Sharon Kay Penman's Blog

July 21, 2014

Nothing to post about July 21st medieval happenings, but I do have a lovely story about Eleanor of Aquitaine told to me by one of my readers. She said that she’d visited Fontevrault Abbey about fifteen years ago and at the foot of her tomb was one red rose. She asked the guide, “Do you put them there?” He said, “Oh, no, Madame, we find them there.” I think Eleanor would be pleased and I suspect she might just mention to Henry that no one put flowers by his tomb.

Some years ago, I visited the abbey ruins of Cwm Hir, where Llywelyn ap Gruffydd is said to have been secretly buried by the Welsh to keep the English king from desecrating his grave as he’d done with Simon de Montfort’s grave at Evesham Abbey. It was rather remote and not easy to find. There is a black slate plaque there in his memory, which I always found far more moving than the large monument to him at Builth Wells. On my first visit to Cwm Hir, I was touched to see that someone had been there very recently and left a bouquet of flowers on the memorial stone. Welsh friends have told me that flowers are often found on Joanna’s tomb in the alcove of St Mary’s Church in Beaumaris, too.
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Published on July 21, 2014 06:22 • 86 views

July 20, 2014

One of my all-time favorite actors, James Gardner, has died. He was a very talented, intelligent, and outspoken man who always marched to his own drumbeat. He had a highly successful film career; his own favorite of his films, The Americanization of Emily, was my favorite of his films, too, although The Great Escape comes close. I think his television career was even more impressive, for he starred in two ground-breaking shows that are truly iconic, Maverick in the late 1950’s and The Rockford Files in the 1970’s. He had a long and memorable life, reaching the advanced age of 86, so we do not mourn him in the same way we would someone whose life was cut cruelly short. But I think that the world’s light is a little dimmer without him.
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Published on July 20, 2014 05:37 • 86 views

July 19, 2014

Nothing historical to post about today. But here are some photos of a mother tiger and her cubs trying to cool off in an Indian heat wave. Probably the most beautiful (and dangerous) of earth's animals.
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Published on July 19, 2014 05:44 • 51 views

July 18, 2014

I am sorry that I haven’t been around for the past few days, but the Deadline Dragon had me cornered. Fortunately I can rely upon Rania to fill in for me!
Several happenings of interest on this date.
On July 18, 64 AD, the great fire of Rome began, though I doubt Nero was really fiddling while it burned. Margaret George would know, I bet, since she is working on a novel that will feature both Nero and Boudica. I am eagerly looking forward to that one, but sadly it probably won’t hit the bookstores till 2017
On July 18, 1290, Edward I expelled the Jews from England, thus causing untold misery and suffering. He had a talent for that.
And on July 18, 1536, the Pope’s authority was declared null and void in England by you-know-who. I can imagine several medieval kings who’d have liked to do that, too.
Lastly, for my British readers who like e-books, you can still get several of the excellent Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters are great bargain rates. And the first book in the equally compelling Elizabethan mystery series by P.F Chisholm, A Famine of Horses is still listed at 77 pence. Sunne and my second mystery, Cruel as the Grave, are also still being offered at bargain prices, 1.89 and 1.49 respectively; sorry I can’t use the pound symbol on the evil Melusine, who has now moved over to the Dark Side permanently. She has been so troublesome lately that even naming her after the Demon Countess of Anjou seems too flattering to her. Maybe I’ll rename her after one of the Kardashians.
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Published on July 18, 2014 09:16 • 54 views

July 14, 2014

On July 14, 1223, the French king, Philippe Capet, died at age 57. Since I showed such admirable restraint when mentioning Edward I’s death, I feel obliged to do as much for Philippe. Anyone who has read Lionheart or Ransom already knows my opinion of him, anyway! It was probably a happy day for his abused queen, Ingeborg, for she fared much better as a widow than ever she had as a wife, treated with kindness and respect by Philippe’s son and grandson.
July 14th is of course also Bastille Day, so it seemed appropriate to post here a link to the best scene in Casablanca, when the Marseillaise, surely the most stirring of national anthems,(if a bit bloodthirsty) is played in Rick’s Café. I imagine almost all of you have seen Casablanca, but it is always worth re-watching, if only to observe how adroitly Claude Rains steals every scene he is in.
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Published on July 14, 2014 06:39 • 80 views

July 13, 2014

I am doing something today that I’ve never done before, repeating a post of mine, this one done two years ago. It concerned one of our favorite kings, Henry II, his spectacular penance before Becket’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral, and the dramatic aftermath. He performed it on July 12-13, 1174, and of course I wanted to commemorate it. But I am emotionally invested right now in a challenging Outremer chapter and couldn’t afford to take the time to write about the Canterbury scene at length. Then it occurred to me to recycle a past post about Henry’s penance. Since two years have passed since I wrote it, I doubt anyone remembers what I said, and in any event, I have added quite a few new Facebook friends since 2012. So I now transport us back in time to God’s Year 1174 and discuss how desperate this proud king must have been to humble himself in such a memorable way.
* * *
Since I unforgivably forgot yesterday was the anniversary of Henry’s penance at Canterbury Cathedral, I want to make amends by discussing it in some depth. But I also need to mention a few other historical events.
Henry’s penance actually carried over from July 12th to the 13th, as he insisted upon kneeling all night long by Becket’s tomb. And he was to be spectacularly rewarded for his ordeal, for while he was doing penance, his forces captured the King of Scotland outside Alnwick Castle. Naturally, medievals attributed this to the intervention of the martyred archbishop, Thomas Becket. The Great Rebellion against Henry fell apart and within two months, his sons were suing for peace.
So July 13th had to be a date that meant a lot to Henry. Sadly, it would also be the date upon which his daughter Matilda, Duchess of Saxony, (Tilda in my novels) died suddenly in Brunswick at age thirty-three. At least Henry was spared knowing this, having died at Chinon a week earlier.
July 13, 1205 was also the death of a very important figure to two Angevin kings, Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury. Lionheart readers will remember him as a character in that book, accompanying Richard on the Third Crusade, where he greatly distinguished himself. He impressed Richard enough for the king to name him as his choice for Archbishop of Canterbury, writing from his German prison to tell his mother, Eleanor, that only his own release meant more to him than Hubert’s election. He would prove to be an excellent choice, and is given high marks by historians. He even managed to keep the confidence of the prickly, sometimes paranoid John, no mean feat.
Now, back to Henry. Some scenes are innately challenging, and this was certainly one of them. I approached it with some unease, for if it fell flat, I feared it could adversely affect the rest of Devil’s Brood. Henry’s decision to do penance was so very medieval, after all, and it is not always easy for us to identify with the medieval mind-set. To my surprise and relief, it turned out to be very easy to write. I was even able to insert a few touches of humor into this highly charged, dramatic scene: Driven to distraction by a garrulous monk, Henry wonders, “Was there a way to murder Brother Benedict and make it seem as if he’d been smitten by the wrath of the unforgiving Thomas? A vengeful saint was surely a contradiction in terms, but he alone seemed to think so.” Brother Benedict, by the way, would later pen a history of the miracles he was boring Henry with. I searched diligently for a copy, and finally found one on-line in a Tokyo bookstore; I admit I loved the symmetry of that—an American author buying a book written by a medieval monk from a Japanese bookseller.
The trickiest part of the scene was Henry’s monologue after Brother Benedict finally departs. I wasn’t sure how I’d handle this, but Henry’s character chose to talk conversationally to his former friend, and I just followed his lead. He is by turns emotional, cynical, and challenging, calling Thomas a chameleon, denying that he wanted Becket’s death, and confiding “Did I grieve for you? No, I did not.” He accuses Thomas of craving martyrdom, points out the absurdity of Becket’s position that only the Church could punish its own, for it meant that he could take no action against the assassins, who escaped with a papal slap on the wrist, sent off on penitential pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Henry being Henry, he cannot resist sarcasm; “Come, Thomas, hold up your part of the conversation. You need not do anything dramatic, like loosing a thunderbolt or performing one of your miracles. But at the least, you could extinguish a few candles to show me you are paying attention.” He ends up confessing, though. “Do you know why I did not grieve for you when you died, Thomas? Because I’d already done my grieving. I trusted you, I had faith in you, I loved you more than my own brother.” He admits he does not understand how they came to this, and he truly does not, just as he will not understand why his marriage crumbles or his sons do not love him as he loved his own father. He waits in vain in the empty cathedral crypt for a response from the new saint, and finally entreats in desperation, “St Thomas, guard my realm.” I, for one, was very glad that St Thomas came through for him.
I have a confession of my own; I think this may be my favorite of all the scenes I’ve written, for it shows Henry at his most human. After three novels with him, I miss writing about him very much, and while I did manage to give him a brief scene in Ransom, that only made me mourn his loss all the more. I’ve been able to write about some memorable characters over the years, but Henry is very close to my heart.
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Published on July 13, 2014 08:28 • 108 views

July 12, 2014

On July 12, 1191, the city of Acre surrendered to Richard Coeur de Lion and the French king, Philippe Capet, ending a siege that had begun in the autumn of 1189.
Also on July 12th in 1543, Henry VIII wed his sixth wife, Catherine Parr. We can never be sure, of course, but my own feeling is that only Katherine of Aragon experienced true bridal joy on her wedding day. I think Anne Boleyn probably felt exhausted triumph rather than happiness. Who knows how the enigmatic Jane Seymour felt? Same for silly little Catherine Howard; was she excited to be a queen or horrified to wed an aging, overweight man with serious health problems? Maybe both? We can safely say that Anne of Cleves was not a happy bride and Catherine Parr was probably the unhappiest of the lot, in love with another man and acutely aware by then how dangerous it could be to become the Tudor Bluebeard’s wife.
For someone who is not a fan of the Tudor dynasty—as most of you have suspected by now—I do find myself writing about them with depressing regularity It is probably the same sort of morbid fascination that compels drivers to slow down as they approach a car crash.
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Published on July 12, 2014 11:18 • 112 views

July 11, 2014

July 11th is the birthdate of two important medieval figures, Robert the Bruce in 1274 and Richard II’s queen, Anne of Bohemia, in 1366. We discussed both of them recently, though, so there is no need to go there again so soon Also on July 11th in 1174, Amalric, the King of Jerusalem died unexpectedly at age 38 after a severe bout with dynasty. His death would have enormous consequences for history, for had he lived, there would have been no battle of Hattin, no fall of Jerusalem, and no Third Crusade. But I will leave it at that since I’ll be dramatizing these events in Outremer, the Land Beyond the Sea
So I’ll close with a scene from a recent John Oliver show; Oliver used to be Jon Stuart’s sidekick on the Daily Show, and did such a great job subbing for Jon last summer that he was rewarded with his own show on HBO. In this skit, Oliver had been talking about Game of Thrones and that segued into a brief scene with George RR Martin, supposedly hard at work on the next book in the Ice and Fire series. When Oliver asked what he was doing, GRRM flashed an evil smile and said, “I just killed three of your favorite characters.” Cut to scream of anguish from Oliver, who is then reduced to begging, “Not Arya! Please don’t let it be Arya!”
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Published on July 11, 2014 08:39 • 189 views

July 10, 2014

This is for my British readers. You can get two great books, the first Brother Cadfael, and the first one in PF Chisholm's mystery series, Famine of Horses, on, for the bargain prices of 59 and 77 pence, respectively. If you've not read either of these series, this is a good time to start; they are Kindles, of course, and the Chisholm book is on the second page of the bestseller list. Cruel as the Grave is also still available for only 1.49, but the other two are the real deals!
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Published on July 10, 2014 10:33 • 66 views
Sorry for the silence, but that pesky deadline dragon has been breathing down my neck and needless to say, he has very hot breath. I missed a few historical events since my last post, but I am sure Rania covered them admirably. For example, Edward I died on July 7th, 1307, and once again I shall display admirable restraint and not comment further. Also on July 7th, this time in 1456, the Church found Joan of Arc innocent of the charges that had caused her death twenty-five years earlier.
On July 9th in 1540, the marriage of Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII was annulled on the grounds that it had not been consummated. I do not doubt that this was a happy day for Anne, who must have felt that she’d slid out from under the executioner’s axe. In case there are a few out there who think that is an exaggeration, just remember the Tudor Bluebeard’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, who was almost sent to the Tower for the “sin” of daring to disagree with Henry over religious beliefs.
And another Tudor mention which I could not avoid---on July 10, 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England, thus taking her first unwilling step onto the road that would eventually lead to her execution in the Tower Jane’s story is a sad one, so I am going back in time a bit to avoid ending the post with her doomed queenship, and close instead with the reminder that on July 10, 1460, an important battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought at Northampton. I did not dramatize this battle in Sunne, and I rather wish I had, for it had some very dramatic elements. It was fought in a rainstorm and one of the Lancastrian commanders, Lord Grey, threw in with the Yorkists at the eleventh hour. Here is a link to a good summary of the battle, in which Henry VI was captured by the victorious Earl of Warwick and the young Edward was given his first command. Eight months later, Edward would demonstrate that he was one of the best generals of the MA by defeating the Lancastrians during a blizzard at Towton, in what has been called the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. Northampton was also the site of a battle in the Barons’ War, resulting in the capture of Simon de Montfort’s son Bran; that battle I did dramatize in Shadow, and enjoyed writing about it due to Bran’s heroics, Davydd ap Gruffydd’s antics, and the scene after the battle between Bran and his cousin, Edward.
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Published on July 10, 2014 06:15 • 55 views