Voting begins today – Summer Indie Book Award

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VOTE EARLY AND DAILY!!

Both of my historical fiction novels – Men of the Cross and For King and Country – have been nominated by a lovely reader for a Summer Indie Book award in the historical category. Readers can vote once a day Sept. 1 – 11.  You can even vote for both books!

Vote here!  http://goo.gl/zK9veq

Metamorphic Publishing notes:

“Voting for the awards will be done via Poll Maker, and will open on September 1, 2016. Anyone can vote once a day, until midnight on September 11, 2016. Links to polls will be posted here, and pinned, hopefully a week before voting begins. They will also be on the webpage athttps://metamorphpublishing.com/summer-indie-book-awards/. Genre links will go out in the newsletter, so sign up here: http://eepurl.com/bL43cf.

You may vote in any or all genres. Each genre will allow you to make muliple choices, as long as you checkmark them all BEFORE you hit vote the first time! Since voting is limited to one visit per day, you must get all your choices marked before you hit the vote button.”

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Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical adventures set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. There will be more to come, so sign up for Char’s Mailing List. It will be used – sparingly – to offer exclusive content and and to let you be the first to know about special offers.

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Men of the Cross – sale July 28-29

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July 28-29 – Two Day Sale on Amazon (U.S.)

Get Men of the Cross for $1.99 (ebook)

Why do you want to pick up Men of the Cross for this great low price? Well, it’s cheaper than that latte at the local coffee shop and will stick with you a lot longer! And Book II of the Battle Scars series is now available. You could skip Men and go straight to Book II – both novels work as stand-alones. But if you read Book I, you will have fuller insight into the relationship of characters Henry de Grey and Stephan l’Aigle.

Men of the Cross is a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree. indieBRAG is the Book Readers Appreciation Group which has a selective review process. They have  a two-fold mission: “to discover new talented self-published authors”; and to “provide an independent, broad-based and reader-centric source to advise the public which indie book merit the investment of their time and money.”

The novel has had some splendid reviews, too –

“A vivid picture of the Third Crusade.”
–Professor Andrew Latham, author of The Holy Lance

“A historical romance with a difference . . . very well researched a
and historically 
competent . . .”
–Christoph Fischer, author of Ludwika:
a Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany

“If Mary Renault had chosen to write about the Crusades instead of ancient Greece and Persia, she could not have done any better–and that is high praise, indeed.”
–Bo, on Goodreads

“Trauma and passion in a battle of bodies and souls.”
–Christopher Monk, aka The Anglo Saxon Monk

Get Men of the Cross on Amazon now!

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Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical adventures set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. For King and Country, book II of the series, was published on 2 May 2016. There will be more to come, so sign up for Char’s Mailing List. It will be used – sparingly – to offer exclusive content and and to let you be the first to know about special offers.

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Talking about the book: Days of Sun & Glory by Anna Belfrage

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Title: Days of Sun & Glory
Author:  Anna Belfrage

A tidbit about the author
Born in Sweden, raised in Peru & Colombia. Anna notes that where her classmates in Bogota “were constantly talking about the future (or football, at which I excelled) I was mostly dreaming about the past. I had no desire to become a business woman – I wanted to be a medieval knight.” Obviously, Anna cannot be a medieval knight, but man, oh man, can she write brilliantly about them!

The story
“…the king’s greatest traitor, Roger Mortimer, has managed to evade royal justice, the king and his beloved Despenser see dissidents and rebels everywhere – among Mortimer’s former men, but also in the queen, Isabella of France. Their suspicions are not unfounded. Tired of being relegated to the background by the king’s grasping favourite, Isabella has decided it is time to act – to safeguard her own position, but also that of her son, Edward of Windsor. As Adam de Guirande has pledged himself to Prince Edward he is automatically drawn into the queen’s plans – whether he likes it or not. Yet again, Kit and Adam are forced to take part in a complicated game of intrigue and politics…”–from the author’s website

Days of Sun & Glory is Book II in Ms. Belfrage’s The King’s Greatest Enemy series and pulls us back into the life of Sir Adam and his wife Kit. Concerned that you haven’t read Book I? Don’t be. This book works fine as a stand-alone. And I say that as someone who is barely familiar with this particular time period.

