No you all are not hallucinating.  My blog is no longer covered with cyber-space cobwebs; I have a brand-new blog up and ready to read.  Who says the Age of Miracles is over?     I was fortunate enough to lure Margaret George here to discuss her new novel.  But before we begin the interview, I have news about my own new novel, THE LAND BEYOND THE SEA.  It is finally done and is currently in the care of my editors at Putnam’s and Macmillan’s.  While there are some loose ends to tie up and the Author’s Note still to finish, the Deadline Dragon has been defeated at long last.  Of course he is still hanging around the house, blowing smoke rings and sneering.  It is not easy to evict a dragon, but at least he can be ignored for now.  I do not know when THE LAND BEYOND THE SEA will be published, will spread the word as soon as it reaches me.

I am so pleased to have Margaret George here.  She is one of my favorite writers and a friend and wherever he is in the Hereafter, Nero must be thanking his lucky stars that she chose to tell his amazing, improbable story.    Welcome, Margaret.   Shall we get started?   I suspect that patience is not one of Nero’s virtues.  In fact, many people probably assume he had no virtues at all, so your novel is going to be a revelation for them.

SKP:  It’s a pleasure to talk with you about the continuation of Nero’s life story, THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK.  Tell me, how did you choose that title?

MG: The right title is hard to find, but I thought this one really summed up his reign—there was a burst of creative energy, glitter, and excitement about it, before his dynasty, that was founded by Julius Caesar, collapsed in A.D. 68.  I wanted people to realize it was a high point in Roman history, not to be overshadowed by the negative things in the popular imagination connected with Nero. Historians have dubbed it ‘the Neronian Era’ and very few rulers get an era named after them.

SKP:  Of course the first question people probably ask you is: why Nero?  Why did you want to write about him?

MG:  I am drawn to people in history that seem to be unfairly condemned in the popular imagination, starting with Henry VIII.  You remember that, as an anti-Tudor person.  But you kindly read that book with an open mind.  I am just asking people to set aside their preconceptions and read about Nero with an open mind.

SKP:  But I assume there must be more to it than just that someone has a bad reputation.  After all, some people have earned that bad reputation!

MG:  Indeed they have, and well deserve it!  But Nero is an example of those whose legacy was written entirely by his enemies, and who had the misfortune to have the balancing positive appraisals of him lost in time.  Whenever a new regime comes in, whether it’s a change of dynasty in ancient Rome or a change of president in the U.S., immediately the new emperor or president, and their party, want to undo what their predecessor did, and blacken their name.  Nero was a victim of this.  I am just trying to let the suppressed voices on the other side have a say.

SKP:  Nero is one of those larger than life characters, who scarcely seem real.  He’s the Roman emperor who is a household name, who is seen in countless cartoons fiddling while Rome burned.  What was the real Nero like?

MG: I think the key to his character was that he was like a modern young person (and remember, he became emperor when he was only sixteen) who wants to be an artist—a writer, a musician, an actor—and is told by his family it’s not practical, and he has to go to law school instead.  In Nero’s case, it was that he had to be a politician.  But the conflict between the role he had to play in order to survive, and what he felt was the ‘real him’ is what makes him fascinating, sympathetic, and modern.  We can relate to that.

SKP:  But what about his art?  Was he any good?  People now laugh about it and assume he was a buffoon.

MG:  He was involved in many facets of art.  But none of his poetry, none of his sculpture, none of his musical compositions survive.  The one thing that does, however, the Domus Aurea—the Golden House in Rome—is a showcase of his revolutionary architectural vision. Nero was actively involved in designing of the building, working closely with his favorite architects Severus and Celer. Its stunning frescoes (the palace was rediscovered in the late 1400’s) influenced Raphael, who visited it, and other Renaissance artists.  It used light as an architectural element, centuries before Frank Lloyd Wright.  The Octagon Room, the first Roman building to have an open dome supported not by central pillars but by weight-baring arches on the sides, was the forerunner of the Pantheon.

SKP:  But it was not all work with him, right?  He is famous for throwing the ultimate toga party. Probably in the Domus Aurea!

MG:  No doubt about it, he liked to have a good time, and insisted on inviting the common people—with whom he felt more at home than with the senators and patricians—to join in with him, with banquets in the Forum, chariot racing, and athletic contests.  (Ironically, he didn’t like togas—he found them uncomfortable and too ‘establishment’.)  He gave the city a state of the art gymnasium and training ground, and would exercise there in public in his loincloth!

