20 May 2016

New & Noteworthy: May 20

M.J. Neary's new novel THE GATE OF DAWN will soon be released by Penmore Press. Stay tuned to Penmore Press for the cover art and purchasing links. Congrats M.J.!

Blythe Gifford has two book signings this month. On Saturday, May 21, at 3 p.m., she will be signing at the Hyatt Regency in Schaumburg, IL with many other authors as part of the Spring Fling Book Signing.  Then, on Sunday, May 22, at 2 p.m., she will be part of an historical romance panel and signing at Anderson’s Books in Naperville, IL.  For details, see www.blythegifford.com.

Heather Domin is running a Memorial Day double giveaway for her VALERIAN'S LEGION series. Goodreads users can enter to win paperbacks here, and Tumblr users can enter to win e-books here. Winners will be chosen May 27.

18 May 2016

My Characters Live In Roma Nova - an alternative place to live

What if Harold had won the Battle of Hastings in 1066? Or Julius Caesar had taken notice of the warning that assassins wanted to murder him on the Ides of March? Or the Spanish Armada had defeated and conquered England in 1588? Suppose Christianity had remained a minor Middle Eastern cult?

“Alternate history” stories give us the opportunity to explore such ‘what if’s. Sometimes they’re infused with every last detail of their world but have a simple plot, other times the alternative world is used as a setting for an adventure or complex thriller. Some stories rework important events of history, others focus on ordinary or imagined people. Whichever type they are, three things shape these stories: identification of the point of divergence when the alternate timeline split from our timeline; how that world looks and works since that divergence; and the historical consequences of the diversion.

In my Roma Nova series, the premise is that a tiny remnant of the Roman Empire has survived into the modern era, but with a twist – a big twist.

How did Roma Nova come into being?

In our real timeline, the Western Roman Empire didn’t ‘fall’ in a cataclysmic event as often portrayed in film and television; it localised and eventually dissolved like chain mail fragmenting into separate links, giving way to rump states, local city states and petty kingdoms all facing the dynamic rise of the new peoples of Europe particularly the Franks, Visigoths, Burgundians and Alamans. The Eastern Roman Empire survived, albeit as the diminished city state of Byzantium until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire.

Some scholars think that Christianity fatally weakened the traditional Roman way of life; certainly, Emperor Constantine’s personal conversion to Christianity in AD 313 was a turning point for the new religion. By AD 395, his several times successor, Theodosius, banned all traditional Roman religious practice, closed and destroyed temples and dismissed all priests. The sacred flame that had burned for over a thousand years in the College of Vestals was extinguished and the Vestal Virgins expelled. The Altar of Victory, said to guard the fortune of Rome, was hauled away from the Senate building and disappeared from history.

All the above really happened, but AD 395 is the point of divergence in when Roma Nova originated. Three months after Theodosius’s last decree banning all pagan religions, over four hundred Romans loyal to the old gods, and so in danger of execution, trekked north out of Italy to a semi-mountainous area in the middle of Europe. Led by Apulius at the head of twelve senatorial families, they established a colony based initially on land owned by Apulius’s Celtic father-in-law. By purchase, alliance and conquest, this grew into the mini state of Roma Nova. 

Roma Nova rises

Twenty years before Apulius and the twelve families founded Roma Nova, he’d met Julia Bacausa, the tough daughter of a Celtic princeling, when he was serving as a young officer in Noricum (roughly present day Austria).  After Apulius had been ordered back to Rome in AD 375, Julia had taken to her horse and with a few retainers followed Apulius to Rome and married him on the day of her arrival.

She came from a society in which, although Romanised for several generations, women made decisions, fought in battles and managed inheritance and property. Their four daughters were amongst the first Roma Nova pioneers so had to act more decisively than they would have done in a traditional urban Roman setting.  While men concentrated on defending the new colony, women worked the fields, traded, ran the families and, in the absence of fathers and brothers on the front line, made decisions in the governing council.

Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years – this was the time of the Great European Migrations – eventually the daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and wield swords. Fighting danger side-by-side with brothers and fathers transformed women’s status and roles. Moreover, Roma Novans remained loyal to the traditional gods and never allowed the incursion of monotheistic paternalistic religions.

