Author Chats | Margaret Porter | The Islanders Re-Release

So happy to invite Margaret Porter to tea and chat today, for it’s been a while since we were at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Maryland, and I love catching up and seeing what fascinating work she’s up to. On this visit, I’m excited to learn more about Margaret’s beautifully refreshed Islanders series set in London and the Isle of Man during the eighteenth century. Hop on over and find out more about this fascinating setting, Margaret’s literary pilgrimages and some of her favourite books.
Author Chats | Margaret Porter

Author Chats | J.G. Harlond Historical Thrillers

I’m delighted to be chatting with my friend Jane today on Author Chats. We share a love of 17th century rogues, and I had the pleasure of spending a day exploring Oxford colleges with Jane during a Historical Novel Society conference several years ago. Today, Jane shares her love of thrillers, continent and century-hopping, and how she crafted her most recent novel, a darkly humourous whodunnit set in England during WWII.
J.G. Harlond Author Chat

Author Chats | Marie Macpherson brings Scottish history to life

I’m thrilled to invite Marie Macpherson to share her fascinating novel The Last Blast of the Trumpet, the final in the Knox Trilogy. I have always been intrigued by this period of Scottish history, and to me, the Darnley murder still remains as shocking today as it must have been to the witnesses at the time. Join Marie as she shares her research, writing techniques, and, of course, the books that have influenced her life the most.
Author Chats | Marie Macpherson

NEW RELEASE | Road to the Tower

LAUNCH DAY! 12 tales of treachery, treason and broken promises.
My story was inspired by a15th Century namesake I discovered on the family tree. Join me on the Road to the Tower. But watch your back!
England, 1483. When Lady Elysabeth Scrope receives an urgent summons to escort her godson Prince Edward to London, she makes an impulsive decision that will change England forever. The sudden death of the king has thrown alliances into turmoil, and the safety of the twelve-year-old heir is at stake. Protecting the young prince from the ambitious Woodvilles is one thing. Defying Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort, is quite another. As Elysabeth and the prince near London and their ultimate destination, the Tower, she begins to question the wisdom of her decision…and her family’s hidden motives.

Author Chats | Oh Mr Pepys!

I’ve been wanting to sit down with the talented Deborah Swift for a good chat for ages, and she kindly spent some time with me recently to talk about her favourite books, what made her cry (hands up who else sobbed through Black Beauty) and what it was like digging through Samuel Pepys’s diaries. Come on over to Author Chats and enjoy my conversation with one of my favourite historical fiction authors!

Deborah Swift | The Women in Samuel Pepys’s Diary

Author Chats | New Release | A Feigned Madness

I’ve been looking forward to chatting with Tonya ever since I heard of her debut novel’s subject – the intrepid New York reporter Nellie Bly. When I first moved to the city I lived across the East River from Roosevelt Island, and a bleak, unwelcoming, derelict place it was. Reading of its history, I was not surprised. Tonya’s done a superb job of recreating the atmosphere and suspense in her novel, A Feigned Madness. Highly recommend.

Tonya Mitchell | New Release | A Feigned Madness

Betrayal is coming…

Betrayal, treachery, treason, deceit, perfidy—all names for the calculated violation of trust. And it’s been rife since humans trod the earth.
A promise broken
A mission betrayed
A lover’s desertion
A parent’s deception
An unwitting act of treason
Betrayal by comrades
Betrayal by friends
Could you resist the forces of misplaced loyalty, power hunger, emotional blackmail, or plain greed? Is there ever redemption, or will the destruction visit future generations and even alter history? These questions are still with us today.
Read twelve tales by twelve accomplished writers who explore these historical yet timeless challenges from post Roman Britain to the present day.
AD 455—Roman leader Ambrosius is caught in a whirlpool of shifting allegiances
AD 940—Alyeva and cleric Dunstan navigate the dangers of the Anglo Saxon court
1185—Knight Stephan fights for comradeship, duty, and honour. But what about love?
1330—The powerful Edmund of Kent enters a tangled web of intrigue
1403—Thomas Percy must decide whether to betray his sovereign or his family
1457—Estelle is invited to the King of Cyprus’s court, but deception awaits
1483—Has Elysabeth made the right decision to bring Prince Edward to London?
1484—Margaret Beaufort contemplates the path to treason
1577—Francis Drake contends with disloyalty at sea
1650—Can James Hart, Royalist highwayman, stop a nemesis from destroying his friend?
1718—Pirate Annie Bonny, her lover Calico Jack, and a pirate hunter. Who will win?
1849/present—Carina must discover her ancestor’s betrayer in Italy or face ruin.

Antony & Cleopatra: Of Politics & Emotion

Today I’m thrilled to invite Roman scholar and novelist Brook Allen to my blog, celebrating the publication of her new book, Soldier of Fate, which includes one of history’s most famous couples – Antony and Cleopatra.
Brook, great to talk, and congrats on the fabulous new release. And, of course, I have to ask the burning question… “But did they LOVE one another?”
Over to you, Brook!

As author of The Antonius Trilogy, it’s my most-asked question and one that historians have tried to figure out for thousands of years. I say thousands, because whatever the truth was, Octavian Augustus—victor against the lovers, swept any evidence of Marc Antony under the rug. Strangely, he allowed Cleopatra’s statuary to survive. Although it’s believed that a wealthy man used gold to convince him to do so. 
Figures. Money always talks.
Antony’s memory, however, was treated with damnatio memoriae—the damning of one’s memory. His statues were destroyed, inscriptions bearing his name were chiseled out, the Senate declared his birthdate as nefas—a bad luck day. No other member of his family was allowed to name their child “Marcus Antonius”. In other words, there was little love lost between Antony and Octavian. 
Officially, the Augustan spin on the fate of both was to portray Cleopatra as a wily femme fatale who sexed her way into Caesar’s bed first, then Antony’s, to make a bid at ruling what would be known as the Roman Empire. Indeed, the tale stuck, didn’t it? 
But what about the emotions between Antony and Cleopatra? What did they feel for one another?
Some could argue that Caesar was old enough to be Cleopatra’s grandfather when he and Egypt’s Queen first met—when she was smuggled into his presence during a time of Egyptian and Roman civil unrest. Past Ptolemies had managed to destroy and sell Egypt out through corruption and the Romans had been busy fighting themselves and fellow Italians for nearly one-hundred years by the time Cleopatra rolled out of her carpet. 
Caesar, a known womanizer wasted no time in dictating his expectations of the young Queen. Though she may have been a virgin—or not—Cleopatra was certainly not naïve. Here was a young woman of twenty-one who spoke at least seven languages, was astute in mathematics, politics, and astronomy. She was Queen over the most prestigious center of learning in the known world at the time, and wound up impressing Caesar enough to wind up as sole ruler. Especially after the convenient death of her brother during the Alexandrian War, which Caesar fought on her behalf.
When she visited Rome, she was Caesar’s “guest” for a good two years, living in a fantastic villa across the Tiber from the pomerium—Rome’s official boundary which wasn’t to be crossed by foreigners. Caesar himself was absent for much of that time, still finishing his civil war against the sons of Pompeius Magnus in what is now Spain. But she did make impressions and according to ancient writers, most notably Cicero, they weren’t good ones. 
Cicero wrote an enormous collection of letters to his close friend, Atticus, which actually makes for fascinating reading. I highly recommend them!  He was truly Rome’s megaphone and continued to have great influence within the Senate. He denounced Cleopatra vehemently, snarling, “The arrogance of the Queen herself when she was living on the estate across the Tiber makes my blood boil to recall.” He went so far as declaring, “I detest the Queen!” After she left Rome, Cicero may have even spitefully voiced glee at her possibly miscarrying a second pregnancy by Caesar.
Cicero attacked Antony too—fourteen times—in letters to the State, known as his Philippics. Antony had many reasons for despising Cicero, and they were very good reasons. (Read my books!!!) When he finally made his way into Cleopatra’s life, Antony had made it a priority to have Cicero executed and he was at the height of his career. He’d just defeated Brutus and Cassius, putting an end to true Roman Republican voices forever. What he didn’t bargain on was what his own colleagues would think about having a woman given equal footing in their strategic planning. Nor did they imagine his generous nature would include granting her large land endowments. 
Was he foolish in capitulating with her like this? Not necessarily.
Cleopatra had something Antony needed too—GOLD. He needed it to pay and upkeep his enormous army which he’d use to invade Parthia. He needed assurances of allies at his back to keep the East in line in his absence and to guarantee fealty from client kings. His territory was enormous and I see him as a huge risk-taker, and with the soldierly, easy-going nature he had with his men, it’s possible he believed that they’d come around to see the benefits of his alliance with Egypt. 
Sadly for Antony, they never did. Roman sentiment for Egypt’s Queen had been marred by Cicero, Octavian, and Caesar’s behavior with her. His full acceptance of her as a mistress, and possibly as a wife, wound up being fodder for Octavian’s propaganda against him and reason for defections from his staff and army.
Some historians and classicists simply believe that this relationship was political and mutually expedient to achieve what they both needed. For Cleopatra, that was sole, secure power and a restoration (of sorts) of former Ptolemaic lands. Antony on the other hand, could have used her for coin, to bolster his strength with a new navy, and for sex. He did have quite the reputation!
As an amateur historian, lover of ancient tales, and yes—a novelist. I don’t buy that this was all they were to one another. I fully believe that Antony and Cleopatra were committed to one another, whether they were married or not. And the funny thing is—my belief in this doesn’t necessarily stem from extravagant gifts they gave each other. 
It’s how they acted at the end.
Both Antony and Cleopatra, as it turned out, were in communication with Octavian during their last year of life. He did his UTMOST to drive a wedge between them. To Antony, he refused to spare Cleopatra’s life. Antony could have surrendered the Queen over to him easily. His ally Herod of Judea urged him to do so. But instead, he pleaded mercy on her behalf. Here was a broken man who had lost everything, yet he was still concerned over her well-being. Cleopatra also asked for mercy—for Caesar’s son, Caesarion. She requested that he reign in her stead. Octavian promised her nothing, but suggested leniency if she would but turn over Antony’s head or person—dead or alive. 
She didn’t.
So, for me, it’s what they DIDN’T do that is the tell-all. Okay, maybe they didn’t LOVE each other, but certainly they were unified in their last stand, willing to die together. And yet when there was confusion on that final day and Cleopatra may or may not have sent Antony a message telling him she was already dead, where did he want to go, following his attempt at suicide? 
He wanted to be with her.
Plutarch, who lived nearly a hundred years after the demise of Antony and Cleopatra, left to us the most complete story of their relationship. Oh, there were other ancient sources that left tidbits, but Plutarch really “put out” a story worthy of attention. Shakespeare snagged it in a heartbeat. And each time I’ve read it, I can’t help but believe that there was something more emotional there than what some scholars want us to hold on to. Plutarch had access to a lot more contemporaneous history—both written and oral, I might add. 
So—this novelist chooses to believe the best in Antony and Cleopatra. That they tried to craft a kingdom that would join Rome in its glory, that they were loving parents who were proud of the family they’d made, and lastly, that they loved and loved greatly, passionately, and just as marriage vows still state—unto death.