The scene that made you laugh out loud or cheer; the place where you wanted to throw the book across the room
Usually these are two separate questions, but I have combined them here. I was torn between laughter and groans watching the jealous reactions of both Kit and Adam, the two main characters. In this sequel to In the Shadow of the Storm, they have been married more than two years and have been to hell and back for each other. Their devotion to and love for each other is so vivid and well drawn. The bits of jealousy had me getting impatient with them both after a while.

My cheers are too numerous to count, but I absolutely love Ms. Belfrage’s portrayal of young Prince Edward. In this particular scene he is standing up to his father as Edward II tries to throw Adam out:

“I cannot have a man suspected of traitorous activities in your household.” [Edward] gestured at the men-at-arms “Take de Guirande away.”
[snip]
“You’re shaming me,” Prince Edward said.
“Shaming you?” The king looked at Adam, then at his son.
“Sir Adam is my liegeman. He has pledged himself to me, and I, in return, have pledged to protect him – isn’t that what liege lords do?” The prince turned wide eyes on his father.

A memorable line (or two)

Kit on Hugh Despenser…

…Kit would gladly have nailed his intestines to a tree and have him walk around it until he’d disembowelled himself, she had to admit the man exuded  some sort of magnetic allure, his sharp features enhanced by the neatly trimmed beard that clung to his cheeks and chin, his eyes glittering under dark, straight brows.

Oh, Anna, you have such a way with words!

Kenilworth was like a dog with fleas, always  itching, always restless.

…the autumn wind painted roses on her cheeks.

My verdict – ****4.5 stars****
Book II of Ms. Belfrage’s series The King’s Greatest Enemy, is well researched with plenty of historical details that will transport the reader to the 14th century. Ms. Belfrage makes her characters come to life, and if you aren’t cringing with fear every time Hugh Despenser comes on scene, why not?! Evil radiates from that man.

This is a turbulent era in England’s history and even readers unfamiliar with this particular time period will be drawn into the fictional life of Kit and Adam de Guirande drawn against the reign of Edward II. Kit and Adam find their lives governed and their hands tied by the politics and intrigue surrounding them. Spies are everywhere. Kit serves Edward II’s queen, Isabella, who, untrusted and unloved, plots against her husband. Adam’s former allegiance to Edward’s enemy Roger Mortimer, now exiled in France, makes him a traitor in Edward’s eyes. Adam may have sworn his allegiance to Edward’s son, but Despenser and the king seek any excuse to throw him into the dungeon, or worse, execute him. I was genuinely frightened for both the fiery Kit and the loyal Adam, which shows how much I cared for them.

When they become embroiled in Mortimer’s plot to raise money and an army to fight Edward, the stakes become deadlier. Queen Isabella and Prince Edward are sent to France to negotiate a peace, and Adam and Kit with them. The tale becomes heart wrenching as their family is torn apart and the young prince becomes a pawn in his mother’s hands. Will Adam and Kit stand by the prince, the queen, and Mortimer? The story of King Edward II and his favorite, Hugh Despenser, is one that in and of itself sounds more fiction than fact. But it is true, an incredible twisted history that Ms. Belfrage breathes life into with the help of her fictional characters.

Highly recommended.

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

Historical Nottingham, York, and more – blog trotting adventures

king and country_small“A breathtaking gallop through Richard the Lionheart’s England.”
–Sharon Bennett Connolly on The Review blog

The knights have returned from the crusade to the Holy Land in For King and Country and face enemies at home that will take them from Lincolnshire to York to Nottingham, climaxing with the siege of Nottingham in 1194. Writing about these places required a lot of research. A writer always wants to transport the reader back in time (and preferably get it right!), but there is always a danger of overwhelming the reader with too much information.