Photo courtesy of Britannia,
In today’s Roma Nova women, especially senior and more experienced ones, hold social and economic life together. The Senate, People’s Assembly, and above all the Twelve Families council support a (female) constitutional ruler, the imperatrix. Although women head families and descent of name and property is through the female line, men are not disadvantaged in this ‘egalitarian-lite’ society. Men are numerically stronger in the military and police services, women more in politics, law and commerce. That’s a generalisation, of course. Nothing is ever that simple…

Service to the state is supposed to be valued higher than personal advantage, echoing Roman Republican virtues; it drove Roma Nova’s survival through the centuries. However, as we see in PERFIDITAS, not everybody subscribes to this.

Roma Nova’s continued existence has been favoured by three factors: the discovery and exploitation of high-grade silver in their mountains, their efficient technology, and their robust response to any threat. Today, although tiny, perhaps the size of Luxembourg, Roma Nova has become one of the highest per capita income states in the world.

So has Roma Nova’s existence changed the rest of the world?

Remembering their Byzantine cousins’ defeat in the Fall of Constantinople, Roma Novan troops assisted the western nations at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 to halt the Ottoman advance into Europe. Nearly two hundred years later, they used their diplomatic skills to help forge an alliance to push Napoleon IV back across the Rhine as he attempted to expand his grandfather’s empire.

Prioritising survival, Roma Nova remained neutral in the Great War of the 20th century that lasted from 1925 to 1935. The Greater German Empire, stretching from Jutland in the north, Alsace in the west, Tyrol in the south and Bulgaria in the east, was broken up afterwards into its former small kingdoms, duchies and counties. Some became republics. There was no sign of an Austrian-born corporal with a short, square moustache.

And the New World that features in the first few chapters of INCEPTIO? New York, where we find Karen living and working, is an Autonomous City in the Eastern United States (EUS) that the Dutch only left in 1813 and the British in 1865. The New World French states of Louisiane and Québec are ruled by Gouverneurs-Généraux on behalf of Napoléon VI. California and Texas belong to the Spanish Empire and the Western Territories are a protected area for the Indigenous Peoples.

If this has glimpse has intrigued you, you can find out much more at The Roma Nova Story [http://alison-morton.com/roma-nova/roma-nova-history/] or read gossipy travel writer Claudia Dixit’s quick Visitor Guide to Roma Nova [http://alison-morton.com/roma-nova/claudia-dixits-tourist-guide-to-roma-nova/]


Alison Morton is the author of the acclaimed Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA (finalist in the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award). Her fifth book in the series, INSURRECTIO, was launched at the London Book Fair on 12 April 2016. 

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

Read about INSURRECTIO, Alison’s latest book, here: http://alison-morton.com/books-2/insurrectio/

INSURRECTIO book trailer

11 May 2016

My Characters Lived In 10th-Century Spain

This illumination from a circa-1175 Beatus of Liébana groups seven knights.

In Seven Noble Knights, Castilian warriors make raids in foreign territory and defend the frontier very close to home. A few days’ ride takes anyone from survival mode to the most civilized and exotic place on the European continent. Followers of three religions coexisted to create a single culture filled with the brilliance that comes of such tension. With these exciting contrasts, Seven Noble Knights couldn’t have taken place anywhere or any time but tenth-century Spain.

Interior of the Great Mosque at Córdoba, almost unchanged since
the year 1000. Photo by Jessica Knauss
Caliph Abderramán III made al-Andalus its strongest even while planting the seeds of its destruction. He unified Muslim Spain with military prowess and political savvy his heirs would find impossible to maintain. He also began the construction of the palace city Medina Azahara in 936 and transferred the court there in 945. Al Hakim succeeded him as caliph in 961.

During this time of relative peace, al-Andalus reached its highest point of culture, science, and art. Al-Andalus had no competition in luxury and learning. The capital, Córdoba, had such creature comforts as pavement, illumination at night, sewage systems, and a library with as many as 400,000 volumes. Although it’s unlikely everyone in the caliphate knew how to read, a high proportion of Cordobese residents would have, giving Ruy Blásquez no doubt in making such an assertion to his brother-in-law in Seven Noble Knights.

