Saturday, October 19, 2019

Guest Post By Tudor Novelist Tony Riches

Charles Brandon’s Marriage to Katherine Willoughby

By Tony Riches

Charles Brandon, Tudor knight and best friend of King Henry VIII, is best known for secretly marrying Mary Tudor, the king’s sister – without Henry’s permission! Less well known is his last marriage, to Lady Katherine Willoughby.

I’ve just completed two years of work researching and writing my latest book, Katherine – Tudor Duchess, which concludes the story of Charles Brandon, and would like to share a little of her story.

Katherine was the only surviving daughter of Baron William Willoughby of Eresby, by his second wife Maria De Salinas, a Spanish Maid of Honour who came to England with Catherine of Aragon in October, 1501. Maria was one of the queen’s closest companions and it is thought she named her daughter after Queen Catherine.

Records of the time suggest that Katherine Willoughby was an attractive, well-educated girl, who became a baroness in her own right after her father died in 1526. Charles Brandon would have been well aware that she was also the heiress to a substantial income of 15,000 ducats a year.

It was little surprise to anyone when Brandon persuaded King Henry to let him buy the wardship of young Katherine Willoughby in 1528 (even though it seems he was, as usual, heavily in debt). Brandon’s plan was to secure her as a wife for his son, the eleven-year-old Henry, Earl of Lincoln (named after the king), once he came of age.

Katherine moved in to Brandon’s manor house at Westhorpe in the Suffolk countryside. She seems to have been happy to have Brandon’s daughters, Frances and Eleanor, as well as young Henry, for company, with Charles and Mary acting as her guardians. 

Mary Tudor was a friend and neighbour of Katherine’s mother, Maria, who probably saw this arrangement as likely to provide the most secure future for her daughter. Mary had been suffering from a long illness and died at Westhorpe on the 25 June 1533.

Brandon, who was then aged forty-eight, decided it would be best if he married young Katherine (then aged fourteen) himself, and did so barely two months after Mary’s death. We must take care, of course, not to judge Charles Brandon by modern standards, although I’m sure he enjoyed a few knowing winks from King Henry and his courtiers.

Importantly, it seems Katherine was happy to become Duchess of Suffolk, particularly when Brandon’s son, Henry, died the following year. Brandon’s marriage to Katherine secured him the rights to her lands in many parts of Lincolnshire, and by 1538 he became the greatest landowner in the county.

You can find out more about the first part of Charles Brandon and Katherine Willoughby’s story in my novel, Brandon – Tudor Knight, After Brandon’s death, there was talk that the king might marry Katherine himself – but what actually became of her is proof that the truth really is stranger than fiction.

Tony Riches

Interested in reading the book about Katherine Willoughby? Order here:

(The audiobook edition will be available in 2020)

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A 'Quantum' Leap with Patricia Cornwell

I have enormous respect for Patricia Cornwell, who has sold about 100 million Kay Scarpetta mysteries--not bad, right?--plus devoted herself to solving the Jack the Ripper identity challenge, paying for her own forensic research.

But then I heard that she was starting a new series with a cybercrime plot. Wow. I had to put up my hand with Thomas & Mercer to request an interview of Cornwell on Quantum. Cybercrime is my wheelhouse, so to speak. 

In my phone interview, Patricia was fascinating and funny, talking a mile a minute. Here's the opening of my story for BookTrib:

One on One With Patricia Cornwell: Scarpetta, Forensics, Cybercrime and More

"My special sauce is to make things a little creepy. If you don’t want to be creeped out, don’t read me because I’m going to be doing something creepy somewhere.”
Patricia Cornwell transformed the mystery genre with her Kay Scarpetta series, which made its debut in 1990 with Postmortem and set off a frenzy of enthusiasm for learning the details of forensics. Since then, she’s sold some 100 million books.
After working as a journalist, Cornwell had taken a job at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, and the knowledge she gained was put to great use in the creation of Scarpetta, the brilliant blonde Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia at Richmond.
Now Cornwell is launching a new thriller series with the novel Quantum (Thomas & Mercer), featuring Dr. Calli Chase, a young NASA pilot, quantum physicist, and cybercrime investigator.
When the novel begins, Chase is investigating a tripped alarm in the tunnels below a NASA research center in Virginia. Outside, a blizzard is bearing down and a government shutdown looms. Inside the tunnel, Chase is busy dealing with the complaints of a claustrophobic colleague when she discovers a spatter of dried blood where no one should have been. 

To read the rest of my interview, go here.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Incomparable Power: Hittite Queens

My guest today is award-winning author Judith Starkston, a classicist who feeds her obsession with the Bronze Age world of the Greeks and Hittites by writing historical fiction and fantasy. The first book of her Hittite series, Priestess of Ishana, is available FREE on Amazon Oct 2-6 in anticipation of the upcoming release of the second title in the series, Sorcery in Alpara.

