It is with the greatest of pleasures that I welcome, Sharon Bennett Connolly on to the blog today. Sharon is going to tell us all about her inspirations behind her fabulous new book…
Heroines of the Medieval World
These are the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. The lives and actions of medieval women were restricted by the men who ruled the homes, countries and world they lived in. It was men who fought wars, made laws and dictated religious doctrine. It was men who were taught to read, trained to rule and expected to fight. Today, it is easy to think that all women from this era were downtrodden, retiring and obedient housewives, whose sole purpose was to give birth to children (preferably boys) and serve their husbands.
Heroines of the Medieval World looks at the lives of the women who broke the mould: those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history.
I have been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember. I love the stories behind the people. Shortly after Facebook became the ‘big thing’ I joined some history groups. There are some great history groups out there. There are general history groups, medieval history groups and groups dedicated to particular kings; Richard III being the most popular. However, I realised there was a distinct lack of focus on the women. So, I started a group called Medieval Queens and started writing mini biographies of some of the most interesting women from medieval history. There are so many fascinating women out there that the group soon had to broaden its horizons past royalty and so became Medieval Queens and Heroines.
As the group was growing and developing my husband gave me the most incredible present for Christmas 2014; a blog, History… the Interesting Bits. He set it all up for me, all I had to do was write articles and post them. It soon became apparent that, although I was writing a wide variety of posts, it was my stories about the women in history that drew the most interest.
So, I started concentrating on the women, which isn’t easy when most of their stories are only told with relation to the men in their lives. Each woman was primarily known as being the daughter, wife or mother of someone. However, when you probe deeper, you find that they have their own stories to tell. A trip to Lincoln Castle introduced me to the little-known story of Nicholaa de la Haye. Nicholaa was a fascinating woman; married twice, castellan of Lincoln Castle, she was supporter of King John and managed to withstand 2 sieges, the latter in 1217 against the English rebel barons and their French supporters. By this time a widow in her 60s, Nicholaa refused to surrender, despite the city being taken, the castle held out for nearly 3 months, until William Marshal, regent for the young Henry III, could arrive with a relief army.
Nicholaa was a heroine in every sense of the word and was the inspiration behind my idea for the book, Heroines of the Medieval World. I wanted to write the stories of the women you may not have heard of, but who made a difference in their own times; not just the warriors and the ones who ruled, but also the writers, those who dedicated themselves to religion, the ones who managed to find love, the founders of dynasties and those whose lives fundamentally changed history.
I am lucky, in that when I proposed the book to my publishers, Amberley, they were very excited about the idea. Even before they said ‘yes’, I has decided that I would write the book anyway, but getting their go-ahead gave me a deadline and a focus. I had 11 months to complete the research and write 100,000 words on the most fascinating women of the Middle Ages. The nearest I had ever come to such a project was a 15,000-word dissertation for my degree – the idea of 100,000 words was quite daunting. So, I split it into chapters – 12 chapters meant 8,000 words a chapter. I could do that!
The hardest decision to make was who to include – and who to leave out. I didn’t want the book to be all about the women who are already well known, such as the queens of England, or Empress Matilda. However, you can hardly write a book about heroines and leave out Eleanor of Aquitaine, who is arguably the greatest heroine of all. In the end I reached a compromise of including some famous women, such as Eleanor, Joan of Kent, Ӕthelflӕd of Mercia and Joan of Arc, but mixed in with some of the less well known, such as Nicholaa de la Haye, Agnes of Dunbar, Alice de Lacey and Julian of Norwich. I hope I have reached a happy medium.
Writing Heroines of the Medieval World has been fun, frustrating, hard work and almost impossible – sometimes all four at the same time. It was a very steep learning curve, but I am happy with the results – I only hope others find it just as enjoyable. It certainly gave me the writing bug, and I am now working on a book looking at the women of the Norman Conquest.
Links for Purchase
About the author
Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years now. She has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle.
Born in Yorkshire, she studied at University in Northampton before working in Customer Service roles at Disneyland in Paris and Eurostar in London.
She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses.
On launching her own blog – History ... the Interesting Bits, Sharon started researching and writing about the lesser-known stories and people from European history, the stories that have always fascinated. Quite by accident, she started focusing on medieval women. And in 2016 she was given the opportunity to write her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, which has recently been published by Amberley. She is now working on her second book, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Coqnquest, which will be released in late 2018.