The mihrab of the Great Mosque. Photo by Jessica Knauss
Modern scholars have emphasized the convivencia of this place and time, saying that the jewel of culture wouldn’t have been possible without collaboration between the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish residents. It’s important to remember that for all the cooperation, daily life would have been rife with racial and religious tension as the Christian kingdoms in the north of the peninsula expanded their territory and power at the cost of al-Andalus.

Al Hakim’s successor in 976 was technically Hisham II, but through court intrigue and probably a few murders, the vizier, then hayib (personal guard or chamberlain), later known as Almanzor took control of the military and government within a few years. Such was the impression he made that the people in the rest of the peninsula referred to him as the caliph. Gonzalo Gustioz and many Christian visitors in the time of Mudarra make this mistake in Seven Noble Knights. They couldn’t fathom a mere chamberlain as the director of so much force and terror.

Map by Nuno Alexandre Vieira for Seven Noble Knights
At the time of our story, the rest of the Iberian Peninsula is occupied by the separate Christian kingdoms of León and Navarra, and the France-dependent County of Barcelona.

My characters would have recognized his view from Burgos castle.
Photo by Jessica Knauss 
Castile, where much of Seven Noble Knights takes place, was in the tenth century a county on the eastern frontier of León. The quintessential borderland, its name refers to its abundance of castles and fortifications. A nobleman from this territory of uncultured upstarts, Fernán González, took advantage of the instability after the death of King Ramiro II of León in 951 to amass power for his county. 

This seventh-century hermitage near Salas could have been visited by my
characters! Photo by Jessica Knauss 
Although it wasn’t as independent as the historians of the time would have us believe, Castile became the most important county in the Kingdom of León and the count at its head enjoyed a certain level of autonomy. Upon his death, Fernán González passed the government to his son, García Fernández, who is the presiding count in Seven Noble Knights. Later, Castile took over as the dominant kingdom in the peninsula and in modern times its culture has became synonymous with Spanish.

In Andalusia: prosperity and political unity. Nonetheless, after the time of Seven Noble Knights, upon Almanzor’s death, Andalusia dissolved into multiple petty kingdoms at war with each other as well as with the northern kingdoms.

In Christian Spain: a hardscrabble existence and a multitude of governments serving their own purposes. Yet the end of united Andalusia marks the beginning of a centuries-long process of unification of the Christian kingdoms and their eventual consolidation into modern Spain.

This is one reason the story of Seven Noble Knights is so compelling: because it takes place during Spain’s baptism by fire.

The author with a 20th-century statue depicting her villainess,
Doña Lambra; her villian, Ruy Blásquez; and her hero, Mudarra. 
For a little more of historical context of Seven Noble Knights, see this post

This post muses on the meaning of one of the strangest incidents in the tale, the bloody cucumber.

Check out this post for the way I cobbled together a wedding ceremony for the beginning of Seven Noble Knights

Take a look at this post for some of the ways Spaniards today celebrate the medieval epic poem on which Seven Noble Knights is based. 

The crest of Salas includes characters from
the legend of the seven noble knights.
Further Reading

Castro, Américo. The Spaniards: An Introduction to Their History. Translated by Willard F. King and Selma Margaretten. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

Gerber, Jane. The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. New York: Free Press, 1992.

Lowney, Chris. A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment. New York: Free Press, 2005.

Medville, Charles, and Ahmad Ubaydli, eds. Christians and Moors in Spain. Vol. 3, Arabic Sources (711–1501). Charles and Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1992.

Menocal, Maria Rosa. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002.

O’Callaghan, Joseph F. A History of Medieval Spain. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975.

Jessica Knauss earned her PhD in medieval Spanish with a dissertation on the portrayal of Alfonso X’s laws in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, which has been published as the five-star-rated Law and Order in Medieval Spain. A driven fiction writer, Jessica Knauss has edited many fine historical novels and is a bilingual freelance editor. Her historical novel, Seven Noble Knights, will be published in December 2016 by Bagwyn Books, and she is working on the sequel. On the contemporary side, her YA/NA paranormal Awash in Talent will soon be published by Kindle Press. Find out more her writing and bookish activities here. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, too!

10 May 2016

My Characters Lived in Charlemagne's Empire

By Kim Rendfeld

In Charlemagne's day, the monarch's personal life and politics were intertwined, and too many heirs presented a problem. God had a hand in everything, but magic was still very much a part of life.