You can connect with Judith Starkston on her website, newsletter, Twitter, Facebook and Bookbub.

From Judith:

I write historical fantasy based on the Bronze Age Hittites (c. 1275 BCE)—an empire of the ancient Near East nearly buried by the sands of time. In spite of the vivid glimpses of this lost kingdom brought to light by recent archaeology and the decipherment and translation of many thousands of clay tablets, there still remain vast gaps in historians’ knowledge. To be honest about my imaginative filling of those gaps, my storytelling combines fantasy and history.

For instance, I give my historical figures fictional names, though often only minimally different from their real names. I also let the magical religious beliefs of these historical people find full expression in the action. My “quarter turn to the fantastic,” to borrow Guy Gavriel Kay’s phrase, allows me to honor what we actually know while also owning up to my inventive extensions. Allowing room for the fantastical elements suggested by Hittite culture makes for the best storytelling.

The main character of my series, Tesha, is based directly on the historical Hittite queen Puduhepa. I chose to name her Tesha after the Hittite word for “dream” because Puduhepa was famous for visionary dreams sent by her goddess. Part of the appeal of writing a series based on Puduhepa comes from the model of female leadership she offers. She reigned for decades over the most powerful empire in the world at that time.

The Hittite empire stretched across what is modern Turkey and parts of Syria and down into Lebanon. It was thus close to Mesopotamia and borrowed a great deal from that and other Near Eastern civilizations. Hittite tradition about queenship, however, is distinctly different.

Hittite queens, unlike all the surrounding realms, held independent office for life. When their husbands died, they continued to rule, usually as co-rulers with their sons. The Hittite state allowed a full political role for these women. At the same time, Puduhepa took this allowed role to an active extreme not seen for other Hittite queens. Perhaps there were many other politically energetic queens who are not noted in our scanty historical accounts, but, interestingly and misogynistically, the other active queens we read about are renowned for killing off female rivals by sorcery and scheming to put their sons on the throne and negative acts like these. Puduhepa appears to be an anomaly, despite the powers granted to women by Hittite tradition. However, if there had not been this long tradition of respect for the role and status of queen, Puduhepa’s unique personality would not have had room to express itself.

She enforced laws in her land to bring about fair justice, even when she had to decide court cases in favor of foreign merchants against her own citizens. She diplomatically corralled Pharaoh Rameses II into a peace treaty that, frankly, she and her husband Hattusili needed more than Egypt did, and she made it last. She held her power with her husband, but they shared equal control, a reality demonstrated visually on the peace treaty drawn up with Egypt. On one side of the version made of solid silver for public display, Puduhepa pressed her seal. On the other side, her husband placed his. They did have a joint seal they could have used, but on this most impressive accomplishment, their independent seals appear. Her judicial decrees and letters to world rulers frequently have only her name and seal on them—she didn’t need her husband’s blessing to administer her authority.

Puduhepa’s international correspondence is extensive. In comparison, we know of only two letters addressed to the Hittite court by Puduhepa’s Egyptian contemporary, Ramses’ wife Naptera, and those letters contain primarily polite greetings from one woman to another. Among Puduhepa’s extant letters are diplomatic exchanges with the kings of Cyprus, Babylonia and other countries. In one letter she grants lands to vassal kings under her sole authority. The Hittite expression, equivalent to “Your Majesty” was “My Sun” and it gets applied to both Puduhepa and Hattusili in the correspondence.

There was an exclusive group in the Late Bronze Age Near Eastern world. Certain kings referred to each other as “brother,” but only the kings of highest power: primarily Egypt, Babylonia and the Hittite Empire. Later, when Assyria’s power was on the rise, an Assyrian king was begrudgingly granted the right to use the term “brother” when addressing the Egyptian or Hittite kings. So how did Ramesses II refer to Queen Puduhepa? As “sister.” He didn’t give his own queens this high status.

Puduhepa ruled in a society that gave her legal rights to her power, unlike the surrounding kingdoms of the ancient Near East, but she also made more extensive use of those rights than any other Hittite queen. Part of this arises from her brilliance and personality. Part also came from the close partnership she shared with her husband. Their love for each other and genuine trust seems to have granted her extraordinary talents the room to flourish. Her accomplishments offer a worthwhile model for the modern world as much as a window into the ancient one.

“What George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones did for the War of the Roses, Starkston has done for the forgotten Bronze Age Hittite civilization. Mystery, romance, political intrigue, and magic…” -Amalia Carosella

A curse, a conspiracy and the clash of kingdoms. A defiant priestess confronts her foes, armed only with ingenuity and forbidden magic.