Author Brook Allen
has a passion for ancient history—especially 1st century BC Rome. Her current work is a trilogy on the life of Marcus Antonius—Marc Antony, which she has worked on for the past fifteen years. The first installment, Antonius: Son of Rome was published in March 2019. It follows Antony as a young man, from the age of eleven, when his father died in disgrace, until he’s twenty-seven and meets Cleopatra for the first time. Brook’s second book is Antonius: Second in Command, dealing with the Antony’s tumultuous rise to power at Caesar’s side and culminating with the civil war against Brutus and Cassius. Antonius: Soldier of Fate is the last book in the trilogy, spotlighting the romance between Antonius and Cleopatra and the historic war with Octavian Caesar.
In researching the Antonius Trilogy, Brook’s travels have led her to Italy, Egypt, Greece, and even Turkey to explore places where Antony once lived, fought, and eventually died. While researching abroad, she consulted with scholars and archaeologists well-versed in Hellenistic and Roman history, specifically pinpointing the late Republican Period in Rome. Brook belongs to the Historical Novel Society and attends conferences as often as possible to study craft and meet fellow authors. In 2019, Son of Rome won the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award. In 2020, Son of Rome was honored with a silver medal in the international Reader’s Favorite Book Reviewers Book Awards.
Though she graduated from Asbury University with a B.A. in Music Education, Brook has always loved writing. She completed a Masters program at Hollins University with an emphasis in Ancient Roman studies, which helped prepare her for authoring her present works. Brook teaches full-time as a Music Educator and works in a rural public-school district near Roanoke, Virginia. Her personal interests include travel, cycling, hiking in the woods, reading, and spending downtime with her husband and two amazing Labrador Retrievers. She lives in the heart of southwest Virginia in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.

Brook’s Trilogy is available here:

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Stepping back into Anglo Saxon England

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome historian and author Annie Whitehead, who has done a bit of her own family tree research. Annie’s books are brilliant at shining a light on the dark ages – and I am fascinated to read of tracing back 1000 years of relatives! Thanks for stopping by, Annie!

