MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Wednesday 9 December 2020

All About Betrayal - and MY story about Pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read...

"Betrayals fester and poison the soul."
George R.R. Martin

“Each story is gripping.”
Discovering Diamonds Reviews

Twelve tales by twelve accomplished writers who explore the historical, yet timeless, challenges from post-Roman Britain to the present day... and the bitterness of Betrayal...
FREE on Amazon

Today: Helen Hollick and what might have been the real story behind Anne Bonny and Mary Read?

Readers who are familiar with my series of the Sea Witch Voyages, will know that I am 'into' pirates. The fictional fun ones that is ... the quirky adventures of the Jack Sparrow-type in the Pirates Of The Caribbean movie franchise, rather than the often grizzly factual horrors of the early eighteenth century pirates who terrorised the High Seas.

I intend (at some point in the, hopefully not too distant future) to write a full adventure of my protagonist, Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his involvement with the two most famous female pirates, Anne  Bonny and Mary Read and their associate, Calico Jack Rackham. 

There were, very probably, quite a few female pirates - either disguised as men, or openly showing themselves as women, but we know about Anne and Mary because these were the only two who were captured, tried and sentenced to hang along with Calico Jack and the rest of the crew.

Jack and the men were hanged at Port Royal, Jamaica, in November 1720 but the two women had a reprieve as both were pregnant. Unfortunately, Mary died in gaol, but no one knows what happened to Anne. There is no record of her death, either by natural cause or hanging, no record of her escape or release. It is very likely that someone paid for her to be (secretly) pardoned. This may well have been her father who was a rich merchant, but the pleasure of these 'don't know' facts of history, for the fiction writer, is that we can use known situations for our own imagination. As far as I am concerned, it was my Jesamiah who rescued Anne...

Jesamiah has already 'met' with Jack Rackham in the third Voyage of the series, Bring It Close, where Jes gets entangled with bringing about the demise of Edward Teach - Blackbeard. I thought it would be interesting for my contribution to the Betrayal anthology, to expand that mild friendship between Jesamiah and Jack - and Anne herself. 

Locked in an unhappy and disastrous marriage, Anne was at Nassau in the Bahamas for quite a while before she met Jack Rackham. At a time when my fictional Jesamiah Acorne was also there. Naturally the two were, in modern parlance, 'an item'. (And for readers who do know my books - this was before Jesamiah met Tiola Oldstagh, the white witch who eventually became his wife - so no betrayals there!) 

One of the other facts of Anne and Mary's time together as pirates that has always intrigued me is: did the two women get on together?

One source only informs that they were friends - Captain Charles Johnson's 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates. No one knows who Captain Johnson was. Speculation has always attested the book to Daniel Defoe, but I contest this as Defoe had no reason to hide his identity, was a prolific political writer, and knew very little of the sea, or pirates - especially the detailed facts. 

A better contender was a man who knew both of these subjects very well, was desperate for money and had very good reason to remain anonymous (because he couldn't divulge how or why he knew so much, and at the time of writing, there were still a few pirates alive who would take very unkindly to some of the detailed content.) This writer, I am utterly convinced, was the Governor of the Bahamas - Captain Woodes Rogers.

Whoever the author, Anne and Mary were portrayed as friends, but I don't think they were. They were from very different backgrounds and had a very different outlook on life. Mary had served, disguised as a man, for many years as a soldier and then a sailor. Anne was a bored, rich man's daughter who revelled in being the 'wife' of a pirate captain. 

The two women did, however, have one thing in common: they lived, fought and were eventually captured as pirates. But was their capture bad luck, incompetency on Jack Rackham's part ... or was betrayal behind their arrest...?

Amazon Author Page (Universal Link)  

available in other e-book formats here: 

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Pubs and Their Signs Guest Post by Richard Tearle

On his website blog, recently, Richard posted a short story about pub signs. (Link will also be below at the end of this article.) With many modern pubs having nonsensical names such as 'Slug and Lettuce' (whatever idiot thought that one up?) have we lost sight of the importance - and the history - behind the names, and signs, of our British pubs?

Helen Hollick pointing out 
The King's Arms pub sign
(King George III)
 in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia USA...
on 4th July 2015
Independence Day!
(Maybe she shouldn't have shouted
'God Save The King!' quite so loudly!)

