Sunday 21 April 2024

Will she pay for her husband's mistakes, or will she manage to escape from a terrible fate?

A Court of Betrayal
By Anne O'Brien

Publication Date: 29th February 2024
Publisher: Orion 
Page Length: 445 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction


The Welsh Marches, 1301

Strong-willed heiress Johane de Geneville is married to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, at just fifteen years old.

Soon Johane finds herself swept up in a world of treacherous court politics and dangerous secrets as her husband deposes Edward II and rules England alongside Queen Isabella.

Yet when Roger is accused of treason, she is robbed of her freedom and must survive catastrophic events in her fight for justice - with her life, and her children's, hanging in the balance...

Will she pay for her husband's mistakes, or will she manage to escape from a terrible fate?



The Castle of Trim in Ireland, 1299

I shivered. It might have been the dank cold as I stood at the foot of the dais in the cavern of the Great Hall of my grandfather’s castle. Instead it was an unpleasant mingling of fear and apprehension. I was thirteen years old, on the cusp of maturity, and I had been summoned. Beside me stood my two younger sisters: Beatrice, a year younger than I, Maud still a child of eight.

‘I have been considering the future of the de Geneville family,’ announced my grandfather, slapping one jewelled hand against the documents he held in the other. Geoffrey de Geneville, now bowed with age but still thickset, bristling with authority, his hair as grey as a badger pelt, looked beneath his brows at me. ‘It is my desire that you, Johane, will wed the heir of one of the English Marcher lords.’

Since Geoffrey de Geneville, Baron de Geneville, Justiciar of Ireland and dominant landowner in the Welsh Marches, decreed that it would be so, there was no doubt in my mind that it would happen. It was my grandfather who ruled my life and my fate.
‘Marriage?’ my mother, Lady Jeanne de Geneville, queried. She too had been ordered to hear the pronouncement. ‘I did not know. She is still very young …’ 

‘Why should you know?’ my grandfather said as if she were a fool to ask. His word was law. Our father, his son, Piers de Geneville, was long dead.

‘When will I wed this Marcher heir, my lord?’ I asked my grandfather.

‘When the negotiations are complete.’

‘Will I meet with him?’

‘When the financial contracts have been signed.’

‘What will …?’

My grandfather cast the documents onto the rough board at his side. ‘God’s Blood, girl. Do you have any more questions?’

I did not dare.

‘What of me, grandfather?’ Beatrice risked his wrath. ‘When will I marry?’

His eye slid to the abandoned sheaf of parchments. 

‘You will not wed. Nor you, Maud. You will both take the veil.’

Silence cut through the air, sharp as my grandfather’s battle-sword, harsh as his voice. 

‘No, my lord. Surely not …’ Our mother sounded as horrified as I felt.

‘I’ll hear no argument.’

‘But it is a cruel fate for such young girls.’

Geoffrey de Geneville’s eyes blazed with long-suppressed fury, some days, as today, not suppressed at all.

‘If you had carried a son, a de Geneville heir, we would not now be in this predicament.’

If the silence was heavy before, now it could be tasted, bitter as unripe fruit on the tongue. I was aware that my mother’s fingers had curled into the cloth of her skirts as she wilted under such an attack. I presumed it was not for the first time. The accusation had the air of long-usage.

‘You will inform your daughters of the need for this,’ my grandfather commanded, ‘and of their need for obedience. It will be done.’

Scooping up the documents, he marched from the room, leaving behind a chasm of shock. I held out my hand to Beatrice but she knocked it aside and ran to the stairs towards the private chambers. Maud, although not understanding the full weight of this declaration began to weep in loud ugly sobbing until my mother drew her towards a stone window-seat.

I could find nothing pertinent to say. My mother, Jeanne de Lusignan, much sought after as a bride, had given birth only to girls, not one son to inherit the de Geneville name and lands from our father. Thus the man who wed each one of us, the de Geneville daughters, would expect to take a share of the vast de Geneville estates, even a third each. Our grandfather was single-minded in his determination to pass the estates in their entirety, in England and Wales and Ireland, as well as de Lusignan lands in France, into the hands of one man who could protect them. 

Oh, I understood the politics of this decision. He chose what he considered to be an obvious solution. Send my sisters as Brides of Christ, unwed and childless for all time, and settle the whole inheritance on my shoulders, offering me as a bride to a powerful family. My sisters would pay the price for my good fortune, incarcerated until the day of their death. My gain had been my sisters’ appalling loss.

My mother was speaking.

‘You will have an assured future as an influential wife, Johane. You should thank the Blessed Virgin for her grace in this decision.’

But at what expense? I sat on the floor at my mother’s feet and held Maud’s hand, weighing my emotions in the scales. On the one side a deep regret and sorrow for my sisters, on the other a tingle of bright expectancy. Which one weighed the heavier, I could not rightly say. I had dared to ask one more question before the door had closed on the back of my grandfather.

‘What is the name, sir, of this heir of a Marcher lord whom I will wed?’

Lord Geoffrey looked back over his shoulder, for once willing to pander to my inquisitiveness.

‘His name is Roger Mortimer.’