Such are the societal complexities and contradictions that have me hooked on eighth century Francia enough to write two novels and be working on a third. Whole books have been written about Carolingian Francia. In the limits of a blog post, I can provide only a flavor of it.

When Charlemagne died in 814, the empire comprised today's France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, and parts of Hungary and Italy. Much of the land was forested, and travel was slow—armies moved 12 to 15 miles a day.

With that reality, a count, bishop, abbot, or abbess were rulers of their own lands and acted independently. Charles could rule only if he secured alliances throughout his realm, and he rewarded loyal clerics by appointing them masters of church lands.

Marriage, Family, and Politics

Louis the Pious (Ludwik I Pobozny)
The need for political alliances affected whom Charles married. Ironically, a peasant family had more flexibility. Their first consideration might be whether the suitor would make a good husband and father, and the bride's sentiments might have made more of an impact.

For Charles, the stakes were higher, and politics trumped affection. His father picked out his first wife.  The queen had an important role beyond bearing sons. She managed her husband's household and controlled access to him. When houseguests were foreign emissaries, what they got for dinner had international implications. If her husband died, she could rule as regent until her son reached his majority.

Charles set aside two wives to free himself of other political marriages, but he would learn that spurning women had national and international consequences. After divorcing his second wife, he was literally at war in 773-74 with his ex-father-in-law, the king of the Lombards, over who would inherit the kingdom of Charles's late brother. Charles won, but after many months of holding siege. In 792, his first ex-wife or her family might have been involved with eldest son Pepin's rebellion.

Charles was a steadfast husband to his last three wives, but all of those marriages had political underpinnings. When he married Hildegard (spouse No. 3), he was from a powerful family, but his father had taken the crown in a coup. Hildegard was the one with the higher pedigree. As an Agilolfing, she was related to the rulers of Bavaria and came from one of the great and most established families in the realm.

Months after Hildegard died in 783, Charles married Fastrada to secure his alliances on the eastern part of the realm, which he needed during his ongoing wars with the Saxons. Their marriage lasted until her death in 794.

He married a fifth and final time in 794 or 796 to Luitgard, and he might have chosen her because he was fond of her and was certain she couldn't have children. Charles had three grown heirs already, and following Frankish custom, each one expected a kingdom. Charles's plan was that Young Charles would rule the bulk of Francia while Louis inherited Aquitaine and another son named Pepin got Italy. If Charles wanted his empire to stay intact, he would not want any more sons born in wedlock.

After Luitgard's death in 800, he had mistresses and begat more children, including boys. Having the concubines proved his virility, a sign of physical perfection and his worthiness to rule. Deformities and other physical imperfections were believed to be God's curse.

Christian Beliefs and Magic

Stuttgart Psalter
Charles and his Frankish subjects believed in the power of prayer. The siege in Lombardy ended after Charles traveled to Rome to visit the pope. Before the war with the Avars in 791, priests held three days of litanies and the faithful abstained from wine and meat.

Most of the laity did not understand the Latin prayers at Mass, but they believed in divine intervention in daily life. Although marriage was not a sacrament at the time, husband and wife often sought the blessing of a priest. The same God who determined victors in war also could decide whether a couple had children.

If the harvest was bad or someone became ill or disabled, they might believe God was punishing them for a sin and pray to a saint to intervene on their behalf or take it a step further and go on a pilgrimage. Or they might attribute the misfortune to sorcery.

Incantations, charms, and other magical means were ingrained in the society despite the Church's official stand against witchcraft. Desperate parents of a sick child might pray to a saint and give alms, then take the child to the peak of the roof, where herbs were cooked while a spell was recited. Even clerics might ask an expert to interpret their dreams, or a manuscript copied by monks might contain a square to predict the course of an illness with the letters of the patient’s name and the number of the day they got sick.

Eventually, the Church took a different tack and made creative substitutions. Want rain? Don't use an incantation. Say a prayer instead. If you need to recite something while gathering medicinal herbs, try the Pater and the Credo.

I could talk about how Charles try to convert pagans by force with limited success, how slavery was alive and well in this era, how horses and other farm animals were different, how literacy was limited to a select few, how every family likely lost a child before age five, and how art and literature survived despite constant war and disease. But as I said earlier, that would take more than a blog post.

