Encountering your hero and heroine’s descendants

When you write about historical people, it’s always a thrill to meet someone who is actually descended from them. Often, it turns out to be a cadet branch, but when you come across a Dudley, a Hastings and a Tyrell, who can trace their line back to the fifteenth century and further still, it’s quite mind-blowing.

What is especially spine-chilling for any historical novelist is to be contacted by the descendants of a hero and heroine in one of their novels. This has happened to me with Margery Neville and Richard Huddleston, the major characters of The Maiden and the Unicorn. Margery was the bastard daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker and sister-in-law to King Richard III.

A few years ago I had an email from a Canadian lawyer who was researching the Huddlestons. It turned out he is descended from Margery and Richard’s third child, Margaret (Huddleston) Salkeld. This triggered off an excellent email friendship between us, and in 2008 he and his daughter made an ancestral pilgrimage, if you like, through Cumbria.

More recently, I had an email from a lady in Australia who is descended from Margery and Richard’s oldest daughter, Joan Fleming. Her family tree also includes Archbishop George Neville’s illegitimate daughter

Can you imagine what a delight it was to put these cousins in touch with one another? Somehow it makes Margery and Richard seem more alive in my mind than ever, a validation that they lived and breathed.

Malleus Maleficarum

In writing about a medieval clairvoyant in The Silver Bride, charges of witchcraft in Mistress to the Crown and more recently in my new mss on the death of Shakespeare’s patron, I have had to research sorcery in the Middle Ages and Tudor eras. That was how I came across the legal treatise Malleus Maleficarum.

Most people have never heard of this treatise but it is arguably the most important document in the history of witchcraft. It was first published in about 1486 and became a regular bestseller. At least 30 editions were published between 1487 and 1669. The literal translation of the title is The Hammer of Evil but the more common translation was The Witch Hammer and this document became the bible of inquisitors and witchfinders throughout the Christian world. Not just a fifteenth century All You Ever wanted to know about Witchcraft but were afraid to ask with FAQs such as ‘Whether witches can by some Glamour Change men into Beasts’. No, it was destined to become the legal procedure manual.

Malleus Malificarum was commissioned by Pope Innocent VIII, who was determined to take a strong stand against the witchcraft, especially in the Holy Roman Empire. The treatise was written by two professional experts, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. Kramer was a Dominican and inquisitor from Lower Alsace. Sprenger, who came from Basle, was a Dominican inquisitor, high ranking academic and a mystic.

Up until that time, churchmen probably used their common sense in cases of sorcery that came before them but once they had this document, officially sanctioned by the pope, things changed. While the treatise may have been intended originally merely as guidelines, once it was in print, its clauses were interpreted as standard procedure and any flexibility was stifled. Malleus Maleficarum became the handbook of inquisitors.

How to question a suspected witch, how to torture them, and the different types of sentencing, depending whether the charge was thought to be serious or light. The attempt to be objective and just in dealing with suspects is clearly present in the writing but the medieval ignorance of Kramer and Sprenger, highly intelligent men of their day, is chilling to a modern reader. Killing children, aborting babies, making men impotent, turning people into animals and summoning hailstorms are some of the issues that the authors eagerly discuss. They also ask why it is ‘Women are chiefly addicted to Evil Superstitions?’  Over the next two centuries, the misogynistic slant in Malleus Malificarum would sanction the torture and death of many innocent women.

Even before Malleus Maleficarum, there are incidences of men using accusations of witchcraft and playing on people’s fears to get rid of women who have become a personal threat. Kings’ mistresses and even duchesses and queens were not immune from such charges. However, the biggest witchcraft age of terror was the mid-seventeenth century when professional witchfinders journeyed throughout England.

During the war between King Charles I and Parliament, the central justice system fell into disarray and because the itinerant judges who usually listened to village trials with impartial ears were not doing their rounds, local magnates were able to exert more control over the district courts. For the most part, these men were definitely not impartial.

Late twentieth century academic research into many of the cases indicated that it was often the Puritan ‘lord of the manor’ and magistrate who ‘encouraged’ the witchfinder to seek charges against an aged busybody woman in the village.

If a local gentleman had been ‘quite a lad’ in his youth, he certainly wasn’t keen on some old village woman with a long memory muttering, ‘Ooooh, I can tell you some spicy tales about him that would knock that superior smile off his face. He maybe a holier-than-thou Puritan now, but there’s plenty of children around this neighbourhood with his ears and chin.’