An award-winning epic fantasy, Priestess of Ishana draws on the true-life of a remarkable but little-known Hittite queen who ruled over one of history’s most powerful empires.

A malignant curse from the Underworld threatens Tesha’s city with fiery devastation. The young priestess of Ishana, goddess of love and war, must overcome this demonic darkness. Charred remains of an enemy of the Hitolian Empire reveal both treason and evil magic. Into this crisis, King Hattu, the younger brother of the Great King, arrives to make offerings to the goddess Ishana, but he conceals his true mission in the city. As a connection sparks between King Hattu and Tesha, the Grand Votary accuses Hattu of murderous sorcery. Isolated in prison and facing execution, Hattu’s only hope lies in Tesha to uncover the conspiracy against him. Unfortunately, the Grand Votary is Tesha’s father, a rash, unyielding man, and now her worst enemy. To help Hattu, she must risk destroying her own father.

If you like a rich mixture of murder mystery, imperial scheming, sorcery, love story, and lavish world-building, then immerse yourself in this historical fantasy series. See why readers call the Tesha series “fast-paced,” “psychologically riveting,” and “not to be missed.”

A curse that consumes armies, a court full of traitors, a clutch of angry concubines and fantastical creatures who offer help but hate mankind.

Tesha’s about to become queen of a kingdom under assault from all sides, but she has powerful allies: her strategist husband, his crafty second-in-command, and her brilliant blind sister.

Then betrayal strips her of them all. To save her marriage and her world, she will have to grapple with the serpentine plot against her and unleash the goddess Ishana’s uncontrollable magic—without destroying herself.

“Based on historical events in the Bronze Age, Starkston wraps history and magic together in an unforgettable package.”

Saturday, September 28, 2019

'Dreamland' Giveaway on Goodreads

'Dreamland' is four months away, but the advance copies are ready...and it's time to give them to readers :)

My publisher is giving away five signed paperback copies of 'Dreamland.' All you have to do is click here to enter.

Here's the description running with the novel:

"Set during the sizzling summer of 1911, 'Dreamland' follows young heiress Peggy Battenberg on a fateful family holiday to Coney Island. Whilst it soon transpires that the decadence of America’s Playground may offer Peggy the freedom she’s been longing for, amidst the bright lights lurks a web of deceit and deadly secrets. It’s up to Peggy to get to the bottom of the mystery, before she or those she loves become the next victims of Dreamland…"

Good luck!!

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Journey to Writing My Novel 'Dreamland'

Today, August 19th, is the day I unveil the cover of my next novel, 'Dreamland.' I think you'll agree with me that my publisher, Endeavour Quill, has done a fantastic job of cover design:

Here's the story: New York City, 1911: A rebellious young heiress spending the summer in a luxury hotel a mile from Coney Island falls in love with an immigrant artist in the forbidden Dreamland and leaves her Gilded Age world to find the person responsible for a series of murders.
A friend who works on a website blog for new writers recently asked me to contribute a story giving tips on historical fiction. Such an assignment can make you stop and think. As I listed my five books, I realized that I've really jumped around in my time periods. My first three novels were set in Tudor England, then I leaped to mid-18th century Europe, and now it's on to early 20th century New York City.

The setting may change quite a bit, but the gestation of all my novels is the same: I have the thought "What would it be like if this happened?" and then: "I want to write that!" In the case of 'Dreamland,' it goes back to my news and magazine writing. The editor at the website The Vintage News asked me to write a story for the 4th of July in 2017 and my mind alighted on the hotdog-eating contest at Coney Island. In doing my research, I learned that the origin of the contest goes way, way back. I was planning to write a quick, light story, but the next thing I knew, I was deep down the rabbit hole, reading about a fascinating time period: Coney Island in its heyday, the turn of the century. I read about the three wild, ambitious, crazy parks within Coney Island: Steeplechase, Luna ... and Dreamland. People poured into these parks by the thousands, eager to see new things and also to lose their post-Victorian age inhibitions.

At about the same time, Town & Country magazine asked me to look into a story that involved the late Peggy Guggenheim. I started to read up on her, and I was struck by the sadness of the youth of this famous heiress. Her father died on the Titanic, she never felt as if she fit into the extended Guggenheim family, and when she was around 21, she took an unpaying job at a bohemian bookstore in Manhattan.

After learning that at one time there were beautiful luxurious hotels on the ocean in Brooklyn, just a mile from Coney Island, I had the thought, "What if an heiress like Peggy Guggenheim stayed at one of those hotels and wandered into a place like Dreamland?"

This was followed by the realization "I want to write that!" :)

Dreamland goes on sale in January 2020. There's no pre-order quite yet, but please go to the Goodreads page for the book here and mark "want-to-read." That would be very helpful!

thank you!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Emma of Normandy's Remains ID'd Over 900 Years Later

Researchers investigating the remains held in six mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral, one of the most important religious establishments in medieval England, recently made a discovery: the body of Queen Emma, married to two consecutive kings of England in the 11th century.

Emma of Normandy, while a teenage princess, was married to the older Saxon king, Ethelred, and after he died she was wed to the Viking ruler, Cnut. She had children by both husbands. said, "Daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, she was the wife of two successive Kings of England, and the mother of King Edward the Confessor and King Hardacnut. She was a powerful political figure in late Saxon England, and her family ties provided William the Conqueror with a measure of justification for his claim to the English throne."

Winchester cathedral
Winchester Cathedral

Emma was a direct descendant of Rollo, a Viking warrior who became the first duke of Normandy and died in 930 AD. Cnut invaded England, intending to rule the country, and one theory is that Emma, a widow, married him to save the lives of her children. However, historians believe her second marriage turned out to be happier than her first. Cnut was also the king of Denmark and Norway.
Queen Emma of Normandy
Queen Emma and her sons being received by Duke Richard II of Normandy.

Emma died in Winchester in 1052. She was buried alongside her Viking husband, Cnut, and their son, Hardacnut, in the Old Minster, Winchester, before being transferred to a cathedral built after the Norman Conquest. Her son by her first husband, Edward the Confessor, was among the last Saxon kings of England. When he died childless in 1066, it led to the overthrow of the Saxons by the Normans.

At Winchester, the contents of six chests have been analyzed and radiocarbon-dated. University of Bristol biological anthropologists found they contained the remains of at least 23 individuals, which is several more than originally thought, according to the BBC.

"It has long been believed that the six mortuary chests contain the mortal remains of Anglo-Saxon kings and bishops, but for many years this has merely been the subject of speculation," said "The bones had been co-mingled over the centuries and it was clear that the chests did not contain whole skeletons."

The chests had inscriptions saying who was supposed to be contained within, but the names did not accurately describe the contents. Historians believe the contents became mixed in the mid-17th century when the cathedral was ransacked and the bones were scattered by soldiers during the English Civil War in 1642. "They were repacked by locals so it was not known whose remains were replaced, or if they were the same bones," said the BBC.

Royal Chest Winchester Cathedral
Mortuary chest from Winchester Cathedral. This is one of six chests near the altar, and claims to contain the bones of Canute and his wife Emma. Photo by Ealdgyth CC BY-SA 3.0
A cathedral spokesperson said, "Working in the Lady Chapel at Winchester Cathedral, which became a temporary laboratory, the researchers reassembled over 1,300 human bones, with the aim of restoring the identity of the kings, one queen, and several bishops traditionally thought to be within the chests. The ability to identify the sex, age and physical characteristics of these individuals has resulted in some exciting discoveries, including the remains of a mature female dispersed within several chests."

Diet was a factor in analyzing the bones. The results of the radiocarbon dating were evaluated by estimating the "marine reservoir" effect for each person, "since high status individuals ate large quantities of fish from the rivers and the sea which contain older radiocarbon," said

The age of the individuals was also concluded after studying dental formation and attrition, changes in the bone surfaces, and the closure of the cranial (skull) sutures.

A version of this story appeared on The Vintage News.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Revealing Sketch of Madame de Pompadour

There were few women more careful of their image than Madame de Pompadour, one of the characters in my novel The Blue.

She was a beautiful and cultured 24-year-old year old when she met Louis XV in 1745 and became his mistress. But from the beginning she was surrounded by critics and would-be rivals. She needed to ensure that her royal lover saw her in just the right light. One of the ways she did that was commissioning portraits of herself looking fresh and radiant, exquisitely dressed.  But she was never just a beauty--she was a beauty with a brain, and she wanted that to be an emphasis too.

This portrait by Francois Boucher is one of my favorites. It's a sketch painted in 1750 and she's a bit more informal in it than usual. We're supposed to see that, holding her hat in one hand and picking up a bracelet with the other, she's just about ready to go out--perhaps to meet Louis XV.

There's a jumble of ribbons on the dressing table to underscore her feminity; a pile of books and sheet music lie on the floor to testify to her literary and cultural interests. Her little dog waits to see where she's going. And on the cabinet above are two porcelain vases. Of course porcelain was her passion. :)

She's an endlessly interesting woman, and one who I loved reading about and thinking about while writing The Blue.


The Blue, a suspense story set in 18th century England and France, was selected by Town & Country as one of the Best Books of 2019. It is an editors' pick in the Historical Novel Review.