenman Says:

    Now this is weird. I’ll have to come back later and try again. Looks like Mordred is living up to his name today.

  42. Mac Craig Says:

    Sharon, as I have mentioned before, Henri IV was the grandfather of Charles II through his mother. It appears the sense of humor jumped a generation and landed on the Merry Monarch. Too bad James II missed out on it.

  43. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    For my fellow Game of Thrones fans, here is the King of Snark, James Hibberd, with a recap of Sunday’s episode. Sorry it took me so long to get it up, but I am in the middle of staging a coup d’etat.

    And who knew there really were dyrewolves? See this interesting article in the WP.

  44. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    August 4th is the date of two significant medieval battles. On August 4, 1192, Richard Lionheart won a remarkable victory at Jaffa against a much larger Saracen army. Richard was camped outside the city walls, having managed to regain control of Jaffa. Learning that re-enforcements would not be coming, Saladin staged a surprise attack upon the crusaders. He may have won a huge victory if not for a sharp-eyed Genoese who’d risen early to relieve himself and spotted the sun glinting off the shields and spears. Richard had time to rally his small force and they held off assault after assault, until late in the day he took the offensive with barely a handful of knights and scored one of the more improbable triumphs in military history. For those who haven’t read Lionheart yet (what are you waiting for???), I naturally dramatize this battle in considerable detail, for I was lucky enough to have eye-witnesses accounts from both the crusaders and the Saracens who actually fought in this conflict.
    And on August 4, 1265, another brilliant medieval general, the future Edward I, trapped his godfather and uncle, Simon de Montfort, at Evesham. Edward had earlier staged a successful assault upon Simon’s son, Bran, who was camped at Kenilworth Castle, and he used some of the captured banners so that Simon would assume this was his son arriving with the much-needed reinforcements. By the time they realized the truth, it was too late. Simon, watching the approaching army from the bell tower in Evesham, said, “They come on well. He learned that from me.” He then uttered one of history’s better exit lines, saying to his sons and soldiers, “We must commend our souls to God, for our bodies are theirs.” In the ensuing battle, a violent thunderstorm broke out over the field at the height of the battle. Simon was slain and his body horribly mutilated by Edward’s men. Simon’s eldest son died on the field with him and his younger son, Guy, was gravely wounded. Edward showed no mercy; even the squires were killed, which was highly unusual. A chronicler would later write, “Such was the murder of Evesham, for battle it was none.” Simon’s son, Bran, would arrive on the battlefield in time to see his father’s head on a pike. Simon’s widow and daughter were allowed to go into French exile. Simon’s death was not forgotten; much to Edward’s frustration, people began to make surreptitious pilgrimages to Evesham to pray to a man some saw as a saint. A saint, he most definitely was not. As I said in the Author’s Note for Falls the Shadow, “A French-born English hero, lordly champion of the commons, an honorable adven-turer, Simon continues to be as controversial and enigmatic and paradoxical a figure in our time as he was in his own.” I think he’d have been pleased, though, with the memorial stone erected in his honor at Evesham on the 700th anniversary of his death, which was unveiled by the Speaker of the House of Commons and dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury:

  45. skpenman Says:

    I want to thank all of you who have posted birthday good wishes. I have the best readers in the world; it is not even close. I had another bad week, I am sorry to report, which is why I have been AWOL from Facebook recently. Just think of my favorite line from Casablanca: “Round up the usual suspects.” I did have a lovely birthday, though, dinner with family and friends, and my house is fragrant with birthday bouquets.
    Back to our mutual interest in history. One of history’s more celebrated and intriguing women died on August 12, 30 BC, when Cleopatra committed suicide rather than let Octavian bring her back in triumph as a prisoner to Rome. All of the early sources say that she died after being bitten by an asp, an Egyptian cobra. A modern historian has challenged this, saying she more likely died after taking hemlock, but I’m inclined to accept the early sources. Stacy Schiff wrote a successful biography of the famed Egyptian queen, “Cleopatra: a Life”, to follow up on her wonderful biography of Ben Franklin, “A great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America”, and Margaret George has written a novel about Cleopatra which I also recommend. Michelle Moran has also written an interesting novel ,“Cleopatra’s Daughter,” about the fates of Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s children, who were sent back to Rome to be raised by his long-suffering wife, Antonia. Her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarian, was murdered by Octavian. He would. I suppose Cleopatra has gotten a small measure of revenge, though, for I’d guess that she is far better known today to the general public than Octavian.
    And on August 12, 1099, the Battle of Ascalon was fought, in which Godfrey de Bouillon defeated a much larger army in what is considered to be the last battle of the bloody and brutal First Crusade. Godfrey, a younger son of the Count of Boulogne, distinguished himself in battle and was among the first to breach the wall at Jerusalem. When Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse refused the kingship, it was offered to Godfrey, who accepted but refused the title of king, saying that belonged only to God. His reign was a short one; he died the following year in Jerusalem after a prolonged illness. Nearly a hundred years later, Henri, the Count of Champagne, showed the same reluctance to accept the kingship, and while he did marry the Queen of Jerusalem, Isabella, and seems to have been very happy with her during their time together, he never claimed the kingship for himself, continuing to call himself Count of Champagne or sometimes Lord of Jerusalem.