If such an old woman had no son or husband to protect her, she was extremely vulnerable. Today, it is impossible to believe that the huge number of women found guilty in mid-seventeenth century England were witches. Agreed, it is likely some of them were amateur healers, who brewed up natural medicines, but the evidence suggests that many women died because the local gentry wanted them silenced.

Isolde Martyn 2021

Thornbury Castle

Just north of Bristol is the modest town of Thornbury, and for most users of the M5 motorway, it’s just a name on the road sign. Beyond the town, however, lies a palace that was meant to rival Hampton Court. It belonged to Henry VIII’s cousin and rival, Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. If Edward had his sights on Henry’s crown, his ambition came to an abrupt halt when he was arrested at Thornbury in 1521, taken to the Tower of London and beheaded for treason.

I was keen to visit Edward’s beloved Thornbury as he was one of the characters in two of my novels – the boy Ned – in THE SILVER BRIDE and THE DEVIL IN ERMINE. Some readers might be more aware of him as the duke beheaded at the beginning of Philippa Gregory’s THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL or in the early episodes of TV series THE TUDORS.

Today Edward’s palace is now a very up-market hotel but the public can explore the beautiful grounds. We were fortunate to meet a receptionist who not only appreciated the history but was delighted to show us round. She’d even read some of my novels!

There are no visible signs of the medieval castle that once stood here but archaeologists have excavated the fine tiled floor of the great hall. Because of cost to maintain it, the tiles were re-covered with about a foot of turf and, sadly, now lie unseen beneath one of the hotel lawns.

Edward Stafford made Thornbury his chief residence and began rebuilding in 1511. The central gatehouse, corner towers and newfangled brick chimneys have all survived but a much later building nestles behind the splendid oriel windows of what was Edward’s new hall. The luxury bedrooms of the hotel (for those that can afford them) offer fourposter beds and tapestried walls so tons of atmosphere. We had a peek into some of them.

Originally, a covered walkway ran atop a high wall that linked the duke’s apartments with the neighbouring church grounds and would have overlooked the gardens. The latter are beautifully maintained and still retain a lovely early Tudor atmosphere. It is easy to imagine a lady in a brocade kirtle strolling through one of the hedged archways.

Around the periphery wall of the grounds, Edward began to build lodgings for a great number of retainers. Probably many of them were mercenaries, who might be used in a rebellion against the king.  Maybe, since they were soldiers, it was considered better to lodge them away from the main palace.  At first glance, these buildings look like they’ve been ruined at a later date by Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads but that was probably not the case. Because of the duke’s sudden arrest on Henry VIII’s orders and the palace being seized by the crown, they were never finished. The castle was returned to the Staffords in the reign of Mary but never reoccupied until it was taken over by the Howards who began its restoration in the nineteenth century.

The hotel contains a small Tudor Hall and kitchen. Even on a very cool day, these rooms have a lovely warm feel about them which is unexpected and which people remark on. However, like most ancient palaces, Thornbury does have ghost stories. The receptionist told us about the misogynist poltergeist who knocks things about when women are in the staffroom but behaves when there are no females present. The staff call it Jasper (after Henry VII’s uncle?) and it seems to respond when it is told off using its name. Then there’s a man in black and a woman in grey who have been seen in the bedrooms area and other people relate glimpsing a lady with greyhounds. Much less believable is the story of ghostly children who appear when the hotel enjoys a firework night.

Edward inherited Brecon Castle and Thornbury from his father, Henry Stafford, Richard III’s erstwhile ally and cousin, who was executed for treason in 1483. After the Tudor takeover in 1485, Edward’s mother, Katherine Woodville, married Jasper, Earl of Pembroke and Duke of Bedford, Henry VII’s uncle. In August 1486, wardship of Edward and custody of his inheritance was given to Margaret Beaufort, the king’s mother, and her right to revenues was made retrospective from September 1485. Thornbury, however, was retained by Catherine Woodville as part of her marriage jointure.

The crown levied extensive fines for Katherine’s remarriage in 1596 and then later when Edward entered his inheritance before he came of age. Because of his claim to the throne as a descendant of Edward III, Edward was always a potential threat to Henry VIII. He did hold the post of Constable of England and showed flair as an efficient administrator but Cardinal Wolsey blocked his political ambitions and increasing influence.  He managed to survive until 1521. King Henry must have maintained Thornbury in tis luxuriant state after that because  in 1535 he and Anne Boleyn enjoyed a honeymoon there for ten days. The dukedom was restored to Edward’s son  by King Edward VI.

