The Historical Writers Forum brings you… An Interview with Lady Nicholaa de Haye

In 1228, the monk, Hereticus, talks to Lady Nicholaa de Haye, one of the staunchest defenders of the king and his kingdom, at her manor at Swaton in Lincolnshire, as he gathers information for his forthcoming blockbuster chronicle: The Last days of King John…

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A carving of Nicholaa de Haye in the grounds of Lincoln Castle

Lady Nicholaa, you’ve lived a very long life during a most turbulent period of our history, but when you inherited your father’s estates and became castellan of Lincoln castle in 1169, did you ever imagine what you would be required to do to keep your inheritance?

Well no, of course not. I assumed that I would marry, and the husband would do all the duties of the castellan, with me at the hearth, raising the children – and maybe overseeing the management of our own estates. That’s how it is for most women. I never expected to have to defend the castle once, let alone three times! But, needs must, as you know. Just because Gerard – my husband, Gerard de Canville – was away didn’t mean I was going to give up – Gerard left the castle in my care and I wasn’t about to let him down.

Was it your own decision to marry Gerard de Canville? Were you content with the choice?

I took some advice on the matter, of course. If I wanted to keep hold of Lincoln Castle, I knew I would have to marry. Gerard was a sensible choice; good family, good connections. His family had a history of serving the crown, just as mine did and his family lands in Normandy were close to our own de la Haye lands. And, as he was a younger son, he did not have many estates of his own to distract him, so he could concentrate his energies on securing and administering my own inheritance. He was a good choice – we made a good team.

What was going through your mind in 1191 when William Longchamp turned up to lay siege to Lincoln Castle?

That he was not getting MY castle. It had been my father’s and grandfather’s before me and the man was definitely outreaching himself by laying siege to me! I’m not saying I wasn’t nervous – I had never actually been in a siege before, let alone in charge of the castle’s defences, but I wasn’t going to shirk my responsibilities just because that horrible justiciar wanted to give Lincoln to his own man. After six weeks of getting nowhere with the siege, he got the message and left.

One observer has commented that you defended the castle “manfully” – do you see that as a compliment or an insult?

Well, in my day and age, it is definitely a compliment. These chronicler monks have little to do with women, so have very few comparisons to draw on. In fact, it is a compliment that they mention me at all – the monks do have a tendency to ignore the accomplishments of women.

Er, yes, I suppose… Anyway, in 1193, Richard was your anointed king. Why then did you and your husband support John in his rebellion against his absent brother?

Gerard had no choice. We were sworn to John, you see; we had given him our oath and that meant something to us. And many were forced to choose between their divided loyalties, not just us. In the long term, it proved to be the right decision. Even then, many expected John to be the next king, no one wanted to get on his wrong side.

No, I suppose not and your support of John almost brought about your ruin when Richard returned. That must have been a low point – did you ever expect to regain your lands and responsibilities again?

That was a difficult time, yes. Kicked out of my beloved Lincoln Castle, spending six years in the ‘wilderness’, but we remained philosophical about it, fortunes rise and fall. We did manage to keep our other lands, though it cost us a fortune (2,000 marks!). I always lived in hope that I would one day be allowed to go home.

Why did you remain steadfastly loyal to John throughout his reign, despite his reputation as a cruel king?

Ah, THE question! I know it is something Sharon has thought long and hard about whilst writing my story. But, honestly, John was always good to me and my family. He stood by us, restored Lincoln Castle to us almost as soon as he came to the throne. I know his reputation, and some of the things he has done, but he has always remained steadfast towards me and I had no reason to betray him.

Though you are a woman, King John placed immense trust in you – why do you think that was?

Well, I did hold Lincoln Castle against all-comers – several times! I am a practical person, and I think John appreciated that. He knew I would get the job done – and I have proven that I don’t flinch when it comes to a fight.

Why do you think so many of your fellow barons rose in rebellion against John and invited Louis to rule England?

Ah, that old saying, ‘the grass is always greener’. I’m sure they all believed it. And many of them – such as Salisbury and Warenne – only went over to the French once they believed there was no way back for John. I’m sure they thought it better to be on the winning side, for the sakes of their family and lands. Now, don’t get me wrong, John made mistakes and something needed to be done, but inviting the French over? Honestly!

Were you disappointed that John gave William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury the right to arrange the marriage of your granddaughter, Idonea?

