• Looking good at the Castle

    There’s a myth that eveybody in the middle ages ran around looking rough, with uncombed hair, black teeth, bad complections, and smelling rather bad.  Nothing could be further from the truth if contemporary records are anything to go by.  Beauty tips abound.

    Take hair for instance.  This applies to men and women:  mix dried rose petals, cloves, nutmeg and galangal with rose water and rinse through the hair.  Leave to dry.  Should smell re-e-a-ally good.

    For a smooth, touchable skin melt beeswax, almond oil, rose oil and frankicense in a dish over a flame.  Allow to cool.  Massage into face and body.  It also eases aches and pains after jousting.

    For bright eyes mix one part of wych hazel with four parts water.  Use as eye lotion.  Is said to improve eyesight too so you’ll see those pointed swords coming and it’ll give you an edge down at the butts.

    To lighten dark hair to look like an Italian blonde soak hair in a bowl of fresh urine.  OK so that does sound wiffy but if you rinse the hair with the rose petal concoction afterwards you should still have plenty of allure.

    Teeth should be brushed using a hazel twig with mashed up fennel and lovage.

    For pleasant breath chew a leaf of mint or parsley.

    To make lips looks red and kissable rub them with beetroot.

    To round off your beauty treatment go to one of the town baths (the stews) and have a bran soak.  Your skin will feel like silk.

    And then don your best poulaines and go to the feast at your nearest castle where you’ll be the belle or beau of the ball.



  • St Valentine’s Day

    Another of the things we can thank Richard II for is St Valentine’s Day.  He didn’t invent it, of course, but he and his beloved Anne made it a popular celebration in medieval England.  They spent time on a pleasure island in the Thames called Little Eyot where they could dance, and sing and listen to poets like Chaucer and Gower with their friends.  On the island they were well away from Richard’s snarling uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester, and his unwashed war-lord companions.

    It must have been beautiful on the island, sweet Thames flowing by, garlands of flares along the beach, decorated boats, fireworks, the best musicians in Europe, feasting and fun and everyone wearing the most gorgeous clothes that fashion could devise.

    Brutal Woodstock hated Richard and his friends so much that in 1388 when Richard was just turned twenty-one, he had the king’s friends who didn’t escape into exile, beheaded on Tower HIll, or hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.

    His ally, Bolingbroke, Richard’s cousin, who wrested the crown from Richard years later, must have had a sick sense of humour.  He chose St Valentine ‘s Day to have Richard murdered at Pontefract Castle.  Some Valentine.

  • It’s those tedious Tudors again

    Enough of this obsession with the tedious Tudors.  Yesterday I even heard Henry VIII described as ‘a hands-on gardener.’  Please!  I can just see him kneeling in the mud doing a spot of weeding.  Why is it the Tudors make people’s brains fly out and their eyes fill with pound signs?

    If you  want family betrayals, choose the Plantagenets.  If you want unfettered ambition, choose the Plantagents.  If you want blood and beheadings, choose the Plantagents.

    Let’s put the Tudors back on the shelf.  There’s all history to explore.

  • A Lead-lined Coffin

    It was Richard II’s birthday at Epiphany but it will also be the anniversary of his murder on St Valentine’s Day.

    He is believed to have been murdered by his ambitious cousin Henry Bolingbroke, one-time Duke of Lancaster, the usurper Henry IV.  King Richard’s body was carried out of Pontefract Castle at night in a wooden coffin.  When it reached London it was displayed before 20,000 people who came to pay their respects – or to see for themselves whether it really was King Richard, ‘the golden boy.’

    For this reason, and to put an end to the hopes of anybody thinking of over-turning Henry IV’s grab for power, his face was open to the public gaze.  It was said to have been serene in death.  And yet, the rest of his body had a lead lining hammered over it.  Was this to conceal the wounds that had been inflicted?  Only by exhuming the body from its tomb in Westminster Abbey where it lies next to his beloved wife Anne of Bohemia will we ever know the truth.