Although Edward Stafford was not the most popular man, it is possible to feel sorry that he was never able to complete his palace and grow old enjoying its beautiful setting. The property was on the market in 2016 for £8.5 million. Fortunately, it has continued as a hotel so that visitors like us can still have access to the grounds and be able to appreciate its unquestionable splendour.

The Hastings heart brooch

Having written about William, Lord Hastings and Katherine Neville in THE GOLDEN WIDOWS, it was a delight to hear about the heart brooch found through a metal detector in the grounds of Lord Hastings’ castle at Kirby Muxloe earlier this year.

It’s a gorgeous piece inlaid with white enamel and with the words ‘honor et joie’ inscribed on it. The trouble with jewellery, however, is that unless it is mentioned in a will (and it wouldn’t be if it was lost) then it’s guesswork who owned it and when they lost it. The Times and the BBC jumped to the conclusion that it had belonged to Katherine, especially as they could mention that her husband was beheaded by Richard III.

Well, yes, it could have been Katherine’s. When Kirby Muxloe was being rebuilt in 1483, she would probably have ridden down from Ashby de la Zouche, which was their other castle, to oversee what was happening, and the duty would have most likely fallen to her since Hastings spent most of his time at court as chamberlain to Kings Edward IV and Edward V before he was beheaded.

Could the jewel have belonged to Katherine’s daughter by her first marriage, Cecily Bonville, who married Queen Elizabeth Woodville’s oldest son, Thomas Grey? Another possibility is William and Katherine’s daughter, Anne (c.1471–1520) who became Countess of Shrewsbury and served as a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon. Or it could have been a noble lady visiting Kirby before the castle was renovated. Maybe more research will find the motto ‘honor et joie’ in connection with one of these ladies. Click here to read The Times article.

The hard grind of writing historical novels

‘For herein may be seen … murder, hate, virtue, and sin.’

Was the term sentencing a man to death used in Richard III’s reign? If a fictional character said the Duke of Clarence had a brain like a pickled walnut, were walnuts around in 1470, let alone pickled? What colour was his duchess’s hair? When was velvet invented? If a knight whistles up his horse and springs from an upstairs windowsill onto the saddle, will it ruin his chance of fatherhood?

Yes, you’ve entered the world of the historical novelist. Infotainment! Our task is to enthral and enlighten you, and within a few pages have you believing you are back in an earlier century with its smells and superstitions, splendour and rags. It requires effort: characters must be fleshed out, sets designed, places visited plus there’s lots of research. It’s like a one-man film studio. The novelist becomes the historical advisor, screenwriter, casting agent, costume and set designer, location finder, vocal coach, sandwich-maker and director in one package.

Establishing the facts, historical novelists browse the university shelves for primary sources, seek out biographies of the breakers and shakers (you can’t have Warwick the Kingmaker feasting at Westminster on 28 March 1461 when he is slaying his destrier at Ferrybridge) and chase up journal articles. We may email an expert, phone a university Classics Department to get a Latin quote right, beg the local heraldry wiz to dream up a surcoat device, consult a tame doctor on abscesses or the corner chemist’s book on poisons.

Illuminated manuscripts, Books of Hours and medieval artworks help with descriptions. The detail showing a well-dressed servants sleeve tippets sensibly looped up behind his back so he can easily serve his lord at the feast – perfect!

The number of areas where some research is needed can be daunting if you strive for authenticity. Take women’s clothing; knowledge of style, fabrics, dyes and accessories is needful. Do garters really keep her stockings up? How is her clothing fastened and – with sex scenes in mind – unfastened? Are her garments comfortable or restrictive? Imagine wet skirts flapping round your ankles. (Gentlemen, if you were wearing a houpelande, you’d experience this, too.) What does her clothing say about her marital status or calling? Does the weight of her headdress give her a megrim or pull her head back?

The same applies to male clothing. Think what the lads might have carried in their sleeves: frogs, prayer-books, loveletters, daggers. How did the hose attach to his gipon? Does he put on armour? If so, what style? Does he wear the Yorkist rising sunne or the Oxford sterre?

Then there are horses and their paraphernalia , a castles layout and terminology, food, necessities, furnishings – the list is endless. How far could a man travel in a day depending on his transport/footwear, health, the state of the roads and the weather, not to mention his possible ignorance of the terrain? Do the characters know whether the world is round or flat? Does the hero believe that if he gives his wife pleasure during their love-making, she is more likely to bear a worthy son, or does he worry about Hildegard of Bingen’s warning that too much unbridled lust will make him go blind? What music does he hear? What stories does he know? He would know of Bathsheba, but will young, secular readers understand the reference? Can he ‘play cards close to his chest’ at Richard III’s Westminster?

Novelists have to decide whether to make it easier for readers and opt for contractions in the dialogue or stick to ‘cannot’ and ‘shall not’? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first written mention of ‘tisn’t’ is 1803!

The use of an anachronism like ‘charade’ in a thirteenth century setting can bring the reader back to their living room with a jolt. Even authentic words can have too strong a modern meaning. Prototype (from the 1550s) sounds very recent. Some words have changed their meaning, too. If a knight puts on his bassinet and picks up a faggot, could this be misconstrued?

Sometimes today’s world provides insights. For me, hearing someone in Herefordshire complain about his sports car’s tyres being slit by yobos in Snowdonia made me think more deeply about what it might have been like to be an Englishman in Brecon in 1483. Adding the layer of Welsh resentment and the acts of vandalism gave extra realism to a novel set in the Duke of Buckingham’s household.

Experiencing actual locations, too, flows through to our writing: glimpsing the swallows’ nest beneath the parapet, the houses in the cliffs at Amboise, the view from the castle battlements at Angers or Richmond, Yorkshire.

Most of the huge amount of information that novelists collect ends up on the cutting room floor. Some of it gets sanitised. Today we might play down superstition, religious devotion, hunting and bedbugs. None of ‘You’re looking beautiful tonight, Mistress Shore, murmured King Edward, plucking a flea from one of her tresses.’

Well-researched historical novels can permit conjecture in ways denied to academic historians. For example, creating a novel allowed me to suggest that Warwick’s bastard daughter, Margaret Neville, was the anonymous lady spy of Calais. Such a hypothesis is possible for, in honesty, fifteenth century history is little more than gossip in letters and scraps of records pieced together by the professionals to form text books, and what clouds the truth even more is that contemporary histories, just like bestiaries, were designed to teach morality – and written by the winners! Virgil, Hall and Holinshed’s works were not just biased but didactic. ‘All is written for our doctrine, and for to beware that we fall not to vice,’ agreed Caxton.

Most history books seem to forget women existed. Just because the Croyland Chronicler doesn’t say so doesn’t mean the duchess and her ladies weren’t present in the great hall. Novels also permit us to put emotion back into history and explore personal interactions, such as the growing rift between Richard III and ‘him who had best cause to be true’.

At the end of all the novelist’s labour, the manuscript must be marketable, supply a setting acceptable to the publisher and a high concept that the sales reps can grasp easily so they can enthuse to the bookshops or the buyer for that Big Supermarket. The author must engage the editor/reader within the first few pages and keep her/him hooked with the pace, suspense, humour, emotional tension, sex, zesty dialogue, believable characters and lively narrative.

Now, finally tell me, is it through history textbooks or a well-researched novel that you smell the roses, the ditches and the spilt blood of the Middle Ages?

Where do Michelmas daisies come from?

I can remember the mauve Michaelmas daisies in my parents’ garden every autumn in the UK and thought I was very safe in mentioning these flowers in my Wars of the Roses novels since the name originates from St Michael’s Mass. In the Middle Ages, Michaelmas was a feast day in September dedicated to the Archangel Michael and today’s Roman Catholic Church gives St Michael the honour of being the patron saint of grocers, mariners, paratroopers, police, and sickness. A rather wide portfolio!

Imagine my surprise, however, at seeing Michaelmas daisies flowering wild in Canada’s Rocky Mountains this September. Had they been taken over to Canada by early colonists or were they locals? And this made me wonder whether I was wrong about them growing in English gardens in medieval times?

According to Wikipedia, Michaelmas daisies belong to the Aster family and Aster amellus is considered ‘an Old World species’.

Maggie Campbell-Culver, the author of The Origin of Plants (Eden Project Books) tells us Aster tradescantia was brought to the UK by John Tradescant Jnr in the 1630s but received an unenthusiastic reception so perhaps the specimens looked rather battered after the sea voyage or just did not survive long in Britain.

According to Daily Mail, the North American Aster novi-belgii was named as a species in 1687 but did not become popular for garden use until Queen Victoria’s reign. The name ‘novi-belgii’ is puzzling as no one knew of anywhere called ‘New Belgium’ but the name stuck. Apparently the seeds were first collected in the New York area by a German botanist from the University of Leiden in Holland, Paul Hermann. Maybe he intended to call them ‘New Holland asters’ but was rather lacking in history and Latin and got the name wrong. (Daily Mail)

Burke’s Backyard says:

A. novi-belgii was introduced from North America into Britain in 1710. In England these plants bloomed at the same time as St Michael’s Day was celebrated, and so they became associated with the festival of Michaelmas and were given its name.