The signs were important because many people of the past could not read, so visual information was needed, and the signs could convey much more than merely the name of a pub... over to Richard:

The art of the pub sign is something that I am quite passionate about, but the trade is slowly dying. Pubs are closing daily – and that is without taking Covid-19 into account – and signs are changing; many just showing the name on a blank background. Like barges and funfairs, the style of the artwork of many pub signs is unique and characteristic as well as being extremely skilful. It will be a shame if the skill disappears, perhaps if more people knew about the meanings behind a pub sign, more people would show an interest and care?

Kings and Queens: Whilst medieval kings are not particularly favoured, probably the earliest king represented is King Ethelbert at Reculver, Herne Bay, Kent. He was King of Kent from an early age and reigned until the year 616 AD. Birth Year unknown, but believed to be 550 AD. There is a King Henry VIII at Hever Castle in Kent and The Queen and Castle, unsurprisingly, at Kenilworth showing Elizabeth I with the castle behind her.

Charles II seems to be very popular and I have an example taken in Ross on Wye. Georges abound, including one in Lichfield, the George IV, and a few Williams. Few 20th Century monarchs have been so honoured - perhaps patriotism died with Victoria (of which there are many pub signs!)? Does anyone know of a 'Queen Elizabeth II', or a 'George VI'? Surely, there must be a 'Prince Of Wales' somewhere, (or a 'Princess Diana'?)

The King Charles II
Ross On Wye
King George IV
Lichfield, Staffs

For Pubs named The Kings/Queens Arm or Head, a sign is essential for us to identify the monarch, whereas in the case of the Arms, they may give us a clue as to who they represent simply by the heraldic structure of the sign – are the arms of Scotland present, for example, or the Fleur de Lis of France? 

Princes and Princesses are not forgotten – especially the daughters of Queen Victoria – and the hierarchy is represented  all the way down the scale through Dukes and Lords, Marquises and Viscounts.

(Helen: where I used to live in Walthamstow, there is the Lord Palmerston, named for the Victorian statesman and Prime Minister)

The Lord Palmerston

HERALDRY: Studying pub signs invariably leads to a study of Heraldry: apart from the above mentioned 'Arms' of leading dignitaries,many pubs are named after occupations and Worshipful Companies, such as the Forester's Arms in Swadlincote and the well-known sign of London's Elephant and Castle - although the origin of its name remains disputed. One explanation is an English corruption of La Infanta de Castilla, a reference to a Spanish princess with an English connection, such as Eleanor of Castile or Katherine of Aragon (who before her marriage was la ynfante doña Catalina de Castille y Aragon, "infanta of Castile and Aragon". Previously the site was occupied by a blacksmith and cutler – the crest of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers features an elephant with a castle (a howdah) on its back, which in turn was used because of the use of elephant ivory in handles; this association with the Worshipful Company of Cutlers is considered a far more likely explanation for the name.

The crest of the
Worshipful Company of Cutlers.

Heraldry is a fascinating science with its own rules, symbols and conventions. All knights of the realm, and many other titled people, are entitled to bear arms and these are designed by the Royal College of Arms.

Also part of this are the 'badges' that kings and others adopted: The White Hart was the badge of Richard II, the Red Lion the badge of John of Gaunt – most probably the pub was so named because it stood on land owned by him. One interesting story: the White Boar was the badge of Richard III but following his death and subsequent 'disgrace' nervous pub owners changed the sign to The Blue Boar in favour of the Earl of Oxford, a supporter of Henry VII.

WAR: Wars are remembered in the names of battles, The Maida, The Alma and, perhaps strangely, The Case is Altered, which is a derivation of Casa Alta. Perhaps most prominent in this category are the ships and seamen of the Napoleonic Wars. Examples are The Enterprise, The Good Intent, The Earl St Vincent and, of course, Lord Nelson and the Victory.

FARMING: Just about every small village has a pub recalling its farming heritage – The Bull, The Plough, The Share and Coulter.