SKP: But in spite of this, he fell from power and was ousted by a new dynasty, the Flavians.  Why?

MG:  There are several theories about this—that he had made enemies of the Senate by bypassing them for the common people, that he didn’t pay enough attention to the military, that he was seen as a byword for frivolity—but I think the ultimate reason was that he chose his art over being emperor.  He embarked on a sixteen month artistic and athletic tour of Greece, in spite of warnings this was dangerous. Sure enough, in his absence conspiracies grew in Rome.  By the time he was summoned back to save his reign, it was too late.   His last words, “What an artist the world is losing!” shows how he saw himself.  He didn’t say, “What an emperor the world is losing!”

SKP:  Is there any parallel to him today?

MG:  Unlike some historical characters that get a modern makeover, Nero is impossible to update, he was so unique, and his actions so specific to that time and place, that no—there has never been, and will never be, another Nero.

SKP:   This was fascinating, Margaret.  Thank you so much for agreeing to discuss the new book with us.   For new readers, THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK is the second in a two book series by Margaret; she began Nero’s story with THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO.   I knew very little about Nero before reading these books and have a much better understanding now of this controversial yet compelling man and the times in which he lived.

November 5, 2018


  1. Mac Craig Says:

    It is wonderful that you are finally free from the Deadline Dragon, and I look forward to reading Outre Mer when it is published. My sister Janet is a dedicated reader, and I just told her about your books - in hard copy and on electronic media. Since she lives in Texas, it would be quite difficult for me to show any of your books to her. That she will find the relevant information on-line I have no doubt. Perhaps you can rest for a day or two before starting your next project.

  2. Priscilla Royal Says:

    Fascinating interview! Thank you, Margaret and Sharon, for presenting this intriguing take on a very maligned character.

  3. skpenman Says:

    Thanks, Mac and Priscilla. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview.

    Benjamin Franklin is my favorite Founding Father, and one of the two men to whom we owe the most for the birth of our country; the other is George Washington. There is one story told about Franklin that has never resonated more with me than it does in 2018. It was reported that as Dr Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked him what form of government the delegates had given them. His reply was “A republic—if you can keep it.”
    Please keep Dr Franklin’s warning in mind today. Exercise the right that so many have died to protect. Please go to the polls in your town and vote.

  4. Joan Says:

    Great news about “Outremer”, Sharon & a very interesting interview with Margaret George. In other matters, a good first step accomplished!!

  5. skpenman Says:

    Thanks, Joan.

    This will be an odd post, for I am telling you about something you cannot see here. One of my Facebook friends posted a wonderful image of a literary dragon on my fan club page. I liked it so much that I shared it on all of my Facebook pages. Unfortunately, that won’t work here. So for those who are my Facebook friends, do wander over to take a look. The rest of you just have to take my word for it that this is one spectacular dragon. :-)

  6. Mac Craig Says:

    That is an impressive dragon. Of course, he fits right in with the title of you second historical novel.

  7. skpenman Says:

    It has always fascinated me, Mac, that dragon myths or legends exist in so many different cultures, Wales and China, just to name two.

  8. skpenman Says:

    I’d planned to share one of my posts about medieval history. Then I turned on the news. What is even more horrible about these mass shootings is that while we are horrified and our hearts bleed for the families who lost their loved ones, we feel no sense of surprise whatsoever. That is truly terrifying. This was the fourth mass killing in just two weeks. A grocery store assault in Kentucky that was racially motivated; the savage Anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue in PA; a yoga studio rampage in FLA by a self-proclaimed misogynist; and now twelve more dead in this CAL bloodbath. But midst the carnage, heroes often emerge. The story below is about one of them.

  9. skpenman Says:

    I have many friends and readers in California and I hope and pray they—and everyone else in the path of those hellish fires—stay safe. From outer space, it almost seems as if the entire state is on fire. The stories we are hearing are terrifying and tragic. For those who would like to help people rebuild their lives, donations can always be made to the Red Cross and to local California charities.
    I am finding it hard to focus on the past when the present is so troubling, but I’ll give it a try. On Tuesday, I’d urged all my American friends and readers to vote. But here is what happened on the historical front on that date.
    On November 6, 1153, the Treaty of Wallingford was signed, providing that Stephen would hold onto his crown until his death, but Henry (and not Stephen’s surviving son) would be recognized as his heir. Napoleon asked of a general not “Is he good?” but “Is he lucky?” Well, Henry was both good and lucky. Stephen was 57, could easily have lived for another decade. But Henry had less than a year to wait, for Stephen died on October 25, 1154. Henry and Eleanor sailed in a storm to claim his crown and the Angevin dynasty began.
    On November 6, 1479, the sad Queen of Castile, Juana, was born. She has gone down in history as Juana la Loca; she was betrayed by the men whom she had most reason to trust—her father, her husband, and then her son. But Christopher Gortner has done her justice in his novel, The Last Queen, which I recommend.
    On a non-medieval note, America’s greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, was elected to that office on November 6, 1860.

  10. skpenman Says:

    I had planned to share a touching story about a letter written by a Welsh soldier in the trenches during WWI as my Veterans Day and Armistice Day post, and I still will do so later. But I came upon a story that I felt compelled to share first. I was shocked to learn that thousands of US veterans are facing eviction because they have not received their benefit checks for months. The GOP chairman of the House Committee on Veteran Affairs calls it a “train wreck.” I would be the last one to argue that the VA has ever been a model of efficiency. Too many ailing veterans in my part of NJ were forced for years to make exhausting bus rides to receive treatment at VA hospitals in other states because they could not receive permission to be treated at any of NJ’s local hospitals. But this latest glitch is widespread and was foreseen, yet nothing was done to head the crisis off. You can read the story below to learn about this latest outrage. I would urge all of my American readers and Facebook friends to contact their senators and congressional representatives, insisting that something be done for the vets being deprived of their GI bill benefits. Will this help? I honestly don’t know. But maybe if enough of us express our anger, that will be enough to attract congressional attention to a problem that began last year—yes, last year! If you share my indignation and believe our vets deserve better than this, please share this on your Facebook pages. Thank you. I’ll be back later with the Welsh letter.

  11. skpenman Says:

    I am sorry to have dropped off the radar screen again. But my rogue knee has shattered our tenuous truce and declared outright war, which has kept me off the computer.
    I hope all of my California friends and readers are coping with the Hellstorm fires and dangerous air pollution that have ravaged your state. Those who want to help the fire victims can donate to the Red Cross. I cannot even imagine an ordeal like this, especially one that is on-going.
    As always in tragedies, we get to see human nature at its best. Here is one such story, about a 93 year old woman trapped in the path of the Camp Fire. Even more amazing than her rescue is what her rescuer did after getting her to safety.

  12. Sharon K Penman Says:

    see my orthopedist next week and hope I’ll be able to resume regular Facebook posts afterwards. In the meantime, I wanted to drop by for a quick Hi and to share something that made me laugh. Unfortunately I cannot post it here the way I do on Facebook, so I’ll just have to relay the message:


  13. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I hope that all of my American Facebook friends and readers have a peaceful Thanksgiving, with safe travels and no political arguments at the dinner table. For my Facebook friends who do not celebrate Thanksgiving, I am sorry you are missing out on a such a special holiday.

  14. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Me again. The computer gremlins struck again and cut off the rest of my post. Hopefully, I’ll have better luck this time.

    November 14, 1687 is the death date for one of my favorite historical figures, Restoration actress and long-time mistress of Charles II, Nell Gwynn. Charles was obviously very attached to Nell, for their liaison lasted from 1668 until his death in 1685. They had two sons, one of whom died young; the older boy was made a duke by Charles, who was always generous to his mistresses and illegitimate children. Nell was said to be pretty, charming, and witty. Her most quoted quip came when her carriage was stopped by a mob who thought it contained Charles’s unpopular, aristocratic French mistress, who was Catholic at a time when Catholicism was a trigger point in English society. Not at all daunted by the turmoil, Nell stuck her head out the carriage window and called out, “Good people, I am the Protestant whore!” On his deathbed, Charles famously told his brother James, “Let not poor Nelly starve.” James was not the most admirable of men, but he did honor Charles’s request, paying Nell’s debts and giving her a pension. Sadly, she survived Charles by only two years. She suffered a stroke in March of 1687 and had several others that incapacitated her before her death on November 14th of that year; her most recent biographer thinks she’d contracted syphilis. . She was only thirty-seven. Not surprisingly, she has been popular with Hollywood and writers over the years. I highly recommend Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar, a very well researched and highly enjoyable account of Nell’s life. I was glad when Priya did not take the readers to Nell’s deathbed; I would rather think of her in her prime, bedazzling audiences and the king.

  15. Mac Craig Says:

    Charles II was the grandson who best channeled his grandfather, Henri IV.

