Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses Book Launch

It has been a manic few weeks. I was on Marlow FM talking about Anne Neville and Alice Chaucer, giving the scoop to Reading Today on Elizabeth Clerk and telling the Reading Chronicle all about what Reading was like in the fifteenth century. And then, I had my official book launch to celebrate the publication of Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses

The book is on a subject that is so dear to my heart; I wrote my university dissertation in 1998 on the different roles of women in Medieval Yorkshire and I'd always explored Medieval women's lives with interest, even when I was a food writer and bringing up my two young daughters. I wanted the launch to be two things: a show of respect for Medieval women's lives in general, and aligned with the themes of the book. And also I didn't want the evening to be stuffy or in any way 'highbrow'. It was to be a casual, friendly and accessible evening. And it was literally amazing. 

I reached out to Sue and Tamalia, who run Creativ.Spaces, a studio in Caversham near Reading. It's perfectly placed, with bus routes from Reading town centre or it's also an approximately 5-minute taxi ride from Reading station. Reading station is a main route on the GWR network as well as the Elizabeth Line, and you can get here from Paddington in around 20 minutes on a good day. The studio is also quite a large space - it fit 60 people mingling and chatting (and queuing for books) comfortably, and is decorated to look quirky and arty. There are vintage-style chairs and tables, amazing wall art and even a secret door leading to an adjacent room. 

I sat down with some of my artist friends. They were keen to celebrate the launch in some way, and came up with so many great ideas to relate their artwork to the themes in the book. Potter Debbie Page exhibited some of her beautiful moon jars, and also made a ceramic likeness of Joan Conys, an innkeeper from St Albans who lived in the town during the Second Battle of St Albans, when there was fighting in the streets. Deborah Pryn creates gentle and swirling images using alcohol inks, and she made a really gorgeous piece of artwork using colours of clothing mentioned in Elizabeth Fitzherbert's will in 1490. Elizabeth would certainly have approved! 

Amy Barton, of Two Lost Birds made a portrait of Edward IV's mistress Elizabeth (Jane) Shore as she may have looked towards the end of her life, beautifully painted over my words about her. Alina Luchianov painted a woman turning down a street, highlighting the importance of women's roles from all sections of society. It made me think of the aftermath of the Cade Rebellion of 1450 in London, after rebels attacked the city and women and children jumped into the river for safety. Sue Reeves painted a white and red rose with gorgeous texture and expression. Finally, textile artist Karen Tomalin exhibited a beautiful image of a hare, an animal so many of our women would have looked out over their estates and seen. It felt especially connected to Elizabeth Stonor, who lived near Henley-on-Thames whose home, Stonor Park, is still today a place where wild hare can be seen. I love Karen's images, they're so atmospheric and inspired by nature. 

We put out food and drinks, and I took over the main studio space with a table where I signed books and gave out goody bags full of appropriate treats, which included a Tudor rose painted on a wood slice decoration, bookmarks, art prints and a tasty treat and cup of tea to enjoy as you read. 

I also managed to do a little talk - just highlighting some of the women of the period linked to Caversham and Reading - Anne Beauchamp, Anne Neville, Margaret and Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth Clerk. There was also a stand-up knight called Sir Gerald, who people took selfies with! The event was really buzzing and everyone was so friendly and interested in the book. I got to chat to everyone that wanted a signed copy, we took lots of photos and even some orders for books when I sold out of preorders and the extra copies I'd brought with me. Thanks to everyone that came, it really made my day. If you're looking for someone to hold an event, whether that's a party, book launch, signing or exhibition then I really have to shout out to Creativ.Spaces. Get in touch and let them know that I sent you. 

Enjoyed this? You might also like The Witches of ReadingThe Women of Reading Abbey and The History of the Englefield Family in Berkshire. Or go up to the search bar on the top right of the page and search 'Reading' - there are lots of historical stories from the town that I've covered. 

My book, Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses is published by Pen and Sword Books. You can Order your copy here.

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