Blog Trotting

In my blog trotting this week, I get to tell you about some of my research discoveries. I hope you will stop by to check out these posts:

“Richard the Lionheart and the Siege of Nottingham, 1194” on English Historical Fiction Authors 

and

“What Char Newcomb learnt while writing Battle Scars I & II”  on Matthew Harffy’s Bernicia Chronicles.

There will be more to come, so do follow me! Sign up for my Mailing List. In the future I’ll use it – sparingly – to offer exclusive content and and to let you be the first to know about special offers.

Giveaway

One lucky person will win a copy of the ebook. See The Review. Comment there for a chance to win.

For King and Country

is available on Amazon sites worldwide.

For King and Country official launch day!

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Traitors to the crown pit Henry de Grey and his friends against dangerous enemies.

For King and Country

is now available on Amazon in print and for Kindle

Read Chapter One
Read The Review. Comment there for a chance
to win an e-copy of For King and Country.

Let me take you away to life in 12th century England.
Henry de Grey has come home a changed man.

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Political intrigue, family loyalties tested, forbidden love
sweeping battles

Enjoy a tale that offers a different look at the origins of Robin Hood.

Find For King and Country on Amazon
sites worldwide.

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Join my Mailing List.
I promise, no spamming!

About For King and Country

England 1193
Civil war threatens as battle-scarred knight Henry de Grey returns from the Crusades. King Richard languishes in captivity, a prisoner of the Holy Roman Emperor. Traitors to the crown pit Henry and his friends against dangerous and unknown enemies.

Loyalties will be tested, families torn apart. Friend or foe? It is hard to tell one from the other.

The king’s brother John and his allies plot to usurp Richard’s throne. With the knights Sir Stephan and Sir Robin, Henry fights for king and country. But he must keep his feelings for Sir Stephan l’Aigle secret. Sure as arrow or sword, their forbidden love could destroy him.

War, political intrigue and passion… heroes… friends and lovers… and the seeds for a new Robin Hood legend await you…

 

 

Giveaway – Coming May 2 – For King and Country

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Print proofs have arrived!
There are only a few events in life that are more awesome than seeing your book in print. I could rattle off a number and let you add a dozen of your own. But holding a copy of the book you have spent hours researching, writing, revising, editing, editing, editing, and proofing & more proofing has to be pretty high on the ‘awesome’ list for most writers. (Did I mention editing? And proofing?)

You cannot order your copy yet – these are the print proofs that must go through another round of proofing. I am working on the ebook now – proofing and fixing formatting issues – and 3 readers have received that version as ARCs (advanced review copies).

For King and Country
will be available on May 2 on Amazon

Comment for the Giveaway
To get things rolling, I am  offering a signed paperback copy. Comment here or on my Facebook page for your chance to receive a copy. Entries remain open until midnight CT on April 30, 2016. Comment and provide your email, best in the form of jedimaster [at] rebel alliance [dot] com. The winner will be chosen at random. GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED, AND THE WINNER NOTIFIED. THANKS TO ALL WHO ENTERED HERE AND ON MY FB PAGE.

Watch for other promotions here. I’ll be doing a Kindle Countdown Deal for Men of the Cross in mid-April. You might want to read it before delving into For King and Country. Both books can be read as stand-alones, but the additional background of Men will provide a richer experience. And during the summer I will have a giveaway on Goodreads.

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Medieval man, sex, and mortal sin in Men of the Cross

A friend recently asked, “Why did you choose to write this story?” It’s a common question for writers. Many writers pen what they’d like to read. There is something inside our brains that drives an idea that we must bring to life.

Of course, I knew what my friend really meant: Why did I decide to write a novel about two men – Henry de Grey and Stephan l’Aigle – who find friendship, and ultimately love, when homosexuality in the 12th century was considered a mortal sin?

In an upcoming interview I tell novelist and historian Helena Schrader:

The story relates the human angle, recognizing homosexuality as part of the human condition. Certainly, “forbidden” love provides tremendous conflict… Men of the Cross lets me dive into Henry’s inner turmoil as he questions his beliefs. Stephan readily admits his preference for men, but has never known or expected love. It is self-discovery for both men as their friendship deepens.

