Thursday, October 19, 2017

My Guest Today: Author Denise Domning Shares Longships!

Welcome historical romance author Denise Domning to the blog. Denise writes and raises pigs and sheep on her farm in Northern Arizona.  Her latest book Awaken the Sleeping Heart, the first full length novel in her new "Children of Graistan" series, is set in 13th Century England and Ireland, and includes a trip across the Irish Sea in a Snekke. 

Today she is sharing with us England’s first naval victory and the mode of transportation in the 13th century.  

Be sure and comment and leave your email so we can find you! Denise is giving away a copy of her new book!
England’s First Naval Victory: The Longship

Until I started my latest book, Awaken the Sleeping Heart, none of my stories ever left the shores of England. My previous heroes were men who tended to stay put, guarding their fief from all comers, riding out on a destrier or a courser (never a palfrey), dressed in chain mail and carrying a broadsword.

Of course this wasn’t exactly how life was, even for my staid heroes. In a world organized along the lines of personal allegiances, the key to holding onto your properties was to visit frequently. All noblemen, and even lowly knights, were men constantly on the move, and a horse wasn’t their only mode of transport. In the case of many Anglo-Norman noblemen, this meant getting into a boat and crossing a sea. But what boat? 
The Longship, of course. This is the same vessel previously used by the Vikings, and is still the fastest way to go from shore to shore in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Low to the waves and sleek, with a big square central sail and benches fitted out for up to sixty rowers, this ship remains the Dreadnought of the seas.  Think “Lion in Winter” and the scene where Eleanor, having been freed from Salisbury Keep for a Christmas court, is being rowed upriver to Chignon. Although it looks to me that she’s traveling in a Snekke, the Longship’s smaller cousin.

As for England’s first naval victory, that win lies squarely on the shoulders of an unexpected hero, King John’s younger bastard half-brother, William Longèspee, the earl of Salisbury. William, who was unusually tall and earned his cognomen from the length of the sword he carries, is the illegitimate son of Ida de Tosny and Henry II. Needless to say, he did not start out his life as a sailor. He is, however, completely devoted to his elder half-brother and will do everything he can to support John. And that’s what turns him into England’s first admiral.

By 1213 John really needs his brother’s support. Since taking the English throne in 1199 the last son of Henry II has had nothing but trouble. First, his nephew Arthur of Brittany, the son of his elder brother Geoffrey, tried to claim England’s throne. It was a potent threat because primogeniture—oldest living son of the father takes the estate—isn’t yet legally established. There were more than a few men who thought Arthur had the better claim. For the record, Arthur accidentally drowned in a boating accident while his Uncle John was visiting. Whoops.

Meanwhile, King Philip of France has driven John out of Normandy, forcing those Anglo-Norman barons, including William Marshal, who yet have estates in Normandy to swear allegiance to him. And the barons of Poitou and the Aquitaine have flat out betrayed John, taking Philip as their new liege lord. Worst of all John had a years long spat with Pope Innocent III over naming the archbishop of Canterbury. To show England’s king just who he’s dealing with, the Holy Father put England under Interdict —forbidding priests from performing last rites, baptisms, and marriages—and excommunicated John. The religious situation has fed the muted rumblings of rebellion from John’s English subjects. Add a recent assassination attempt and Philip’s threat to invade England and you can see that John’s not having a good year.

Here lies William Longèspee
It’s the threat of an invasion that has William Longèspee, now viceroy of Ireland, either building or recruiting ships. He and his royal brother are determined to prevent that invasion by crossing the Channel and retaking Normandy, thus tying Philip to the Continent. It’s a reverse Norman Conquest if you will.

Although William certainly wasn’t born a seaman, I like to think he became one during this period. By May of 1213 his new fleet of around 500 ships gathers on the English side of the Channel in preparation for the crossing, but John dithers. The king is torn between keeping the fleet between Philip and England or sending his longships and the 700 knights they carry to aid the count of Flanders, whom Philip is harassing as he prepares to launch his invasion of England.

The decision is made on May 28, 2013 and the fleet launches for Flanders. Two days later they enter the mouth of the River Zywn where they find a huge French armada, some 1700 ships. But there’s no one on them. Philip has taken all of his army to destroy the city of Ghent. The English are no fools. They immediately pillage the French fleet.

All the ships are laden with both supplies—food and armaments—and the personal belongings of the French army. That includes things like spare swords or helmets or chain mail, all very expensive items. Once they’ve cleaned out the longships, the men of William’s fleet seize 300 of those ships for themselves, set fire to another hundred or so, then set sail for England, laughing all the way home.

Indeed, every man among them was made wealthy by the riches of the French, so wealthy that William Marshal’s biographer notes that “never had so much treasure come into England since the days of King Arthur”.

Knights on the sea. It wasn’t something I ever thought I’d write about, but don’t we all go where the tide takes us?


Stephen de Brazdifer sails from Ireland for England, seeking the bride promised to him by an ancient royal writ. But he’s too late. King John has already claimed the rich widow as his royal ward, wanting to cheat a man he dislikes, and keep her wealth for himself. If Stephen is to have his promised wife, he’ll have to steal her from his monarch.

For all her life Cecilia de Gradinton has cursed her wealth and beauty for the freedom they cost her. Now, newly widowed, with all hope of home and happiness gone, she rides toward her new prison under royal escort. But more than one deadly danger stalks her on the road to King John’s court.

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Keep up with Denise on her Website and Facebook.


  1. By the time I read Denise's "Seasons" series I was beginning to think I would never find someone writing stories set in the Middle Ages who cared enough to do some research. I was very pleased to discover that her stories are set in a recognisable medieval world.

    1. Oh, April, I'm so glad you like Denise's books. I have to ask, have you read my medieval novels?

  2. Thanks much, April! I appreciate the vote of confidence. Denise

  3. I just purchased AWAKEN THE SLEEPING HEART! Yay, Can't wait to read. A very interesting post.


  4. We have a winner! April Munday wins Denise's book! Congratulations!

    1. Let me know if for any reason you don't hear from Denise, April.