When The Anarchy reigned…

Let me tell you a bit about a time they called The Anarchy.

No, it’s not the 1970s Punk rock era. The Anarchy, as it became known, was a 12th-century time of civil war and unrest. It’s more impactful than the 1970s, and certainly more deadly.

When King Henry I of England died on 1st December 1135, he left the nobles of the kingdom in a predicament. Having lost his only legitimate son and heir, William the Ætheling, when the White Ship sank off the coast of Normandy in November 1120, Henry had made his barons swear allegiance to his daughter, Matilda. Yes, a woman.

That’s the moment when her cousin, Stephen of Blois, pounced and took ‘her’ throne. He was crowned King of England on 22nd December 1135. Stephen’s brother, also named Henry, a cleric, spread word that the late king had changed his mind on his deathbed and pronounced his support for Stephen. Whether that was true or not is anyone’s guess. But for the population of south-east England, and the nobles who considered Stephen as a good leader, it did the trick. He swiftly gathered support.

Falaise Castle (c) Cathie Dunn

Matilda, by then 33 years old and pregnant, had been married to the Holy Roman Emperor when she was still a child, and on his death had returned, childless, to her father’s court. Always mindful of his dilemma, Henry married Matilda off to Geoffrey, count of Anjou, 11 years younger than his wife. It wasn’t a love-match, and they lived apart most of the time. But despite their obvious and well-recorded differences, they had three sons.

Tour Marguerite, Argentan, Normandy (c) Cathie Dunn

When Matilda – still in Normandy in December 1135, meeting with her own supporters and considering her position safe – heard of Stephen’s treachery, it was too late. Many English nobles had already sworn their loyalty to her cousin.

The next two to three years were spent building up a following in Anjou and Normandy. Castles were taken, fields scorched, as Geoffrey and Stephen battled for the county. Stephen eventually had to retreat. He also had to focus on rebellions from the Scots, with incursions into northern England, in south Wales and in Cornwall. After a bright start, his luck had begun to turn.

When Matilda’s older half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, rose in support of her claim in 1138, the outcome was clear: civil war. He held Gloucestershire, and many surrounding areas supported him. When he and Matilda arrived in England in 1139, they managed to gain most of their supporters in the West Country. Still, the Pope favoured Stephen, so the Church was equally divided.

But fate favoured neither Matilda nor Stephen. Both won and lost battles. Both gained and lost supporters. The nobles often veered from one to the other, depending on how the wind blew. They became unreliable, their loyalty questionable.

When Stephen was caught during the Battle of Lincoln in 1141, many thought the troubles were over, but they’d only just begun. Stephen’s wife, also called Matilda (or Maud) the rich heiress to the county of Boulogne, rallied his supporters with the help of Flemish mercenaries. The south east was strongly in his favour, and even the Empress Matilda’s attempts to have herself crowned Queen of England failed when Queen Maud’s troops rallied the Londoners, and Matilda was chased out of the city.

When her brother Robert was caught by Queen Maud’s supporters outside Winchester in 1142, he was swapped for the king, and all went back to what it was before. It was a huge blow to Matilda’s cause.

As civil war raged on – both sides attacking castles and strongholds, gaining some and losing others – the population suffered. Crops were burned, towns sacked, and you never knew who was friend or foe. Anarchy reigned supreme.

Robert of Gloucester died in 1147, peacefully, and by 1148, Matilda returned to Normandy, making the county her focus over the coming years. Her eldest son, Henry, however had only just begun to stake his claim in a couple of futile attempts at invading England. When, in 1152, he unexpectedly married Eleanor of Aquitaine, sole heiress of a vast domain that reached south to the Pyrenees (a thorn in the eye of the French king, her divorced husband), many began to take his claims more seriously. His power grew, and his incursions into England grew more and more successful. Eventually, in the Treaty of Winchester in 1153, Stephen agreed to Henry as his successor. However, Stephen would remain king for as long as he lived – which could be years, and even decades – and his surviving son William was rumoured to have Henry assassinated to gain the crown. No one was safe.

Spires of the church of Saint Martin, Argentan, Normandy (c) Cathie Dunn

King Stephen died in October 1154, and the path was finally clear for Henry. He had himself crowned King of England and asserted his rule immediately. Of course, Henry had his fair share of challenges over the decades, but that’s for another time.


It was around twenty years ago, as a member of an online group called Medieval Enthusiasts, when I first heard about The Anarchy. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the chain of events Henry I’s death unleashed. My favourite character is Robert of Gloucester. Had he been legitimate, or had he been allowed to inherit the throne despite his illegitimacy, he could have been King of England, and none of the strife and warfare would likely have happened. He held huge amounts of respect. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.

In my novel, Dark Deceit, my (fictional) protagonist, Sir Geoffrey de Mortagne, a knight, is undersheriff of Gloucestershire – and a spy for the Empress. He walks in royal circles, takes part in battles before having to save a young heiress from herself, and a man he’d known when he was young as a friend, but who was by now an implacable enemy. Dark Deceit begins in 1141, after the Battle of Lincoln.