  16. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I hope all of my American readers and friends had a lovely Thanksgiving and that those of you who are traveling will get home safely. There is a nasty storm looming, though, so take care.
    November 25, 1120 was a date of momentous significance, for the sinking of the White Ship and the loss of Henry I’s only legitimate son set in motion events that would lead to civil war and the eventual accession to the English throne of the first king of the Plantagenet dynasty, Henry II. Imagine how different English and French history would have been if the White Ship had not gone down on that frigid November night. (Just the thought of being denied the Plantagenets to write about gives me a shiver.) Over three hundred men and women died when the White Ship struck a rock in Barfleur Harbor, most of them highborn. Here is a passage from that scene in Saints, page 22, as the only survivor, a butcher’s apprentice from Rouen who had clung to the ship’s yardarm during that long, icy night, waits to die.
    * * *
    When he heard the voices, muffled and distorted in the fog, Berold 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, was 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.
    * * *
    The accepted story is that the crew were drunk, having shared some of the wine on board as they awaited the arrival of the young prince, William, who was carousing with friends in a wharfside tavern. But one historian later made an intriguing suggestion, speculating that it might have been murder. I tend to be very skeptical of conspiracy theories, especially when there is no way of proving them. The obvious suspect would have been the king’s nephew, Stephen, who was supposed to sail on the White Ship and changed his mind at the eleventh hour. From what we know of Stephen, though, he would not have been ruthless enough, or crafty enough, to pull off a mass murder of this magnitude.. But the historian, Victoria Chandler, had a much more interesting—and more plausible—suspect than Stephen in mind. She suggested that attention should be paid to Ranulf de Mechelin, a major character in Saints, whose checkered career indicates he would have been quite capable of such a monstrous crime and without losing a night’s sleep over the three hundred people who died when the White Ship sank. He also had a compelling motive; his uncle was a passenger on the White Ship and his death enabled Ranulf to claim the earldom of Chester. I am not convinced this was the case, but the story set forth in the the following link definitely makes interesting reading.
    November 25th was also the date of a significant battle in the Holy Land, when in 1177, the sixteen year old Baldwin IV, known to history as the Leper King, soundly defeated Saladin at the battle of Montgisard, which rated several chapters in The Land Beyond the Sea.
    And on November 25, 1487, Henry Tudor finally got around to having his wife, Elizabeth of York, crowned as his queen.

  17. skpenman Says:

    I hope those of you who have been traveling home after the holiday were spared the worst of those devastating storms wreaking havoc in so much of the country. We were spared the snow here but there was so much rain that many of the roads were flooded. Thankfully, my fellow NJ residents seem to have heeded that warning: Turn around; don’t drown.
    November 26th, 1252 was the date of death at age 64 of Blanche of Castile, daughter of Alfonso and Leonora, and therefore granddaughter of our Henry and Eleanor. After Richard’s death, Eleanor traveled to Castile to bring back one of her granddaughters to marry the son of the French king Philippe. She chose Blanche, then Blanca, over her elder sister, Urraca, supposedly because the latter’s name was too “foreign.” But that was definitely an excuse, a means of saving the elder girl’s pride, for it was common for a young bride to change a foreign name to one more familiar to her new subjects. Eleanor’s other granddaughter Richenza became known as Matilda after she was raised at Henry’s court. In my books, however, I kept her as Richenza, for I already had too many Matildas; what I wouldn’t have given to rename a few of the Henrys and Williams! Blanche became Queen of France and after her husband’s death, she acted as regent for her son, the future St Louis. She was clearly a woman of ability and courage and ambition, but she’s never been a favorite of mine. She was also the Mother-in-law from Hell, making life difficult for Louis and his young queen Marguerite, who was one of the four famous sisters of Provence, all of whom wed kings. But she deserves credit for all she did to secure her son’s throne. And in all honesty, Eleanor was not a warm and loving mother-in-law, either.

  18. skpenman Says:

    I hope all of you Thanksgiving travelers are now safely home. Here is my Today in History post.
    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.
    * * *

  19. skpenman Says:

    Since I can count upon Rania to post historical happenings for today’s date, I can indulge myself by looking back at a date I missed earlier in the month. This gives me a chance to snipe at two of my least favorite kings—the Tudor Bluebeard and the hard-hearted Philippe Capet.