I’m delighted to be a guest on Elizabeth’s blog today to talk about my favourite historical people, the Anglo-Saxons, in a stop on the Stepping Back into Saxon England tour with Helen Hollick. Elizabeth’s wonderful series of novels and her ‘Counterpoint’ novelettes are fabulous reads, made even more interesting because they feature her relatives. Is there anything in my bloodline to match this?
Well, sort of.
I’m married to a Whitehead, at least five generations of whom have lived in the same northern county, and are quite possibly of ‘Viking’ heritage. But my maiden name was Swale, and there’s long been a story in our family about our being descended from the dukes of Normandy.
I was thrilled recently to be appointed keeper of the family archive, and am now custodian of indenture and birth certificates from the eighteenth century. I also have the family tree, which shows an illustrious forebear and so-called ‘gateway’ ancestor: Sir Solomon Swale, 1st Baronet of Swale Hall. From him, the line goes back not only to the dukes of Normandy, but – and this made me dance round the room – Ælfthryth, daughter of Alfred the Great.
She was, undoubtedly, less famous than her sister, Æthelflæd Lady of the Mercians, about whom I’ve written many times, in fiction and nonfiction. Thanks to the Welsh monk, Asser, we know the names of Alfred’s children. They were Æthelflæd, the first-born, Edward (later to be King Edward the Elder), then two more daughters, Æthelgifu and Ælfthryth, and another son, Æthelweard. Asser also poignantly said that in his list he leaves aside ‘those who were carried off in infancy by an untimely death and who numbered…’ How many? We don’t know. As historian Simon Keynes points out in the notes to his translation of Asser’s biography, the numeral, if it was there, is unreadable. Sadly it seems that even royal queens weren’t immune to miscarriage, stillbirth, or loss of infants.
Asser said that two of the royal children, Edward and Ælfthryth, were ‘at all times fostered at the royal court’ and were left under the care of tutors and nurses. We cannot assume though that the other children weren’t also schooled. Education was important to Alfred and it seems unlikely that only some, rather than all, of his children would have ‘attentively learned the psalms’ and read books ‘in English, and especially English poems’. The sad reporting of the losses in infancy of a number of other children and the careful nurturing of the surviving offspring suggest a close family relationship.
However, though they might have been a close family unit, marriage arrangements took the daughters away from Wessex. Æthelflæd famously married the Lord of Mercia, and went on to rule the erstwhile kingdom. Æthelgifu stayed a little closer to home, becoming abbess of her father’s foundation at Shaftesbury. But my apparent ancestor, Ælfthryth, went over the sea. She married Baldwin II of Flanders. He was the son of Alfred’s step-mother, who was also his step-sister. Maybe I should back up a bit?!
Alfred the Great’s father married, for the second time, a very young woman called Judith of Flanders, much to the chagrin of his grown-up sons who feared that any children of the union might displace them as heirs to the throne. Her father was the Carolingian king, Charles the Bald, and her wedding took place in Verberie in 856 when Judith was probably no more than around twelve. She was crowned and anointed by the archbishop of Rheims. She was clearly a catch, and when Alfred’s father died, she married the eldest son. Thus she became step-sister to Alfred, having been his step-mother. This was really quite the scandal, and Asser proclaimed that it was ‘against God’s prohibition and Christian dignity’. Her second husband, however, only lived for two more years and Judith went back to Flanders and was virtually imprisoned by her father, kept under episcopal guardianship at his stronghold at Senlis. Clearly a spirited individual, she managed to evade the cloistered life and eloped with Baldwin I. It’s not clear whether she was fully a willing participant, but it would be nice to think that she preferred a third marriage to life in a nunnery and had a high old adventure running away with Baldwin.
I’m not sure of the technical relationship between her son and my Ælfthryth, but the marriage was clearly sanctioned by the church between these step-cousins once removed?? They had four children, and named one of the daughters Ealhswith, after Ælfthryth’s mother. I think this is touching. Ealhswith is an uncommon Anglo-Saxon name and, although she bore Alfred the Great all those children, Ealhswith was not mentioned by name in Asser’s biography of Alfred.
Ælfthryth’s marriage to Baldwin II seems to have been part of an alliance to help Flanders repel the Vikings, a reminder that England was not the only place to suffer such incursions. Baldwin died in 918, just a month or so after Ælfthryth’s sister, the Lady of the Mercians, died in Tamworth. Ælfthryth herself lived on until around 929, presumably remaining in Flanders after she was widowed.
Through the line of the various counts named Baldwin, the family tree which I own links the counts of Flanders to Gilbert de Gant, mentioned in Domesday Book and recorded as being present in York when English rebels opposed to William of Normandy’s reign attacked the city and set it alight. From him, the tree branches spread out and downwards until they reach the Swale baronets.
Just one eensy weensy problem: when examining the family tree more closely, I realised that although the present day family can be traced right up to William Swale (1780-1858) and his father who was possibly called Solomon, this tree does not connect with that coming down from Sir Solomon, the first baronet.
It would be lovely to think that I am directly related to Ælfthryth, who was not only the sister of my favourite Anglo-Saxon woman, Æthelflæd, but who also married into the energetic family of Flanders but, alas, I think I am only as closely related as any other person in England might be. However, this does not in any way dim my enthusiasm for the period, nor my interest in these fascinating and lively women.

Annie has written three novels set in Anglo-Saxon England. To Be A Queen tells the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. Alvar the Kingmaker is set in the turbulent tenth century where deaths of kings and civil war dictated politics, while Cometh the Hour tells the story of Penda, the pagan king of Mercia. All have received IndieBRAG Gold Medallions and Chill with a Book awards. To Be A Queen was longlisted for HNS Indie Book of the Year and was an IAN Finalist. Alvar the Kingmaker was Chill Books Book of the Month while Cometh the Hour was a Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month.
As well as being involved in 1066 Turned Upside Down, Annie has also had two nonfiction books published. Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom (Amberley Books) will be published in paperback edition on October 15th, 2020, while her most recent release, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England (Pen & Sword Books) is available in hardback and e-book.
Annie was the inaugural winner of the Dorothy Dunnett/HWA Short Story Competition 2017.
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