  46. Joan Says:

    A belated Happy Birthday, Sharon. I’m happy you enjoyed a lovely day.

  47. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    I did, Joan, thank you.

    I am still having to limit my computer time, but this was such an awful week—for the US and the world—that I had to post this. I was appalled by the blood spilled by terrorists—first in Charlottesville, Virginia, then in Barcelona, Cambrils, and Alcanar, Spain, and very likely in Turku, Finland, too, although authorities there have not yet confirmed the attacks were acts of terrorism. In the face of such carnage, it is hard not to fear what tomorrow may bring. I find the beginning of Yates’s haunting poem, The Second Coming, echoing in my head over and over.
    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    The next verse is even scarier. And yet the centre somehow does hold. So many times in human history, men and women have despaired, convinced that anarchy was loosed upon their world, and they were often right. Savage wars. Plagues that killed millions. Slavery and slaughter. Reading history is not for the faint of heart. But there can be a weird sort of comfort in remembering that there has never been a Golden Age for mankind; no mapmaker has ever been able to locate Utopia. The innocent have often suffered horribly, for JFK was right; life is unfair. People persevered, though, found ways to hold on, even to cling to hope. So we can, too.

    Aren’t you guys glad that I stopped by to cheer you all up like this? At least I can share some good news. There is a new historical novel out that is likely to interest many of you. I have not read it, of course, for pleasure reading was one of the Deadline Dragon’s first victims. But it is on my “To Be Read List”. It is called The Half-Drowned King, by Linnea Hartsuyker, and it stakes out literary territory unfamiliar to many of us, certainly to me. It has gotten excellent reviews, called a “top-notch Viking saga” by Library Journal, and compared to Game of Thrones in its “deliciously complex” plot by the usually snarky Kirkus Reviews. The first of a trilogy set in ninth century Norway, it is likely also to appeal to viewers of the History Channel’s series, The Vikings, or maybe The Last Kingdom, which brings Bernard Cornwell’s magnificent Saxon series to life, or at least to television.

  48. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    I wanted to thank all of you who provided such eloquent and heartfelt responses to my post yesterday about terrorism, domestic and foreign, and W.B. Yeats’s haunting poem, The Second Coming. I found it very heartening that so many of you share my sentiments.
    I have been recommending Stephanie Churchill’s The Scribe’s Daughter, which is technically fantasy but without supernatural elements and set in a medieval-style gritty reality. A number of you have read it and enjoyed it as much as I did. Stephanie has a sequel coming out on September 1st, The King’s Daughter; I’ll be interviewing her later about that book. But I wanted to alert those who’ve not yet read The Scribe’s Daughter that this is the time to try it, for it is currently being offered in the e-book format on Amazon for only 99 cents. It is also available for British readers at 99 pence and Down Under for $1.24 in Australian dollars. Definitely a bargain! It has one of the best opening lines I’ve read: “I never imaged my life would end this way.” How could anyone not want to keep reading?

  49. skpenman Says:

    I had a very good day, a long lunch with my friend Mary Glassman Jones and her sister, Kass; we somehow managed to eat a hearty meal while talking and laughing nonstop. I see my chiropractor tomorrow as he makes another attempt to get my rogue knee under control, and tonight I am in the middle of staging my coup. I think this is a first for me, unless we look upon Henry Tudor’s assumption of power as a coup of sorts. But I had to suspend the conspiracy briefly to acknowledge the two significant battles that were fought on this date.

    On August 22, 1138, King David of Scotland suffered a defeat at Cowton Moor in Yorkshire. David was the uncle of the Empress Maude and he was attempting to advance her claim while grabbing some prime Yorkshire real estate for Scotland. He was defeated by William le Gros, the Count of Aumale. The count’s daughter Hawisa was a character in Devil’s Brood and Lionheart, wed first to Henry’s friend, the Earl of Essex, and then reluctantly to one of Richard’s vassals, William Forz. I liked that sharp-tongued lady enough to give her some screen time in A King’s Ransom, too.

    And of course today is the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485. I’ve been told by some readers that when they reread Sunne, they always stop before the battle. It was not fun for me to write, either; it took me three weeks to get Richard out of his tent and onto the field. (The reluctance was mine, not his.) I think Richard’s most memorable epitaph is the one he was given by the city of York, by the people who knew him best. They very courageously inscribed in the city records: “It was showed by John Sponer that King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us, was through great treason piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this City.”

