Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Margaret Beaufort - The King's Mother

Judith Arnopp
Henry Tudor Tower Pembroke Castle

During a recent visit to Pembroke castle I was struck by the warren of rooms where, so history tells us, the birth of Henry Tudor took place. A long, low dimly lit corridor leads to a circular chamber with a great fireplace and thick stone walls. The room was cold even in September and, even with the benefit of a large fire, tapestries and cushions to exclude drafts, I could imagine the unenviable discomfort of a child confronted with the terror of giving birth there on the bleakest of mid-winter nights.

28 January 1457 – Pembroke Castle

 A maid hurries along a dark passageway, the chilblains on her fingers smarting from the cold jug she carries. When she opens the door to the chamber, the draught hurtles along the frigid corridor behind her, lifts her petticoats and hastens her entry into the room. The door slams behind her, the torches flicker, plunging the company into gloom.
The ill-lit chamber stinks of sweat and wood smoke, lightened only by the fragrance of tangy aromatic herbs said to aid a birthing. As the maid approaches the bed and places the jug on a table, the girl on the mattress flings out a hand and grabs at the midwife’s arm.
The light from the fire accentuates her shadowed eyes, the drained white face. There is blood on her chin where she has bitten through her lip in her efforts to stem her screams.
“She is too young,” the maid whispers to the midwife. “She cannot survive.”
As the older woman stands up to press a hand to her aching back she casts a warning glare in the maid’s direction.
“Rubbish,” she says loudly for the benefit of the girl on the bed. “She is young and strong; I’ve seen weaker women than this survive it.”
Her words are for the benefit of the patient. The maid has assisted in many births and knows that this one has little chance of success. Lady Margaret is only just turned thirteen, she has the build of a child; her great pregnant belly is obscene against her stick thin limbs and undeveloped chest. If the mother survives the child won’t; and if the child does manage to breathe at all, it will undoubtedly be motherless.
The maid turns away and pours a cup of wine, leans over the bed to try to coax the girl to drink.
“Try just a sip, my lady. It will fortify you.”
The cup moves closer to Lady Margaret’s mouth but, before she can drink, another
Pembroke Castle photo- Judith Arnopp
spasm takes her. She grabs the maid’s wrist, making her drop the cup, slopping wine that soaks and spreads as fast as a plague across her shift.
Bulging eyes fix upon the maid, sweat emerges on the noble brow as her childish mouth opens in a grimace of furious pain. The maid tries not to mind the nails that bite like tiny knives into her skin.
“It’s all right, my lady. You are doing fine; women are built for childbirth.”
A turn of her head reveals the midwife burrowing beneath the girl’s shift, her deft hands palpating her great distended belly. At another assault Lady Margaret jerks up her knees and, with a twist of pity, the maid notices they are knobbly as a child’s and patterned with small blue bruises.
“That’s it, my lady, you can push now.” She speaks loudly, fighting to sound authoritative.
Margaret ducks her chin into her chest, the veins on her forehead standing out like blue rope as she grits her teeth and growls like a wild animal. The maid’s eyes sweep across the scene. Blood is smeared upon her ladyship’s thigh and there is more on the sheets, a steady flow puddling on to the floor.
From her seat between Lady Margaret’s knees the midwife runs her forearm across her brow, leaving a crimson streak. Her eyes meet the maid’s and with a brief shake of her head she admits the cause is lost.
The maid swallows, sends up a prayer before bending over her mistress again.
“Come on, my lady, you are a fighter. Fight now for your son.” She shifts on the mattress, looking up into Margaret’s face, forcing her to maintain eye contact. “I will tell you when; I will push with you.”
For another hour they battle on, only strength of will keeping Margaret from giving up, from letting go. Each time she begins to drift away she is dragged relentlessly back to the nightmare that her life has become. Pain washes in, receding too briefly before it floods back in again but then, just when she feels she can push no more, something shifts, and a light appears in her darkness.
“Get on the floor and squat.” At a signal from the midwife the maid thrusts her hands beneath Margaret’s armpits, supports her as she slides from the mattress to squat on the floor. When the next pain comes, oblivious of the blood and the birth fluid that soaks the rushes around her, Margaret bears down with what strength she has left.
This time something happens and with each effort her son makes progress, thrusting and slashing his way into the world.
Pembroke Castle - photo-Judith Arnopp


Rowland Lockey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Margaret Beaufort was just thirteen when she gave birth to her only child, Henry, later to become the father of the Royal Tudor dynasty. Margaret, a wealthy heiress and valuable asset to the Lancastrian cause, was married as an infant to John de la Pole. That marriage was dissolved and later, aged just twelve, she became the wife of the twenty two year old Edmund Tudor. When he succumbed to plague and died in Carmarthen just six months later, Margaret was already heavily pregnant.
In the middle ages it was normal for marriage to take place at a very young age but consummation did not usually take place until the wife was physically fully developed. Margaret’s body was underdeveloped even for a twelve year old and the immediate consummation caused some indignation among their contemporaries. Edmund’s eagerness to bed his wife was due, not to passion, but rather to his impatience to get his hands on her vast estates which would only be his on the birth of their first child.

Henry Tudor Michael Sittow (circa 1469-1525) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In her widowhood Margaret turned for support to Edmund’s brother, Jasper, and took up residence at Pembroke Castle where she gave birth to Henry. The physical damage caused by his birth made it impossible for Margaret to bear any further children but that did not stop her from marrying again. Margaret, despite setbacks, ultimately triumphed. Married four times for political gain she proved herself to be a wise and politically astute woman. She is often labelled as being overly pious and domineering but her devotion to her son is unquestioned.
Raglan Castle -photo Judith Arnopp
While York was in power Margaret and Henry were separated. While she, with little hope, doggedly and quietly worked on his behalf he spent his early years in the custody of Yorkist adherents, the Herberts at Raglan Castle.
Henry’s youth was spent in exile in the courts of Europe. But Margaret never lost hope and worked untiringly for her son’s cause; her determined and single mined battle for what she saw as Henry’s birth right can only be admired.


I am the author of seven historical novels, the three most recent being set in the Tudor period. Although the Tudor family have been written of time and time again I find them endlessly fascinating. I like to burrow beneath their ostentatious clothes and jewels to try to access the minds beneath – How did it feel? How did it smell? What did they think?

The Kiss of the Concubine US Link UK Link
 Intractable Heart US Link.
                                    UK Link

 The Winchester Goose US Link UK Link

 The Forest Dwellers US Link UK Link

 The Song of Heledd US Link UK Link

 Peaceweaver US Link UK Link

You can find more information on my webpage: www.juditharnopp.com
And my Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Judith-Arnopp/e/B003CGLWLA/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1411465196&sr=1-1

Friday, 19 September 2014

Kim Rendfeld book tour - The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar.


Enthralled with the Days of Charlemagne

By Kim Rendfeld

I blame my foray into fiction on a legend, one that followed me home from Germany and refused to leave me alone until I sat myself down in front of a computer and wrote. Never mind I knew little about the Middle Ages and had only heard of Charlemagne in middle school.

The story that so captivated me is about the origin of Rolandsbogen, now an ivy covered arch where a Rhineland castle used to stand. To avoid introducing a spoiler to anyone who has not yet read my debut, The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press), I will say only that it is a variant on the tales about Roland and it involved lovers being separated by a lie.

I thought I would write only one novel set in early medieval Francia, but then I researched the history. Two published books and one draft manuscript later, I’m still there.

What has gotten me hooked? There are so many characters, events, and issues that I can’t fit them all into a blog post, but I’ll happily provide a sampling.

Real-Life Gutsy Women. To call medieval women chattel is oversimplifying their reality. While arranged marriages in early medieval times make it far from ideal, women were not delicate, passive creatures. They tried to influence the events around them, and a queen mother could rule as regent for a young son. Bertrada, a supporting character in my first two novels, was a full partner to her husband, King Pepin. When he died, she played an active role as queen mother to her grown sons, Kings Charles and Carloman. When Carloman died and Charles seized his lands, the widow Gerberga crossed the Alps with two very young boys to protect her sons’ rights, seeking aid from the ruthless Lombard king, Charles’s angry ex-father-in-law.

Alda, my fictional heroine of The Cross and the Dragon, fits right in with her historic counterparts.

Charlemagne’s Wars against Pagan Peoples and Other Grim Realities. The Continental Saxons in particular piqued my curiosity, especially when Charles’s biographer described the wars against them as the most prolonged, bitter, and laborious.

During his first war in Saxony in 772, Charles ordered the destruction of the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the Saxons. Combine that with the sad fate of war captives ending up as slaves, and troubling questions arise. What would it be like to have your faith literally go up in smoke? What would be like to be free one moment and a slave the next?

Those two questions led me to write The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). Its heroine, Leova, is an ordinary peasant who loses everything – her home, her husband, her faith, even her freedom, and she will go to great lengths to protect her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. 

The Personal and Political Were Intertwined for Royal Families. Charles was married five times. He divorced the first two wives and outlived the other three, and then he had at least four concubines, fathering five children. Decisions we today would consider mere fodder for tabloids could lead to war. At the beginning of The Cross and the Dragon, Charles is about to go to battle with his ex-father-in-law, the king of Lombardy, to save Rome. In Lady Queen Fastrada (tentative title of my work in progress), Charles’s son by his first wife tries to overthrow him. I didn’t make that up.

In the following excerpt from The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, you’ll see some of these elements at play. This scene takes place shortly after Leova and her children are sold to a Frankish merchant.

“Are you one of the bishop’s guests?” Leova asked. Ragenard’s place in the Franks’ complicated society puzzled her. He was wealthy enough to afford clothes that were not faded, frayed, or patched, yet Pinabel had not treated him as an equal.

“The bishop finds news of important families to be worth providing hospitality to a merchant,” he replied. “So I need you to listen to gossip among the servants and tell me everything you hear, no matter how trivial.”

“It would be more difficult not to listen.” Leova fiddled with a patch on her dress. “While Sunwynn and I were mending clothes yesterday, all the women could speak of was Queen Hildegard being with child.” Carrying a monster’s offspring.

 “Everyone knows that.” Ragenard smiled. “But have you heard about the state of her health?”

“Her morning sickness has passed, and she is eating well.”

“Good.” Ragenard glanced over his shoulder, then leaned toward her and lowered his voice. “Did you hear anything about the queen mother?”

Leova gave him a blank look. Several Frankish words were new to her—city, bishop, monk, nun, king, queen, merchant.

“What is a queen mother?” Sunwynn asked to Leova’s relief.

“The mother of the king,” Ragenard replied, blinking. “Her name is Bertrada. She is very powerful.”

“Oh,” Leova said, remembering the name. She wrung her memory. “Some of the maids were wondering if the birth of a healthy heir will appease her. Something about King Charles seizing his dead brother’s land and divorcing a—what was the word? Sounds like lost guard.”

“Lombard,” Ragenard said. “Our king repudiated the Lombard princess his mother had convinced him to marry. I have listened to the nobles argue long into the night about the king’s actions, but I have never taken a side, and neither will you.”

“What’s a Lombard?” Sunwynn asked.

“A people who live far south, ruled by a strong, devious king.”

To read the first chapter of The Cross and the Dragon or The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar or learn more about Kim Rendfeld, visit kimrendfeld.com. You can also read her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com. 

Can love triumph over war?
772 AD: Charlemagne’s battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her beloved husband died in combat. Her faith lies shattered in the ashes of Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. The relatives obligated to defend her and her family sell them into slavery instead.
In Francia, Leova is resolved to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her own honor. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master, and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family. Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon and is Sunwynn’s champion — but he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband.
Advance Praise for The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar

“Carolingian Europe comes alive in Kim Rendfeld’s sweeping story of family and hope, set against the Saxon Wars. Her transportive and triumphant novel immerses us in an eighth century world that feels both mystical and starkly real.”  - Jessica Brockmole, author of Letters from Skye

“A captivating historical filled with rich detail, compelling characters, and a well-paced plot that keeps the pages turning to its very satisfying end. A true delight for fans of historical fiction. I couldn’t put it down.” — Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi Mysteries

The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is refreshingly set in a less familiar medieval period – soon after Charlemagne has conquered a portion of today’s Germany and its people. The characters are refreshing also, common folk instead of the lords and ladies who are the usual inhabitants of historical novels, and how they adjust to their new condition is fascinating. Altogether, this book was absorbing from start to finish.” – Roberta Gellis, author of The Roselynde Chronicles


To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com. You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.