TRANSPORT: This is quite well represented, though mostly by pubs situated close to a railway station – The Railway Arms, the Railway Bell, The Station etc. Some famous trains are also featured – The Royal Scot and the Silver Bullet at Finsbury Park which depicts the streamlined train, The Silver Jubilee. At  Swadlincote is the Sir Nigel Gresley, designer of the revolutionary streamlined class A4 (which includes the record breaking Mallard). In Margate, The Shakespeare features not the playwright but a picture of the Britannia Class locomotive of the same name that would often haul the Golden Arrow from Victoria to Dover

SPORT: Very little here though many  sporting venues may have a pub nearby which  represents the club and/or stadium. (White Hart Lane- - Tottenham Hotspur FC as example.) Horse racing is very popular, though, and there are some famous racehorses depicted - the Red Rum, the Altisidora, Brown Jack. Boxers, too, have been honoured, such as Tom Cribb.

SOME ODDITIES AND 'INTERESTING' BITS! Some names may seem to be a strange combination of objects. Often, a landlord would move from one pub to another and remember his old one by incorporating its name with the new one. This is the story behind The Queen's Head and Artichoke, in London. The Uxbridge Arms in Burton-upon-Trent not only honours the Earl of Uxbridge, but also the fact that, on land that he owned, he built streets of houses for workers in the brewery industry which still stand today. He was also the guy who famously lost his leg at Waterloo whilst sitting astride his horse next to Wellington!

The Panniers
depicting the historical indoor market
at Barnstaple, Devon

The Shrew Beshrewed (now demolished) near Canterbury depicted a woman on a ducking stool and the Duke Without A Head showed a picture of a 'toff's' shoulders, a blank space and then a top hat above it! The story is that the Dukes Head stood on a crossroads but a road widening scheme meant it would need to be demolished. The instructions on the plans were marked 'Remove the Duke's Head' and when it was rebuilt it adopted the new name!

The Swan at Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal joins the Trent and Mersey Canal, not only shows a fine swan, but also the pub itself in the background!

A humorous one is The Drunken Duck, near Ambleside in the Lake District. Apparently. The story goes that several barrels of beer were spilt over the road and the pub's ducks had a fine time splashing about. A while later the landlady found them all and assumed they were dead - she started plucking one, only to find it was 'dead' drunk!

The Tame Otter at Tamworth shows a lovely little creature – but is it actually tame, or does it inhabit the River Tame? Then there is the often used Rose and Crown, and pubs named after places or destinations...

over to Helen...

Thanks Richard! The lovely old coaching inn pub in my Devon Village of Chittlehamholt is the Exeter Inn (recently under new, highly welcoming management and now boasts a newly re-thatched roof!) The original parts of the building are late 16th Century... but it is thirty or so miles from Exeter - so why 'The Exeter Inn'?

Exeter Inn

The answer is simple: the road it is situated on used to be the 'main' (probably only!) road from Barnstaple (about 12 miles away) to Exeter, and was, therefore, a stopping point for a 'comfort break' and to rest or change the horses. A pity, though, it doesn't boast an original old pub sign. 

What is your local pub - what sign does it show? 

Please leave a comment or email 



Tuesday 10 November 2020

Tuesday Talk: NARCISSI, something a little controversial?

The one thing that keeps most people going through the long, dark, usually cold and wet dark days of a British winter is the prospect of spring returning come February.

The first signs are the snowdrops. Here on my 13 acre ‘estate’ (well, ok, farm) the bank alongside our lane is smothered in these beautiful little bell-like white flowers – last year they appeared in early February. They are followed by the bright yellows and oranges of the daffodils, narcissi and the primroses. Apparently, yellow attracts the bees, which is why most spring flowers are sunshine yellow.

Again, the banks along the lane, and my ‘rustic’ garden (a code word for very overgrown) are covered in flowers – it never ceases to amaze me just how many different types of daffs there are – when buying a bunch from a shop, you’ll probably get the familiar golden yellow with the large ‘trumpet’ in the middle, but you can get a huge variety of different yellows, lemons, whites,  and orange tinged... I love the smell in my house when I come down first thing in the morning when I’ve got a huge bunch of daffs in a vase – the scent is gorgeous.

I don’t pick the daffs from the lane – unless the wind (or the dogs or a horse) have broken the stems, but down in our bottom field there used to be a sort of shepherd’s hut (long, long, gone now) and someone must have planted daffs outside. These have now naturalised and abound in the hedge among the brambles, holly and hawthorn. Those that have wandered out into the field – and those I can reach without being scratched or stung – I do pick. Otherwise the horses will stomp on them.


After the daffs, come the bluebells – but I’m not here to talk about them.

There is another Narcissus. He of Greek myth fame.

John William Waterhouse – Narcissus and Echo

Narcissus was the son of the river god, Cephissus and the nymph Liriope, (another version claims  he was the son of the lunar goddess Selene and her mortal lover Endymion – so take your pick.)

There are several different versions of the story, all derived from different sources. The classic, most familiar one comes from Ovid... the story of Echo and Narcissus...

One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, a mountain nymph, saw him, fell in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted, "Who's there?". Echo repeated "Who's there?"

She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him but he told her to leave him alone. Heartbroken, she spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, heard the story and decided to punish Narcissus. Come the summer it was hot and he was thirsty so the goddess lured him to a pool where he leaned over the water and saw a beautiful youth. Staring back at him. Narcissus fell deeply in love, not realising that he was looking at himself. Unable to leave the allure of his image, he eventually died, still staring at his reflection. What remained of his body disappeared, and all that was left was a white and gold narcissus flower that grew in the spot where he died.

Caravaggio - Narcissus

It is unfortunate, however, that such a beautiful little flower, and such a sad story is today reflected (excuse the pun) in a rather insidious human trait. Narcissism.

Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one's idealized self-image and attributes. Narcissism, or pathological self-absorption, was first identified as a disorder in 1898. The American Psychiatric Association has listed the classification narcissistic personality disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1968, drawing on the historical concept of megalomania.

It is distinct from egocentrism or egoism, and from healthy forms of responsibility and care for oneself. Narcissism, by contrast, is considered a problem for relationships with self and others, and for maintaining a functional culture. It is one of the three dark triadic personality traits – the others being psychopathy and Machiavellianism. There are four dimensions of narcissism as a personality variable: leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, self-absorption/self-admiration, and exploitative/entitlement. It is a personality disorder which often reflects traits related to self-importance, entitlement, aggression, and dominance. Also, sometimes, a defensive and fragile grandiosity, which functions as a cover for feelings of inadequacy.

Although most individuals have some narcissistic traits, high levels of narcissism can manifest into a pathological form, whereby the individual overestimates his or her abilities and has an excessive need for admiration and affirmation. Some narcissists may have a limited or minimal capability to experience emotions.

Freud's idea of narcissism described a pathology which manifests itself in the inability to love others, a lack of empathy, emptiness, boredom, and an unremitting need to search for power.

Narcissists tend to possess the following "basic ingredients": 

  • think they are better than others
  • views tend to be contrary to reality
  • self-views tend to be greatly exaggerated
  • perceive themselves to be unique and special people
  • behaviour tends to be selfish
  • oriented toward success
  • tend to demonstrate a lack of interest in warm and caring interpersonal relationships
  • tend to show aloofness, have expressions of mild irritation or annoyance, to serious outbursts, including violent attacks
  • may show paranoid delusion

Sexual narcissism can be an egocentric pattern of behaviour that shows an inflated sense of ability and entitlement. It can be the preoccupation with oneself as a superb lover through a desire to merge sexually with a mirror image of oneself. It is an intimacy dysfunction in which sexual exploits are pursued, generally in the form of extramarital affairs, to overcompensate for low self-esteem and an inability to experience true intimacy.

In the workplace, individuals high in narcissism are more likely to engage in counterproductive work behaviour that harms organisations or other people. The narcissistic manager will have two main sources of narcissistic supply: status symbols like company cars or prestigious offices; and flattery and attention from colleagues and subordinates. High-profile leaders have only one thing on their minds: profits. Such narrow focus may yield positive short-term benefits, but ultimately it drags down individual employees as well as entire companies.

Or, alas, an entire country. 

(information taken from Wikipedia)

Monday 19 October 2020

Writing Historical fiction... but what about the bad bits?


I've been writing as a published author for more years than I care to think about. (I was accepted by William Heinemann/Random House UK) in April 1993 - You can do the maths.) During that time, views on historical fiction have changed - back in the pre-1980s the popular writers were Catherine Cookson, Georgette Heyer, Victoria Holt etc. Good stories, but not necessarily accurate history. Then, as the 1990s began to fade, Historical Fiction took a down-turn and lost it's popularity, despite Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe and the arrival of Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Kay Penman Barbara Erskine (friends of mine, I must add ([OK name dropping bragging, sorry!]) 