  50. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    Hurricane Harvey has now been classified as a Category 4 storm, more powerful than Katrina. Please pray for the millions of people in its path. And for those along the Texas coast, please evacuate. It truly is Life or Death.

  51. Joan Says:

    The Half-Drowned King sounds wonderful & on my list now too. Re previous post on the state of the world, I believe we are hard-wired to survive. Lately I find myself treading that fine line between realism & cynicism, though my instinctive love of life with its richness & beauty keep me grounded. I grieve for all the sorrows & wish things could be different.

  52. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    We’ve all witnessed natural disasters and many of us have experienced them, too; two of my family members lost their houses in Hurricane Sandy. I will never forget the scenes of suffering that courageous journalists brought to us as Hurricane Katrina destroyed so much of New Orleans, a city very dear to my heart. And now we had to watch again as destruction unfolded on an almost Biblical scale in Houston and surrounding towns. It is beyond heartbreaking and so many of the stories will haunt us for years to come: the family of six swept away, including four young children; the Houston police officer who died trying to report for duty; the woman who drowned trying to save her three-year-old daughter, who was rescued as she clung to her mother’s body. Who could ever forget stories like that?
    But as always in times like this, heroes emerge. The torrential rain had not yet stopped before Houstonians were setting out to rescue their friends, their neighbors, and total strangers, using boats, canoes, even jet skis. It reminded me of Dunkirk. First responders reacted as they always do, risking their lives to save people in dire need. Volunteers drove for hundreds of miles to offer their help. Animal rescue groups arrived to rescue pets stranded by the storm. We owe a debt of deep gratitude to so many—the police and fire fighters and medical personnel, the Good Samaritans who responded to desperate pleas for help they saw on Facebook or Twitter, the Texans who opened their own homes to those who have nowhere to go.
    Nor should we forget to acknowledge the journalists who have been working around the clock to cover this tragedy; just think for a moment how much greater the death toll would have been if there were no reporters to tell us how great the need was. The stories that have been playing out on television and on-line and in the newspapers have touched the hearts of Americans from coast to coast and evoked sympathy in people around the globe, for compassion knows no borders. We should thank the millions who have donated so generously to the Red Cross and other rescue groups, to those who have launched fund-raising drives and opened their checkbooks and their hearts to help their fellow citizens. To mention just one example, the NFL star, J.J. Watt immediately launched a fund-raising drive, hoping to raise at least two hundred thousand dollars. To date, he has raised sixteen million dollars.
    We can help, too. We can make donations of our own, not just today but in the months to come. We can pledge not to vote again for any politician of whatever political persuasion who continues to deny that climate change is occurring throughout the world and at a rate far faster than the most pessimistic predictions of climatologists. We can collect toys for children and books for libraries inundated by flood waters. We can give to special needs charities like the Texas Diaper Bank. We can volunteer at animal shelters that are taking in dogs and cats from Houston shelters so that they will have room for all the pet victims of Harvey, animals that need to stay in the area so they can be reunited with their families. We can offer our prayers for those in such need of them. And we can be grateful for these glimpses of human nature at its best, for these reminders that most people are good at heart, for we tend to forget that in hard times.
    Sadly, after a natural catastrophe, scams pop up like mushrooms and shameless con artists set up sham organizations to take advantage of our generous urges. So I try to donate to reliable charities like The Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity or Doctors without Borders. When I post about these tragedies on-line, I include a link to my go-to charity, the Red Cross. So I was rather shaken when I read that some questions had been raised about how much of their donated dollars go those in greatest need, in this case, the people of Texas. I would not tell anyone not to donate via the Red Cross, and I will continue to do so, but some of you might want to read the story in one of the links below.
    Here is a very useful article about how to help in the wake of Harvey’s devastation, focusing upon local agencies.
    Here is a listing of the charities considered the “best” by Charity Navigator.
    Here is a link to my own favorite animal rescue charity, Best Friends.;jsessionid=00000000.app295a?df_id=2369&mfc_pref=T&2369.donation=form1&s_src=WDE08172ERGCOOOO&utm_medium=email&utm_source=luminate&utm_campaign=harvey&NONCE_TOKEN=E26692BFEF9BA8E4998FBC6814AC7594
    And here is the link to the controversy about the Red Cross.
    Lastly, people will be in need of assistance for many months to come. So rather than donating now, you might want to consider waiting a bit. I saw what Sandy did to my state and years later, there are people and towns that have not fully recovered from the devastation. That is true for New Orleans, too. So we need to be in it for the long haul.

Leave a Reply