Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Guest Post - Is It Better to Be a Medieval Abbess or Countess?

By Kim Rendfeld

I'm delighted to hand over the blog today to my guest, Kim. Over to you, Kim...

In Charlemagne’s day, noblewomen had two options: countess or abbess.

Actually, their families had the two options. The stakes were too high to leave to a girl, or an underage boy, for that matter. The family needed to figure out if they wanted to limit the number of claimants to the inheritance while providing their daughter land to rule or if they needed to build an alliance through marriage.

The 21st century feminist in me says abbess is the way to go. An abbess controlled land and got all the benefits that went with it. She was nominally under the authority of a bishop. But this was an era when a good day of travel for an army was 15 tedious, hazardous miles, so an abbess in essence ruled independently. 

She needed to be well connected and support the king who appointed her to reward her loyal family. She and her sisters (and brothers if she ruled a double monastery) would pray for the monarch and for victory in battle. Everyone believed in the power of prayer. She could also provide a tribute and soldiers from among her tenants.

While hagiographies have accounts of male and female saints following an austere lifestyle, that was a matter of choice. Many abbesses (and bishops and abbots, for that matter) did not give up luxuries a countess would have.

Not a bad deal. Except she had to give up sex. In medieval times, that was a sacrifice. The folk understood women enjoyed intimacy, and they thought the act was good for women’s health. Conjugal relations were as much a wife’s right as a husband’s.

A countess’s role was more complicated. A bride could be as young as 12 or 13. If the couple liked each other, it was a plus, but affection was not a primary factor. Modern eyes see the teenagers as pawns. Medieval ones see the girls as important partners.

If this was a first marriage for the husband, the wife’s chief responsibility was to bear heirs. But a noblewoman did more than make babies and rear children with the help of nurses. She commanded the servants, made sure the guards’ needs were met, and looked after the treasury. This freed her husband to govern and focus on the affairs of his estate. When he was away, she filled in for him. If he died while the son was underage, the countess could serve as a regent.

Besides the dangers of childbirth, a countess dealt with headaches an abbess didn’t. Wife-beating was a right, not a crime. If the count had a lover, there was nothing the countess could do about it. As long as he didn’t neglect his duty to her, what he did outside the marriage was between him and his confessor. If the other woman bore the man a child, he was expected to do the right thing and acknowledge the infant as his. The wife was responsible for the baby’s welfare.

If a countess didn’t bear the much needed son, her husband might try to get rid of her, but that action carried a great risk. Such an insult might cause her angry family to turn their backs on him in battle or worse might start a feud that could end in many deaths.

An honorable way out of such an uncomfortable situation was for the woman to take the veil. If appointed to rule an abbey, the woman got land and influence while the man was free to marry someone else.

Regardless of which path a noblewoman took, she was far from passive. Either way, she could influence the world around her. 


Kim Rendfeld is the author of two novels set in early medieval Francia and is working on a third. In The Cross and the Dragon, Alda, a young Frankish noblewoman, must contend with a vengeful jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband in battle. In The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, Saxon peasant Leova will go to great lengths to protect her children after she's lost everything else.

The Cross and the Dragon was rereleased Aug. 3, 2016, in print and ebook formats. You can order the book at Amazon 
Barnes and Noble 
and other vendors. 

The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar will be rereleased in Nov. 2, 2016. Preorders are available at Amazon 
Barnes and Noble 
and iTunes 

Connect with Kim on her website, her blog, Facebook and Twitter 

Kim will also be my interview guest here on this blog on Sunday 6th November where she'll be chatting about her writing and research.
Make a note to come back and join us then!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

1066 Turned Upside Down - Sunday chat with Anna Belfrage

This week I continue my series of interviews with the 1066 Turned Upside Down authors and it's the turn of Anna Belfrage:~

I began by asking her: You write "Time Slip" and "Straight Historical" novels. Was it difficult for you to 'twist' history in another way for the 1066 project?
Not really. What was difficult was that it is not a period I am thoroughly familiar with, so I had to spend some time reading up on the various protagonists and, in particular, about Sven Estridsen, the then king of Denmark. Fascinating gentleman: married twice, he was obliged to set his second wife aside as she was the mother of the first, and in a fit of pique he then refused to marry again, but fathered twenty or so children with various women. Five of his sons would succeed him as King of Denmark, and to this day, his descendants sit on the Danish throne. I could have submerged myself for days in his story, but fortunately Helen Hollick and Joanna Courtney offered clear guidelines as to what they expected, which helped me stay on course, so to speak.