    November 14, 1501 was the date of the wedding of the young Tudor prince, Arthur, and his Spanish bride, Katherine of Aragon. She would soon be a widow and many years later, her second husband, Arthur’s brother, Henry, would attempt to use this marriage to rid himself of a wife he no longer wanted, suddenly discovering that she (gasp!) had been married to his brother, and citing his own interpretation of Leviticus to argue that his marriage to Katherine was accursed. He must have been greatly surprised when his hither-to docile and dutiful wife balked, insisting that the marriage to Arthur was never consummated and she came to Henry’s bed a virgin. The sad story of what followed is very well known, of course, for although the Tudor dynasty ruled for little more than a hundred years, they managed to capture the imagination of historians, screen-writers, novelists, and the general public. This has always been hard for me to understand when the Plantagenets were just as colorful and most of them were more likable than the Tudor usurpers. (Excluding Elizabeth, of course, whom I call the only good Tudor.)

    Henry’s abusive treatment of Katherine was eerily similar in some ways to the way the French king, Philippe Capet, treated his unwanted wife, the Danish princess Ingeborg. Ingeborg endured twenty years of imprisonment, deprivation, psychological torture, and general misery as Philippe sought desperately to end their marriage. He disavowed her the day after their wedding night, had his tame bishops declare the marriage null and void based upon a forged chart showing consanguinity. That did not impress the Popes, either the timid Celestine or the strong-willed Innocent III, and Philippe’s next ploy was to claim that the marriage had not been consummated because Ingeborg had cast a spell upon him. Temporary impotence caused by sorcery was a recognized ground for dissolution of a marriage, but Innocent was not buying this, either, and the impasse dragged on. In 1212, Philippe came up with my personal favorite of his arguments. He finally admitted the marriage had been consummated—which Ingeborg had been insisting all along—but claimed there had been no insemination. (I bet I am not the only one who remembers a claim of smoking pot but “not inhaling.”) Innocent’s response to this was priceless. He told Philippe to spare him “insanities of this kind.” Philippe caved in the following year and released Ingeborg from confinement, although they never lived together as husband and wife. Ingeborg’s story actually had a happier ending than Catherine of Aragon’s, for she outlived Philippe by thirteen years, devoting herself to good works and acts of piety, while being kindly treated by Philippe’s son and grandson. Henry VIII, took a different tack, of course, when he could not browbeat the Pope into getting his own way; he simply started his own Church.

  20. skpenman Says:

    I hope all of my Facebook friends and readers who live in Alaska came through their earthquake safely. I’ve experienced earthquakes when I lived in California, but never one of such magnitude; the first of the two registered a 7 on the Richter Scale.
    I have good news for fans of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her family. June Hall McCash’s new novel, Eleanor’s Daughter, has just been published. The major character is Eleanor’s eldest daughter, Marie of Champagne. I’ve always found Marie to be both intriguing and sympathetic and I was able to give her a few scenes in Devil’s Brood, but I thought she deserved more than that brief time on center stage. So I was delighted when I learned from June that she was working on a novel about Marie. Although I’ve not been able to read it yet, I am sure she has done Marie justice and I wanted to spread the word to my fellow Eleanor aficionados. Here is the Amazon link.

  21. Joan Says:

    The book sounds wonderful. Will def buy it when soft cover is out.

  22. skpenman Says:

    Marie definitely deserves a book of her own, Joan. And as I say below, it will soon be available both in soft cover and as an e-book.

    I checked with June Hall McCash, author of the new novel about Marie of Champagne, Eleanor’s Daughter, and she assured me that the book will soon be available both as an e-book and in soft cover; it is currently being offered as a hardback. I was pleased to hear this, for I prefer e-books for my pleasure reading, both for the convenience and the option of increasing the font size, a definite plus for aging eyes! Below is a catch-up Today in History post for I fell far behind thanks to my squabbles with the Deadline Dragon.
    All of the people I write about took the day off on November 30th. But there were two non-medieval deaths worth mentioning. On November 30, 1705, Catherine of Braganza, the much put-upon queen of Charles II, died. I always felt sympathy for Catherine. Deeply pious, this convent-bred bride was never at home in England, distrusted for her Catholic faith and scorned for her inability to give Charles an heir. Charles, of course, was probably the greatest womanizer ever to sit on the English throne; sorry to deny you the laurels, Edward IV. (And yes, Henry I sired over 21 illegitimate children, but I think he cared only about the sex; the women were merely the means to an end. Whereas I think Charles and Edward genuinely liked the ladies.) Catherine had to accept the presence at his court of her husband’s favorites, which had to be painful as well as humiliating, for she seems to have developed real feeling for the charming, lusty, and good-humored man she’d married. Charles became fond of her, too, not enough to “stay faithful to his marriage bed,” as they phrased it in the MA, but enough to try to protect her from the hostility of his more rabidly anti-Catholic subjects; he also intervened whenever a royal mistress was too disrespectful of his long-suffering queen. He refused to put her aside even after it became obvious she would never give him an heir, in kindly contrast to Henry Bluebeard Tudor. Of course it could be argued that in sparing Catherine’s feelings, he did his country no favors, for England would surely have been better off without the kingship of his inept, idiot brother, James. Catherine survived Charles by twenty years, remaining in England instead of returning to Portugal. She is said to have been the one who introduced tea drinking to the British public, thus inadvertently contributing to the causes of the American Revolution—remember the Boston Tea Party, people? The New York City borough of Queens is named after her, as she was the queen at the time of its founding—or so says Wikipedia.
    And on November 30th, 1910, the man I consider the greatest American writer, Mark Twain, died. His last years were filled with sorrow and bitterness and I think he was probably glad to go. RIP, Mark. I think you would be pleased to know that you are just as esteemed in our time as you were in your own.