As soon as I could escape I sought out Father Anselm, our priest.

‘Do we know when Roger Mortimer was born, sir?’ I enquired. Father Anselm was an old man, long in our service, bent and short-sighted with a voice that quavered when he sang the responses in the Mass. If Lord Geoffrey was negotiating a marriage, Father Anselm would know every detail of it.

‘We do, child. We know the exact date. If I can find the document ...’

He riffled through a pile of parchments taken from a cache in the wall; some new, some dog-eared. I sat on a stool at his side and waited. There was no hurry.

‘Here we are.’ His finger traced down the list of past Mortimers and their brides. ‘The young Mortimer was born on the twenty-fifth day of April in the Year of Our Lord 1287. He is a year younger than you are. I knew that I had it somewhere …’

Father Anselm returned to re-arranging his manuscripts; I left him, but not to return to the solar. My mother being a collector of interesting books and manuscripts, I knew which one I would consult, thus I crossed the inner courtyard to the chamber high in the keep, where my grandfather conducted business. There I discovered the one book that I wanted by that most erudite of scholars Master Michael Scot. It was a book which contained the art of astrology. Sitting in my grandfather’s chair with its carved back, shuffling in its wide seat, I simply turned the magical pages with some care.

Some would call this magic, even wizardry, and look askance. I smoothed my fingers over the pages with their bright, perhaps gaudy pictures, to enjoy the bright depictions of the zodiacs. I loved the artistry, the flamboyant words beneath. Would my mother approve of my interest in what some might call sorcery? I had watched her turn these pages more than once, even though she was never slow in kneeling and offering prayers to the Blessed Virgin.

Now I sought the pages dealing with those born under every heavenly constellation. The one I wanted was Taurus, the masterful bull, dominating the lives of those born in the latter days of April. What would Master Scot have to say about such a man, about Roger Mortimer, who would be my husband? Slowly I read through the words. 

Such a man will be a reliable friend, a devoted husband. Once gained, his loyalties are fixed and permanent. 

It pleased me. So far so good.

Beware though. Such a man can be stubborn and possessive, an uncompromising adversary once his enmity is gained. He has an arrogance and an ambition to be a man of power. Nothing will stand in his way.

That was good to know too. There was much to think about here.

I stood to return the book to the coffer where it was kept safe from dust and mice, then sat again, turning to the page with the Great Horned Buck. Capricorn. My own sign. I knew the description here by heart.

The man under the star of Capricorn is a master of discipline and self-restraint, quick to impose his will on others and efficient in the doing of it. But beware: he can be driven to anger, unforgiving when an enemy is made. An uncomfortable man to live with.

Which I thought to be a fairly accurate summing up of me, for it could apply to a woman as well as to a man. My mother said I had the making of a managing female.

I replaced the book in its safe home, considering this image of a man directed by the stars of Taurus. An interesting meld of conflicting characteristics. Devoted but possessive. Reliable, but uncompromising when alienated. Would this guarantee a happy marriage? It spoke of much conflict to me and yet his loyalty could be strong. I must ensure that I never became his enemy, but then, why would I? I would be his wife. I laughed a little, and with a flutter of excitement. Roger Mortimer would also have much to learn about me. 

I returned to Father Anselm’s chamber to discover more information that Master Michael Scot could not tell me. 

‘There is a question I would ask, Father. Two questions in fact.’

‘Then ask them, my daughter.’

‘Is this young man worthy of me?’

‘Indubitably. Your grandfather would not otherwise have chosen him. He will be a powerful Marcher lord in the fullness of time.’

I nodded, accepting this judgement. ‘My second question. Is this Roger Mortimer good to look upon? Is he handsome?’

Father Anselm smiled with benign understanding.

‘You need have no fears on that matter, my daughter. It is said that he is comely enough to take any maiden’s eye.’

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A Court of Betrayal

Anne O’Brien

Anne O’Brien was born in West  Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

She now lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, on the borders between England and Wales, where she writes historical novels. The perfect place in which to bring medieval women back to life.

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  1. Anne O'Brien is one of my favourite historical fiction authors. My favourite book so far is The Queen of the North.

    1. Anne is one of mine as well. The Queen of the North was fabulous.

    2. Thank you for your kind words.

  2. Anne O'Brien is one of my favourite authors as well. I wish they would make her books into movies like they did with Philippa Gregory's. In my opinion, Anne's books are so much better than Philippa's.

    1. Thank you. We could certainly do with some medieval films!

  3. Congratulations on your new release, Anne.

  4. I have always felt so sorry for Johane de Geneville. She had such a tragic life. If it may ask, what about Joan inspired you to write her story?

    1. Hi Jamie. I wrote about Joan de Geneville because I consider her to be a woman of remarkable courage and resilience. She may have had much to struggle against but I do not see her at all as a tragic character. The other people in her story are well known, Joan less so, but she was definitely a survivor and deserves to have her story told.

    2. Indeed she does! I think it is so sad that the stories about the women of the era are not so well known.

  5. Hi Anne, just wanted to say I love your books.

  6. Your book sounds amazing, Anne. I wish more authors would write about these extraordinary women.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx