Cwrtnewydd Scribblers Writer's Group

Creating worlds with words.

Judith Arnopp

Judith is a historical fiction author. She writes from a female perspective, offering a fresh view of women in the medieval and Tudor period. Judith's books view the period from the ground up and this unique approach has won her many fine reviews and fans around the world. All Judith's novels are available in paperback or on Kindle.

You can find more on Judith's official webpage http:/www.juditharnopp.com

Her novels include:

Peaceweaver, set in the years leading up to The Battle of Hastings. 

The Forest Dwellers: A tale of Norman oppression and Saxon revenge.

The Song of Heledd: set in 7th century Powys.

The Winchester Goose is set in Tudor London at the time of Henry VIII. 

The Kiss of the Concubine gives a new slant to  the story of Anne Boleyn.

Intractable Heart is the heart wrenching story of Henry's last queen, Katheryn Parr.

A Song of Sixpence, an intricate reworking of the life of Elizabeth of York and the Perkin Warbeck invasion. Available on Kindle and in paperback NOW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kiss of the Concubine.

28th January 1547.
It is almost midnight and the cream of the English nobility hold their breath as King Henry VIII prepares to face his God. As the royal physicians wring their hands and Archbishop Cranmer gallops through the frigid night, two dispossessed princesses pray for their father’s soul and a boy, soon to be king, snivels into his velvet sleeve.
Time slows, and dread settles around the royal bed, the candles dip and something stirs in the darkness … something, or someone, who has come to tell the king it is time to pay his dues.
The Kiss of the Concubine
is the story of Anne Boleyn, second of Henry VIII’s queens.

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 Watch a trailer for The Kiss of the Concubine here

 Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

1537. As the year to end all years rolls to a close, King Henry VIII vents his continuing fury at the pope. The Holy Roman Church reels beneath the reformation and as the vast English abbeys crumble, the royal coffers begin to fill.
The people of the north, torn between loyalty to God and allegiance to their anointed king, embark upon a pilgrimage to guide their errant monarch back to grace.
But Henry is unyielding and sends an army north to quell the rebel uprising. In Yorkshire, Katheryn, Lady Latimer, and her step-children, Margaret and John, are held under siege at Snape Castle …
The events at Snape set Katheryn on a path that will lead from the deprivations of siege warfare to the perils of the royal Tudor court.

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 Watch a book trailer of The Winchester Goose here

The Winchester Goose  Tudor London: 1540. Each night, after dark, men flock to Bankside seeking girls of easy virtue; prostitutes known as The Winchester Geese. Joanie Toogood has worked the streets of Southwark since childhood but her path is changed forever by an encounter with Francis Wareham, a spy for the King’s secretary, Thomas Cromwell.

Meanwhile, across the River, at the glittering court of Henry VIII, Wareham also sets his cap at Evelyn and Isabella Bourne, members of the Queen’s household and the girls, along with Joanie, are drawn into intrigue and the shadow of the executioner’s blade.

Set against the turmoil of Henry VIII’s middle years, The Winchester Goose provides a brand new perspective of the happenings at the royal court, offering a frank and often uncomfortable observation of life at both ends of the social spectrum.  Click here to purchase on Kindle. Also available in Paperback.

Watch a book trailer here

 

 Peaceweaver is the story of Eadgyth, queen to both Gruffydd ap Llewellyn of Wales and Harold II of England, in the years leading up to The Battle of Hastings.  

Peaceweaver is available from Amazon and other leading book sellers. Also on Kindle

click here for free sample

 

 

 The Forest Dwellers: the people of The New Forest. Aelf's family are evicted from their homes to make way for William the Conqueror's hunting grounds. Dispossessed and resentful, their misadventures lead us through the turbulent reign of William the First to the unexplained, violent death of William Rufus in 1100

The Forest Dwellers is a tale of oppression, sexual manipulation and vengeance.  Click here to purchase.  Also available on Kindle

Watch a book trailer here

 

 The Song of Heledd  

In seventh century Powys at the hall of King Cynddylan of Pengwern, princesses, Heledd and Ffreur attend a celebratory feast where fifteen-year-old Heledd develops an infatuation for a travelling minstrel. The illicit liaison triggers a chain of events that will destroy two kingdoms and bring down a dynasty.

 Set against the backdrop of the pagan-Christian conflict between kings Penda and Oswiu The Song of Heledd sweeps the reader from the ancient kingdom of Pengwern to the lofty summits of Gwynedd where the strong minded Heledd battles to control both her own destiny and that of those around her.

Judith has carried out lengthy research into the fragmented ninth century poems, Canu Llywarch Hen and Canu Heledd, and the history surrounding them to produce a story for Heledd and Ffreur, a fiction of what might have been.