  23. skpenman Says:

    Below is the post that I put up on my Facebook pages. Unfortunately, I cannot share a photo here, but you can click onto the link to see Sully’s final vigil for his master.

    We all know—and most of us regret—how polarized our country has become, with politics too often seeming like a blood-sport. But we still share certain bedrock values, among them a belief in compassion and courage, and I think we can agree that George H.W. Bush showed both in the course of his long and eventful life. Here is a very touching photo of Sully, the former president’s service dog, keeping watch by his coffin. To the credit of the Bush family, they are returning Sully to America’s VetDogs, the organization that trained him, so that he may continue to help veterans in need. For anyone looking for a worthy cause to support, VetDogs is an excellent choice. For so many servicemen and women struggling with their ghosts and memories, a service dog like Sully can make a great difference.

  24. Joan Says:

    Lovely post, Sharon. Very touching.

  25. skpenman Says:

    Thank you, Joan. Sully will be going to Walter Reed Hospital to give comfort to veterans there.

    With apologies to my Jewish friends and readers for the delay, I hope that you all are enjoying Hanukkah. I am also late in posting about the historical events of early December; hey, at least I am consistent. I am sure Rania has already posted about December 1st. Because I can rely upon her for that, I don’t feel as guilty when I miss a date. But there were some interesting happenings on December 1st which offered me the opportunity to add a few snarky observations about two historical figures I am not overly fond of—Thomas Becket and the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II. So here it is.
    December 1st was not a lucky day for the following people. On this date in 1135, King Henry I died, a death that would set off nineteen wretched years for the English people, a time when they said “Christ and his saints slept.” Apparently, the story that he died of “a surfeit of lampreys” may just be a legend; too bad, for I rather liked that one. He did, however, die after feasting upon lampreys, which his doctors had forbidden.
    Also on December 1st, 1170, Thomas Becket returned to Canterbury after a six year exile in France. He wasted no time in infuriating his king again, and the clock began ticking toward his desired martyrdom on December 29th. Can I prove he sought martyrdom? No, but as a former lawyer, I think I could make a convincing case based on the evidence—his insistence upon excommunicating the Archbishop of York and the bishops of London and Salisbury, knowing full well that he’d be flinging a torch into the hayrick of Henry’s Angevin temper; his refusal to compromise; then his refusal to flee from the four knights who would slay him, even though his monks, aware that he was in great danger, pleaded with him to do so. Instead, he confronted and taunted the knights, and so gained immortality for himself and put Henry in an impossible position. I can’t say he anticipated being made a saint, but it may have crossed his mind, knowing how shocked Christendom would be by the murder of an archbishop in his own cathedral. I doubt that he’d have been pleased that Henry managed to wriggle out of the trap and his killers were subjected only to the penance of a pilgrimage. And since there is no evidence that Becket had an appreciation for irony, he probably would not have been amused that the reason his killers escaped punishment was because he’d refused to accept Henry’s attempt to reform the law with the Constitutions of Clarendon. As I had Henry say in Time and Chance, “The ultimate absurdity of this, Ranulf, is that their crime is one the Church would deny me the right to punish. Thomas insisted unto his final breath that only the Church could judge the offenses of men in holy orders and any crimes committed against them.” Since all the Angevins had a strong sense of irony, we can safely say that Henry took some grim amusement from that.
    And on December 1st, 1235, Isabella, the daughter of King John and Isabelle d’Angouleme, sister of Henry III, died in childbirth at the age of twenty-seven; the baby died, too. She’d been wed six years earlier to Frederick II, the brilliant, controversial Holy Roman Emperor, and had given him two children. Frederick was said to be fond of his beautiful young English wife, but her brother Henry was not happy that she was kept so secluded, rarely appearing in public. We do not know how Isabella felt about any of this–the match with Frederick or his harem or the luxurious, isolated life she led as his empress. Women’s voices were rarely recorded throughout most of history.

