HIS CASTILIAN HAWK: Seven Questions for Anna Belfrage [INTERVIEW]

In His Castilian Hawk, a man must choose between duty and love. (Photo courtesy Canva)

There is something about the medieval era that captures our imaginations like few time periods in history do. Mythic in scope, it is little wonder we are swept away on the tides of these tales filled with vengeful royals, epic battles, and sweeping romance. Anna Belfrage writes these sagas better than most, and her latest, His Castilian Hawk, is the first of a brand new series. We hope you enjoy this exclusive interview with the author! —Jathan & Heather

J&H: In His Castilian Hawk, you transport readers back to the 1200s when Edward Longshanks, aka Edward I, is ascending to power. What was it about this period that captivated your imagination enough that you wanted to immerse yourself in this point in history?

AB: Well, ever since I first read Sharon Kay Penman’s book, Here be Dragons, I have been fascinated by the swelling conflict between the Welsh and the English. Plus, having visited most of Edward I’s castles in Wales, it is evident just how much effort and money he poured into conquering the Welsh. Why, one wonders, as Wales was neither particularly rich or strategically important—well, except for the fact that as long as Wales was independent, the long land border between England and Wales saw an endless sequence of skirmishes, causing the king of England to redirect focus there when he had other, more important matters to deal with. Finally, I don’t think Edward ever forgave the Welsh for supporting Simon de Montfort’s rebellion in the 1260s. Somewhat vindictive, was our Edward.

J&H: Eleanor d’Outremer has no surviving family and is ordered to wed Robert FitzStephan. Yet she is no wilting flower and seems far more modern in her temperament than other women around her. What are some of the challenges she has to overcome? And what message do you think she would give to women today, given the chance?

AB: I don’t think Noor is more modern than the other women around her. She is as confined as all people of her gender—and is well aware of it. Her life is ruled by men—at least officially. I do, however, believe that medieval women came as in many shapes and forms as today’s ladies—and that quite a few of them were anything but retiring violets as they needed to be tough to survive their times. Very few women and men in this time period knew how to read and write, but I have given Noor an education as her mother, being a bastard-born daughter of a Castilian king, would have been the recipient of a thorough education. Those Castilians were firm believers in education, which is also why Queen Eleanor, Edward I’s wife, in many ways was much more educated than he was.

Not only is Noor educated, she is also strong. Her main challenge, of course, is to establish an adequate relationship with the man who legally controls every aspect of her life, namely her husband. Things aren’t exactly made easier by the fact that the man she is ordered to wed killed both her father and brother.

Noor is very much about integrity, about following her conscience even when it puts her in danger to do so. In that, I think she could be an inspiration to women in any day and age.

J&H: Edith, Robert’s lover, is not nearly as innocent as Noor and is prone to manipulation. Aside from their experience with men, how would they have differed? And would her advice to women today be vastly different? Why or why not?

AB: Edith has had to survive on her wits and her looks since she was very young. Her father followed the armies, offering his services as a healer, and Edith went with him. She has grown up a nomad and has quickly learned to take nothing for granted. Where Noor still believes in honor and duty, in doing the right thing, Edith has seen far too much of the darker sides of life to even believe in such concepts. She is a survivor, and as many such, she will do whatever it takes to stay alive. When Robert marries Noor, Edith has reasons to hope she may well have landed herself a nice, cushy life for the remainder of her days. She and Robert go way back, and now he can support her on the income he’ll earn as lord of the manors Noor brings to their marriage. What she doesn’t count on is Robert falling in love with his wife. Sadly—and with some reason—I think Edith’s message to women would be that only one person cares for number one and that is number one herself, so never, ever lose focus on doing what you need to do to get ahead. Edith would probably adapt very easily to society as we know it—which says a lot about our modern world.

J&H: These days, many young people still struggle to “find themselves” once they reach the age of maturity, even though they typically have more options in life than Robert did, who served Edward from a very young age. Who do you think is more prepared to navigate life as a budding adult, Robert or young people today? Why?  

AB: I’m not quite sure I understand the question. Robert is fully capable of navigating his world, but would be a lost lamb in our world. Likewise, a young person from our time would have major problems living up to the expectations of medieval society (and that is leaving aside just how much this potential time traveler would miss his or her creature comforts!)

Young people didn’t have many options back then. Most were illiterate, most were apprenticed early to learn a trade their father thought would suit them best. In Robert’s case, his father, being a nobleman, decides to pull some strings to land his son a position in a noble household. Had he not done so, Robert would have become a fletcher, just like his maternal grandfather.

J&H: Marriage was more contractual than romantic during this time. What were some of the problems that commonly arose out of these unions? And what do you think would have become of both Eleanor and Robert if they’d been granted freedom to choose back then?

AB: Choosing was a foreign concept back then. Children relied on their parents to find them a spouse, and most parents did so while keeping the best interests of their children in mind. Robert never expected to marry—who would want to marry a bastard-born veteran with nothing to his name? Had he found a woman he wanted to marry (the daughter of a merchant or tradesman or something like that) he’d have chosen. So would, to some extent, his bride, as things were less contractual the further down the social ladder you went.

For Noor, choosing a husband was never an option. Her father may have presented her with a couple of potential candidates to choose from, and had she said “no way!” I believe he’d have respected that. But Noor would not have been out and about doing some flirting in the hopes of finding the hubby of her dreams.

We must remember that expectations on marriage were different back then. Marriage was a partnership, a structure required to support your children and hopefully increase the wealth and standing of your family. People wanted respect and some affection from their spouse. Women hoped he’d be gentle, men desired a wife that was fertile. Romantic love never entered the equation while a marriage was being discussed—which does not mean many of these contracted marriages did not blossom into loving relationships. Many of them did.

J&H: King Edward doesn’t tolerate insubordination, even from Robert, who cannot leave the dead to rot and buries them instead. Yet even as he chastises Robert, the king also appears to have more patience with him than he might with someone else. What other contradictions did his character present and was he a difficult character to write?

AB: I am very, very ambivalent to Edward I. His main redeeming quality is his evident love for his wife, as well as a tendency to rebuke men who were violent against women. His nastier character traits include an obvious sense of entitlement and a ruthless approach to anyone who dared question his orders. At the same time, Edward is an intelligent man who now and then expends some time on introspection—all intelligent people do. When it comes to Robert, Edward has known him since he was a small boy, has enjoyed Robert’s devotion and loyalty for close to two decades. He trusts Robert—which is why he lumbers him with some of the tasks he does—and he also trusts Robert’s basic sense of decency. This is probably why he has a somewhat lenient approach to Robert although Robert would have you know he sees nothing lenient about the way this king has treated him. “I did what was right,” he tells me. I agree with Robert. 😊

Edward was difficult to write because latter depictions are of the monster who tortures William Wallace to death (You know: “Freedom!” yells Mel Gibson…) But Edward was much more than the ruthless Hammer of the Scots. As a man in his twenties, he saw his father’s kingdom implode under Montfort’s rebellion. He was held captive, escaped, fielded a new army and somehow managed to defeat de Montfort. The lesson he learned? Never, ever be a weak king. Edward was also very devout (much due to his wife’s influence), had seen a large chunk of the then known world, had almost died of poison in the Holy Land, and was a hard-working king who never, ever took a day off. Well, except for the three days after his wife’s death when he maintained total radio silence, sunk in frozen grief.

J&H: What can readers expect from the second volume of the Castilian saga?

AB: Ah. Well, at present we are in Barcelona where Noor and Robert have added a couple of unwelcome peeps to their retinue. They will encounter kings and queens, ruthless slavers and vindictive women. Through them, I hope to offer a little peek into the colorful society of 13th century Spain, a land where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived pretty much side by side. There was no Inquisition—yet. There was just an interesting melding of cultures and knowledge.

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Troubador Publishing

For bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, being given Eleanor d’Outremer in marriage is an honor. 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?

Anna Belfrage
Anna Belfrage


Anna Belfrage 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. (Medieval knight was also high on Anna’s list of potential professions. Yet another disappointment.)

More recently, Anna has published The Wanderer, an epic love story spanning 3,000 years featuring the reincarnated lovers, Jason and Helle. She loved stepping out of her comfort zone and will likely do so again but is presently delighted to be back in a medieval setting.

To find out more, visit AnnaBelfrage.com, like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

By Anna Belfrage
408 pp. Troubador Publishing. $20.99.

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Purchase His Castilian Hawk direct from Jathan & Heather Books or from one of these other fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Half Price Books, Hudson Booksellers, IndieBound, Powell’s, or Walmart.

His Castilian Hawk is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

3 Responses to HIS CASTILIAN HAWK: Seven Questions for Anna Belfrage [INTERVIEW]

  1. Thank you for interesting questions and for hosting me!

  2. What a fabulous interview! Thank you so much for hosting Anna today!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

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