Barbara Erskine, Me, Elizabeth Chadwick

Fortunately, interest in the genre picked up again and is still going strong - but it did change. Accuracy and the overall feel of reality became expected, probably, I suspect, influenced by the expansion of the Internet where factual facts can be easily discovered. (Who uses a library now to look something up?)

I agree that an author of historical fiction should get the facts right...

  •  No, you couldn't smell the sea from London's Embankment in Tudor times (until relevantly recently the only smell coming from the Thames was of sewage, the Embankment did not exist before late Victorian era, and anyway the sea is more than thirty miles away from London.)
  • No, England does not have hummingbirds. (Our smallest bird is the wren fact amended! The Goldcrest is our smallest bird... my fault for not checking, but I always thought it was the Wren!)
  • No, English oak trees are not tall and spindly - that's the American version
  • No, Richard III did not drink coffee...

English Oak

But what about the other things? That unpleasant, nastier side of history?

I've had grumbles from readers complaining that the battle scenes I've written are too violent. (Well, yes, battles were not exactly nice places to be!) Sex, if it is explicit is another contentious issue, particularly when the female involved is regarded as underage. In an historical context, however, many girls (especially those of noble, important families) were betrothed before they were fourteen - often much younger. A woman was regarded as 'old' by the time she passed twenty-five. Life expectancy in the past was nowhere near as long as it is now. Violence, torture, cruelty (hanging-drawing and quartering, bear-baiting, cock-fighting...) was accepted in historical times. Newgate, Bedlam, the Bastille - places where mercy and caring were never entertained. A child could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. Women were regarded as part of the furniture - how much do we, as writers, include these 'nastier' things in our novels?

The Roman Empire - slaves in chains

And then there is slavery. I know one author who said she would not read any novel that involved slaves. Another said she would never write anything about slavery. Other novels gloss over the truth, or romanticise it, or elaborate, or dumb down. And now we also have the toppling of statues and the debate about how should this era of the past be portrayed in real life, let alone that of fiction.

Dare I, in a future adventure of my Sea Witch Voyages (set during the early 1700s) write anything about the Slave Trade? My lead character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne was (well, still is, quietly on the side) a pirate. The Atlantic was full of ships transporting black Africans to a life of misery. These poor people were a valuable trade commodity. To be accurate of the period, Capt Acorne should be happy to transport slaves in dreadful condition aboard his ship in order to make a fat profit for himself. As it happens, however, he will not ever do so. My guy values freedom, for himself and others, regardless of the colour of their skin or country of origin. 

But taking a 21st century moralistic view of the past is, I feel, as bad as denying the truth of the awful things that happened. We must talk open and honestly about the cruelties of the Roman Amphitheatre where the spilling of blood and slaughter - of humans and animals - was undertaken purely as entertainment. We must never forget the Holocaust, or the deliberate massacres of those of a different belief to the Christian Church. I'm not a fan of glorifying the Crusades - I think it's time to stop promoting those knights who went off to fight the Infidel as heroes. (And yes, I include Richard the Lionheart here. I detest the man). Murder and massacre is murder and massacre, even if it is done in the name of Christ. Or any god, come to that!

My point, I suppose, is that an historical novel is a work of fiction, but the author has a duty of care to write, where possible, the facts, when they are known, as accurately as possible. And we should not flinch from portraying the facts, even when they do not sit comfortable in our hearts and minds.


Wednesday 14 October 2020

Annie Whitehead and Helen Hollick - In Conversation..

To complete our joint tour, Annie Whitehead and I thought we could have a converdsation about our various Anglo-Saxon characters - but then we had another idea... why not hand over to two of them instead:

In Conversation
Queen Emma of Normandy 
Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians

frontispiece of the 'Encomium'

Queen Emma of Normandy
(Referred to as Ælfgifu in royal documents; c. 984 – 6 March 1052) was queen of England, Denmark and Norway through her marriages to Æthelred the Unready (1002–1016) and Cnut the Great (1017–1035). She was the daughter of Duke Richard I of Normandy and Gunnor. After her husbands' deaths Emma remained in the public eye, and continued to participate actively in politics during the reigns of her sons by each husband, Edward the Confessor and Harthacnut. She is the central figure within her contemporary biography  Encomium Emmae Reginae, a critical source for the history of early 11th-century English politics. Emma is one of the most visually represented early medieval queens. (From Wikipedia) 

Emma is the central character in Helen Hollick’s novel A Hollow Crown (title of the UK edition) / The Forever Queen (title of the US edition), and a character in Harold the King (UK edition title) / I am the Chosen King (US edition title) the story of the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings.