Without giving too much away, can you set the scene for your story?
Denmark. A concerned Danish king who has no desire to see cousin Harold lose – and especially not to William of Normandy. A teenage girl, Gunhild, and a young and angry cripple, Rolf, are given an impossible task by King Sven. Gunhild is thrilled to bits to escape persistent suitor Magnus, maybe not so much when she realises just what Sven expects her to do…

Can you tell us about the Graham Saga?
Given my longing to time travel, my first series, The Graham Saga, features an alter ego. Alexandra Lind, however had no desire whatsoever to time travel. She was – or so she says – very happy with her life in modern day Edinburgh. Huh. Me, being her creator, knows otherwise, and besides, I really had no choice. You see, the male protagonist of The Graham Saga – aptly named Matthew Graham – was/is a Lowland Scot born in 1630 and raised by his devout father as a devout member of the Scottish Kirk. Come the Civil War, Matthew fought for the Parliamentarians, a young man of firm convictions that was borderline too dour. So I decided to liven things up a bit by presenting him with my time travelling Alex (and if we’re going to be quite honest, by that time Matthew, safe in one corner of my brain, had been throwing longing looks at Alex – on the opposite side of my roomy head – for months).

Graham Saga Banner

So, what have we here? We have a man, a woman, a rip in the sheer veil of time, and Alex is dragged back through time to a new life, a new and frightening world – and a new man. Not exactly a walk in the park, and my reluctant time traveller struggles not only with unfamiliar surroundings, but also with determined avengers, political upheaval and religious persecution. 

The Graham Saga follows Alex on her adventures – from the moors of Scotland to the impenetrable forests of Colonial Maryland – always side by side with Matthew, the man she was destined for since long before she was born. 

In total, there are eight books in this series (well, soon to be nine) and if I may brag a bit, all books have been awarded BRAG Medallions, five have been selected HNS Editor’s Choice, two have been shortlisted for the HNS Indie Award, and one actually won it. 

Congratulations! And about your new series ...
Well, having whetted my appetite by writing a time travelling series, I then threw myself into a project I’ve been nurturing off and on for many, many years. My second series, The King’s Greatest Enemy is set in the 14th century. We are in England, Edward II is king, Roger Mortimer is disgruntled, royal favourite Hugh Despenser is nasty, Queen Isabella has had it, and in the midst of all this mess, my fictional protagonist Adam de Guirande with wife Kit have to navigate a political quagmire that can lead to death and ruin for them both. Not a time traveller in sight, but I have a thing about love stories, and this series is very much about Adam and Kit – and to some extent, Roger and Isabella. 

In difference to The Graham Saga, this series is constrained by real events in history. Not that The Graham Saga lacks historical setting – it most certainly does not – but in The King’s Greatest Enemy, several of the central characters are real people, people with defined life spans and known fates. A challenge, in some ways, but the story of Roger Mortimer’s meteoric rise and subsequent fall is quite the juicy stuff. Add to that my Adam, who was raised by Mortimer and therefore loves him as a father but serves the young future king, Edward III, and you have a nice cocktail of tangled emotions and torn loyalties.

And yes, here too I am rather proud of the fact that there’s one BRAG Medallion, one HNS Editor’s Choice!

Is there another event in history that you wish had had a different outcome, another "What if"?
Well, I would have preferred it if Gustav II Adolf, our famous Swedish warrior king, had not died at Lützen in 1632. And yes, I am also one of those who remain conflicted about the outcome of Bosworth – how would history have shaped itself had Richard III won? 
More recently, what would have happened had the Treaty of Versailles been less harsh on the losers of WWI? Would we have been spared Hitler and the Third Reich, the human catastrophe that was WWII? 

Thanks so much for dropping by to talk to me, Anna.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

1066 Turned Upside Down - Sunday chat with Alison Morton

Next up in my series of 1066 Turned Upside Down, alternative history author Alison Morton:

I began by asking her:~

In your Roma Nova novels you have created a whole new world. Are there rules that you have to abide by, having created this world? How do you make sure that everything happens within the framework and logic of that world? Or are you, as the author, able to bend the rules sometimes?

Alternative history definitely has “da rulz”!  

A trigger event causes a “point of divergence” (POD) taking our timeline, i.e. the history we know, in a different direction – an alternate timeline. Some things will seem the same as the ones we know; people, shops, work, even names or clothing. Others, including social structures and attitudes as well as politics and nations, may be disturbingly different. 

No aliens, no time-travellers slipping backwards in history to change it, no fantasy, dragons or magic are allowed in true alternate history. Nor is going back; time has been permanently diverted, but then it probably is every day in our timeline without us noticing it…

The geography and climate must resemble the ones in the region where the imagined country lies. Roma Nova is an Alpine country lying in south central Europe, so winters are cold and snowy and summers hot enough for vines. No alternate history writer can neglect their imagined country’s social, economic and political development. This sounds dry, but every living person is a product of their local conditions. Their experience of living in a place, and struggle to make sense of it, is expressed through culture and behaviour. So you have to work it all out, especially who holds the power.

