Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Stendhal, Waterloo and a Forgotten Tale

by David Ebsworth

The classic French author who wrote under the pen name of Stendhal was born in Grenoble in 1783. His real name was Marie-Henri Beyle, and his star was joined irrevocably with that of Napoleon when he moved to Paris in 1799, literally on the day after Bonaparte’s coup d’état and appointment as First Consul of France. Beyle became a clerk in the War Ministry but subsequently accepted a commission in a French Dragoon regiment so that he could take part in Bonaparte’s invasion of the Italian states, then occupied by the Austrians. He came under fire during the campaign but also contracted syphilis, and eventually resigned his commission.

His association with the French army continued, however, when he was appointed a War Commissar. In this capacity, in 1809, he travelled through war-torn Germany and, in the town of Stendhal, was particularly affected by the horrific devastation he saw there. He returned to Paris and gained a promotion as the Emperor’s Inspector of Accounts, spending a couple of years moving among the highest echelons of French Imperial society. But in 1812, he chose to join Bonaparte’s ill-fated Russian Campaign and, though he fared much better than most others, he was lucky to return alive.

With Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, Beyle moved to Milan and stayed there until 1821, completing a biography of Napoleon during that period. He returned to Paris and began to write novels under the Stendhal pen name but became increasingly embittered, first, by the trend towards denigrating the legacy of both the Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte but, second, by the effects of his syphilis and its treatment. He died in 1842, just three years after publishing perhaps his most famous work, The Charterhouse of Parma.

It’s the story of young Italian aristocrat, Fabrice del Dongo, and several chapters follow Fabrice as he tries to join the French army on the Waterloo battlefield. Stendhal had not been at Waterloo, of course, but he was intimately familiar with its details. Despite this, he carefully avoided the temptation to write a blow-by-blow account and recalled, instead, his own experience of war. The confusion. The impossibility for the “common soldier” to know anything about what may be happening. An unusual tale. No real heroes. And much of Fabrice’s time at Waterloo is spent with a hard-nosed, nameless cantinière, giving us some unusual political viewpoints – as well as the inspiration for my own recent novel about the battle.

The cantinières were female sutlers (victuallers), three or four serving with every French battalion, and frequently to be seen in the very front lines, serving brandy to the soldiers and sometimes embroiled in the fighting itself. Many of them died brutal battlefield deaths and it wasn’t unusual for them to keep their children at their side, even at the bloodiest moments.

Remembering the Stendhal novel, and wanting to write my own story of Waterloo in time for this year’s bicentenary, I decided to tell the tale of cantinières as the core of The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour (David Ebsworth, 2015). Astonishing that no fiction authors have told this remarkable story since 1839 – well, at least, not until now! The result is, naturally, a real blood and thunder account of this famous battle but told, I hope, from an entirely fresh perspective.


David Ebsworth, has published four novels. The first, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, was a Finalist in our 2014 Indie Award. His fourth novel, The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour, was published on 1st January.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Elizabeth of York as Mother to Henry VIII

by Judith Arnopp

Elizabeth of York
The union of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII put an end to many years of civil unrest. It was a political match that proved affection can grow out of expediency. Although Henry’s reign suffered more rebellions than any other he left a stable and affluent realm and an heir that would prove to be the most memorable in British history.

The name Henry VIII conjures a vision of an obese, vindictive, embittered man but, as I have discussed on other blogs, he wasn’t always so. In his youth Henry was irrepressible; a tall, courtly, bright-haired prince whose appearance owed more to his Plantagenet grandfather, Edward IV, than his Tudor lineage.

Henry was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich on 28th June 1491, the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. As second son he was never intended for the throne; that honour was to go to his older brother, Arthur.

Like most royal children Henry’s early life was governed by women. While Arthur, as heir to the throne, was given his own extravagant male-orientated household at Ludlow, Henry shared a nursery with his sister Margaret, and later his other siblings joined them. It was a world of women. Henry’s wet nurse, Anne Uxbridge, provided nourishment in his early years while his two rockers, Margaret Droughton and Frideswide Puttenham, saw to his other comforts. As the royal nursery continued to fill, the role of ‘lady mistress of our nursery’ was bestowed upon Elizabeth Denton who served in the Queen’s household long after the children had outgrown their need of her.

This team of women who cared for the royal infants should not suggest that Elizabeth kept her children at arm’s length. In fact Elizabeth seems to have been exceptionally close to her younger children. With Arthur far from court and growing up almost a stranger, she took an active role in the upbringing of his siblings. David Starkey believes Henry’s handwriting is so similar to his mother’s that she must have had a hand in their early education too. The nursery at Eltham was next door to Elizabeth’s favourite palace of Greenwich so it would have been a simple matter for her to visit regularly to oversee their upbringing and lessons.

At his mother’s knee Henry may have heard the tales of old stories of knights and battle, chivalry and romance which emphasised the importance of treating maidens gently and foes mercilessly. The stories he heard at this time would influence him for the remainder of his life. Despite his failings Henry always aspired to being a knight like the men of old. Even as late as 1542 when he was growing old and infirm, he gamely donned his armour, climbed onto to his charger, and rode off to war with France for his ‘second Agincourt.’ Where his father preferred to negotiate for a peaceful settlement, Henry VIII revelled in war.

As Henry grew from infancy into a small boy new siblings arrived, and some departed. When Henry was just four years old his sister, Elizabeth, who had blossomed briefly into his life died suddenly in September 1495 aged just three years old. What affect this loss of a playmate may have had is impossible to say. Childhood death was commonplace in Tudor England, but that doesn’t mean it was easy to bear. As humans we never get used to death. Henry would have missed her. He and Margaret may have found it lonely without her. She would have left a gap.

It was Henry’s first brush with death and the loss perhaps made him wonder and worry a little. In 1496 Elizabeth’s place in the nursery was filled by another sister, Mary, and a brother, Edmund, followed in 1499. Sadly, like Elizabeth, Edmund did not survive for long, but Mary survived and has long been regarded as Henry’s ‘favourite’ sister. It was a harsh lesson, but Henry learned early that childhood was dangerous – sons and daughters could be lost.

His father, the King, beset by rebellion, was made more insecure by the loss of each child; Henry would have noticed, and soon, as rebellion and unrest rattled at the doors of the royal palace, the lesson would become further ingrained.

Perkin Warbeck
When the King of the Scots gave shelter and support to the pretender Perkin Warbeck, war broke out between Scotland and England. The Cornish, unappreciative of the rise in taxes to pay for this war, decided to rebel, darkening and lengthening the threatening shadow bearing down on the Tudor king.

While the King called his men to arms, Elizabeth of York fled with her children to the safety of the Tower, the situation reminiscent of how in her youth during the wars of the roses she was forced to take refuge with her mother at Westminster. With the future yet unwritten, Elizabeth may have been afraid and vulnerable. There were no assurances that her husband would triumph or that her own children might shortly join the ranks of her missing brothers. The walls of the Tower were thick, impenetrable stone; she was as safe from physical danger as it was possible to be, but the memories, if not the ghosts of her brothers, must have cried out to her from the shadows. Fear is contagious, and her children, sensing their mother’s dread, would have been frightened too.

During the writing process of A Song of Sixpence, the infant Henry refused to remain in the back ground. The book isn’t about him but his character continually raised his head and demanded attention. He first appears as a fat, noisy baby, then later as a cuddly, argumentative toddler squabbling with his sisters in the nursery. He is loving, demanding and happy despite the shadows of fear that pervade his early childhood.

Once the pretender was put down and the throne secure again, the wedding between Arthur and Catherine of Aragon went ahead. Henry took a prominent role in the proceedings, leading Catherine of Aragon from the Bishops palace to the altar at St Pauls. Afterwards he danced with his aunt Cecily, and then with his sister, Margaret. He led her onto the floor, bowed to the audience and … David Starkey looks at the record and describes what happened next:

“But now Henry stepped out of the script. Finding that his heavy clothes got in the way of his fun, he ‘suddenly cast off his gown’ – which had been obtained at much expense – and ‘danced in his jacket’ with his sister. His parents looked on proudly and indulgently.”(Starkey: p.146)
Despite his failings as a king and a husband Henry VIII remains fascinating. What was it that changed the perfect chivalric prince into the king we love to hate?

Elizabeth of York is often by-passed, her political influence dismissed, but her influence on her son is easily discernible. As I put the finishing touches to the last heart-wrenching scenes of A Song of Sixpence when the twelve-year-old Henry’s heart was breaking over the loss of his mother, I could not help but contemplate the disappointment Elizabeth would have felt if she could have foreseen the future.


In the years after Bosworth, a small boy is ripped from his rightful place as future king of England. Years later when he reappears to take back his throne, his sister Elizabeth, now Queen to the invading King Henry Tudor, is torn between family loyalty and duty. As the final struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster is played out, Elizabeth is torn by conflicting loyalty, terror and unexpected love.

Set at the court of Henry VII A Song of Sixpence offers a unique perspective on the early years of Tudor rule. Elizabeth of York, often viewed as a meek and uninspiring queen, emerges as a resilient woman whose strengths lay in endurance rather than resistance.

Illustrations from Wikimedia commons
“Laughing child, possibly Henry VIII, c.1498. Possibly commissioned by or presented to Henry VII. Guido Mazzoni“from the royal collection.

Starkey,David. Henry: the prince who would become tyrant
Weir, Alison. Elizabeth of York: the first Tudor Queen
Licence, Amy. Elizabeth of York
Penn, Thomas. The Winter King
Hutchinson, Robert. Young Henry 
Wroe, Ann.  Perkin
Skidmore Chris. The Rise of the Tudors

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A New Biography for Lovers of All Things Georgian!

Prinny’s Taylor: The Life and Times of Louis Bazalgette (1750-1830) by Charles Bazalgette

About twenty years ago, Charles Bazalgette had mostly completed re-researching the history of the
family to which all anglophone Bazalgettes belong. He was then in a position to begin investigating
his great-great-great-great grandfather, the patriarch of this scion, Louis Bazalgette, who moved to London from his native France in 1775. Information about him was scanty but over these years he ran to ground firstly his bank ledgers and then – a major breakthrough – nine years of his tailoring accounts with the Prince of Wales. Having transcribed these it was possible to cross-refer them to accounts in the newspapers which described what Prinny wore to state occasions. By that time Charles realised that he had far more than a genealogical study, but a unique slice of Georgian royal and social history. He was also surprised to find that rather little had previously been written about gentlemen’s tailoring in these times, particularly prior to the arrival on the fashion scene of ‘Beau’ Brummell. In a way this could be regarded as a ‘prequel’ to Ian Kelly’s excellent biography of Brummell.

The resulting biography is extraordinarily detailed and contains a mine of information never previously seen.

The book has been published in Kindle format in order to give it an initial audience, but a printed version will hopefully emerge in the fullness of time.

The e-book can be downloaded at Amazon US, Amazon CA, and Amazon UK and is very reasonably priced at $6.00 USD.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd

And Giveaway of a Lace Bookmark!

Mist of Midnight is in a Victorian setting, mostly in the house of a young woman returned to her estate after growing up in India, the daughter of missionaries who died in the Rebellion. Eager to arrive at Headbourne House to grieve but also to settle into her life, Miss Rebecca Ravenshaw becomes most unsettled upon learning that her inheritance had already been claimed by an imposter who now lay in a grave with Rebecca's name chiseled into the stone. What is worse is that most people in the area see Rebecca as the probable pretender. A third claimant, the appealing Captain Luke Whitfield, had taken up residence before even the first "Miss Ravenshaw", and the staff was loyal to him.

How could Rebecca prove her identity? What would she do while waiting for the truth to be revealed? And what of this charming man? Was his kindness genuine, or was it part of a plan to put her, too, in a grave near the other?

Ms. Byrd kept me in the Victorian era. A Gothic feel to this mystery kept me turning pages. And the various characters kept me hoping, concerned, or judgmental--to the end.

Ms. Byrd showed excellent research historically and geographically both in England and India. And I wish now I'd put post-its at some of her excellent turns of phrase to share them with you, but you'll enjoy them yourself when you settle down by the fire with this new release.

I received this book free of charge for an honest review.

Link to Mist of Midnight on the Simon and Schuster/Howard Books Website:

About the author:
Sandra Byrd is a best-selling author and has earned Library Journal's Best Books of the year pick twice, in 2011 for To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, and in 2012 for The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr.  She's twice been a Christy Award finalist, for To Die For and for Let Them Eat Cake: A Novel. Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I published April 2013

Please comment below and
leave your contact information
 to enter the drawing for a lace bookmark.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New Release: Stolen, by Sheila Dalton

I was intrigued by a recent post on this blog, “Paper Gods and Iron Men: Ordinary people in
extraordinary situations” by Kevin Cowdall, because that is really what my novel, Stolen, is about - how a series of tragic and tumultuous events affects my heroine, an ordinary young woman who must re-assess herself in the face of difficult situations beyond her control.

The seventeenth century was a challenging age: poverty in England was widespread because of a huge jump in the population between 1529 and 1630. (My novel begins in 1633.) Poor and homeless people were consequently frequently arrested and transported to the new colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean, where labour was desperately needed. They went as indentured servants, a position even lower than that of slave in some instances. Many died on the journey, and many more died of their labours and terrible living conditions shortly after arrival.

The era was also known as The Golden Age of Piracy. Lizbet Warren, at nineteen years old, must face a raid on her village by Barbary Corsairs, in which her parents are carried off to the slave markets in Morocco. Later, she is captured at sea by the British pirate, Gentleman Jake. It is while sailing with him that she confronts many of her most difficult choices: he is a black slaver, and in order to continue her quest to find her mother in Morocco, she colludes in this activity. She must also fight for her life, and finds, somewhat to her horror, that she is able to do so.

Her experiences inevitably transform her, and she is not always happy about how. But she also discovers depths of courage within herself, determination to forge her own path, and the strength of character to change what she can in the world around her.

Stolen is currently available as an ebook for the Kindle UK, Kindly US, Kindle CA, Kobo, Nook and iTunes.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Call for Submissions

English Historical Fiction Authors Announces the First annual M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction

Entries are being accepted for works published in 2014.

The winner of the $500 prize will be announced at the Historical Novel Society Conference in June, 2015.

For further details and to submit an application visit

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Paper Gods and Iron Men: Ordinary people in extraordinary situations

By Kevin Cowdall

A few months ago The Telegraph published one of it’s periodic ‘Best of…’ lists, selecting the ‘Best War and History Books Ever Written’; a mix (or mish-mash, depending on your point of view) of historical fiction and non-fictional history.

Such selections are always subjective and, whilst we all have our own particular favourites, many of us would, I think, certainly include several novels from the list, and might well disagree with the selection of others. For the record, The Telegraph’s list included: Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong, Thomas Keneally’s Schindler's List, and Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour and Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogies, amongst others.

What struck me most about the choice of fiction on the list was that, almost without exception, the main focus of these works is not on the perceived glory / actual horrors of the fighting (indeed several are, undeniably, anti-war in tone), but on the individual, often poignant, experiences of the participants, both combatants and civilians, and how conflict and struggle on such a scale can permanently change individuals and societies alike. The selected novels do not glorify war and few, if any, have a recognisable derring-do, swashbuckling ‘hero’ in the traditional sense of, say, The Three Musketeers of Alexandre Dumas, Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli et al in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, those of classic mythology and epic poetry such as Beowulf, The Aeneid, The Iliad and The Odyssey, and the Arthurian legend; nor even the anti-heroes and adventurers found in the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, H. Rider Haggard, G. A. Henty or Jules Verne.

As Remarque commented about the semi-autobiographical novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, “This book is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure”: He takes no overt political or moral stance as such, does not glorify or condemn; he simply tells a story and lets the reader fill in their own blanks. It is this which has, perhaps, contributed to making it (and the others on the list) such an enduring classic.

Likewise, Tolkien opines, “Courage is found in unlikely places.” In other words, like the characters in the above stories, recognition is not consciously sought, but nor is it shirked in the face of adversity or seemingly insurmountable odds. Characters become merely victims of the singular, and often bewildering, situations in which they find themselves, driven by, and responding to, unprecedented circumstances in a manner beyond their accepted norms of experience or comprehension. As Harper Lee has Atticus Finch declare in To Kill a Mockingbird, courage is, “When you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what”. Such is the theme of my novella, Paper Gods and Iron Men.

Set in the North Africa Campaign of World War II, Paper Gods and Iron Men, is a story of endurance and survival, of ‘ordinary people in extraordinary situations’ - a phrase I have used repeatedly in publicity material and interviews to explain what the story, despite its setting, is really about. Two mismatched British Army officers have come together at a temporary aerodrome to be flown out. When their plane is shot down the two are the only survivors and begin the long trek north across the desert...

This Kindle edition is published with the short story, Flanagan's Mule, which shares the theme of personal determination and resolve, and which is set in a South-American mining community in the 1950s.

As Yann Martel reflects in Life of Pi, “Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate”, and Margaret Mitchell observes in Gone with the Wind, “Hardships make or break people.”

Paper Gods and Iron Men is available from the Kindle Store on Amazon at:

Tremendous new voice
"These are two wonderful stories of survival. Cowdall has an expertly controlled style and is a tremendous new voice. At times I was reminded of the early, and best, Norman Mailer."
Paul Pickering (author of Over the Rainbow and The Leopard's Wife)
Amazon / Goodreads Reviews