Geoffrey de Mortagne and the Empress Matilda also feature in a short story in our new collection, Doorways to the Past, released on 30th July 2020.

You can find both titles on Amazon:

Dark Deceit:  mybook.to/Dark_Deceit

Doorways to the Past:  mybook.to/DoorwaystoPast

Cathie’s Amazon author page:  author.to/CathieDunn

Cathie’s website: www.cathiedunn.com

Medieval gate (public domain)

Discover historical research with Cathie Dunn

Hello, everyone! I hope you’re all keeping safe and well. We’ve been isolating here in France for 2 1/2 weeks now, but with plenty of books to read and several plots to dive into, I can’t complain about being bored. Fact is, there still aren’t enough hours in the day to get bored!

But today, I’d love to tell our readers a wee bit about historical research, giving the example of my Scottish romance adventure, Highland Arms.

As my readers will know, I love history. I’m fascinated by Scottish history, particularly medieval and Jacobite, English medieval and Tudor, and the Norman conquests across Europe. Add to that the odd foray into the reigns of Charlemagne and Louis XIV…  Oh, I could go on!

Anyway, my bookshelves are creaking under the weight of history tomes, but in between those, you’ll find little booklets, their content collated in small Highland or Normandy communities, released by small local printers, which provide inspirations galore. Those are the jewels in the crown, as you’ll discover important little details that make your plot just that little more authentic.

Ballachulish, Loch Linnhe

Highland Arms is set in the Scottish Highlands, near the dramatic hills of Glencoe and the hamlet of Ballachulish, in 1720. Having visited the area many times (and missing it much from a distance), the decision of where to set Highland Arms was an easy one. I loved to create a novel based on the stunning landscapes and troublesome history of my favourite area in Scotland.

Even the ‘Drovers Inn’ mentioned in the novel is based on a real inn: the cosy Clachaig Inn! Visitors of the Scottish Highlands should check it out. (And no, I’m not on commission, sadly!)

Baile a’ Chaolais, Ballachulish’s Gaelic name, means ‘village of the narrows’. It lies at the junction where Loch Leven flows into the much larger Loch Linnhe. The original village lay in what is now North Ballachulish (Highland Arms is set just a couple of miles to the north along the shore of Loch Linnhe), with a settlement in South Ballachulish, now linked by a bridge, established later. I used a local historian’s accounts (one of those useful booklets) for details smuggling activities in the area, which I incorporated into the novel. 

Ballachulish is less than a mile from Glencoe village, at the entrance to the Glencoe hill range. The small villages nestle at the bottom of hills, with clouds always hovering low over the mountaintops. It is a highly atmospheric place. Scottish history buffs will know the sad story of the place, the Massacre of Glencoe that befell Clan Macdonald in 1692. You can still sense the desolation today as you travel through the glen. I used the melancholy of the area and incorporated it into a scene where the heroine travels on horseback, listening to tales of  the (then) fairly recent massacre. The low mist and drizzle, which tends to be the norm in Glencoe, completes the setting.

1720 was a time of great upheaval, only five years after the first major Jacobite rising of the early 18th century. Spies lurked everywhere, and Highlanders didn’t know who they could trust. Clans fought against each other, plotting and seeking their own advantage. Jacobites were lying low, defeated but not giving up. A tale of a ship carrying arms stranded in a northern Highland loch (another fabulous booklet) gave me with the perfect backstory – the hero needed the muskets to start another rebellion. Or so he hoped…

So you see, it’s not necessarily the big, generic historical accounts that provide authors with the best plot ideas; sometimes it’s the little stories, the tales collated and written down by locals, and spotted in a dusty little museum, that make the best storylines.

Keep looking out for them!

About Cathie:

Cathie Dunn writes historical mystery & romance set in Scotland, England and France. A hobby historian, her focus is on medieval and Jacobite eras.

She has four historical novels published:

Highland Arms and A Highland Captive (the Highland Chronicles Tales);
Dark Deceit, the first in The Anarchy Trilogy, set in England & Normandy;
Love Lost in Time, a dual timeline story set in AD 777 and present day in the south of France;
Silent Deception, a romantic Gothic novella set in Victorian Cornwall.

Cathie lives in historic Carcassonne, south-west France, with her husband, a rescue dog and two cats. She currently works on a medieval murder mystery and the sequel to Dark Deceit.


Website: www.cathiedunn.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cathie.dunn1

Twitter: www.twitter.com/cathiedunn

Amazon:  author.to/CathieDunn

Cathie Dunn’s Dark Deceit joins Ocelot Press

We’re thrilled to share that Cathie Dunn‘s bestselling novel, Dark Deceit, is now available through Ocelot Press.

In a gripping combination of murder mystery, historical setting, and romance, Dark Deceit takes you to medieval England and Normandy in the era that became known as ’the Anarchy’ – the civil war waging for two decades between King Stephen, the usurper, and the Empress Matilda, rightful heir to the English throne.

Cathie is currently working on the long-awaited sequel.