Let me be clear – Men of the Cross is not erotica. As one reviewer wrote, “there isn’t much sex in this book. If that’s all you are looking for, find another book.” Men of the Cross is about the relationship, not the sex. Like many novels, there is sexual tension and attraction. Yes, there are a few sex scenes. I’d call them emotionally charged. A friend called one “steamy.” There are tender and passionate touches and kisses without being too graphic. There are naked bodies – barely (no pun intended). I’m a big believer in “fade-to-black.” The readers’ imagination can fill in the details.

I don’t want readers to lose sight of other aspects of Men of the Cross. It is more than a romance. It is about the horrors of war. It deals with war’s impact on a young knight – post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

Sex in the Middle Ages
It is important to remember that any sex outside of marriage was sinful: adultery, homosexuality, rape, incest, bestiality – all were mortal sins, whether of the male/female, male/male, or female/female varieties. Given the number of illegitimate children born to the nobility and to the clergy there was plenty of sinning going on! One step further: certain sexual acts inside marriage were mortal sins. According to the Church, sex was strictly for procreation and only sin-free if done in the missionary position. The Church had a running list of what days or times of year sex was permissible. One scholar noted that averaged about 4 days per month (Berkowitz, 2012). Any sex that violated these “rules” would damn your soul unless you were absolved.

Absolution for sodomy (as homosexuality was called in the Middle Ages) varied from place to place and was usually dictated by local attitudes. In many instances prior to 1300, the penance was no more severe than for any other sexual sins. It might be prayer or fasting for a specified time or a small fine when, under secular law, being convicted of killing a deer in the king’s Forest often meant certain death (Brown, 2012). And it is true that capital punishment for homosexuality existed in some countries well before the 12th century.  Secular laws in England against homosexual behavior did not appear until the second half of the 13th century (Boswell, 1981).¹ By 1300, secular laws against this “crime” existed almost universally (Berkowitz, 2012).

As for Church laws, Boswell notes “the approach to sexuality adopted by twelfth century theologians effectively ‘decriminalized’ homosexual relations altogether.”² Penitentials – the guidelines priests used to assign penances for specific sins – are telling. In the 8th century, a penance of 1 year was designated for male homosexuals, but for a priest going hunting it was 3 years. (Monk notes more severe penances in Anglo-Saxon times.)  At the turn of the 12th century, ecclesiastical legislation was introduced by the Council of London set to inform the general public of the “impropriety of such acts and insisted… ‘sodomy’ be confessed as a sin” (Boswell, 1981). However, the decree was not officially adopted, though priests continued to remind the Faithful to resist temptation and to confess so their mortal souls were not damned. One impetus of the proposed legislation of 1102 had been to admonish the clergy themselves after complaints were brought forth from within the Church about illicit behaviors. In ensuing centuries, the accusation of sodomy oftentimes was a political move to “blacken the name of an enemy” (Karras, 2005). One example of that: Philip IV of France, deeply indebted to the Knights Templar, used it against them in the 14th century.

Same-sex unions
Scholars Boswell, Berkowitz, and others write that same-sex relationships were tolerated or ignored. Same-sex unions – blessed in religious ceremonies – are recorded in many countries well into the 14th century. There is evidence in the historical record showing these unions were performed by the clergy (McGinnes, 2012). Should these all be defined as a spiritual or blood brotherhood? Can we truly know?

There are numerous cited incidences of actual or rumored male/male relationships in the Middle Ages. Many involved people high in the Church or who attained sainthood (e.g., the abbot Aelred of Rievaulx’s erotic writings of deep friendships with fellow monks; St. Sergius and St. Bacchus) or men of noble blood (e.g., William Rufus; Edward II). A Welsh chronicler named Gerald noted sanctioned unions in 12th and 13th century Ireland. Other “marriages” were reported in a number of European countries (Karras, 2012; Boswell, 1981).

Was King Richard I gay?
I was familiar with 20th century historians’ arguments that Richard the Lionheart was a homosexual. And as much as I love the incredible film The Lion in Winter, its writers may have cemented that idea in many individuals’ minds. More recent scholarship has refuted the interpretation of the evidence:

  1. On Richard lying with Philip Capet (the king of France): “at night their beds did not separate them.”
    – Men often shared beds in medieval times, but if these kings were intimate, would there not be more reports of their activities?
  2. Richard and his wife Berengaria of Navarre had no children
    – Richard had an illegitimate son
  3. A hermit visits Richard and tells him to “be mindful of the destruction of Sodom and abstain from what is unlawful.”
    – What is unlawful, also referred to as unnatural acts by the Church, could have referred to adulterous behavior. There is ample proof in the historical record of Richard’s sex life with women, but none about encounters with men. (And the lives of the famous were reported on, then, as now.)
    – When Richard was afflicted by illness, he confessed “the guiltiness of his life.” He received absolution, took back his wife, “and putting away all illicit intercourse, he remained constant to his wife.” Again, this may refer to his adulterous behavior.
    – The Biblical Sodom was a place of excess, gluttony, and sloth, not just sexual sins, so interpreting the hermit’s words must be done in the context of the times and with an understanding of events in Sodom.

(Items in quotes above are from de Hoveden.)

Medieval attitudes
Karras does agree a variety and complexity of medieval attitudes about sexuality existed. For every citation regarding toleration or overlooking of homosexual behavior in the Middle Ages, there are dozens more pointing to inhumane punishment dating back centuries earlier. However, she notes:

“The most striking feature of male same-sex relationships during the Middle Ages seems to have been that medieval society celebrated a type of deep, passionate friendship between men that modern society does not have. Men today who expressed their feelings for each other in the same way medieval men did would be universally believed to be sexually involved with each other. Medieval people either did not believe they were, or did not think it noteworthy if they were, because there is no comment about it.”

Back to Men of the Cross

Spoilers ahead…
Beyond the battles of the Third Crusade, conflict in Men of the Cross is centered on the characters’ inner turmoil rather than conflict directly with the Church. I did not need a priest to remind Henry what was considered “right” vs. “wrong.” He beat himself up with that dogma throughout a good part of the novel. That did not mean he (or other knights) looked down on men like Stephan, which appears to fit with Boswell’s and Karras’ description of society’s views. Henry and the knights with whom he served judged fellow soldiers on their loyalty and skills, not on their sexual preferences. And while Stephan is straightforward with Henry about his feelings on the Church and about who he is, he realizes very early on that Henry will not be amongst his “conquests.” (I use “conquests” in quotes – it is obvious in the novel that Stephan has been involved in consensual relationships.) Stephan begins to see how alone he has been, how he has covered those feelings behind lustful adventures and the blood-boiling effects of combat. He sees Henry’s naivete of battle and becomes concerned as a friend. And if friendship is all he can have with the younger knight, then so be it. Of course, life doesn’t always follow the road one expects.

“Forbidden” love
Did I ever consider other “forbidden” love for Henry? Why not a story where Henry fell in love with a Muslim, a princess, a laundress, or a whore?

These ideas seemed more like “fiction” than “reality” based on what I knew of Richard I’s army and the crusade. There may have been camp whores during the siege of Acre, but the army headed south within weeks of the siege’s end. Henry wouldn’t have had much opportunity to fall in love with one of them. The crusade chroniclers report that laundresses were the only women allowed by King Richard to accompany the army on the march towards Jerusalem. A laundress, like a prostitute, would have been below Henry’s class. Certainly that might happen in real life. A Muslim love? Again, this could have happened while Henry was in Acre and would have been frowned upon, though Richard did offer his sister’s hand to Saladin’s brother – an offer that was rejected by the way. And though Henry and Richard’s sister, Queen Joanna, develop a sweet, lovely friendship, I knew what history had in store for Joanna and chose not to invent a tryst. Sorry. Those ideas didn’t speak to me. Henry falling in love with a woman just wasn’t in the cards.

