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20 January 2022

My Coffee Pot Guest Rosemary Griggs A Woman of Noble Wit

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Researching A Woman of Noble Wit and sixteenth century Devon

by Rosemary Griggs

What I learned at school about the sixteenth century centred largely on the happenings in King Henry’s Court.  I think the dissolution of the monasteries was also mentioned in passing, perhaps the reign of so called “Bloody Mary” and certainly the glorious times of Queen Elizabeth when England repelled the Spanish Armada.  But that’s just about all I was told many years ago; a list of dates to remember, the old rhyme about Henry’s wives and a smattering of Shakespeare.  Then I was put into the science stream and that was it.  But it was enough to spark a flicker of interest that has grown and grown.   I’ve fed my fascination with the past, particularly the times of the Tudor’s and Elizabethans, throughout my life by reading, reading and more reading.  

It’s about seven years since I first met the remarkable Devon woman who was Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother. I soon realised that if I was to bring Katherine Champernowne’s story to life I’d have to delve deep into the history books and archives.  I needed to find out who she was and to understand  what life was really like for a woman like her living in Devon during those momentous times.

Searching for Katherine in the historic record proved very challenging.  Born before baptisms,  marriages and deaths were recorded in parish churches — a system first introduced in 1538  — I still can’t fix her birth date with certainty.  Even after churches recorded such details some parish registers, kept for generations in the “parish chest,”  have been lost or damaged.  I’ve found no record of either of her marriages and, sadly, the pages that cover the year of Katherine’s burial are missing from the register.   Like many women of her time her story has remained hidden from view, amongst the army of forgotten wives, mothers, and sisters who stood behind famous men.

I had a lucky break early on.  One of my first ports of call was the Devon Archives held at the South West Heritage Trust (SWHT),  where the staff have been unfailingly helpful.  During an early visit I stumbled across a wonderful typewritten account and boxes full of letters and notes.  It was a history of the Champernownes drawn up by one of the family in 1953.  I owe an enormous debt to Miss C. E. Champernowne whose painstaking work has pointed me in the right direction for many sources.  I stand in awe of her achievement to draw together such as complex piece of research without the aid of online catalogues, and search engines, which I use extensively. After that, my visits to SWHT,  Exeter Cathedral Archives, the Devon Rural Archive and the National Archives at Kew turned up a wealth of documents; all pieces of the puzzle that was Katherine’s life. I also read every biography I could find about  her famous boys, her Carew cousins and other Devon notables like the Raleighs and the Courtenays.  Gradually I felt I was getting to know the forest of intertwining branches that links the family trees of our great Devon families.

Some big surprises were lurking amongst all those dusty documents. I really didn’t expect to find that a member of the Raleigh family had a house just down the road in the Devon town where I live. Katherine’s stepson, John Raleigh, was heavily involved in his father’s shipping business which veered between merchant trading, privateering and piracy. He was named co-lessee when Walter Raleigh senior renewed the lease on the farm at East Buddleigh in 1551, but later he had a house in Newton Abbot where he married the widow of a prominent figure in the town’s history.  He even had his own private door into, the nearby church,  which can still be seen when the Tower, all that remains of St Leonard’s chapel, is open to the public.

Another real surprise was to find evidence that one of Katherine’s sisters married a priest in the time of Edward VI and suffered the consequences under Mary.  I plan to publish those research findings, which gave me a sub-plot, soon.

I had a head start discovering how people like Katherine lived though my research into sixteenth century clothes.  Learning how to create the sort of clothes Katherine wore, stitching them by hand, and literally walking in her shoes in the places she knew has really put me in touch with her world.

My bookshelves are groaning under the weight of all the books I’ve consulted. 

Books like Alison Sim’s The Tudor Housewife,  Elizabeth Norton’s The Lives of Tudor Women, Ruth Goodman’s How to be a Tudor and Barbara J Harris’ English Aristocratic Women have given me valuable insights into how less well known women lived in Tudor and Elizabethan England — a rich background against which to explore Katherine’s own life and times.  

One of the things that surprised me most was just how much to a well born girl was expected to learn to equip her to make a good dynastic marriage. She must acquire a huge range of “housewifely” skills to enable her to manage a large household, with a brewhouse, bakehouse, still room and herb garden.  She must know how to harvest and preserve enough food to withstand hard winters and how to prepare and use medicines to treat the sick. She must be a skilled needlewoman, able to stitch and embroider.   She must be able to sing, play an instrument and dance so as to be an ornament to her future husband’s home.  On top of that some girls were also educated in languages and the classics alongside their brothers. There’s every indication that Sir Philip Champernowne favoured the increasingly popular humanist approach and believed his daughters should be as well educated as his sons.  You only have to look at the list of subjects Katherine’s sister Kat Ashley was able to introduce in princess Elizabeth’s curriculum to see what a paragon of academic virtue she must have been.  (There’s a blog post on my website all about Kat and her relationship to Katherine  )  To learn all of that at such a young age — it looks as though Katherine Champernowne was in her early teens when she married Otho Gilbert — must have placed huge expectations on these girls. In the patriarchal society that was Tudor England girls were treated very differently to boys. To receive a broader education but still have so little choice must have been hard for bright young women, constrained by family duty to comply.

As I followed Katherine’s footsteps I was surprised to find just how much of her Devon can still be glimpsed if you look hard enough in the right places.

The River Dart, Dartmouth

I’ve found her beside rivers, in woodlands, in the city of Exeter, in grand houses and smaller ones and churches that have changed little since her day. 

The biggest problem with research like this is knowing when to stop.  There’s always one more avenue to explore, one more source to uncover.  Getting the balance right between research and writing is really tricky.  I hope readers will think I’ve pulled it off in A Woman of Noble Wit.


Few women of her time lived to see their name in print. But Katherine was no ordinary woman. She was Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother. This is her story.

Set against the turbulent background of a Devon rocked by the religious and social changes that shaped Tudor England; a Devon of privateers and pirates; a Devon riven by rebellions and plots, A Woman of Noble Wit tells how Katherine became the woman who would inspire her famous sons to follow their dreams. It is Tudor history seen though a woman’s eyes.

As the daughter of a gentry family with close connections to the glittering court of King Henry VIII, Katherine’s duty is clear. She must put aside her dreams and accept the husband chosen for her. Still a girl, she starts a new life at Greenway Court, overlooking the River Dart, relieved that her husband is not the ageing monster of her nightmares. She settles into the life of a dutiful wife and mother until a chance shipboard encounter with a handsome privateer, turns her world upside down...

Years later a courageous act will set Katherine’s name in print and her youngest son will fly high.

Trigger Warnings: Rape.

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About the author:

Rosemary Griggs is a retired Whitehall Senior Civil Servant with a lifelong passion for history. She is now a speaker on Devon’s sixteenth century history and costume. She leads heritage tours at Dartington Hall, has made regular costumed appearances at National Trust houses and helps local museums bring history to life.

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note: Helen has not yet read this title - it is on her TBR list though!

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Latest Release

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nautical adventures set during the Golden Age of Piracy

A prequel novella - how Jesamiah Acorne became a pirate 
new edition with new additional scenes
and now in paperback and e-book

Blog tour coming soon

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14 January 2022

Adventuring to Africa with debut author Charles Moberly (for Broadminded Adults only!)

Author: Charles Moberly

Confessions of a publishing novice

Between 1986 and 2005, I wrote three books. The first two are historical novels, although one of them could also be described as a romantic thriller. The third is an extremely rude satirical comedy.

Being in full-time work, then spending twenty years looking after eleven acres of land (my fields in North Devon bordered onto Helen’s), I made no effort to find a publisher. Then my wife fell seriously ill, so that I became her full-time carer. It was only after she’d died early in 2021 that I decided to make an effort to get my three novels published. Who to turn to? No brainer: Helen, of course, my ex-neighbour, dear friend and well-published EXPERT. [Helen: I'm not sure about that Charles!]

After a brief discussion with Helen, I decided that “Assisted Self-Publishing” was the thing for me. So I contacted two firms. With one, I didn’t feel comfortable that I would be getting close personal attention. With the other, I thought the service would be good, but they were horribly expensive. I had set my heart on Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics to design my cover. But when my favoured assisted self-publishing firm refused to make any reduction at all for not designing my cover, I pulled the plug on them too. Then came the email from Helen which changed EVERYTHING.

‘Why don’t you do it yourself, publish your books on Amazon? I’ll help you. I’ll even do it for you, if you like. It won’t save you much money, but you will have fun.’ 

This was a fabulously generous offer. I rejected the idea of Helen doing it all for me, partly because that would mean that I wouldn’t learn, and also because I didn’t want to impose on her valuable time that much. (In practice, I think I’ve taken up a lot more of Helen’s time by blundering along and having to be corrected by her, than if she’d done it all herself. But then I would never have learned how to do it, so where would I be when it came to getting my second and third novels published?)

Fun? Yes, it has been, although highly stressful at times. But, as Helen said at the outset, I have complete control over my publishing, which I would never have had to the same degree, had I gone for one of the assisting firms. [Helen: and you would still have had the same stress issues!]

The other thing I owe to Helen has been my introduction to the brilliant and ever-patient Annie Whitehead. Many of you will know Annie as the author of several successful historical books, both fact and fiction. What Annie has done for me is to superbly proof read and copy edit my first novel, The Scrotum Toad. I’ve been privileged to be part of a lovely and highly professional team: Helen, Annie and Cathy. They all know each other extremely well, so my work passes seamlessly between them.

As for Cathy (Avalon Graphics), I can only say this. Look at what she’s done for me. How’s this for a cover?

I think that’s stunning.

Helen has also designed me a tasteful and simple blog:

She’s even dragged me kicking, snarling and growling into the world of Facebook

There’s only one thing Helen got wrong. Self-publishing on Amazon has after all saved me quite a lot of money, compared with going to a firm. But that’s only because Helen has given me so much of her valuable time for free. [Helen: the bill's in the post! *laugh*]

So what do I think of Amazon? Putting aside any troublesome thoughts about them not paying their fair share of taxes, I can honestly say that I think they’re superb. Their systems for authors are clever and extremely easy to use. Most of my technical problems have been with social media.