Æthelflæd's Statue at Tamworth
Æthelflæd, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’, 
(c. 870 – 12 June 918) ruled Mercia in the English Midlands from 911 until her death. She was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, and his wife Ealhswith. Æthelflæd was born around 870 at the height of the Viking invasions of England. By 878, most of England was under Danish Viking rule. She was married to Æthelred of Mercia, who played a major role in fighting off renewed Viking attacks in the 890s, together with Æthelflæd's brother, the future King Edward the Elder. When Æthelred's health declined Æthelflæd was responsible for the government of Mercia. Æthelred died in 911 and Æthelflæd then ruled as Lady of the Mercians. She was a great ruler who played an important part in the conquest of the Danelaw. She was praised by Anglo-Norman chroniclers such as William of Malmesbury, who described her as "a powerful accession to [Edward's] party, the delight of his subjects, the dread of his enemies, a woman of enlarged soul". (From Wikipedia)

Æthelflæd is the central character in Annie Whitehead’s novel To Be A Queen.
* * *
Two Queens: Sometime... somewhere entirely fictional...

Queen Emma (QE): [inspecting a wine flagon on a side table] I see that useless maid has not refilled the wine, yet again. I suspect she spends too much of her time lifting her skirts for Æthelred, that no-good, useless husband of mine. Hoping he can amuse her. [mutters] She’ll be lucky.

Æthelflæd (Æ): [looking up from a manuscript that she is reading, her father’s translation of the Cura Pastoralis] How odd that we should both have a husband with the same name, yet we existed so many years apart?

QE: [snorts] From what I’ve heard, your Æthelred was a competent man. In all respects. Unlike mine who deserved the addition of ‘Unready’ to his damned name. [She laughs] Most people think he got it because of his incompetence with fighting the Vikings. I was calling him that long before then – for his equally as incompetent lack of performance in bed.

Æ: [smiles to herself but makes no comment]

QE: I suppose your husband succeeded there as well? [she snorts again, then smiles] Well, my second husband made up for all that. Cnut was, how shall I say? Most satisfactory.

Æ: It is strange for me to hear of a Viking so lovingly spoken of. We did naught but curse them in our households, my father’s and my own in Mercia. They were the enemy.

QE: [changing the subject slightly] You only had the one daughter did you not? 

Æ: [quietly] Only one that lived, aye.

QE: [sighs] My daughters were taken from me before they met womanhood. Married off as ‘essential alliances’. Alliances? Huh! The only use for a daughter, as men see it. I ended up with Æthelred because of a damned alliance.

Æ: I suppose I could use those very words, for I too was married to my Æthelred to strengthen the alliance between Wessex and Mercia. But you chose to make alliance with Cnut of Denmark after he had conquered England, did you not? 

QE: I did. But that was in order to retain my crown. I did not know, then, that I would end up loving him.

Æ: Again, I could say the same. I did not think I would come to love my husband. I was truly lucky there, for love can be a fickle, fleeting, thing.

QE: [Scornfully] When it comes to your children it certainly is! One of my sons, Alfred, stupidly got himself murdered. Another, Harthacnut, refused to listen to the physicians and died, while the other, Edward, was even more useless than his imbecile father.

Æ: My daughter was a long-awaited, much prayed-for gift from God. I thought I had failed my husband by not providing a son, but he loved her. Sadly, our fate was ever to be on the march, and perhaps we neglected her. In the end, our love was not returned. I do not blame her. Had I known what my brother did to her, though, I would have fought him, even though we had ridden and marched together in common cause until that point.

QE: [inspects what Æthelflæd is reading, raises her eyebrows, then sits down in a chair] Brothers? Oh, don’t get me started on brothers! It was my brother who arranged that dreadful marriage with Æthelred.