  26. skpenman Says:

    I hope all of you in the path of the latest monster storm stay safe and can ride it out at home. Yesterday was the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Few of us were alive then, of course, but I was listening to a radio show in my car that discussed how dramatically different news becomes public today. Pearl Harbor occurred during a Philadelphia Eagles football game, and some of the players later reported that they knew something horrible had occurred, for the stadium PR system suddenly began to announce that some of the fans needed to call their offices immediately—all of them high ranking military men and police officers and politicians. On the same show, someone described how he learned of the capture of Osama bin Ladin. He was at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game, and suddenly noticed that many in the audience were paying more attention to their phones than to the game. He said a buzz swept the stadium as word began to spread, and marveled that people today can often learn of important events even before they are officially announced or the story is reported by the media.
    As Christmas approaches, we usually have a discussion of Christmas music, posting about the songs we like the most and those we loathe. So I’ll get us started today. One of my favorites is What Child is This, because it is set to the music of Greensleeves, one of my best-loved songs, followed by Christmas—Sarajevo by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I enjoy listening to The Little Drummer Boy, in large measure because my dad loved it and I think of him whenever I hear it. Along the same lines, I was never a fan of The Twelve Days of Christmas, but I have learned to like it simply because it was my mom’s favorite Christmas song. I stop whatever I am doing to listen to I’ll be Home for Christmas, even though I think it is one of the saddest songs of the season; I interpret it to be a lament for bygone days and loved ones now dead. Who does not like Silent Night? I am not normally a fan of novelty Christmas songs, though I do like Rudolph; after all, he prevails over the bullies in the end! I like Silver Bells and Mele Kalikimaka. I once lived in Hawaii and am still proud that greeting can roll trippingly over my tongue; Hawaiian is a beautiful language. I also have fond memories of decorating a corn plant with big red bows for our Christmas tree and going to the beach on Waikiki on Christmas Day. There are more, of course, that I really like. And then there are the clunkers, the ones I’d ban from the airwaves forever if I ever become Dictator of the World. The version of Santa, Baby by Madonna sets my teeth on edge. I don’t like the song that turns “Christmasing” into a verb—ugh. And I absolutely loathe I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, surely the most obnoxious Christmas song of all time. It always sounds smarmy to me, but I’ve even heard versions where the bratty kid plans to blackmail Mom, making her pay for his silence.
    Okay…..your turn, guys. What holiday songs do you love to hear and which ones affect your nerves like chalk on a blackboard?

  27. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I am back with some more holiday cheer, a heartening story of a stranger’s generosity and a young mother’s gratitude. If more people were as perceptive or as kind as this man, we would not need stories like this so desperately. But if you have any to share, this is the place!

  28. Joan Says:

    Truly an angel in flight!

    Christmas carols are magical, we transcend the ordinary stuff of life, & the really great ones inspire love & forgiveness in us. Make us feel one with the universe. But there are emotional land mines out there too! Have to watch out for those.
    I’m into Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong again this year, my faves on the album being…..What Child is This (Traditional)…..Wintersong…..River (Joni Mitchell)…..Song for a Winter’s Night (Gordon Lightfoot)…..I’ll be Home for Christmas…..& Happy Christmas/War is Over (John & Yoko). Then I spend time with the original artists singing their creations. The Twelve Days of C’mas by John Denver & the Muppets is my fave version & can still hear my then 15th month old granddaughter doing the “mee mee mee me me” part. Turns out, this granddaughter has a beautiful voice at 14 yrs old!

  29. skpenman Says:

    I am still trying to catch up for missed Today in History posts.
    I am sure other events of historical significance occurred on December 11th, but for me, everything else is overshadowed by what happened at twilight on that frigid December day in 1282, the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the great Welsh prince whom the Welsh would remember as “Ein Llyw Olaf,” translated as “Our Last Leader.”