    DNA might also put to rest the rumour that, in fact, it is not King Richard at all, but a look-alike priest called Maskelyne who was murdered earlier.  Richard, the story goes, escaped to Scotland where the king there gave him a small annuity until 1419 when it stopped, presumaably because Richard had then died of natural causes.

    Is this true?

    Can we ever know?

    At least we would know if his DNA matched that of the other Plantagenets.  Or would we?  Maskelyne himself was said to be an illegitimate son of the Black Prince, Richard’s father.

    Mystery on mystery.

    This is why history is so fascinating.  A few answers, though, would help me sleep better at night.

    What do you think the truth is?

  • Publishers’ Weekly Review

    Another most pleasing review for The Dragon of Handale.  This one is starred and comes from Publishers’ Weekly.

    “Outstanding…Clark pulls everything together neatly in a moody, atmospheric whodunit while sustaining a high level of tension throughout.’


    This makes all those long hours sitting at my desk worth every minute.  Thank you.

  • Review of the Dragon

    I’m utterly delighted to have the first review in for The Dragon of Handale.  It’s from the prestigious Kirkus Review and they say:

    “This is a dramatic mystery lavishly studded with period detail.  Clark’s best to date.”





  • Happy Birthday!

    On this day in 1367 at the Feast of Epiphany Richard of Bordeaux, the future King Richard II of England, was born.  He was the second son of the Black Prince and the Fair Maid of Kent.  When his elder brother died he became king at the age of ten and was  crowned in Westminster Abbey.

  • Publication date!

    I’m really delighted to let you know that the Dragon of Handale is to be published by St Martins Press in March 2015!  I hope you’ll preorder a copy.  If you want a hint of what Hildegard does next, read on.

    Back from pilgrimage to Compostela, she is undecided about whether to leave behind her identity as ‘Mistress York’ and return to her Order (if they’ll have her back) or remain unprotected outside the Order.  To help her make up her mind the prioress sends her into the wilds of north Yorkshire to the remote house of correction, Handale Priory, where she’ll be able to think things over and decide what to do next.  But when she arrives, of course, all is not what it seems.

    The Handale nuns are hysterical with fear because a dragon is haunting the woods despite the high walls that enclose them and, worse, a young mason has already been killed in a most savage manner…There are other things, too, that make Hildegard fear for her own life and that of the nuns…what, for instance, is in the secret tower in the woods?  Who is Master Fulke and what power does he have over the priory?  Why are all the chivalry of the north meeting at nearby Kilton Castle?  And who has sent a courier riding so desperately across the moors, what is his destination – and  who are the two men following him with such malign persistence?

    Read book five The Dragon of Handale to find out!


  • HIldegard’s fan club

    Hildegard’s followers are increasing in number by the day.   It’s good to discover that readers are so thoroughly  enjoying her exploits and terrific when self-confessed medievalists are so enthusiastic about the series and appreciate my exploration of the times.  I was in London yesterday, doing some research for the next book, and your comments were so heart-warming, they make it all worthwhile.  And yes, with your help and enthusiasm I shall continue to follow Hildegard into the darkest side of Chaucer’s England, come what may.  Thank you.

  • One of my favourite medieval…

    …cities is York.  I’ve just made a flying visit there to talk to some intrepid Americans from the Smithsonian at the stunning Treasurer’s House near the Minster.  They asked some terrific questions and it was a real delight to find they’d started reading the Hildegard series.  Yes, I expect her to go on for some time yet.  I hope the sixth book, The Butcher of Avignon, will not disappoint.

    The seventh is already taking shape, its possible title:   The Scandal of the Skulls.

    Hildegard returns to England but while she’s been in Avignon Woodstock and Arundel have butchered most of King Richard’s closest advisors.  An encounter with someone from the past sets Hildgard on a collision course with the king’s enemies…

    It was a trip to Salisbury to climb the famous steeple there that showed me what happens next.