Æ: My brother Edward learned duty from an early age. We both did; watching our father fighting the Vikings made us aware of what needed to be done. We were close, even as children. I think that’s why he was able to work with me and let me rule Mercia. To be honest though, even had he tried to take over, the Mercians would not have let him. By then, I had gained their trust, but it came almost too late. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself and should have learned much earlier to adapt.

QE: [sighs] Oh, if only I could have my life again...

Æ: [Interrupting] If you could, how would you change it?

QE: I would ensure that I had the power to remain in control. You had the advantage there, didn’t you? 

Æ: You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I had a stark choice: let Edward take over or become ruler myself. I had been taught well, by my dear husband. It was somehow easier with him advising me.

QE: I admire you, Æthelflæd, when your husband died you took command. Look at all that you achieved!

Æ: [modestly] Oh, well, thank you for that. I had a group of the most loyal men you could wish for; they fought for me and sadly many died for me. My success was laced with loss and heartache. [her voice becomes shaky and she takes a moment to steady her breathing] But you achieved much. You ruled as regent when Cnut left England to journey to Denmark and Norway, and to go on pilgrimage to Rome. You fought to ensure that Harthacnut became King of England after Cnut died...

QE: Fought? Not in the way you fought, my dear! All I had were words, words to write down, words to cajole and convince. Words that meant nothing, because my dearest son only became king when the one who usurped his crown, that weasel, Harald Harefoot, so conveniently died. [She mimics a sad face]. 

Æ: I’ve often wondered. Did you have anything to do with his sudden death?

QE: [going to a side table and ignoring the question. She lifts a silver platter, offers its content to Æthelflæd.] Do have one of these honey cakes. They are delicious.

Æ: [watches her, recalling how she used to observe other people moving around to cause a distraction.] Thank you, I will. [waits patiently for Emma to answer.]

QE: If I must confess to anything, I will confess that I regret not strangling Edward at birth. There was many a time I wished I had. Especially when he stripped me of authority, threatened me with exile and took away the treasury from my care. The little runt.

Æ: [smiling] Perhaps, if we spoke to them nicely, we could persuade Annie and Helen, our scribes, to write something where our history of these things changes for the better?

QE: [also smiling] Now there’s a thought! What a superb idea!

* * *
Note from Annie and Helen ... an idea indeed. You never know, we might... One day.

We hope you have enjoyed the joint tour that we have journeyed through these past few days.

 If you missed any of our articles, the full list is below

Thank you for supporting us. If you have enjoyed any of our novels, please do consider leaving a comment on Amazon and Goodreads.

© Helen Hollick / Annie Whitehead

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"Many people know about Wessex, the ‘Last Kingdom’ of the Anglo-Saxons to fall to the Northmen, but another kingdom, Mercia, once enjoyed supremacy over not only Wessex, but all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. At its zenith Mercia controlled what is now Birmingham and London ‒ and the political, commercial paramountcy of the two today finds echoes in the past. Those interested in the period will surely have heard of Penda, Offa, and Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians ‒ but remarkably there is no single book that tells their story in its entirety, the story of the great kingdom of the midlands..."  ... but there is now!

available in paperback from 15th October

Follow the tour - a joint venture with 
Annie Whitehead  and Helen Hollick

 1st October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Helen Hollick
Lady Godiva – Who Was She, and Did She Really?

2nd October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Nicola Cornick
Why Do We Do It?

3rd October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Lisl Zlitni
Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?

4th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Tony Riches
Undoing The Facts For The Benefit Of Fiction?

5th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Pam Lecky
Murder in Saxon England

6th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Derek Birks
King Arthur? From Roman Britain To Saxon England

7th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson
Æthelflæd's Daughter 

8th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Cryssa Bazos
An Anthology Of Authors

9th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Elizabeth St John 
Anglo-Saxon Family Connections

10th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Judith Arnopp
Alditha: Wife. Widow. Mother.

11th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Brook Allen
Roman Remains - Did the Saxons Use Them?

12th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Amy Maroney
Emma Of Normandy, Queen Of Anglo-Saxon England – Twice

13th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Simon Turney
Penda: Fictional and Historical 'Hero' 

14th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Annie Whitehead
The Battle Begins...

15th October : A joint post

 hosted by both of us 

Thank you for following our tour
We hope you enjoyed 'Stepping Back Into Saxon England' 
with us!