    The Reckoning, page 534. Llywelyn has been found by English soldiers who are jubilant upon recognizing him, knowing how richly they’d be rewarded if they could deliver him alive into the English king’s hands.
    * * *
    Another of the soldiers was coming back. “Here, Martin, put this about him.”
    Martin took the blanket. “He’s in a bad way, Fulk,” he murmured, as if Llywelyn ought not to hear. Fulk picked up the lantern, and swore under his breath at the sight of the blood-soaked snow.
    “Christ,” he said, and then, to Llywelyn, almost fiercely, “You hold on, hear? We’re going to get you to a doctor, for the king wants you alive!”
    Llywelyn gazed up at him, marveling. “Indeed,” he said, “God forbid that I should disoblige the English king by dying.” It was only when he saw that Fulk and Martin were uncomprehending that he realized he’d lapsed into Welsh. But he made no effort to summon back his store of Norman-French. A man ought to die with his own language echoing in his ears.
    The English soldiers were discussing his wound in troubled tones. But their voices seemed to be coming now from a distance, growing fainter and fainter until they no longer reached Llywelyn. He heard only the slowing sound of his heartbeat, and he opened his eyes, looked up at the darkening sky.
    * * *
    I believe I’ve told this story before, for the memory remains very vivid to me even after so many years. I was driving along a mountain road in Wales, thinking about how I would write Llywelyn’s death scene. Such scenes are always challenging, as you’d imagine. Various ideas had come to me, only to be discarded. Suddenly I could hear a voice saying: A man ought to die with his own language echoing in his ears. I don’t really believe Llywelyn whispered his wishes in my ear. I know the voice was in my head. But it seemed so clear, so real, that for just a moment, I wondered….I will give the last word, though, to the Welsh bard, Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Goch, whose haunting lament for his slain prince has the power to tear away time’s veil and share with us the despair, the shock, and the raw pain of Llywelyn’s countrymen: “Ah, God, that the sea would cover the land! What is left us that we should linger?”

  30. skpenman Says:

    Cris and I became friends decades ago when I first moved to York to research Sunne. We’ve remained good friend, and she recently sent me a stunning photo of the Monk Bar medieval gatehouse in York decked out for Christmas. I want to share it with all of my Facebook friends and readers. Unfortunately, I cannot post a photo here, but if any of you are my Facebook friends, you can see it on my personal page or one of my fan club pages.

    Most of you are probably more familiar with Micklegate Bar, for after the Duke of York and his teenage son Edmund had been slain at the battle of Wakefield, their heads were mounted on Micklegate Bar, grisly trophies of a Lancastrian victory that would prove very fleeting and very costly. That shocks modern sensibilities, but medievals became inured to such sights. I remember reading a chronicle in which it was reported that the citizens of Coventry were complaining about the heads of rebels mounted above the city’s main gate. But they were not repulsed; they were annoyed because one of the heads had not been properly attached and it kept plummeting down, sometimes hitting carts and passersby.

  31. skpenman Says:

    Since we are all book lovers here, I am pleased to share some good news. Many of you know Stephanie Churchill from her posts on Facebook, but not all of you know that she is a gifted writer. For those of you who’ve not yet read any of her novels, this is the ideal time to remedy that. Today and tomorrow, you can obtain a free copy of her first novel, The Scribe’s Daughter and buy the sequel, The King’s Daughter, at a bargain price, just $1.99 I enjoyed The Scribe’s Daughter very much and am currently about half-way through The King’s Daughter, which is equally enjoyable. The characters are well-drawn and credible and we care about them; at least I did! There are enough plot surprises and twists to satisfy readers and although the novels are classified as fantasy, they are rooted in a gritty medieval reality that will be intriguingly familiar to my readers. Here is the link to The Scribe’s Daughter. Check it out now and thank me later for this early Christmas present.

  32. skpenman Says:

    My computer is living up to her name, Mischief, for she omitted the link for The Scribe’s Daughter. Sorry about that.

  33. skpenman Says:

    For all of my American Facebook friends who will be traveling this holiday, I hope your trips are safe and you are able to avoid the monster storms assaulting the East and West Coasts.
    I was going through past posts and came upon one that one of my readers shared with us, a satiric column purporting to offer marital advice to the six wives of the Tudor Bluebeard. I thought it was amusing and since it was posted more than three years ago, I assume that many of you never read it and those who did have probably forgotten it. Besides, it gives me an opportunity to take another shot at Henry. So here it is.

  34. Joan Says:

    Sharon, I wish you a very happy Christmas with family & friends, & all you wish for in the New Year!!

    2019 has a big treat in store for all of us greedy fans……Outremer!!!

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