I would never want to live in this time period—I happen to like human rights, instant communication, and modern medicine. But it is more multifaceted and intriguing than what I was taught in school, which is why it continues to fascinate me.


Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by
Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers

Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, by Pierre Riché, translated by Jo Ann McNamara

Courts, Elites, and Gendered Power in the Early Middle Ages: Charlemagne and Others, Janet L. Nelson
Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance, edited with an introduction by Peter Godman

Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, which will soon be reissued. She is working on a third novel, Queen of the Darkest Hour.

08 May 2016

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Elisabeth Hobbes on THE BLACKSMITH'S WIFE

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ELISABETH HOBBES with her latest release,  THE BLACKSMITH'S WIFE. One lucky visitor will get a digital only copy of The Blacksmith's Wife - this giveaway is open internationallyBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

A passion forged from fire

Rejected by her favoured knight, Joanna Sollers knows she will never love again. Especially when the man she’s now forced to marry is none other than her beloved’s half brother!

For blacksmith Hal Danby, marrying Joanna makes his lifelong dream of entering the Smiths’ Guild possible, even if the secrets in his past mean he’ll forever keep his distance. But everything changes with one stolen night, and in the arms of his new bride, Hal wonders if this loveless arrangement could transform into something real...

Praise for The Blacksmith’s Wife

‘A passionate story that unfolds with a great plot and well defined characters. It is one that you will remember and a little out of the ordinary for its content.’

‘I loved the historical accuracy and detail, and the plot gives you great characters (some you'll love, some you'll enjoy hating!), excellent settings, and the desire to bang heads together as two people don't let on what they really think.’

‘The attention to setting and period details mean that you quickly become immersed in the tale - and this tale has everything you need: tensions and misunderstandings, a growing passion between two very engaging protagonists, and a dog called Simon. It's brilliant.’

**Q&A with Elisabeth Hobbes**

Can you summarise your latest book for us?

Joanna is in love with Sir Roger, a knight who has no intention of in marrying her.  When Roger’s brother, illegitimate blacksmith Hal discovers this, he insists Roger ends the assignation.  The unforeseen consequence of this is that Joanna now needs a husband.  Her uncle, the master of the guild Hal has ambitions to join, decides Hal would be the perfect candidate to take his unwanted niece off his hands in return for possible entry into the guild.

Despite neither Hal nor Joanna wishing to marry, and both knowing Joanna is in love with Roger, they feel they have little choice but to agree.  They move to Hal’s village on the North York Moors to try build a life together.  As they begin to grow closer, secrets and misunderstandings threaten to destroy their prospective happiness.

Are your books linked in any way?

None of them are linked in a series, though the idea for the plot of The Blacksmith’s Wife came out of the fact that in my second book, A Wager for the Widow, the heroine was faced with a choice of two men: the hero who she loved but who had hurt her and a knight who she did not love but who would have presented a better opportunity.  Eleanor made the right choice but it made me wonder what might happen to a heroine who chose to marry the ‘other’ man in that situation and how the unwanted husband could turn out to be the right choice in the end.

I am currently editing my fourth book and after that I am considering whether to tell Sir Roger’s story and see if he can be redeemed enough to earn a happily ever after.

How do you go about researching for a new story?

Once I have an idea I research dates to find out if there are any particular events that the story would fit into. For A Wager for the Widow I chose the 1290s because of the opportunity for Will to make his fortune in the wine business.  For The Blacksmith’s Wife I wanted a time when my heroine Joanna would meet the knights that were travelling round the country taking part in tournaments and close enough to the Black Death (or Great Pestilence as it was known at the time) to have orphaned her.

Once I’ve chosen my period I like to use visual images as inspiration for clothing, hairstyles, buildings and so on.  Because I set The Blacksmith’s Wife in my hometown of York I spent a lot of time visiting the many buildings from the medieval period that still stand and taking photographs, walking the snickelways (lovely word) and alleys that Joanna and Hal would have walked, and (very happily) visiting a couple of the pubs that would have been there at the time.  My sister works at the Jorvik Viking Centre and has friends and colleagues who spend their lives surrounded by artefacts and documents so I was very lucky to have ready access to ask any questions I needed answering.

Do you draw on any personal experiences when writing?