Arranged marriages
A further complication in the novel is the tradition of arranged marriages. Henry is the son of a minor baron – he needs a legitimate heir, hence marriage is a given. Henry accepts this (early on), but he is not enthused about arranged marriages. He is betrothed, but the girl back home does not stir him. He is no stranger to sex, and he doesn’t deny he enjoyed a tumble with one of the servant girls back home, but the feelings he begins to develop for Stephan confuse him.

Male bonding
Men at war engage in male bonding. For most that means a strong friendship:  they must rely on each other and share the common experiences of battle. “The bonds of friendship and brotherhood with those who you serve are greater than almost any known in the human experience. Shared danger, suffering and trauma bind soldiers together” (Padre Steve, 2009). What I depict in Men of the Cross is a growing deep, abiding trust and friendship between Henry and Stephan. Both men try to deny their feelings, but over time, they realize love is possible. Theirs is not a lustful or casual encounter (as Stephan’s earlier sex life was), but a loving, caring relationship. The “celebration” described by Karras was my intent in writing the knights’ story (though I didn’t discover Karras’ work until late last year). Henry and Stephan’s feelings and actions are not overt. In an army of 15,000-20,000 men, only their closest friends know.

Love
It is not unrealistic to imagine that amongst 15,000-20,000 soldiers some may have preferred male companionship of a sexual nature. That men did love each other. They are human after all.

“How can loving another person be a sin?”
–Stephan l’Aigle to Henry de Grey,
Men of the Cross

quote from Men of the Cross

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¹ Update: After seeing a post (and listening to the reading & translation) about AEthelberht’s Code, a law code written about 600 in Anglo-Saxon England, I was curious about whether my statement about secular laws in England was correct. I contacted scholar and academic research consultant Dr. Christopher Monk and he confirmed that neither the “Code nor any other Anglo-Saxon secular law contain a direct reference to same-sex acts. The Anglo-Saxon penitentials on the other hand have numerous references to various same-sex acts, both male and female. Boswell, quite frankly, is very misleading in his evaluation of homosexuality in the early medieval period. The Church in England did not tolerate it.” (You can read our back and forth comments on the linked post.)

² Boswell’s interpretation may relate to priests being told to tread very lightly when discussing this “unnatural behavior.” They shouldn’t be putting ideas in young men’s minds, so the subject was often avoided in the confessional.

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Sources

Berkowitz, E. Sex and punishment: four thousand years of judging desire. Berkeley, CA : Counterpoint, 2012.

Berkowitz, E. “When a medieval knight could marry another medieval knight.” The Awl. 2012. http://www.theawl.com/2012/05/sex-and-punishment

Boswell, J. Christianity, social tolerance, and homosexuality: gay people in Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian era to the fourteenth century. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Brown, D. “Monarchy – The Normans, William Rufus and Henry I.” on English Historical Fiction Authors. 2012.  http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2012/03/monarchy-normans-william-rufus-and.html 

De Hoveden, R.  The annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn, 1853. Original work published 1201?

Karras, R.M. Sexuality in Medieval Europe. New York: Routledge, 2005.

McGinnes, J. “Civil partnership, medieval style: in the days when same-sex marriage was a Christian rite.” Mailonline.com. 2012. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2142905/Civil-partnership-medieval-style-In-days-sex-marriage-Christian-rite.html

Monk, C. “A heavy price for light fingers.” The Anglo-Saxon Monk. 2014. http://anglo-saxon-monk.weebly.com/blog/a-heavy-price-for-light-fingers

“Same-Sex Relations in the Middle Ages.” Medievalist.net.  2011. (This is a bibiliography of works on the topic.) http://www.medievalists.net/2011/07/03/same-sex-relations-in-the-middle-ages/

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My novel, Men of the Cross, was designated a B.R.A.G. medallion honoree in November 2014. Get it in print and for Kindle on Amazon sites worldwide.