The ‘New World’ aster cousins have now been reclassified as a different species.

So, phew, there were Michaelmas daisies in England in the Middle Ages but it only goes to show historical novelists should never takes things for granted just because they are familiar and common place.

Katherine Neville’s world: Chewton Mendip

ChewtonMendip01Katherine Neville, the young Yorkist widow in The Golden Widows, was originally from the Midlands, but when she joined the household of her betrothed, young William Bonville, the world of south-west England became her home. The manors of Shute in Devon and Chewton Mendip in Somerset were places she would have known well.

Chewton Mendip is an attractive village in the Mendip Hills, about four miles from the cathedral city of Wells and not far from Midsummer Murders country. Bright pink campions and white lacy cow parsley adorn the sides of the minor roads in early summer. It’s a part of Somerset that has been classified an area of outstanding beauty.

There aren’t many bed and breakfast places on on the back roads if you’re coming from the Bristol area but we found a delightful one in Chewton and a great pub as well. Authors doing research need a soft bed and good dinner and, staying locally, you get to talk to people about the history of their village. We found excellent accommodation at ‘Copper Beeches’, which has a lovely view of the church tower, and that evening we enjoyed a very generous meal at The Waldegrave Arms (named after the family who became the dominant local landowners in later centuries).

The castle or manor hall that Kate would have known is reckoned to have been built above the village, not far from the church, but the building is long gone. However, St Mary Magdalene’s Church, where Kate and Grandmother Bonville would have gone to mass, is in good condition. The pinky, coarse sandstone of the church was being cleaned on the morning we visited. Visitors can reach the church by taking the footpath up the hill near The Waldegrave Arms.

In the novel, St Mary Magdalene’s was where Kate took  her little daughter, Cecily, to lay flowers on Lord Bonville’s tomb and it is evident that the FitzRogers’ effigies on his tomb were moved from elsewhere when the tower was being built as they certainly don’t fit their table slab.


The stone cross in the story where Kate sat on the steps and spread the Autumn leaves on her lap to amuse Cecily still stands in the churchyard.  Sources vary as to whether it was the Bonvilles or the local religious house who installed the cross or added the tower to the church. Lord Bonville was very wealthy and he is reputed to have been born in Chewton so it seems likely he intended the church to be a splendid memorial. His unanticipated execution on Queen Margaret’s orders may have halted the building renovations and clearly the FitzRogers’ monuments were never moved back to their original resting place.

St Mary Magdalene’s also has a sanctuary doorknocker. Not all churches had sanctuary status. If an accused man managed to grasp the doorknocker, his pursuers could not lawfully arrest him. He would be given protection and sustenance in the church for 40 days and then he would have to decide whether to confess to the alleged crime or accept exile. If the latter, then he would be escorted to the nearest port and put on a ship.

Permission to return to England could only be given by the king. If the felon returned unlawfully, he could be arrested and also excommunicated.

When you’re an author who lives the other side of the world from where your story is set, most of the research has to be done through written sources and the internet, however, I always try to visit the locations where my books are set. Chewton Mendip was hillier than I had imagined, but on that sunny morning of our visit, there was a lovely, serene atmosphere around the church and where Kate’s home would have stood. We can never know, but I think she would have enjoyed some peaceful times there.

Duke of York slain

The story of The Golden Widows begins in early 1461 so to help set the atmosphere, here is a news item:

The kingdom was reeling yesterday from news of a battle close by the town of Wakefield, Yorkshire.

Clifford, Commander of the Queen’s army, announced yesterday that the Duke of York had been slain, together with York’s second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, and their cousin, Thomas Neville, but Lord Clifford refused to comment on whether they were slain on the field or beheaded after capture. Their heads are being taken to York this afternoon.

A smiling Queen Margaret, interviewed late yesterday evening, refused to comment except to say, ‘Let York look down on York.’

York’s mayor said that the citizens were none too pleased at her grace’s decision to nail the duke’s head up on Micklegate. ‘It don’t look too good if you’re a visitor coming to the city, eh?’

Religious authorities are raising questions as to the future of the Queen’s other prisoner, the Earl of Salisbury, who is being transferred to Pontefract Castle.

Meanwhile emergency organisations from local abbeys and volunteers from Wakefield are dealing with the slain and wounded. ‘It were a messy business,’ comments one of the local labourers, called in to clean up the battlefield outside York’s castle of Sandal. ‘Our town is in a state of shock.’

It is still too early to know the exact numbers of those who were slain. Most will be buried on site.

The dead include many fathers and sons, among them, Sir William Bonville and his twenty-year-old son, William, Lord Harrington, both from Devonshire.

Despite Queen Margaret’s victory in the north, London and King Henry VI remain in the hands of York’s supporters. Whether her grace will seek peace talks with the Duke of York’s successor, his eighteen-year-old son and heir, Edward, Earl of March, remains to be seen. However, sources close to the queen are hinting that recapturing London is high on her agenda and an emergency meeting of the Council of Aldermen is to meet at Guild Hall tomorrow.

Extract from The Abbey Chronicler 1 January 1461

About the Golden Widows

frameM IsoldeMartyn TheGoldenWidowsIn the winter of 1460–61, it would have been hard to predict who would triumph in the bloody encounters between the Houses of York and Lancaster. For the wives of the noble lords caught up in the struggle, wondering whether their menfolk would survive the battles, must have caused much anguish. For those women whose husbands died on the losing side, there was the likelihood of their children being disinherited.

In The Golden Widows, I wanted to explore the experiences of such women and focus on a real historical woman from either side. Young Kate Neville is the sister of Warwick the Kingmaker and her husband’s family, the Bonvilles of Devonshire, are all fighting for the Yorkists. She has a six month old daughter.

On the other side is Elysabeth Woodville, Lady Grey, who is in her early twenties with two young sons. Her husband is a supporter of the House of Lancaster. What will happen if she finds herself the widow of a traitor and her sons’ inheritance is seized by the victors?

Tucked away in the novel are several other older widows: Elysabeth’s materialistic mother-in-law, Lady Ferrers; Kate’s feisty aunt, a woman in her sixties who is looking for a fourth husband; Lady Bonville, Kate’s husband’s grandmother, who is determined to protect Kate and the baby, and Kate’s mother, who cannot overcome her grief.

For some of these women, marrying again was a solution to their predicament but that was possible if you had something to offer like important family copnnections or the guardianship of a wealthy heir. But if you did not have anything to offer, what man would want to take on the penniless wife of a traitor?

Readers may know Elysabeth already from reading other novels or watching the TV series The White Queen but The Golden Widows focuses on her years of struggle and underlies what an exceptional woman she was. What other queen in English history had such a rags to riches story?

I hope readers enjoy Kate and Elysabeth’s struggle to protect their children and find happiness during one of the most turbulent times in English history.

Power Poyntz, Iron Acton and Margaret Woodville

It’s amazing what comes of giving author talks. In April after giving a PowerPoint presentation on researching Mistress to the Crown, one of the audience came up and introduce herself. She was the descendant of Margaret Woodville, the niece of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, King Edward IV’s queen. One of her other ancestors was Sir David Matthew of Glamorgan, who saved Edward’s life at the Battle of Towton. Definitely a man who changed the course of English history!

Margaret Woodville was the illegitimate daughter of the queen’s brother, Anthony Woodville and Gwentlian Stradling. When and where Anthony and Gwentlian had their affair, no one knows. Some historians reckon it was in the 1440s which would have been when they were both teenagers. The mid 1450s has also been suggested. Margaret married Robert Poyntz of iron Acton, who became a supporter of Henry Tudor. Their descendant, Nicholas Poyntz, was on very good terms king Henry VIII.

In The Devil in Ermine, I had a very feisty Margaret Woodville having an affair with my main character, Harry, Duke of Buckingham.

Coincidentally, back in the days when I was a university student, my father and I met Robert Poyntz’s descendant, Colonel Poyntz and his wife. Dad, who loved history, also took me to visit Iron Acton Hall, which is where the Poyntz family are reputed to have entertained King Henry VIII.

Our visit  was long before the property was restored. Back then it was a rundown building being used as  farm, and the floor of the great hall was a huge pile of stones and rubble. It would have taken a lot of effort and expense to repair it but it’s nice to know that has happened successfully.

Anyway, it’s lovely to be in email contact now with Margaret’s great-great-plus granddaughter and talk fifteenth century history, trying to fill in some of the knowledge gaps. I may not get wealthy writing historicals but these sort of spin-offs are a great delight.

It’s a small world!