In this book more than my others I drew on my love of York and the North York Moors to create the setting.  Joanna is unwilling to move to Hal’s village but once she’s there she can’t help fall in love with the landscape.  I don’t get back as often as I would like and share Hal’s emotional response on seeing the rolling vastness of the moors after a long absence.  Especially when they’re covered in purple heather they are breathtaking.

Although I don’t have a dog, I do think giving dogs human names is very amusing.  Naming Joanna’s dog Simon came about accidentally (the uncle was named before the dog even existed in the story) but coincidentally it’s the name a friend and I agree is the best name for a dog so it was great to be able to give Hal and Joanna our in-joke.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

No.  I believe in attraction at first sight and that lightning bolt feeling of ‘wow!’ when you meet someone new.  Just like Joanna and Hal discover, love takes longer to develop and comes when you really get to know and understand someone.

Are you doing anything special to celebrate the book's release?

I’ve recently joined Knutsford Literary Society and in the week The Blacksmith’s Wife is released I will be hosting an author Q&A session and reading excerpts.  I love meeting readers so I’m really looking forward to the event.



Learn more about author Elisabeth Hobbes


06 May 2016

My Characters Lived In Moorish Spain

By Lisa J. Yarde

Would you believe that during the 700 hundred years of the Moorish period in Spain, Arabic was the predominant language of political courts and literature, Cordoba had paved streets and lighting at night, and trade with eastern Islamic societies brought the wealth of gold and spices into the country?  Just some of the aspects of a fascinating history, which took place  between 711 and 1492, and inspired my writing of the Sultana series, set in the 12th through 15th century in the last Moorish kingdom of Spain at Granada. Moorish Spain was a diverse society along ethnic and religious lines in which families descended from the Christian Visigoths, who originally held control, intermarried with the new Muslim Arab and North African Berber monarchs, who  also sometimes choose Jewish brides from influential families. The Moors influenced culture and society, which is expressed today in almost every word of the Spanish language prefixed by 'al' and by some of the finest examples of their architecture at La Mezquita in Cordoba, the palace of Alhambra in Granada, and the tower of Giralda in Seville.  

The period began with the conquest under the general Tariq ibn Ziyad, who served Abu Walid, the eastern ruler of the Ummayad caliphate established in Damascus, Syria within 30 years of the spread of Islam out of Arabia. In April of 711, while in the command of less than 15,000 warriors landed at Gibraltar and began the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. From Gibraltar, Tariq moved on to capture Algeciras on Spain's coast, then north up to Seville. When Tariq met the army of the unpopular Visigothic King Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete on July 11 in 711 or 712 (chroniclers disagree), supposedly the defenders outnumbered the Muslims by eight to one. Roderic's subsequent death in the battle along with the demise of several noble families paved the way for the conquests of Toledo, Cordoba, and Granada. Roderic's widow became the wife of the first Muslim governor of Spain within four years after the death of her first husband. Eventually, the conquered lands of the peninsula stretched as far north as Zaragoza  and encompassed the whole of Portugal, forming the basis of the Ummayad caliphate of Cordoba. 

Within twenty years of Tariq's invasion, Europe managed to halt the spread of the Moors further north when the Franks under Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne, defeated the Moors at the Battle of Tours in 732. Almost as soon as the Moors invaded, northern Christian kingdoms resisted. The Reconquista gave birth to the monarchies of Asturias, Leon, Castile, Navarre and Aragon once the descendants of the Visigoths fought against their Moorish masters to regain autonomy and relief from the poll tax the Muslims had instituted upon arrival. Women taken as captives from conquered territories, like the Navarran slave Subh in the 10th-century and the Christian Maryem as late as the 14th-century became the ancestors of generations of Muslim rulers. The caliphate later fractured in the 11th-century into several states called taifas, the largest of these formed at Zaragoza in the north, Cordoba, Toledo, Granada, and Valencia. During this tumultuous time, Christian armies supported and defended Muslim rulers as exemplified by the role of the Castilian warrior El Cid under the Muslim sovereigns of Zaragoza in the 11th-century and the 14th-century Christian guards of Muhammad V of Granada, 200 of whom went with him into exile in Morocco after a coup orchestrated by his stepmother Maryem. While many historians have portrayed Moorish Spain as the epitome of religious cooperation and toleration, persecution of Christians and Jews, as well as forced conversions to Islam often occurred, especially during the Almoravid and Almohade invasions from North Africa during the 12th-century.   

Moorish Spain officially ended on January 2, 1492 when the last Sultan of Granada Muhammad XI surrendered to the Catholic monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. The final Muslim ruler and his ancestors have been the source of my primary characters and the narrative of the Sultana series. Beginning with the 13th-century monarch Muhammad I, the series explores the turbulent epoch of the Nasrid dynasty. Christian kings and queens viewed the Nasrids as their vassals and while some of the Sultans paid tribute like Muhammad III or even formed genuine friendships with Christian leaders, such as the amicability between Muhammad V and Pedro the Cruel of Castile in the 14th-century, the last Moors of Spain would have been conscious of their fading glory and a vastly shrinking territory. The novels are as much a chronicle of Moorish Spain's political demise as they are a window into the private lives of the Nasrids, where their women had as much influence on the destiny of the kingdom as their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons who held power. The 13th-century queen Fatima is remembered by Moorish chroniclers as the well-educated daughter of Sultan Muhammad II, sister to the warring siblings Muhammad III and Nasr, and mother to the murdered Ismail I, as well as nurturer and protector of her grandsons Muhammad IV and Yusuf I. The mother of Muhammad XI, Aisha, descended from Muhammad V like her eventual husband Abu'l-Hasan Ali wanted her son and people to retain power over their small kingdom so much that she supposedly wished Muhammad XI to arm the women and children against the armies of Isabella and Ferdinand. At the demise of his reign, she allegedly rebuked her son with, "You weep like a woman for what you could not defend as a man." How could I not write about such amazing characters?

For me, Moorish Spain will always remain a fascinating part of history.


Images from Wiki Commons; the map of Moorish Spain's borders and Muslims before the Battle of Tours. Other royalty-free images purchased and licensed from Fotolia; The Giralda tower in Seville and Granada's Alhambra. All data from numerous sources researched during the writing of the Sultana series.

Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings. Lisa has also written five novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two SistersSultana: The Bride Price and Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is also available.

05 May 2016

Excerpt Thursday: THE BLACKSMITH'S WIFE by Elisabeth Hobbes

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ELISABETH HOBBES with her latest release,  THE BLACKSMITH'S WIFE. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a digital only copy of The Blacksmith's Wife - this giveaway is open internationallyBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

A passion forged from fire

Rejected by her favoured knight, Joanna Sollers knows she will never love again. Especially when the man she’s now forced to marry is none other than her beloved’s half brother!

For blacksmith Hal Danby, marrying Joanna makes his lifelong dream of entering the Smiths’ Guild possible, even if the secrets in his past mean he’ll forever keep his distance. But everything changes with one stolen night, and in the arms of his new bride, Hal wonders if this loveless arrangement could transform into something real...

Praise for The Blacksmith’s Wife

‘A passionate story that unfolds with a great plot and well defined characters. It is one that you will remember and a little out of the ordinary for its content.’

‘I loved the historical accuracy and detail, and the plot gives you great characters (some you'll love, some you'll enjoy hating!), excellent settings, and the desire to bang heads together as two people don't let on what they really think.’

‘The attention to setting and period details mean that you quickly become immersed in the tale - and this tale has everything you need: tensions and misunderstandings, a growing passion between two very engaging protagonists, and a dog called Simon. It's brilliant.’

**An Excerpt from The Blacksmith’s Wife**

Having both been rejected- Joanna by Sir Roger, the man she loves, and Hal by the Smiths Guild he had hoped to join – Joanna’s uncle, Simon Vernon, Master of the Guild proposes that if Hal marries Joanna he will help ease Hal’s way into the guild.  Having made his decision Hal goes in search of Simon.

Hal retraced his steps to the Guild Hall along the alleys Joanna had taken him through the previous night. He suppressed a smile as he remembered her wide eyes full of innocence as she had led him in circles throughout the streets.
Even without instruction he could not have missed his destination. St Andrewgate was home to all York’s metalworkers. The narrow street was lined on both sides with open-fronted workshops making and selling all manner of wares and the heat from the furnaces and heady stench of smoke meeting the drizzle greeted Hal like an old friend.
Master Vernon’s foundry was located in an excellent position on the corner with two sides open to the street. Hal paused outside, aware of a clamminess creeping around his back. It was not too late; he could turn and walk away and no one would know. Except for him. He contemplated Simon Vernon’s establishment, larger and grander by far than his own forge in Ravenscrag. One day he would be master of such a place and today, for all his reservations, he was setting his foot most decisively on that path.
Simon Vernon was standing with his back to Hal, barking orders at a pair of young apprentices. A figure was seated at a table in the corner. Hal stared in surprise as he recognised Joanna, head bent over a wax tablet with a stylus in her hand. No one had noticed his arrival so for a moment he stood drinking in the sight of her. She wore a dark-blue dress, high necked and tight sleeved beneath a sombre grey surcoat, belted tight beneath her breasts. Her hair was braided and held back from her face with a linen band. In such a setting she appeared as delicate and out of place as a wren in a nest of crows. The impression was such a contrast to the gaily dressed, flighty girl he had encountered at the camp that Hal was transfixed.
She was not beautiful, at least not in the way he preferred his women to be, but engrossed in her task Joanna’s face was alight with enthusiasm, lending her cheeks a blush of rose. Her figure he already knew from having examined her the previous night. A slight stirring of excitement made him grin. Whatever other reservations he might have about marriage to Joanna, the physical aspects were not among them. He would enjoy getting to know his wife once they were wed.
Joanna muttered to herself, made a swift stroke with a quill and looked up. Too late to glance away her eyes trapped Hal’s. She frowned, a small furrow appearing between her eyes before she broke into a wide smile. She jumped from her chair and crossed the room to him.
‘Master Danby, what brings you here?’ she asked warmly. ‘Do you have a message for me?’ Her voice was hopeful, leaving Hal in no doubt whose word she craved.
He ignored the faint stab of jealousy that pricked his chest, deciding that whatever else occurred, Joanna would never discover Roger’s indifference from him.
‘I’m here to see your uncle.’
Simon Vernon finally noticed him. He strode to Hal, an eager expression on his face. ‘You again. Should I assume you are here because of our conversation last night?’
Hal bowed. ‘Good morning, Master Vernon. I am indeed here to discuss your proposal.’ He glanced at Joanna who was still standing beside her uncle, her eyes bright with suspicion. Master Vernon followed his gaze.
‘Joanna, go fetch ale for us. Make haste, girl!’ he exclaimed, pushing her shoulder.
Hal’s teeth gritted. If he had needed confirmation that he was making the right choice, the man’s manner towards his niece was enough.
Joanna left the building.  Simon Vernon watched her go then turned to Hal.
‘You’re here to ask for her hand?’
Hal took a deep breath. ‘I am.’
Now the words were out the weight of anxiety lifted from his shoulders.
‘Last night I was certain you would refuse,’ Simon said. ‘What changed your mind? Was the promise of my good favour too much to resist?’
Hal smiled politely. ‘Naturally.’
Simon Vernon held out a hand. ‘Then the matter is settled. Now let’s discuss terms.’

Joanna tapped her foot impatiently as the serving girl filled an earthenware jug with maddening slowness, all the while wondering what her uncle and Hal had been discussing. When she first saw him her heart had leapt, believing for one blissful moment that Sir Roger had changed his mind and sent his brother as messenger. Of course that had been foolish. From what she was learning of Hal he was too proud to consent to carry out such a task. This was not merely a visit for courtesy, however. From the way her uncle had dismissed her she knew there was more to Hal’s appearance and she was determined to find out what it was.
She arrived back at the foundry with heels skidding in the mud. The two men were facing each other, arms folded and legs set wide, consciously or unconsciously mirroring each other’s stance. They were both talking and smiling, but when Joanna entered Hal’s face became serious.
‘Bring the ale quickly, Joanna,’ her uncle instructed. ‘We have something to drink to.’
Obediently Joanna walked to the table at the back of the room and filled two cups. She picked them up and turned to find Hal standing close behind her.
‘Let me help,’ he said, taking the cups from her hand. He stared down at Joanna with an intensity that sent warm shivers running across her scalp.
‘Come here, girl!’ Simon called. As she joined them his jowly face split into a smile. ‘I said last night I would find you a husband if you could not find your own. Master Danby here has asked for your hand and I have agreed.’



Learn more about author Elisabeth Hobbes