The Year was 1564

The most successful fraud ever? True, according to none other than Sigmund Freud. And Charles Dickens. And Mark Twain. Who were they talking about? Shakespeare. William was born in April of 1564 to a wool merchant. His parents, John and Mary, his sisters and brothers and all three of his children were unable to read…

The Year was 1986

What do you do when you can’t sleep? You read novels. And what do you do when you want to encourage authors to write more novels? You buy a 13th century castle in Scotland and set up a writers’ retreat – all expenses paid. Doreen Mary English did just this. Born in England in 1915…

The Year was 1151

Did King Arthur actually live? Or Guinevere? Merlin, Mordred – were any of them real? Vaguely real? Their tales of quests, of magic, of forbidden love, of betrayal were sung in ballads for hundreds of years before Geoffrey of Monmouth, a professor at Oxford from 1129 to 1151, included Arthur (books 9 and 10) in…

The Year was 1035

When King Cnut died in 1035, it should have been a simple matter to divide his kingdom between his two teenage sons. King Cnut had a wife, Emma of Normandy. They had a son, Harthacnut.  King Cnut also had a mistress, Aelfgifu. And they had a son, Harold Harefoot. King Cnut ruled two kingdoms, the…

The Year was 1939

Why would all these people be coming to this obscure graveyard? The caretaker could not understand the sudden interest in the nondescript grave of a teenage soldier who had died during a skirmish in the British Mandate of Palestine more than 60 years earlier, in 1939. The teenager, named Harry, had lied about his age…

The Year was 1565

Elin did not want to go to England. She was 15, and she was being made to travel with Princess Cecilia from Sweden to London. The purpose of the trip was to talk young Queen Elizabeth into marrying Cecilia’s brother, King Eric. The other five royal ladies of Princess Cecilia’s retinue were all about her…

The Year was 1917

Facing the firing squad, Mata Hari refused the white blindfold. In a firing squad, all the shooters fire bullets except one, who fires blanks, so that no shooter knows who fires the fatal bullet. As the sun came up, Mata Hari smiled, seemingly unafraid, even blowing a kiss toward her executioners.   Born in Holland,…

The year was 1163

That was the year a fateful progression of events began with a single act: a priest in England was accused of a murder. The king, the powerful Henry II, demanded that the priest be tried for the crime in his secular court system. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who was Henry’s good friend and…

The year was 1916

Col. Mark Sykes called Gertrude Bell (among other things!) a “conceited, gushing, flat-chested… blethering fool.” Both were British. Sykes joined with France’s Francois Georges-Picot to draw the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, but it was Bell who was the power behind the map that carved up the old Ottoman Empire, willy-nilly creating the countries that are now…

The year was 1297

Princess Joan had a very big problem in the summer of 1297. Joan, 23, was political gold. Her father – the feared and volatile 6’4” Edward I of England – was arranging a second marriage for her. Joan was a widow. Edward had married her off at 17 to the powerful, red-haired Gilbert de Clare,…