My life has been improved enormously by this experience. And now it’s onwards to getting my next novel, The Corncrake, published. Annie, Cathy and, if I need her, Helen, will all be there to work with me. But I won’t need Helen any more, will I? Because I’m the expert now. 
I’m not, but I have learned a lot.

© Charles Moberly, Salisbury. UK.

About the book:
(warning very adult content - but also very funny if you like tongue-in-cheek satire!)

available from Amazon

The Scrotum Toad is an outrageous comic novel set in Africa. The many and diverse characters bicker and swear in the vernacular of eight different languages and dialects: English, Danish, Yiddish, Australian, Texan, Irish, Hip Hop and Swahili.

The novel satirises beliefs, preferences, cultures, national characteristics and prejudices. It is resolutely anti-woke, and should be avoided by snowflakes who are easily offended.

The Scrotum Toad

Tangle is a tree-hugger who is often mistaken for a glamorous witch. She is proud of her organic smallholding in the heart of Africa. 

When threatened by a bullying and corrupt businessman who starts trashing the environment and the local people, who can she turn to?

Surely not that foul-mouthed Aussie TV presenter, nor those famous and fabulously wealthy international holidaymakers who suddenly invade her precious patch. And how could an international food-eating competition, sponsored by the USA’s tin-eared goodwill ambassador, solve her problems?

Surrounded by xenophobic bickering, Tangle struggles to assert her authority, aided by some unlikely admirers.

The Scrotum Toad is an outrageous comic novel which will have the easily offended spluttering over their lattes. Nationalities, cultures and occupations are satirised shamelessly. 

You have been warned.

also available as an e-book
and on
Kindle Unlimited

Here's an excerpt:

‘Naturally, we recycle all our waste products here. Before they fall a hundred and forty feet, the solids are separated from the liquids. The liquids are then filtered - at least I assume they are; hm, I’ve never really checked - to provide our drinking water.’

The word recycling alone was bound to get Chest going again. ‘You mean we’re drinking our own piss?’

‘Not just your own. Be fair, other people’s too.’

Teeny looked alarmed. ‘Aren’t there any side effects?’

‘Oh loads. And front effects, and rear effects.’

Lola shook her head at Teeny pityingly. Could she really be lapping up this shit? An apt way of putting it, she thought grimly to herself.

‘By the way,’ said Jake, ‘that reminds me. If you are ill as a result, do please make sure you vomit into the recycling bowl. Tangle insists that we compost everything here.’

Chest wasn’t having that. ‘I’m telling you, Sweetums, you don’t have to do that, not while I’m around and kicking. Well, partly kicking. It’s all phoney baloney, this ecology nonsense. What I want to know is what this mysterious animal is that I overheard a couple of your colleagues talking about. With my busted leg it’ll be a while before I can go huntin’ again. But I sure am curious to know what that beast might be.’

‘Ah, you mean Kirsten’s great discovery. I’m not sure I ought to be talking about that. You see... All right, then.’ Jake moved his chair closer to Chest and assumed a loud stage whisper. ‘It’s an animal which everyone thought was extinct. She’s rediscovered it.’

‘Is it big?’

‘A fair size. Let’s say you wouldn’t want to meet it on a narrow path on a dark night.’

‘My God!’ Chest’s blazing eyes revealed how impressed he was. ‘Are you able to tell me what it is?’


‘Just a hint, maybe?’

‘Put it this way, if you were to have a guess and were on the right lines, I wouldn’t put you off the scent.’

‘Let me see now. There’s the white tiger. I’ve heard they’re so rare that no one’s actually seen one for a while outside a zoo.’

Jake leaned back in his chair with a sphinx-like smile.

‘No!’ Chest didn’t dare believe it. Had he really got it in one?

Jake winked.

‘Well I’ll be darned!’

‘Keep it to yourself. Yourselves.’ Jake sounded panicky, as though regretting he’d said too much. ‘We don’t want to be letting the cat out of the bag. The cat?’

Chest leaned back. ‘Don’t you worry, son. I’ve been producing movies for thirty years.’


‘Thank you, Dream Girl, thirty-two years booking stars, planning locations, hiring directors. That requires heapsa confidentiality. Discretion is my middle name. Your secret’s safe with me, and with Teeny. She’s been by my side for all of that time and more...’


‘Is that right, my Cutesy Pie, well thirty-eight it is, so you can count on her too. And you, Lola?’

‘Oh you bet,’ said Lola acidly.

‘Chest can’t wait to get back hunting again,’ gushed Teeny. ‘It’s why he came out to Africa, that and to plan his next movie.’

‘We’ll leave that subject for now,’ said Chest sharply. He was still smarting over Rutt’s rebuttal of his plan to shoot an African film about Gordy.

‘And you Teeny?’ Jake saw Teeny as a target for further leg pulling.

‘Oh me, I came out to get a baby.’

‘Do you know, for one moment I actually thought you said you came out here to get a baby.’

‘I did.’

‘To have a baby, how wonderful!’

‘Oh, you flatterer!’ Teeny shrieked with delight. ‘I think I’m a bit old for that. No, I came out to buy one.’