Disappointed but not surprised. Salisbury is John’s half-brother after all, and John needed to keep him sweet. Politics is all about favours and position these days.

Were you surprised when King John appointed you as Sheriff of Lincoln – surely only a man should hold such a high position?

I think I have proved many times that I am just as capable as any man! John was short of loyal supporters in 1216. The French held London. And there was I, reliable Nicholaa. Seeing as I already held the castle, making me sheriff was a sensible decision, to be honest, and I believe I carried out my duties efficiently.

I’m sure you did! But how do you think King John’s death in October 1216 changed things both for you and the kingdom?

Very little at first. Louis was still in England and still gaining ground. It wasn’t until 1217 that he came to Lincoln to demand I relinquish the castle to him – you can imagine my response! However, it gave the rebels a way to come back into the king’s peace without losing face, didn’t it? Gave them the chance to say, ‘we were against John, not England’. Although, for some, it did take them a little time… Maybe they needed to be sure which way the wind was blowing …

You held Lincoln Castle against several besieging forces over the years – how was Louis’ siege in 1217 different?

Well, with the 1216 siege I could just pay off the rebels and they went home – I don’t think their hearts were really in it. Louis was more determined – he brought up heavy siege machinery to bombard the castle walls. He came and asked me personally to surrender the castle, promising no one would be hurt. I refused, of course. Having seen off two sieging armies already, I knew I could hold out. I also knew I had to – the French could not get their hands on Lincoln Castle, it was one of the few remaining bastions in England. It was hard, though, especially knowing that the city was against us – I had lived among these people my whole life and they supported the rebels.

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Battle of Lincoln, 1217 in the account of Matthew Paris

Why do you think William Marshal was so determined to come to your aid and how did you feel when you saw his banners advancing from the north?

We had been under siege for 6 weeks by that point and the besiegers had kept up a steady pounding of the castle walls for all that time. The city had allied with the rebels. My men were determined, but I was beginning to wonder how long I would have to hold out. I must admit, it was quite a relief to see Marshal’s army on the horizon. I believe he said something in his speech before the battle, about it being dishonourable not to help so brave a lady. He was a chivalrous man, one of the best I have known.

How did you feel about the terrible slaughter and destruction meted out during and after the battle of Lincoln?

I should say that the citizens brought it on themselves – they sided with the rebels against myself and my garrison. However, it was such a dreadful tragedy, especially for those women and children drowned in the river as they were trying to get away.

Though you seemed happy enough to relinquish Lincoln Castle to John in 1216, when it was taken from you in 1217 you contested the decision. Why?

In 1216 I was grieving, had just lost my husband and knew that if I relinquished the castle, John would just hand it over to my son, Richard, keeping it in the family, so-to-speak. By 1217 I had my old fight back. Lincoln Castle was mine by right! And I wasn’t going to let that knave Salisbury get his hands on everything that was mine, just because my granddaughter was married to his son.

When you faced your darkest hours, what motivated you to hold on, despite the difficulties and dangers you faced?

Duty and family. Lincoln Castle had been my father’s before me and his father’s before him. And was determined to pass it to my son, Richard, or my granddaughter after Richard’s death. I was never going to give it up without a fight – what kind of de la Haye would I be if I did that?

Of all you have achieved in your long life, what gives you the most pride?

Knowing that no one captured Lincoln Castle while it was in my charge. I have a better record of defending against sieges than most men!

Thank you, Lady Nicholaa, for your honest and – dare I say – robust answers to my irksome questions. You may be sure that I – though a monk who might be ‘inclined to ignore the accomplishments of women’ – will do all I can to ensure that your bravery will be remembered for a very long time to come.

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Nicholaa de Haye is just one of numerous medieval women given a new stage in the non-fiction history books written by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Sharon is very generously offering a Giveaway Competition prize of a signed paperback of Heroines of the Medieval World  – worldwide offer!

All you have to do to have a chance of winning this great book – believe me I’ve read it! – is to leave a comment either below on this blog or on my Facebook Author page. Competition closes: 5pm UK time on Wednesday, 26th June.

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Sharon Bennett Connolly

About the author:

Sharon Bennett Connolly, has been fascinated by history for over 30 years now. She has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle.
Born in Yorkshire, she studied at University in Northampton before working in Customer Service roles at Disneyland in Paris and Eurostar in London.
She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses.
For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – History … the Interesting Bits (www.historytheinterestingbits.com), allowing her to indulge in that love of history.

Sharon started researching and writing about the lesser-known stories and people from European history, the stories that have always fascinated. Quite by accident, she started focusing on medieval women. And in 2016 she was given the opportunity to write her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, which was published by Amberley in September 2017.

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She has just published her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, and is now working on Ladies of Magna Carta, which will be published by Pen & Sword in May 2020.

Sharon’s Links:

Website; https://historytheinterestingbits.com/

Twitter: @Thehistorybits

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thehistorybits/

Buy the books: Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sharon-Bennett-Connolly/e/B072156Z8V/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Bennett-Connolly-Sharon/e/B072156Z8V

There are more character interviews coming up too…

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Find out more on the Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop page

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Posted in Blog hop, History, Medieval History, Women's history | Tagged , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Who Is Eleanor Elder?

Lady Eleanor is a leading character in my two series set during the Wars of the Roses: Rebels & Brothers and the Craft of Kings.

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Of all the characters in all the books, she is the one who regularly – and seriously – rocks the boat. In fact, she doesn’t just rock the boat she reduces it to a pile of useless planks of timber.

But here’s the thing about Eleanor: she will put body, heart and soul on the line to protect her family and friends and defend them against all comers with any object that comes to hand, be it sharp or blunt. Indeed Eleanor is the very personification of blunt force trauma.

As a few readers have commented:

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The Craft of Kings

“In Eleanor’s case, it seems that sometimes she needs protecting from herself. Wilful, headstrong, stubborn; these do not begin to describe this most remarkable woman, one of my favourite fictional characters…. a woman of many talents and one who will not be vanquished no matter how much is thrown at her.”

“The formidable Eleanor Elder isn’t about to let a low-life crush her…”

“What can you say about Eleanor only that I want one in my family.”

“Long live Lady Eleanor!”

Well on Saturday 8th June, you can find out more about this lady because she is being interviewed by Sharon Bennett Connolly on her blog – History, the Interesting Bits – as part of this ongoing extravaganza…

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Coming soon from the Historical Writers Forum

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Lady Eleanor Elder has been a very popular character with readers throughout two series of books about the Elder family set during the Wars of the Roses.

Don’t miss her candid interview with author Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Posted in Blog hop, Historical Fiction, Medieval History, Wars of the Roses, Women's history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Game of Thrones – A Review

N.B. Major – and I mean major! – Spoiler Alert!!

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Now that the dust and ash has settled – and there was a hell of a lot of ash to settle! – I feel I should put down a few thoughts on the whole great project that was Game of Thrones. I’ve left it a few days so that I’m not giving a knee jerk reaction to the final series and its outcome.

Firstly, let me say that I read all the books – but, if GRR Martin had decided to ever write the ending, I probably would not have bothered to read it. Though I carried on reading, he lost me round about book 4 when he found that he had dug himself into a bit of a hole. The TV series, however, I have really enjoyed – though I know I won’t be alone in expressing some doubts about series 8 – but more of that later.

Game of Thrones set new standards for a TV series and it deserves to be lauded for doing so. The scripts, the acting, the settings, the cinematography and general production values, especially in the last few series, have all been fantastic.  Martin’s characters have been vividly brought to life by a wonderful cast – and, while we wallow in self-pity that it’s all over, let’s not forget the stellar performances of some who perished earlier in the piece – notably Charles Dance and Diana Rigg. For me – and I suspect many others – the standout performances of the series came from Tyrion [Peter Dinklage]  and Cersei [Lena Headley] but probably my own personal favourite was Sansa Stark [Sophie Turner] in a less flamboyant – and thus very difficult – role.

There were many, many wonderful performances, which brings me – with heavy heart – to poor old Daenerys and Jon Snow. In the immediate aftermath of the series I wasn’t sure what I thought about how the story of those two characters played out. But, having tossed it over for a while in my mind, my overall reaction is just immense disappointment, bordering on anger. What a waste!

I don’t think series 8 began badly and, for me, the whole resolution of the war in the north with the dead and the Night King was very well done. But after that, it was as if the writers sat around and said: “Blimey, now what are we going to do?”

I suppose there is an element of genius in what the writers did: i.e. take two characters that the audience love and trash them. Was the idea to shock the viewer in the last couple of episodes as they have done so many times – and so effectively – in the previous series? If so, then it certainly came as a surprise to me and I reckon millions of others! Whatever they had in mind, as many have already said, the ending was deeply unsatisfying. Does it matter? Well, yes, it does, because Game of Thrones was set to be the greatest fantasy series of all time and the programme makers fumbled their final task.

I could live with the way the Lannister twins ended because there was, after all, a certain poignancy at least to it; and too, Arya Stark setting off into the unknown west was both appropriate and satisfying, BUT… almost everything else was dripping with anti-climax. Why bother giving Jon Snow such a labyrinthine backstory if you’re just going to send him off beyond the wall again? I mean, hang on, why is there still a wall anyway and what are the Night’s Watch guarding against? All the wildlings have moved south of the wall and they’re sort of ‘on side’ now so, why have a Night’s Watch at all?

But, whatever happened to Jon, Daenerys deserved better treatment – far better. The writers might insist that the warning signs of her dark character were there earlier, but there is a hell of a difference between roasting a few unrepentant rebel leaders and immolating an entire city for no apparent advantage. For the story arc, I do think that Daenerys had to die, but her death surely had to be more meaningful and tragic than being put down like a mad dog. To make Jon Snow wield the weapon that killed her might have amused the writers but it didn’t amuse me. I don’t think the dragon was overjoyed about it either – though, in fairness, Drogo the dragon offered more in the way of pathos than any other character, except maybe Tyrion. I think we all saw the melting of the iron throne coming, but what went before was criminal!

So, let’s move on to the scene where the surviving heads of the noble houses have to decide who should be king. Let me begin by saying that the whole situation at that point is based upon nonsense. I know it’s fantasy but a little consistency and common sense would be nice. Somehow both the Dothraki and the Unsullied – despite incurring massive casualties in previous episodes – seem to have actually increased in number – despite the fact that since neither is from Westeros, they can’t be reinforced. Unless Daenerys has been using a replicator she discovered in an old Star Trek Voyager studio, I don’t see how there would be enough of either group left to fill a small pub.  Yet there they are in huge numbers with no other soldiers to be seen.

What does it matter you ask? Well, it matters because that scene is dominated by the threat posed by Daenerys’ victorious army – an army that even in a fantasy world must by then have been largely composed of men who were neither Dothraki nor Unsullied. Jon Snow wanders about after King’s Landing as if he has no men at all whereas he actually has an entire northern army. So it’s ridiculous and thus, the whole premise of that scene is garbage. But sadly, the garbage doesn’t stop there, because making Brandon Stark king is the stupidest possible outcome and one that all his previous utterings have made highly unlikely, to say the least.  Seers don’t tend to be very effective kings since they spend most of their time in a different world – their role is to advise kings because they can ‘see’ stuff!

The only bright spot in the scene was Sansa showing her mettle yet again. I wonder if Sophie Turner said to the writers: “I’m not having that shit! If you’re going with Bran as king then I’m taking the north with me!” Sansa, as ever, making the best of a bad job.

I’m all for unconventional stories and breaking new ground and so on, but this felt like a mistake of massive proportions.  Jon Snow, the long lost Targaryen heir should have ended up as king after Daenerys was perhaps mortally wounded and her dragon killed in battle. The result is that an epic series that should be remembered for all the great characters and storylines it gave us, will now be forever tarnished by its weak and unsatisfying ending.

To be honest, I’d rather Drogo had just incinerated the entire seven kingdoms…

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Where the History Podcasts meet the Historical Fiction…

Since I started producing my series of Wars of the Roses podcasts,  quite a number of people have asked me how my historical fiction stories dovetail in with the non-fiction podcasts – or not! Until now I haven’t really thought too much about it, preferring to keep the two separate. However, since the only reason I started the podcasts was to help readers navigate through a potentially confusing set of events, there is some merit in connecting the two.R&B-boxset-frontimage-white

So, where to begin? In general, the podcasts cover a much longer period than my fictional series because I wanted to give anyone listening to the podcasts a chance to see where and how the conflict began. My first novel about the fictional Elder family, Feud, begins in 1459 on the eve of what I have called in the podcasts the first crisis of the Wars of the Roses. The Rebels & Brothers series continues the story of the Elders through the events of Edward IV’s first reign until 1471 when the second crisis of the conflict ends.

So, here in a handy list are the podcasts which cover the events of my first series: Rebels & Brothers.