A tale of danger, betrayal and love in medieval England & Normandy

On his return from battle at Lincoln, Geoffrey de Mortagne, undersheriff of Gloucester and spy for the Empress Matilda, assists a dying knight who had been ambushed. Promising to look after the welfare of the knight’s only daughter, Geoffrey stays at her manor, investigating the murder. Keen to join the Empress on her progress through England, he is torn between his oath and his duty.

Left to defend herself and her manor following her father’s murder, Alleyne de Bellac reluctantly accepts Geoffrey’s support. But as she doesn’t trust the taciturn stranger, she asks Will d’Arques, an old friend of her father’s, for help. But loyalties change, and she is no longer able to tell truth from lie. Her life in danger and her inheritance at stake, Alleyne must decide which man to trust.

Discover England and Normandy divided by a brutal civil war, where vows are broken as men switch allegiances between two sides.

Dark Deceit is the first in The Anarchy Trilogy. The second instalment will be released in 2020.

The Kindle version is now available on Amazon, with the paperback version to follow shortly.  Enjoy the read!

Meet the Ocelots: Love Lost in Time

I’m thrilled to be part of the fabulous Meet the Ocelots event. I hope our readers will enjoy discovering our books and our characters!

Prepare to meet the heroine in my upcoming release, Love Lost in Time, a dual-timeline tale set in beautiful Carcassonne. 

But first, a little teaser:

A tale of love, death and redemption…

AD 2018

Languedoc, south-west France

Madeleine Winters must live in her late mother’s old stone house in south-west France for one year before she can claim her inheritance – and sell it! Reluctantly leaving her life in England, she begins to renovate the house. But she’s not prepared for all the discoveries…

Is it her imagination when she hears a woman’s voice? Or when the ground shakes?

When ancient human bones belonging to a female are found beneath the kitchen floor, the mystery deepens. How did the woman end up buried, without a sarcophagus and all alone, in that particular spot in the Cabardès hills? 

And why were her bones broken?

AD 777

Septimania, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea

17-year-old Nanthild attends Charlemagne’s court with her father, where she is introduced to Bellon of Carcassonne. Unimpressed by the blustering young warrior, Nanthild is shocked when Charlemagne and her father arrange their wedding as a gesture of ensuring Bellon’s support in the king’s conquest of the volatile southern region of Septimania. 

Despite his Visigoth origins, Bellon is installed as Count of Carcassonne, and he soon has to face challenges to Frankish rule that often keep him away from home – and his family.

Bellon’s absences make it easy for Nanthild to keep her calling as a healer and wise woman from him, and she continues to visit those in need of her help. 

But dangers lurk on her journey…


Nanthild is the daughter of a Frankish count in the late 8th century. Her path takes her from Francia to the sunburnt southern region of Septimania, as part of the Franks’ expansion. A hotbed of fighting between Visigoths, Moors and Franks, the area along the Mediterranean Sea has seen much suffering, but a newly appointed count of Carcassonne, Bellon – of Visigoth descent – should bring much-needed stability. And a link to the Frankish king, Charles – who would later become known as The Great. That link is Nanthild.

But not everyone at Charlemagne’s court is content with the king’s choice…

Nanthild leaves the cooler north-east behind for life in a volatile area, with a man she has only met once. But fortunately, he turns out to be a good husband, who is also often away. This makes it much easier for her to keep a secret – she is a Pagan. But she is also a wise woman who knows about herbs and potions, and she uses her skills to help those who need it. 

As the years pass, she bears Bellon two healthy sons, whilst still continuing with her calling, and she manages to keep her beliefs secret. She faces political and personal challenges, but fate always smiles on her.

Until one day, when she is on her way home from helping a young woman give birth with her companion and her escort…

Septimania was a sunny, dry region in south-west France which was until recently called the Languedoc-Roussillon, but it has since merged with the Midi Pyrenées to become the large new Occitanie region. Parts of Septimania were held by the Moors, who often allowed Christians and Jews to practice their religion openly, though they still had to submit to Moorish rule. However, not all was peaceful, so when the Franks arrived from the north, the fighting began anew.

Carcassonne was inhabited in Roman times, when the first walls were built. You can still see remnants of those ancient walls, and of those built by the Visigoths and later conquerors. In the 8th century, it was a crucial defensive site on the border to Iberia, then ruled by Moors and Visigoths.

Mountain tribes such as the Vascones (the modern Basques) dealt Charlemagne a massive blow when they ambushed his train in Roncevaux in the western Pyrenees. And the Moor and Visigoth rulers of various cities didn’t give in easily either.

Whilst Bellon is a real person, the first count of Carcassonne, Nanthild is my invention. Nothing is known of his wife, and the only certainty about his offspring is two sons, Guisclafred and Oliba. Other name of potential sons appear in some records, but are likely in fact Bellon’s grandsons. 

Nanthild’s disappearance is the key moment in Love Lost in Time

Love Lost in Time will be released on 28th November 2019, and the Kindle version is now available on pre-order at Amazon. 

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