Sharon Kay Penman's Blog

March 5, 2015

Reporting in the midst of yet another snowstorm. Today is the birthday of my favorite king, Henry II, who was born in Le Mans on March 5, 1133.
When Christ and His Saints Slept, page 51
* * *
When Minna briefly opened the shutters, Maude caught a glimpse of the darkening sky. Night was coming on. The women did what they could to ease her suffering, gave her feverfew in wine, fed her more honey to keep her strength up, brought a chamber pot when she had need of it, blotted away her sweat, cleaned up her bloody discharge, prepared a yarrow poultice in case she began to bleed heavily, and prayed to St Margaret and the Blessed Virgin for mother and child.
In the distance, a church bell was pealing. Was it a “passing be” tolling the death of a parishioner? A bell to welcome into the world a new Christian soul? Or was it the sound of Compline being rung? Maude had lost all track of time. And then the midwife gave a triumphant cry. “I see the head!”
Hastily pouring thyme oil into the palms of her hands, she knelt in the floor rushes at Maude’s feet, gently massaging the baby’s crown. Maude braced herself upon the birthing stool, groaning. The contractions no longer came in waves; she was caught up in a flood tide, unable to catch her breath or reach the shore. A voice was warning her not to bear down anymore. Hands were gripping hers, and she clung tightly, scoring Minna’s flesh with her nails. Her eyes were squeezed shut. When she opened them again, she saw her child, wet head and shoulders already free, squirming between her thighs into the midwife’s waiting hands.
“Almost there, my lady, almost….” Maude shuddered and jerked, then sagged back on the birthing stool. “Glory to God!” The jubilant midwife held up the baby, red and wrinkled and still bound to Maude’s body by a pulsing, blood-filled cord. “A son,” she laughed, “my lady, you have a son!”
* * *
The birthing chamber was as dangerous for a medieval woman as the battlefield was for a man. Ellen de Montfort and Joanna and two queens of Jerusalem were among those who died this way. Maude herself nearly died giving birth to Henry’s brother. And the mortality rate for the babies was often alarmingly high. I have seen it estimated that one of every five children did not live to the age of five. Eleanor was very unusual in that so many of her children survived to reach adulthood. Cecily of York lost a number of her children. So did Edward I’s queen, Eleanora. The roll call is a sad one.
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Published on March 05, 2015 10:31 • 26 views

March 4, 2015

Several important historical events occurred on March 4th. In 1152, Frederick Barbarossa was elected Holy Roman Emperor and cast a formidable shadow across Europe until his unexpected death as he led a German army toward the Holy Land in 1190. On March 4th in 1193, Saladin died of a lingering fever in Damascus at the age of fifty-five, and on March 4, 1215, John took the cross to placate the Pope and win papal support in his struggle with his barons; I don’t doubt that he did it with his fingers crossed, for John was as keen to go on crusade as his father, Henry, had been.
Meanwhile, we are awaiting yet another winter storm. This one was not named even though it brought us sleet and freezing rain today, rain tomorrow, and “significant snow” on Thursday. The storm named Thor dumped a ton of hail on Huntington Beach, CA and is now barreling east, leaving misery in its wake. The odds are that there will be at least one more and it occurred to me that a great name for it would be Uhtred, after our favorite Bernard Cornwell character. Maybe we should lobby the Weather Channel?
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Published on March 04, 2015 05:29 • 40 views

March 3, 2015

March 3, 1284 is not a happy date to remember for those of us who would have loved to see Llywelyn ap Gruffydd prevail over Edward Longshanks, as on this day the Statute of Rhuddlan was enacted, which—among other things—compelled the Welsh to accept English common law. But for a bittersweet What If, here is a link to an alternate history of Wales.
http://thisdayinalternatehistory.blog...
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Published on March 03, 2015 07:21 • 53 views

March 1, 2015

For all who are lucky enough to have Welsh blood or who love Wales, today is St David’s day, the patron saint of that beautiful country. And ironically, it was also the day in 1244 when Gruffydd, the eldest son of Llywelyn Fawr, died trying to escape from English captivity in the Tower of London. He’d knotted sheets together and tried to climb down, a dizzying distance of ninety feet. Like most of Gruffydd’s plans, it did not go well.
Falls the Shadow, page 206
* * *
When it happened, it was without warning. The ripping noise the rope made as it gave way was muffled by the wind. There was a sudden slackness, and then Gruffydd was falling, plunging backward into blackness. There was a moment or two of awareness, but mercifully no more than that. The last sound he heard was a man’s scream, but he never knew if the scream came from him or from Owain.
* * *
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Published on March 01, 2015 06:29 • 62 views

February 28, 2015

I would not be surprised if Kasia has already posted about this, since she is the Young King’s most ardent and eloquent fan—and Poland has at least a six hour time advantage over the US East Coast. I am sure she’ll blog about him today and do him justice, as she always does. On February 28, 1155, Henry and Eleanor’s oldest surviving son was born, christened Henry after his father and known to history as the Young King since he was crowned during Henry’s lifetime, a move that caused Henry no end of trouble. I enjoyed writing about Hal, as I called him in my novels, but in all honesty, he would have been a disaster as a king. When a contemporary says he was “malleable as wax,” that is a clue right there. In many ways, he was rather like Stephen---both of them handsome and charming and courageous and in over their heads. His brothers, flawed as they all were, were better equipped to rule. Hal did get an honor that eluded the rest of his turbulent family, though; there was actually a small boomlet to proclaim him a saint, quite remarkable in that in his last weeks, he’d been little better than a bandit, raiding churches to fund his foolhardy rebellion. But Henry was devastated by his death and William Marshal clearly loved him, so we should keep that in mind when tallying up his mortal failings. He made a “good death,” which was very important to medievals, begging God and his father for forgiveness and pleading with Henry to forgive and release his mother. But on this date in 1155, there was only joy in the birth of this beautiful baby boy, heir to the Angevin empire, with no one imaging it would end as it did.

The Devil’s Brood, page 528, Hal’s death scene.
* * *
Hal’s lashes swept down, shadowing his cheek like fans as tears seeped from the corners of his eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered, although the bishop was not sure if it was meant for him, for Henry, or the Almighty.
“I bring more than words,” the bishop said and, taking a small leather pouch from around his neck, he shook out a sapphire ring set in beaten gold. He started to tell Hal that this was Henry’s ring, but saw there was no need, for Hal could not have shown more reverence if he’d produced a holy relic.
“He does forgive me, then!” he cried and gave the bishop such a dazzling smile that for a moment the ravages of his illness were forgotten and they could almost believe this was the young king of cherished memory, the golden boy more beautiful than a fallen angel, able to ensnare hearts with such dangerous ease. Then the illusion passed and they were looking at a man gaunt, hollow-eyed, suffering, and all too mortal.
* * *
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Published on February 28, 2015 11:04 • 58 views

February 27, 2015

This is a day late, but on February 26, 1461, Edward of York and the Earl of Warwick were given a tumultuous welcome into the city of London, the citizens having refused entry to Marguerite d’Anjou. This was one of my favorite scenes in Sunne, so here are a few passages:
Sunne in Splendour, pages 83 & 84
* * * * *
It seemed as if every church bell in London was pealing. Seeing the smoke spiraling into the sky from a dozen different directions, knowing that meant the jubilant Londoners were burning bonfires in the streets as if this were the June Feast Day of St John the Baptist, Cecily breathed a brief prayer that God might mercifully spare the city from fire this noon, for there was no way the fire bells could ever be heard or heeded.
The volume of noise was increasing; she’d not have thought it possible. The shouts were audible now, shouts of “York!” and “Warwick!” But, overriding all, one name again and again, a hoarse chant that sent shivers of emotion up Cecily’s spine…Edward! Edward! Until the entire city echoed with the sound, with the name of her son.
(omission)
As another outburst of cheering rocked the churchyard, eclipsing all that had gone before, she knew even as she straightened up that her son had ridden through the gateway.
He was astride a magnificent white stallion with a silvery tail that trailed almost to the ground and he seemed to be enveloped in light, with the sun directly over his head, gilding his armour and tawny hair.
“Oh, Ma Mere!” Margaret gasped, in a voice that was strangely uncertain, unexpectedly awed. “He does look like a king!”
“Yes, he does,” Cecily said softly, forgetting that she had to shout to make herself heard. “He does, indeed.”
(omission)
Cecily clutched at her composure, smiled at her son. “Never have I seen such a welcome, Edward…never in my lifetime!”
“Welcome, Ma Mere?” he echoed and kissed her lightly on both cheeks so that his voice reached her ear alone. “I rather thought it to be a coronation.”
For a moment, their eyes held, smoke-grey met the most vivid of blues. And then Cecily nodded slowly and Edward turned back to face the crowds thronging the churchyard, raising his hand in careless salute of the continuing cheers. She watched, the faintest of smiles curving the corners of her mouth.
* * * * *
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Published on February 27, 2015 12:53 • 69 views
Sad news for all of us who grew up with Star Trek.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/enterta...
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Published on February 27, 2015 10:08 • 55 views

February 26, 2015

Thanks to Jo, here is a follow-up to that story of the man caring so tenderly for his aged dog. Many of you have seen that photo of him for it went viral—his dog had loved the water but was too crippled by arthritis to swim, so his owner would stand in Lake Superior for hours, cradling his dog in his arms. The dog died over a year ago and I am happy to report that he has now adopted another dog, who hit the dog lottery for sure. http://www.kare11.com/story/news/loca...
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Published on February 26, 2015 12:33 • 70 views

February 23, 2015

The world remains ice-encased for many of us and so I thought you all might like a few videos sure to make you smile. Since I don’t have the power to speed spring up, this is the best I can do.
http://www.care2.com/greenliving/cute...

http://biggeekdad.com/2015/01/adorabl...
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Published on February 23, 2015 10:01 • 54 views

February 22, 2015

For those of you fortunate enough to live in Arizona and to be within driving distance of my favorite bookstore, the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, you can get a signed copy of Priscilla Royal’s new mystery, Satan’s Lullaby, this afternoon. Here are the details. http://www.poisonedpenevents.com/?ai1... Of course you can also get a signed copy of her mystery if you win the book giveaway currently being conducted on my blog. It should run through the end of the week, so there is still time to enter. Merely post a comment under the interview and you’re in, as simple as that! http://sharonkaypenman.com/blog/?p=496
Meanwhile, try to stay warm. I keep telling myself that spring is bound to put in an appearance eventually, but then I remember reading that there was once “a year without a summer” and I start to shiver again.
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Published on February 22, 2015 07:32 • 72 views