Available on  Kindle

Watch a book trailer here

http://www.juditharnopp.com

http://www.juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.com/ 

Below are some examples of Judith's work.

 

 The Winchester Goose

 The Wincestrian goose

Bred on the bank in time of popery

When Venus there maintain’d her mystery

(Ben Jonson – Underwoods 1692 folio)

Prologue – Southwark Stews

Although she follows me, I can tell she wishes she wasn’t here. She lifts her skirts above the foulness of the alleyway and her feet slip in the mire, the hem of her gown all besmirched with mud. She is pale, glancing anxiously from side to side, her lips colourless as she shivers and sweats. Her hands are trembling as if she has the plague.

We pass my friend, Bertha, who is sitting on her threshold with her skirts hitched, airing her blue-veined legs. I wave, “good day” to her but she doesn’t respond for, just as she sees me, her man comes lurching round the corner, sozzled with drink although it is not yet noon. Every day he pisses all Bertha’s hard earned pennies up the wall.

As his wife sets her beefy fists squarely on her hips and lashes him with her tongue, the lady beside me whips her eyes from the raucous disaster of their marriage. She turns her head so fast that I glimpse her yellow hair tucked beneath the veil of her hood. “I cannot be responsible for the things you see here, my dear,” I say gently.

The way she averts her eye, raises her nose and flinches away from the stench of my world tells me a lot about her. She shies away from unpleasantness and would rather not see the half-naked starvelings peering from the shadows. Their hunger is an affront, their bare feet an insult, yet it was she who asked me to lead her here. It isn’t my fault if she doesn’t like what she finds.

We pass a stranger, a shady fellow up to no good, he melts away into the shadows not wanting to be seen. When I stop suddenly, the lady does likewise and I point a finger along the route she is to take. “See there, past the midden where the pigs are rooting? It’s up that stairway behind the inn that you must go. The Cock’s Inn it’s called, my dear.”

She doesn’t see the joke of that. She is an innocent, kept ‘nice’ by her mother. My own mother did nothing to protect her daughters from the world but she made sure we learned enough to follow where she led.

“Be careful on those rickety steps,” I call after her. “M’ room is the one right at the end.”

I wonder what she will make of the musty chamber where one corner of the shingle leaks when the rain is blown in from the west. My sisters and I have grown accustomed to damp in that corner and catch the worst of the drips in a bowl, for water always comes in handy. Things’ve been a lot worse mind, before our luck began to change. Once, the place was caked with grime and the blankets on our narrow bed were thin and moth-eaten but I’ve a thicker counterpane now.

In winter the bitter blast still manages to find a way through the broken shutter but we do well enough and are grateful to have a room at all. It is better than a ditch and provides us what comfort it can. But my fine, pretty lady will not have seen anywhere like it before, of that I am certain.

“Go on up, my dear, that’s where you’ll find him.”  I urge her onward, knowing Francis will have thrown off his cloak and be growing impatient. As I watch her sidling past the pigs, tiptoeing through the mire, I snort at her gullibility but then, as she places her foot on the lowest step, to my surprise I feel a twinge of conscience.

I bite my lower lip, wondering if I should call her back. What will she say to him? What would any woman say on finding her husband sprawled on a whore’s bed on a dull July morning?

But she is gone, already climbing gingerly up the unsteady stairs, her gloved hand reaching out to push open the chamber door.  I hold my breath and listen for the rumpus that will follow for it promises to be as good as any bawdy play. But instead, I hear a scream so grisly that it turns my skin to gooseflesh. The hair stands up on my scalp and, for a few moments, I find I cannot move.

Then, all of a sudden I am wrenching up my skirts to fly across the yard and scramble up the steps behind her. Just as I reach the top she stumbles backwards across the threshold with her hands held to her face.

Her eyes are wide open, her mouth like an ugly scar as she gropes blindly at my arms, scrabbles at me, babbling nonsense. I am afraid of such madness and cannot bear to let her touch me.

Crossing myself in the old way, I wrench away from her clutching hands so violently that she loses her footing. Her ankle turns on the top step and I see her face open like a flower as she realises she is going to fall. Before I can stop her, she tumbles backwards, her body bouncing loosely from stair to stair.

I dare not look down and it takes a few moments for me to find the courage to look upon the bundle of fine linen and velvet that is sprawled in the mud. She is lying very still and her face is white, her eyes closed but I think I can just see her chest rising and falling. I don’t know whether to run and help her or venture indoors to see what trouble awaits me there.

There is no sound from within and I glance one more time at her prone body before, with my heart hammering like a drum, I hold my breath and push open the door.

 PEACEWEAVER 

by

Judith Arnopp

CHESTER 1070

 We watched him ride past today, the one they are calling The Conqueror.  Eadgytha and I saw him pass through the city gate and, although he is just a man, I buried the faces of my young sons in my skirts to shield them from the sight. Thus concealed, they escaped the gaze of the squint-eyed king as he clattered by and did not see the splendour of his retinue throw a gaudy splash of colour across the sombre street.  Around us the crowd stood silent in the rain and, although I am tall and feared that the hatred surging in my heart would knock him from his mount, he did not see me there. 

The crowd dispersed slowly, muttering against the ravages of the Norman dog who, having laid waste to the south and north of England, now turned his attention to Chester, our place of refuge and the last Saxon strongholdMany have been slaughtered and homes destroyed, leaving ruins to smoke beneath the sulky sky and the destitute to huddle in the darker places of the street. 

A ragged old fellow snorted and spat greenly into the mud where the Norman king’s horse had trod, God’s curse be on ye gutter shite,’ he cried in cracked tones, shaking his feeble fist in the air.  I patted his arm in mute sympathy before we turned away.

 ‘Why are you trembling, Mother?’ asked Harold as we hurried back to our lodging, heads bent against the driving rain.

‘Your mother is chilled, that is all,’ replied Eadgytha, hastily taking the child’s hand. ‘We have stood too long in the rain, come, hurry along, Harold, make haste, Wulf.’   

We climbed the steep castle hill, inhaling the acrid stench of smouldering fires newly quenched by sheeting rain. 

Too close to the stronghold for comfort now it is in Norman hands we need to move on.  Chester is no longer a safe refuge for any Saxon, let alone women such as we. 

Indoors the fire has sunk low.  Eadgytha stoops to feed it a few meagre sticks before warming a little goat milk for a nourishing drink.  Then we sit, knee to knee, before the hearth while the twins play with swords fashioned from two sticks.  Anwen bursts through the door accompanied by a flurry of wind and leaves. ‘My, ‘tis some cold out, my ladies.  I’ve managed to find a few things for supper, ‘tis nothing to drool over but better than nought.  I’ll get it going right away so we can dine and get ourselves early to our beds.’ 

She throws vegetables into a pot for broth while Eadgytha and I, chilled more by circumstance than weather, begin to discuss our options.  There are few places of refuge left in all of England, the invasion having been thorough.  No Saxons are content beneath the Norman rule yet most, eager to save their necks, collaborate, quelling their hatred to meekly bear the yoke. 

A few have rebelled, some rally to the call of Hereward, known as the Wake, in his hiding place in the Fens.  Perhaps we should join them there but it is a far off place, haunted by the dispossessed and the marshes are fraught with mischievous sprites; besides, neither of us knows the way and there is no man now to protect or guide us.  We cower here in this dark place, two women alone. Our household is scattered and we are forced to look to ourselves.  You may think it simple for women to live in obscurity, raising our children and scratching a living from the dirt but it is not so, not for women such as we. 

Eadgytha’s sons are far away and her daughters are …  well, we know not where.  My family is scattered also; my older sons are across the dyke with their Welsh kin and my brothers are lost.  

We make an odd pairing, Eadgytha and I, but we have only each other now.  Of all the women in the land, we are the two that William of Normandy most desires to lay his hand upon.  If captured, he will put out our eyes and cut off our noses.  If we are lucky we may be shut away in a religious house but, if he lays hands upon my infant sons, he will show them no mercy but will kill them straight.  There are none in this stricken land who flee King William more diligently than we, for Eadgytha the Gentle Swan was, for twenty years King Harold’s mistress.

 

I am named Eadgyth too and I was Harold’s queen and mother to the Ætheling, Harold Haroldsson, who tumbles in play even now with his brother upon the dusty floor.

For a review of Peaceweaver cut and paste this link to your browser: http://historicalnovelreview.blogspot.com/

 

The Forest Dwellers

Prologue

We sank into the undergrowth.  Leofric raised his hand and beckoned me forward. Fear scuttled up my neck as the scream ripped the silence again.  We waited, listening, the pounding loud beneath my ribs.

Beneath the canopy of the trees I could see nothing.  Leo cocked his head to one side, mentally blocking out the sound of the surging river.   He ignored the natural noises of the wood and set his sights upon larger prey.  The cry came again, echoing and terrible, sending a shrim of fear through my body. This time I recognised the sound as human, and female.

Leofric fitted an arrow into his bow.  We trod stealthily forward.  A twig snapped beneath my feet.  Cursing my clumsiness, we moved on.  The path took us downhill, Leo had scented his quarry.  I knew we were close. 

He drew aside a tangle of undergrowth and we peered into the clearing.  We saw three men, strangers. One solidly built, the others his bondsmen.  A girl cowered before them. It was her cries that had penetrated the quiet. 

They grabbed her and, like an animal in a snare, she writhed in her attackers grip, her limbs pale against the woodland floor.  One of them struggled to hold her legs but she broke free.  She kicked him, hard, on the mouth.  Spitting out a tooth, he put up a hand, bringing it away bloody.  His accomplice pinioned her arms above her head.   Their leader took the hem of her tunic. We heard it rip and saw it tossed aside.  The other man caught and held her again.  His superior, dropping his breeches about his knees, prepared to take his pleasure.  It was the first time I had seen a naked woman. 

The girl thrashed and screamed.  I glimpsed a gaping mouth and white-blonde hair.  Leo had them marked.  A thin sound, swift and true, hushed through the clearing.  The un-breeched man clutched his chest and fell to the ground, spouting blood.

They let her loose, backing off, hands raised as she scrambled away.  Spreading their arms they asked silently for mercy.   Leo drew his bow. One man took his chance and turned to flee.  His accomplice fell with Leofric’s arrow through his throat. 

Leo stood up, nocked another and moved into the clearing.  He released it.  It ripped into the back of the fleeing man.  I glimpsed the girl crouched in the bushes. Heard her breath rasping. Leo kicked her tunic toward me. ‘Give her the clothes.’

I thrust the garment to her.  A hand emerged from the bush. I saw fair hair strewn across a thin, naked shoulder. 

A few moments later she stood before us, pulling down her torn garments.  She was ready to flee, not trusting us.  Her eyes darted from Leo to myself as I absorbed every extraordinary inch of her. 

Unlike other forest dwellers, her hair was as white as a gull’s back. And her eyes, that seemed to burn in her narrow face, were as bright as the sky.  She was filthy and about fifteen summers, a couple of years older than me, although she seemed more.  The shadow of a bruise marred her forehead. Leofric put down his bow. ‘Come, we will lead you home.’

We trailed after Leo, unspeaking.  I noticed her placing her grimy feet in the prints left by my brother’s and I did likewise.  Half hour or so later we reached the lonely glade where her father lived.  Smoke sulked from three cone shaped piles of turf and a few scrawny hens scratched in the dirt before a tumble down shack.  Purkiss and his forebears had lived here for generations burning charcoal in the forest.  It was an ancient craft and the life a lonely one.  They kept to the deep woods, not mixing with the other forest dwellers. Leo jerked his head. 

         ‘Send Purkiss out.’

          She ran toward the hovel without saying goodbye.   I hoped she would come out again.  Leo and I waited until, at last, the door creaked open and a small, twisted man emerged.  He nodded, blinking in the sun and grimacing in a horrible approximation of a smile. Leofric spat onto the ground. 

        ‘Tisn’t safe for a girl to be out alone, Purkiss. The wood is full of vermin. In future, keep her close.’

Purkiss nodded and pulled his forelock.

        ‘Aye, Master Leo, aye, that I will and thank ye sir, thank ye for bringin’ her safe back.’

Without further words, Leo and I trod the forest path homeward.  
 
 
 The Song of Heledd

 The eagle of Eli, loud his cry:

He has swallowed fresh drink,

Heart-blood of Cynddylan fair!

 

I dreamed of the eagles long before they came swooping down from their cloudy crags. They blackened the sky, the wind from their wings lifting my hair as they circled, talons extended, before settling on the field of death.

Too torn for tears, I waded through my slaughtered kin while pain ripped my heart like a dagger and, when I saw Cynddylan’s fallen standard, his torso twisted, his neck broke, his mouth gaping, my step faltered and the world turned dark around me.

I knelt in his blood and tried to close the yawning wound upon his chest but I was too late, he was gone. All of my kindred were lost and the Kingdom of Pengwern was shattered. I was left, alone. What had I done? Unprotected beneath the vast and empty sky, I threw back my head and screamed a protest to the vengeful gods.

When I woke in the morning and found myself safe in my furs, I flung back the covers to run outside. My playmates tumbled as usual beneath a kindly summer sky while the women spun yarn in the shade of the alder trees. I put up a hand and shielded my eyes from the sun as my brother’s hounds came bounding to meet me, leaping up, trying to lick my face. I pushed them away.

And then I saw him. My brother, King Cynddylan of Pengwern, striding across the enclosure with an arm about his companion. I ran to tell him of my terrible dream but, intent on the affairs of men, he waved me away.

He would not listen.

I was just nine summers old then and, as I grew to womanhood, the dream faded and I forgot it. It was many years later, on the cusp of a great battle when I heard again the far off cry of the wheeling eagles that I remembered my dream and knew what was to come.

 copyright ©Judith Arnopp 2010