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The Coffee Pot Book Club Presents "His Castilian Hawk" by Anna Belfrage

Please make welcome the lovely Anna Belfrage to the Tavern! We're celebrating her new book release, His Castilian Hawk (The Castilian Saga, Book 1)! I'm eager to read this intriguing historical story. The ale and mead are flowing, so grab a mug and let's take a look at Anna's book...


For bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, being given Eleanor d’Outremer in marriage is an honour. For Eleanor, this forced wedding is anything but a fairy tale.

Robert FitzStephan has served Edward Longshanks loyally since the age of twelve. Now he is riding with his king to once and for all bring Wales under English control.

Eleanor d’Outremer—Noor to family—lost her Castilian mother as a child and is left entirely alone when her father and brother are killed. When ordered to wed the unknown Robert FitzStephan, she has no choice but to comply.

Two strangers in a marriage bed is not easy. Things are further complicated by Noor’s blood-ties to the Welsh princes and by covetous Edith who has warmed Robert’s bed for years.

Robert’s new wife may be young and innocent, but he is soon to discover that not only is she spirited and proud, she is also brave. Because when Wales lies gasping and Edward I exacts terrible justice on the last prince and his children, Noor is determined to save at least one member of the House of Aberffraw from the English king.

Will years of ingrained service have Robert standing with his king or will he follow his heart and protect his wife, his beautiful and fierce Castilian hawk?

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A Message from Anna Belfrage

Doing her duty – the travails of a medieval queen

In 1254, the fifteen-year-old Prince Edward married the not yet thirteen-year-old Doña Leonor (Eleanor) of Castile. The little bride came with a good pedigree. Not only did she have Fernando III of Castile (the future St Fernando) as her father, she also had Plantagenet blood, in that her great-grandmother was Henry III’s aunt, Eleanor of England, who wed Alfonso VIII of Castile. Plus – and this was a major point in her favour – she came from a notably fertile family. Her mother had given Fernando five children. Her paternal grandmother had produced five children during seven years of marriage. And as to Eleanor of England, she had presented her husband with twelve children – one every other year or so. With all these fertile females up her family tree, no one was particularly worried about the mandatory male heir. In the fullness of time, Edward’s new wife would surely present him with a healthy, squalling son.

The (very young) married couple took to each other like a house on fire. This resulted in a stillborn baby in 1255, the first of sixteen (at least fourteen) children. At the time, Eleanor was not yet fourteen, so I imagine this was a traumatic experience. There was a gap of some years – years in which the love between Edward and Eleanor grew into something very strong and permanent. Whether or not there were miscarriages, we don’t know, but in 1261 Edward and Eleanor at last welcomed a daughter, Katherine, into this world.

Little Katherine died at three, and one year later, in 1265, Eleanor was delivered of yet another daughter, Joanna, who died some months later. By now, Eleanor must have been very concerned: she was failing in her single task as the wife of a future king, namely that of presenting her husband with a male heir. At last, in 1266, shouts of joy rang through the birthing chamber: Eleanor had been delivered of a son, baby John. In 1268 yet another son, Henry, saw the light of the day. Two boys, albeit that little Henry was sickly. To round things off, a healthy daughter, Eleanor, was born in 1269.

In 1270, Edward took the cross. Eleanor would rather tear out her heart than stay behind while her husband set off to face God knew what dangers, so off they went together, their children left in the care of their grandmother and, in the case of the precious heir, his great-uncle. In 1271, there was a stillborn child. In 1272, while in Palestine, Edward and Eleanor welcomed yet another daughter, Joan. By then, they would have heard that their son John had died and what little joy they experienced at the birth of their daughter soured into fear when Edward was almost murdered. They turned homeward, learning along the way that Henry III was dead. Edward was now king, and the pressing matter of a male heir became even more pressing – little Henry was not expected to live long.

In 1273, son number three, Alphonso, was born. A fine, lusty son, and Eleanor must have wept in relief. It was therefore with great happiness Edward and Eleanor celebrated their coronation in 1274. Even if little Henry died some months later, they did have their lovely Alphonso – and two healthy little girls. Does not seem much, given that Eleanor had given birth nine times. Nine. As she was only thirty-three, she could look forward to several more pregnancies. Yippee…

1275, 1276, 1277, 1279 – four pregnancies, four births, resulting in four little girls of whom two died. But at least Alphonso, this apple of his parents’ eyes, thrived.

1281 – a little boy came and went like a shadow in the night. But still, they had Alphonso.

1282 – Elizabeth of Rhuddlan was born. A healthy child, and now there were five daughters – plus the precious Alphonso.

In April of 1284, a heavily pregnant Eleanor was in Wales with her husband. And there, in the building site that was Caernarvon Castle, Eleanor was delivered of a boy. A boy! Eleanor smiled and wept as she presented her husband with the much-desired spare. And as to Alphonso, their sweet son was now old enough to wed, and a marriage had been arranged for him with Margaret, daughter of the Count of Holland. For a little while everything was perfect in the Eleanor-Edward household. Until Alphonso fell ill, dying in August of 1284.

Alphonso lived the longest of all those children who died. Long enough for his parents to pin hopes on him, long enough to grow from an anonymous baby into an adored boy. And then, just like that, he died. It must have been utterly devastating. Yes, they had Prince Edward, but both Eleanor and Edward knew just what frail things children were – after all, with Alphonso they buried a tenth child.

Eleanor was not to have any more children. After sixteen births, she was worn out, and besides, her health was failing. All hopes for a surviving male heir now rested on Edward, and even if he was a robust child, there were concerns that he too would die young.

In 1290, Eleanor died. Edward was numb with grief – so much so that for three whole days all royal business was suspended. But life goes on, and Edward had a duty to the crown – and his dynasty – to ensure there was more than one little boy in line to the throne. So in 1299, Edward married a second wife, the pretty and vivacious sister of the king of France. At the time, he was sixty and she was twenty – and fertile enough to present him with two beautiful and healthy sons.

In the event, these little spares would not be needed. In 1307, Eleanor’s lastborn, Edward of Caernarvon, became king after his father. I daresay she would have been mightily pleased. All those pregnancies, all those babies, all those losses, but at least she had done her duty: she had birthed the next king.

In The Castilian Hawk, Eleanor plays a central role. Already in her forties, she worries about her husband, his immortal soul—and the future of her surviving children. Like most women, Eleanor is willing to go to extremes to protect those she loves, something which will have a major impact on the life of my protagonists, Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor.


Meet the Author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.

More recently, Anna has published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. While she loved stepping out of her comfort zone (and will likely do so again ) she is delighted to be back in medieval times in her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love.

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