Roma Nova
And breaking the rules? I write at the historical end of the “althist” scale so use historical logic to construct the framework for the stories. The setting has to be plausible and the events in the story consistent with that world. It would be silly to have laser weapons in the eighteenth century – that’s science fiction – but you could have an advanced type of musket. My Roma Novan military and close friends greet each other with the forearm handshake, which actually has no historical foundation but is immensely cool.

Roma Novan Triumphal arch
How did the idea for Roma Nova come about?

It was the long time bubbling of an idea that occurred to me when I was an eleven year old fascinated by my first Roman mosaic. I wondered what a Roman world run by women would be like. Only when I was older did I start building this world in my head. I read Robert Harris’s Fatherland  – a terrific thriller set entirely naturally in a 1960s Nazi dominated Europe – and saw you could alternate history… 

Alison as a child, fascinated by her first mosaic

Without giving too much away, can you set the scene for your 1066 story?

Galla Mitela has been dispatched by the Roma Novan imperatrix to intervene between Harold’s Saxon England and William’s Normandy. The Eastern Roman Empire is pressuring Roma Nova to stop the ‘Northmen’ growing in power and influence. Galla is a former warrior and senior councilor, used to command. Could she influence these tough, ambitious and determined men?

Was it difficult writing about a different period?

Ha-ha! Yes and no.  I had a general knowledge of the period, much as anybody interested in English history does, but I plunged into research straightaway. A few years ago, I did an MA in history, so had some techniques and methodology to hand. It was back to world building, to visualising what the northern French coastline and the Seine riverbanks would look like. When was the stone quay in Rouen built? Were there still signs of Roman presence even hundreds of years later? France was heavily Romanised, so there had to be. How would the Normans take to a woman in command? What was the state of technology and weaponry? What would Roma Novans wear in the medieval period?

Is there another event in history that you wish had had a different outcome, another "What if"?

Well, apart from a different outcome in 1066, I would have liked Roman emperor Julian the Philosopher (or ‘the Apostate’) to have survived the Battle of Samarra in AD 363. Sadly, he’s not well known but his death was a turning point. 

After gaining the purple, Julian started a religious reformation of the state, which was intended to restore the lost strength of the Roman state. He supported the restoration of polytheism as the state religion, i.e. the traditional Roman gods. His aim was not to destroy Christianity but to drive the religion out of "the governing classes of the empire”.  His early death stopped his reform and the empire became relentlessly Christian. 

His memory is revered in Roma Nova where the old Roman traditional religion has been retained; Julian is a favourite name for sons to this day.

Thanks so much for dropping by to talk to me Alison.

If readers would like to try writing an alternative history story, they can download Alison's FREE handout on tips and techniques.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

1066 Turned Upside Down - Sunday chat with Richard Dee

I'm delighted to welcome the next of the 1066 'Tuddites' - author Richard Dee:

Welcome, Richard, and thanks for joining me for some Sunday Chat. It's fair to say that your novels are a world away from England in 1066! How easy did you find it to write a story which was confined by an historical setting?

To me, the setting is just another character, in theory writing about the future is easier because you don’t have to do any research, unfortunately it’s not strictly true. So instead of sitting down and working out the rules of my setting I had to conform, which I always find difficult! 

The one thing that remains constant, whatever period you’re writing about is human emotion. Everything else is controlled by that. So whether you’re describing 1066 or 8720 the characters emotions are always there. I think that sometimes you can forget that people in the past were just as emotional as we are, because the accounts we have only give us the bare facts.

Of course, what happened in history is fixed but in the worlds I create the events in them are just as real to the characters. Even though the story is based in 1066, it’s not confined by it; we still find it relevant in today’s setting after all.

Without giving too much away, can you set the scene for your story?

The ordinary is always the start in all my work and this story is no different. Even in the far future, for most people, where they are will be ordinary for them. 
I’ve always shied away from over-complicating things; it’s nice to keep things simple. Then when you apply the twist; it’s more of a surprise. And throwing in as many little unconnected clues as I think I can get away with is important, it creates an “A-Ha” moment, especially if it makes people go back for a second look.
So without giving too much away, expect normal – at least to begin with.

Can you tell us about your first two books - would you class them as Sci-fi?

Very much so! There are so many kinds of Sci-fi. From simple tales to galaxy spanning epics.  If you want to you can introduce all sorts of technology and things that require a suspension of logic and physics.  And you can get away with it. There is no limit to what can make a fantastic story. 
Personally, I like to stick to writing about ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things in a different setting. That’s the common thread in both Freefall and Ribbonworld and will be in their sequels.

My style has been compared to that of Asimov and Philip K Dick in reviews (Blush!). It’s high praise indeed and not up to me to comment but if you look at their work that’s what they did. Put believable characters in fantastically imagined situations. The fiction is just as important as the science. 

Can you tell us about your latest release? What exactly is 'Steam Punk?

Steam Punk is a sort of alternative version of today, maybe a yesterday that never grew up into the today we have. In the classic form it’s a sort of Victorian high technology, using different methods to provide the power and things that society needs. So I use steam and clockwork in place of electricity and oil. 
It means you have to abandon the modern approach and think like Brunel or Telford to make it all work but there’s always another way to achieve the same result. The more I’ve delved into it, the more I’ve realised that if we needed to, we could rebuild a modern technological society without oil. It might not be as slick as what we have today but it could be functional. 
Being Victorian, they were the masters of the ornamental flourish, lots of brass and shiny things to make the ugly beautiful. And in an ugly world beauty can often be found in unexpected places.
Once you get things moving in a different direction you can invent things we don’t have today using your new building blocks, I’ve found that there really is no limit to the uses of a good clockwork!
The Rocks of Aserol is available now and the sequel is coming soon.

Is there another event in history that you wish had had a different outcome, another "What if"?

There are so many events that I would like to go back and have a look at myself! I like the idea of a modern Roman Empire or maybe a Viking America but I think that the most interesting one would involve the events at Sarajevo in 1914. If Ferdinand had never been killed then (and it was a close thing; dependant on a lot of chance as all important events are), what would the lost youth have achieved in the twentieth century. 
In the time since Waterloo just look at how the world changed. Who could say what those millions who never had the chance or their children could have made or discovered. (There’s an idea for another story!)

Thanks so much for talking to me today, Richard.

Free E-Sampler (A collection of Short Stories and excerpts, free for all e-readers)

1066 Turned Upside Down is available HERE

Sunday, 4 September 2016

1066 Turned Upside Down - Sunday chat with Carol McGrath

Continuing my series of interviews with the 1066 Turned Upside Down authors, I'm delighted to welcome to the blog Carol McGrath:~

I began by asking her: You've studied history, and you write historical novels based on fact, and non-fictional characters. How difficult did you find it to 'twist' history for the 1066 project?
I did find it difficult to twist history but then history is not necessarily accurately reported. Histories written a long time ago by such medieval historians as Geoffrey of Monmouth were often fantastical histories. This covers the early kings of Britain including King Arthur and Welsh Legends. There is a lot of tosh in there and entertaining story-telling too. However, I like reading considered thoroughly researched Historical Fiction that is, importantly, beautifully written. The stories in 1066 Turned Upside Down are, indeed, well-written and I enjoyed the twists. I would read and write more alternative history now. Possibly!!!

Without giving too much away, can you set the scene for your story?
My short story concerns Harold’s daughter and how she might have felt about her mother, who was Harold’s hand-fasted wife, having been replaced by another wife for political reasons. Harold wanted to unite with The Northern Earls to protect England from invasion. What better way than to marry their sister whose husband’s death he had been responsible for? She was commoditised and Edith Swan-Neck, Thea’s mother who had his six surviving children, all recorded for History, was essentially, to our modern mind, betrayed. The story takes place in April at St Albans Abbey as Harold stops on his way from York to London to show off his new wife Aldgyth. By coincidence Thea and Grandmother Gytha stopped there too on their way to Harold’s Easter Court. Scary stuff happens as it does, and perhaps by the end of the story Thea changes because she views Aldgyth differently.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Daughters of Hastings series?
The Daughters of Hastings series tells the story of regime change from the point of view of Edith Swan-Neck and her two daughters by Harold.

Each lady has her own survival story. Other strong and interesting noble women enter the novels. They show life for women post Conquest- abbey, marriage and exile. They are historical love and adventure novels.

In the Swan-Daughter, the younger daughter’s story, I write about elopement from the abbey and a possibly true love triangle. In The Betrothed Sister, Thea, their elder daughter is exiled and makes a spectacular Rus marriage. In it we enter the late Viking world.
The Handfasted Wife tells Edith Swan-Neck’s story.

It was written on a PhD Creative Writing programme at Royal Holloway. The books are thoroughly researched, though, in truth, these women only get a mention in History’s pages. At least they got this!

You've written the third in the trilogy, so what's next? Do you have anything in the pipeline?
The Woman in the Shadows is next. This is Elizabeth Cromwell’s story, another shadowy woman married to an important man, and it is due to be published on 17th May 2016. This is my first revelation, by the way, concerning this book’s publication. After my venture into early Tudor London life, I return to the Middle Ages with a new trilogy, The Rose Trilogy and three novels about medieval Queenship.

Is there another event in history that you wish had had a different outcome, another "what if"?
Oh dear, another What If? Actually, I am a great fan of The Wars of the Roses. What if Edward V had survived to become king? I fancy writing that Uncle Richard III was assassinated and the boy King brought out of the Tower. He takes on the Tudors and wins!

Thank you Annie for interviewing me. Thank you, Carol, for stopping by to chat about your writing.
Find Carol and all information about her books: