My visit to Nottingham Castle

Nottingham Castle
Nottingham Castle Gatehouse

As part of my travels in September, I was able to return to Nottingham for a half day adventure to  explore the Castle. I set several scenes of For King and Country there, so you can imagine how exciting it was for me to have an opportunity to see it from the perspective of someone with research interests rather than just being a tourist as I had been on my first visit in 2010. And there was an added bonus this time! In addition to hanging out with friends Al, Julie, and Katie, I got to take a fantastic tour of the caves.

Now Nottingham and its Castle today don’t look like Nottingham of 1193-1194. The gatehouse pictured above wasn’t built until the 1250s. (I wrote about my research in an earlier post.) Today I just want to share some photos from my trip.


As you walk toward the gatehouse, there’s a lovely courtyard where Robin Hood is ready to defend the Castle from intruders (or is he planning to rob the rich?) The stone of what would have been been a wall of the outer bailey is visible. But in the 1190s during the reign of Richard I, the Lionheart, this would have been a timber and earthworks palisade.

After you pass through the gatehouse, which back in the 13th-17th centuries was a bit taller, you walk through the outer bailey towards the medieval bridge (above left) into what once housed the middle bailey. The photo on the right shows the view after we’d walked under the bridge and looked back. The stone bridge, which dates back to Henry II’s reign in the 12th century, would have crossed a deep ditch, which you can see in the photo I took of the sign describing the past magnificence of the site (below).  The fancy statues weren’t there in Henry’s time but were added later. The bridge is all that is left now.



It is hard to picture the middle and upper baileys of the 12th century castle because nothing really remains of them. The Castle was reduced to rubble during the English Civil War in the 17th century. Much of the original stone was carted off for other building projects, and even the height of the upper bailey was reduced when the ducal palace was built there by William Cavendish in 1674.

The ducal palace occupying the site, now a museum and art gallery

According to records, there was a second deep ditch separating the middle and upper baileys, also built by Henry II.  The museum has several dioramas, including this one representing the Castle circa 1500:

Nottingham Castle, circa 1500

In the last few years, the caves and tunnels beneath the Castle are being explored and one is open for a guided tour. So we started down the uneven path…

In one area, the sandstone roof no longer exists. The guide said it had been knocked out so defensive weapons could be placed there during the Civil War.


In some places, the tunnel was wider than it appears in the photo above. There were steps carved into the sandstone in many parts of the pathway, but nothing to hold onto except in the one area where the path was extremely steep. The tunnel winds down several hundred feet. I was glad we were going down! Men who brought supplies up from the River Leen in medieval times might have been leading pack animals up through the tunnels.

And after a hard day’s work carting supplies up, the good folk could go round the corner to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem for an ale.




Charlene Newcomb is currently working on Book III of her Battle Scars series, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. There will be more to come, so sign up for Char’s Newsletter. It will be used – sparingly – to offer exclusive content and and to let you be the first to know about special offers.

Talking about the book: The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell

7482021Title: The Fifth Knight
Author: E.M. Powell

A tidbit about the author
E.M. is from Ireland, but currently lives in northwest England. Her debut novel, The Fifth Knight, was an Amazon #1 bestseller. She has family ties to Michael Collins, founder of the Irish Free State. Her agent calls her books “car chases with chainmail.”  Check out my interview of E.M.!

The story
When mercenary Sir Benedict Palmer agrees to help King Henry II’s knights seize the traitor Archbishop Thomas Becket, what begins as a clandestine arrest ends in cold-blooded murder. And when Fitzurse, the knights’ ringleader, kidnaps Theodosia, a beautiful young nun who witnessed the crime, Palmer can sit silently by no longer. He and Theodosia rely only on each other as they race to uncover the motive behind Becket’s murder—and the truth that could destroy a kingdom.
–from the book blurb.

The scene that made you laugh out loud or cheer
This is tough because to tell you the many places I cheered would mean giving away plot points. No spoilers allowed! So…let’s see… I cheered every time Palmer or Theodosia got the better of the bad guys.

One scene that made me laugh out loud is near the end of the book. Palmer has been rewarded for his service to King Henry. He has been presented with a fine stallion and a fancy saddle:

He picked up the ornate saddle and opened the door of the stall. “Definitely made for a king’s arse. Not mine,” he remarked to the horse.

“What’s that about my arse?” Henry’s face popped up over the partition between stalls.

Palmer colored redder than he ever had in his life. “Y-your Grace.” He bowed deeply and lowered the saddle to the floor. “A thousand apologies, sire. I didn’t know you were there.”

Henry snorted with laughter. “Obviously.”

The place where you wanted to throw the book across the room
Palmer can be far too patient with Theodosia. The man is trying to keep her safe and she spouts platitudes at him. She could be quite annoying. As an anchoress, she’d led a secluded existence, which obviously plays a huge part in her reactions to events. Most people choose this life freely, right? Theodosia had been forced into it as a child, and believed the rubbish she’d been fed. Agh! So sad and depressing. Powell created a situation that definitely hit on at extremely emotional level for me.

A memorable line
“I don’t know how saving a life is a sin. But you know far more about sin than I do.”
–Palmer to Theodosia

My verdict:   *****4.5 stars*****
I really enjoyed The Fifth Knight. And I *love* the title of the book. Even before I read the book blurb, I was already intrigued. Four knights murdered Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, on the 29th of December 1170. Author Powell gives us a “What if?” scenario – a fifth knight, Benedict Palmer. The story opens with a wild storm on the English Channel. The writing is excellent, fast-paced. This book is a page-turner. Powell throws one obstacle after another in front of her main characters Palmer and Theodosia. Just when you think you can breathe easy, the story takes an unexpected turn. Life in the 12th century is painted vividly, as are the characters, including some of the nastiest villains you will ever meet.  I am looking forward to the sequel, The Blood of the Fifth Knight, available here in the U.S. on January 1, 2015

Interview with author E.M. Powell

E.M. Powell’s novels have been described as “car chases with chainmail.” With that tagline, you know you’ll be in for a wild ride. I am delighted to welcome E.M. to my blog today. She writes historical fiction with a mystery/thriller twist. Her current series is set in 12th century England.

E.M., congratulations on the upcoming release of The Blood of the Fifth Knight. Can you tell us a bit about the new book? Is it a sequel to The Fifth Knight, or a stand-alone?

Thank you, Char! The Blood of The Fifth Knight is indeed the sequel to The Fifth Knight. It’s set in England in 1176. King Henry II has imprisoned his rebellious Queen for attempting to overthrow him. But with her conspirators still at large and a failed assassination attempt on his beautiful mistress, Rosamund Clifford, the King must take action to preserve his reign. Desperate, Henry turns to the only man he trusts: a man whose skills have saved him once before. 6751904Yes, it’s the return of Sir Benedict Palmer!

Sir Benedict is a great character – a mercenary with a conscience. You put him through the ringer in The Fifth Knight. When you penned the opening of  that book, did you know you’d be writing a sequel? If not, when did you figure that out?

Not at all! I intended it to be a standalone book. But when I was signed by my amazing agent, Josh Getzler, he encouraged me to think about one. He was right!

What was the most surprising thing you learned while doing the research for your books?

There are so many things that are so surprising about the medieval world, which you of course will understand, Char. Probably my favourite discovery when researching The Blood of The Fifth Knight was that of an earlier menagerie kept by the king than the one kept at the Tower of London. The collection of animals at the Tower of course was the foundation for London Zoo. But Henry I had established the very first menagerie at Woodstock, his hunting lodge. It included camels, lions, lynxes, a leopard and a porcupine. I certainly did not expect to find that in 12th century England! But such finds are gold to a novelist.

So true, E.M. Those ‘nuggets’ bring the people and the times to life. Do you have a favorite scene from one of your books? Which one & why?

Most of my favourites would be spoilers so I can’t mention those! But I have a particular fondness for those I write from the point of view of my villains. That would be Sir Reginald Fitzurse, leader of the knights who murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket in The Fifth Knight. In The Blood of The Fifth Knight, it’s Raoul de Faye, uncle of Eleanor of Aquitaine. And I just love his name – perfect for a villain, though he was a real person.

What’s the best part of the writing process for you? What has been the most challenging?

I (weirdly) love editing. I love it because the story and the plot is all there. Editing means I can really dig into the writing and make it the very best it can be.

Tell us a little bit about your life. When did you first start writing?

I wrote my first novel in 2002 and was convinced it would be an instant bestseller. I had an awful, awful lot to learn. But learn I did! Ten years on, I got my agent and a publishing deal.

Which historical person would you want to meet and why?

Archbishop Thomas Becket, canonized after his murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. I would want to ask him why he refused to run from the murderers and how he remained so brave when he knew his life was about to end. I’d also ask him what he thought of Henry II, king and his one-time friend.

Do you belong to any writing organizations? If so, which ones? Why do you stay with them?

Romance Writers of America, the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. I stay with them because they are an invaluable source of advice and support. Without RWA, for instance, I would never have learned my craft and it would have taken me even longer to understand the industry. With the HNS, I have gained friends as well, both in person and online. We all like our chainmail!

How do you handle reviews (good and/or bad)?

With good reviews, I want to meet that reviewer and shake them by the hand and thank them personally. They mean so, so much! With the bad, I read them to see if the reviewer is making a legitimate point about a historical fact or perhaps a plot issue. If it’s purely an ‘I hate this book’ review, then fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Do you have a particular time of day for writing? A special writing place?

I try and get in the writing seat by 9 a.m. and pack up at 7 p.m. Of course there’s tons of interruptions and life generally getting in the way. When I had a day job, I used to write between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. I loved that slot. I’m a real owl and it’s so much quieter then. Place is my laptop!

Are there certain types of scenes you find harder to write than others?

The hardest ones are always the ones where you want to release some information to the reader but still keep your twists hidden. Doing a spoiler on my own plot is one of my nightmares. Action scenes are by far the easiest for me and always have been. And they’re still hard!

What book are you reading now?

I’m a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and get all sorts of wonderful books through that route. I’m currently reading Dan Jones’s magnificent The Hollow Crown, which is his non-fiction work on the Wars of the Roses and the rise of the Tudors.

On the fiction front, I have the late Ariana Franklin’s Winter Siege. She was a writer of wonderful historical thrillers and sadly passed away before finishing this book. her daughter, Samantha Norman, completed it. I can think of no more wonderful tribute to her mother.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?


What are you working on now? Will we see a sequel to The Blood of the Fifth Knight?

The next book in The Fifth Knight series – working title is The Fifth Knight: Lord of Ireland. It’s based on John’s (youngest son of Henry II who will one day become the despised King John) disastrous campaign in (yes, you guessed it!) Ireland in 1185. Palmer is sent by Henry to keep watch on the impetuous John. But Palmer uncovers a plot by John to make his mark on the Lordship of Ireland by appalling means. John has to be stopped at all costs, with only Palmer standing in his way…

Sir Benedict against John – *rubs hands together* – I am already intrigued! Thank you for stopping by to chat, E.M. 

Thanks so much for hosting me, Char. I look forward to returning the favour!


E.M. Powell is the author of medieval thriller The Fifth Knight, which was a #1 Amazon Bestseller. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in the northwest of England with her husband and daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. Learn more about E.M. Powell on her website. She is a regular blogger on English Historical Fiction Authors and a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society. The Blood of The Fifth Knight will be published by Thomas & Mercer on 01.01. 2015. Find The Fifth Knight and The Blood of the Fifth Knight on Amazon, Amazon UK, and Amazon CA.

Fifty shades of…12th century England

research books
one pile of my 12th century research materials

Forgive the “fifty shades” reference. I almost called this “fifty shades of de Grey” – de Grey being the surname of main character Sir Henry in Men of the Cross, but I thought better of it. 🙂  I’ve intended this to spark interest/amazement/horror for those who aren’t so familiar with the 12th century, and I’ve included a number of facts related to the Third Crusade. Enjoy these bits of trivia:

  1. Henry I (reigned 1100-1135) named his daughter Matilda (aka Empress Maud) as his successor, but his nobles chose to name Matilda’s cousin Stephen as king on Henry’s death.
  2. The Anarchy, aka “when Christ and his saints slept” (which is a translated quote from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), lasted from 1135 – 1154 when Matilda (mother of Henry II) and her cousin Stephen fought to reign over England (see #1).
  3. The crown did not automatically pass to the oldest child: Stephan (reigned 1135-1154) passed over his eldest surviving son and named Henry (son of his rival Matilda) as his successor.
  4. Women could inherit property.
  5. The nobility were generally of Norman descent. (Remember William the Conqueror, 1066?)
  6. “Corn” was any cereal grain (not maize, which wasn’t introduced to Europe until the 15th or 16th century). Corn = wheat, barley, rye, etc.
  7. Many manor houses were built of timber. Stone was for the wealthiest landowners and saw increased use after the Norman Conquest as the new Norman rulers built their castles as symbols of their power.
  8. Below the nobility, church officials, and knights, there were some freeman, but a large percentage of the population were villeins, including serfs (slaves), who owed service to the lord of the manor. Service, which varied from place to place, usually included 3 days of work per week (more during harvest) for the right to live & work their own plots of land.
  9. A warhorse (aka destrier) might cost in excess of 50 shillings. Mail for the knight: 100 shillings.
  10. William, Henry, Roger, John and Geoffrey were very popular boys’ names.
  11. William, Henry, Geoffrey, and John were Richard the Lionheart’s brothers; Henry (the II) was his father.
  12. Henry II’s illegitimate sons were also named Geoffrey and William.
  13. Richard I was born in Oxford, England. Neither of his parents were English: Henry II was French from Anjou; Eleanor was from Aquitaine.
  14. Maud, Alice, Margaret, Joan and Isabel were popular women’s names.
  15. Taxes were too high (even back then!)
  16. A baron (like Henry de Grey’s father in Men of the Cross) might owe the crown £100 a year for scuttage, which might be paid in cash, in service and/or in crops/goods.
  17. Ermine Street ran from London to York (via Lincoln); it had been constructed during the Roman occupation hundreds of years earlier. (It was one of 4 major royal roads, which novelist Patricia Bracewell just wrote about on EHFA.)
  18. Traveling 40 miles a day was quite a feat on horseback. Whilst running from Duke Leopold in Austria, Richard I traveled 50 miles a day for 3 days in an attempt to reach the safety of the Moravian border. Imagine an army with hundreds of supply wagons, men on foot, and knights: in the Holy Land, Richard’s army of approximately 15,000 traveled anywhere from 2 – 13 miles per day.
  19. The language of the upper classes was Anglo-Norman, a French dialect.
  20. Peasants spoke what we’d call Old English though the influences of the Norman language led to the transformation to Middle English.
  21. Latin was the language used for official written records.
  22. It was a mortal sin to have sex that was not specifically meant for procreation; however, a trip to the confessional would get you a penance of a few Pater Nosters or a small fine.
  23. It was a mortal sin to have sex in any position except man-on-top/woman-on-bottom (see above for penance).
  24. There were no civil laws on the books against homosexuality in England until the second half of the 13th century. [Note: I’ve lost my reference for this: if you can point me to it I would appreciate it!].
  25. Bathing was more common in the Middle Ages than in the 19th century: many towns  had public bath houses. It was reported that when King John (reigned 1199-1216) traveled around his kingdom, he took a bathtub with him.
  26. The most dysfunctional family of the 12th century surely must have been Henry II, Eleanor, and their brood.
  27. Henry II imprisoned his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, from 1173-1189 for her role in his sons’ rebellion.
  28. Eleanor was 9 years older than Henry; they married after her marriage to the king of France was annulled.
  29. John, young Henry, and Geoffrey speaking to their brother Richard: “Mom always liked you best!”
  30. Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) could not read.
  31. Henry II crowned his successor Henry while he still lived. Henry was known as “the young king.” He died in 1183, a victim of dysentery.
  32. Eleanor accompanied her first husband Louis VII of France on the Second Crusade in the 1140s.
  33. Eleanor outlived  8 of her 10 children (2 by 1st marriage to Louis VII; 8 by Henry II; only son John and daughter Eleanor (by Henry) survived her.
  34. Thomas Becket, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry II, was murdered in December 1170 by four of Henry II’s overzealous knights after Henry reputedly said “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (or something along that line dependent on which biography you read).
  35. King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart, ruled 1189-1199) spent only 6 months in England during his reign.
  36. Richard set out for the Holy Land in 1190, marching his army to Marseille to rendezvous with the fleet to sail to the Holy Land in the summer of 1190.
  37. Most of Richard’s fleet failed to meet him in Marseille: they’d been arrested whilst in Portugal for too much wine, women and gambling.
  38. Some legends of Robin Hood place him with Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade.
  39. Whilst the armies of Richard of England and Philip of France wintered in Messina, Sicily in 1190/1191, gambling by ordinary soldiers and sailors was banned except in the presence of their officers.
  40. The price of bread in Messina during the fall & winter of 1190/1191 was fixed by the kings (Richard, Philip, and Tancred) at 1 penny per loaf.
  41. Richard was betrothed to Alais (Alys or Alice), sister of King Philip of France, in 1169; they never tied the knot, Richard claiming his father slept with Alys. She was raised as Henry II’s ward in England from the age of 8 for about 22 years, until Richard married Berengaria of Navarre in May 1191 in Cyprus.
  42. Richard’s fleet finally arrived in the Holy Land in June, laid siege to, and captured Acre by mid-July. Richard insulted Duke Leopold of Austria whilst in Acre by ordering the Duke’s banner removed from the city ramparts. Richard’s men trampled the Duke’s banner. Leopold would not forget this insult.
  43. The Muslim chronicler Baha’ al-Din wrote that Richard was “a man of great courage and spirit.”
  44. The deadliest battle of the Third Crusade was the Battle of Arsuf on 7 Sept 1191 – casualties were estimated at 700 Christians and 7,000 Muslims.
  45. Washer-women were the only women allowed to accompany the army on the march to Jerusalem (August 1191-July 1192). However, Richard did bring his queen Berengaria and his sister Joanna to Jaffa in mid-fall 1191 when that town was secured.
  46. The crusader army came within 12 miles of Jerusalem – twice – but never laid siege to, or re-took, it from Muslim hands.
  47. A 3 year truce was signed between Richard I and Salah al-Din in September 1192. The Christians did maintain control of many coastal cities lost to the Muslims in the 1180s and Christian pilgrims were allowed into the Holy City.
  48. Duke Leopold’s soldiers captured Richard near Vienna, Austria, on 20 December 1192. According to a German chronicler, Richard was caught in the kitchen roasting meat and wearing a magnificent ring, though this tale is disputed by English chroniclers.
  49. Bows of composite wood, horn, and sinew replaced all wood bows; this increased the weapon’s power and range.
  50. John, younger brother of Richard I, plotted with King Philip of France to usurp Richard’s throne whilst he was on Crusade. John and Philip offered the Holy Roman Emperor money to keep Richard imprisoned rather than release him when the ransom of 150,000 marks was paid.


Get swept away to the 12th century

Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite

Available from Amazon
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