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Feud:   Podcasts 11: Let Battle Commence

             Podcast 12: Warwick, the Pirate Earl

             Podcast 13: Winter Has Come…

             Podcast 14: Our Sun of York

             Podcast 15: The Bloody Meadow

 

 

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A Traitor’s Fate:

            Podcast 16: Who Wants to be in My Gang?

            Podcast 17: You Wouldn’t Read About It

            Podcast 18: Last Chance Saloon

            Podcast 19: Be careful What You Wish For…

 

 

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Kingdom of Rebels:

            Podcast 19: Be careful What You Wish For…

            Podcast 20: Warwick, the Wedding Planner

 

 

 

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The Last Shroud:

            Podcast 20: Warwick, the Wedding Planner

            Podcast 21: The Kingmaker Illusion

            Podcast 22: Warwick Has a Cunning Plan

            Podcast 23: Welcome to the House of Cards

            Podcast 24: Coming in by the Windows

            Podcast 25: The Fog of War

                                                                  Podcast 26: Another Bloody Meadow…

If you want to listen to the history podcasts you can find them on my website here – or subscribe via iTunes.

If you want to read my historical fiction series, Rebels & Brothers, you can find the books on Amazon – UK or Amazon – US or simply order through a book shop!

Posted in Historical Fiction, History, Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Silk and the Sword by Sharon Bennett Connelly

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest is, I suppose, a period about which we all know at least a little bit. We have heard of Harold Godwinson, William the Conqueror and perhaps Harald Hardrada of Norway – the three men who contribute most to the story of 1066. Some of us who have studied the period a little more closely will be aware of the exploits and influence of other men. We may even know something of several women of the period, but to be honest we won’t know very much. What this book does – and does very effectively – is to give the women of the conquest centre stage.

I think it is exceptionally difficult to look at the events of the 11th century through the eyes of a woman, but Ms Bennett Connolly teases every last detail out of the few tenuous threads of evidence that the women have left us. She does it in a very measured way, for at no point does the reader feel that his credulity is being overstretched. There is always a balance in what is said and how it is expressed. One should not underestimate the skill required to strike such a balance between understating and overstating the role of any individual – male or female – when the evidence is so sparse. This fine judgement is one reason why the book is so effective.

You would think that, with such limited raw material, all we would end up with is a procession of clone women all doing much the same thing in much the same way. But the writer manages to create distinct individuals and set them in the context of both the events and the society of the 11th century. But she does more than that; she manages to focus in on their individual lives. So, not only do we get a sense of their roles in the state, but we also have an insight into their personal lives in their relationships with their husbands or children in their own households.

Permeating through this book is a recurrent theme of the perilous position of high born women in this period. Often they are merely bargaining counters in the marriage game; frequently a woman of royal or noble birth was married several times and each time was expected to produce a brood of heirs. But we also read of their important role in administration, negotiation and the church.

Perhaps the most difficult task attempted by the author is to lead the reader through the sometimes labyrinthine genealogies of the Saxons – amongst others. The problem is that to have any hope of grasping who a particular woman is, we have to see how she is connected to others. But how do you do that with clarity? The solution in this book is a lot of repetition: rather like saying to the reader this is the sister of ‘so and so’ – you’ll remember ‘so and so’ he was the one who… etc, etc.

The first couple of times that I encountered this repetition I was unsure about it, but then I saw that it was essential in a book of this scope. Without this ‘hand rail’ of constant reminders, I would have fallen off the mountain of detail because every page brings new characters to the story. The way the book is written enabled me to understand the connections – which are numerous – between the women of the time.

Two women stand out in the book for me: Emma of Normandy and Gytha of Wessex – those two I found especially interesting, but the strength of the book is also in the other little gems that I was completely unaware of, such as Judith of Flanders and St Margaret of Scotland.

Ms Bennett Connolly writes in a clear and interesting style that made the book a pleasure to read, but I also learned an enormous amount about both the women and the events they witnessed and I regard myself as fortunate to have received an advance review copy.

December 2018

Posted in Book Reviews, History, Medieval History, Norman Conquest, Reviews, Saxon England, Women's history | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Competition Time!

Over on my Facebook author page it’s giveaway time to celebrate the new audiobook version of Feud! 

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Click here to win a chance of a free download of Feud on the Audible site – open to both UK and US readers – but hurry because you’ve only got until 11.30 pm on Sunday 18th November [UK time!]

Posted in Competition, Historical Fiction, New release, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , | Leave a comment