Medieval Mondays: Zoe Porphyrogenita

Hello everyone! This is the start of a new feature, Medieval Mondays, in which I will tell you about ten of my favourite lesser known medieval women. We begin with Zoe Porphyrogenita, my favourite medieval Byzantine Empress.*

Zoe was born in about the year 980, the daughter of Constantine VIII, and thus the niece of his brother and co-emperor, Basil ‘the Bulgar Slayer’. She was the second of three daughters, with an elder sister who apparently caught smallpox, joined a convent, and vanished from the historical record, and a younger sister, Theodora.

Zoe enters the historical record properly in her early 20s, when she was suggested as a potential bride for Otto III of the Holy Roman Empire (who had a Byzantine mother himself). Unfortunately, Otto died before any marriage could take place. Unusually, this appears to have been the only marriage suggested for Zoe. Basil was himself unmarried, and doesn’t seem to have been all that fussed about ensuring the succession of the Empire. Zoe and her sister Theodora spent most of their lives in the women’s quarters together. It did not lead to a convivial relationship.

Basil died in 1025, and Constantine followed in 1028. At this point, Zoe stepped onto the political stage.

A word about sources. The majority of our information about Zoe comes from Michael Psellos, who I can say without hesitation did not like Zoe. At all. He spends a lot of time explaining why things that went wrong were Zoe’s fault, and how Zoe was clearly a murderess and harlot, saying that To put it quite candidly (for my present purpose is not to compose a eulogy, but to write an accurate history) neither of them was fitted by temperament to govern. They neither knew how to administer nor were they capable of serious argument on the subject of politics. For the most part they confused the trifles of the harem with important matters of state.” Psellos is all about how amazing Psellos is.

So, on her father’s death in 1028, Zoe, aged 50, was married to her third cousin Romanos. Psellos says that Romanos held out hopes that they would have a child “even in the face of natural incapacity”, but presumably everyone else had put two and two together and made four. By five years in, things had gone sour. “Two things more than any other vexed [Zoe]: the fact that Romanus did not love her, and that she herself was unable to squander money.” Apparently, despite being “past the age for love” Zoe met a man called Michael the Paphlagonian and “at once fell victim to his charm, and from some mystic union between them she conceived a love for him.” Romanos died very shortly afterwards, and Zoe married Michael the Paphlagonian. 

*Second favourite Byzantine Empress of all, because Aelia Eudoxia, who went off to Jerusalem, joined a convent, and wrote Homer/Bible crossover fic, exists.

The Duke is Dead Extract: the Dunham Chronicler

The Duke of Dead has chapter headings, taken from various historical documents within the world. One document that turns up a few times is The Dunham Chronicles, written by a series of earnest monks in the province of Dunham, and containing their view on a) the doings of the country and b) the very exciting things happening in Dunham.

Here are a few:

343: In this year Gilbert Bevis and the esquires of the North brought a petition before King Aumeri, that in ten years he had held no Parliament at Ambion in his kingdom of Northaldria, but solely in Coldres and other towns in his kingdom of Mercendy. And King Aumeri spurned  the petition and said that his two kingdoms should agree like man and wife in a bed. And Matthew Simeon a lewd fellow was put in the stocks at Foswich for asking, if King Aumeri should get more kingdoms, how many might then lie together in a bed.

347: In this year the men of Cavember rose, and fought amongst themselves as to who should be King, there having been no one King among them since Deyo ás Ithel was slain in combat by the men of Queen Bethilie in 282. And they could find no peace amongst themselves. And the Lord of Bleith sent to King Aumeri, and asked him to stand above them, and with his kingsblood bring peace.

397: And in this year Queen Sidonia bore a child unmarried, and all the lords protested her great sin.  And some spoke of the Queen’s cousin, the Duchess Julia, and said that there was an irregularity in her birth, and that there were papers kept privily which proved her to be the true King.  And the Bishop of Tritown preached the Easter sermon, and said that God had ordained to the cripple his crutch, and to the blind man his patches, and the tyner his trouble, and that if she had been born a prince, she was proved not fit to be King.  And one man called out to him, but if she be a virtuous woman, should she not then be Queen? And the Bishop made no answer. And the Duchess Julia consented to be searched by midwives.

405: In this year the Earl of Dunham wed the Lady Ada, baseborn daughter to King Constantine of Laelanse. And for three weeks before her wedding she came unto the Abbey, and gave fine gifts, including a relic of the Blessed Apostle Salome. And it was placed upon the high altar, and did great works

(The image in this post was photographed by en:User:Geogre, original author, monastic scribes in Peterborough – English Wikipedia, Public Domain,

The Duke is Dead: Updates

Somewhat embarrassingly, my last post on here, nearly two years ago, was also about The Duke is Dead. I confidently predicted it would come in 2018, which it…didn’t. I can now say that it is in final edits, and will be out on the 22nd August 2019. You can find it here on Goodreads. I hope that The Exiles will be out on the 28th November, but I am resigned to the fact that if I commit to that date, it definitely won’t be. I am incredibly excited to be sharing The Duke is Dead, and introducing people to the Dykosm.

I am also pretty damn excited that Ankaret has another book out in 2019: Anna Chronistic and the Scarab of Destiny. I got to the end while eating a baked potato and did not take my eyes off my screen once, which is actually more impressive than it sounds, because I was at a National Trust property, and their baked potatoes come with side salads that require stabbing.

I leave you with the image of Lanhydrock House (said National Trust property), intended by the gentleman who ordered it rebuilt as ‘a modest family home’. As Ankaret said as we looked up at it, just imagine what would have happened if he’d asked the architect to push the boat out.


(By Olaf Tausch – Own work, CC BY 3.0)


I have an announcement to make! One that I have been sitting on (very badly) for nearly a year!

Kingsblood, a new fantasy series from Ankaret Wells and Irene Headley.

duke is dead cover
The bitter years of the Cousins War are over… for now. 
The grandsons of Kharis Sidonia are dukes and kings, and the last kinsmen of the deposed King Gilbert the Bloodless are hunted exiles… for now. 
Winter holds armies at a standstill, and in Briège, the suitors of the new Duchess of Bergomance protest that they are at her feet… for now.
Before the thaw breaks, Ambrosia of Bergomance must choose a husband, and place her people in the hands of another, greater, power, By her side are two men – her uncle Thomas of Wharram, loyal to his family above all else, and Nicolas ás Ithel, who has spent most of his life as a hostage.
Thomas and Nicolas become lovers and allies…
For now.

The Kingsblood series contains love, magic, adventure, and a pygmy hippo called Odo. The first full-length novel, The Duke is Dead, comes in early 2018, and my prequel novella, The Exiles, will be out in December of this year. Stay tuned for extracts closer to the time! (Also, family trees, coats of arms, and a writing playlist containing more Bon Jovi  and Lady Gaga than is strictly healthy).
Extract below the cut, and there’s also an extract over on Ankaret’s blog!

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What I’m Reading Wednesday: The Kate Kane: Paranormal Investigator series, by Alexis Hall


The Kate Kane series belongs to that sadly underpopulated genre: lesbian paranormal detective romance.  Set in London.

Our heroine is a supernatural private investigator, a thirty three year old faery princess and a teen romance survivor.

With a dead partner, a vampire stalker and an ex-girlfriend who might be a super villain, her life, like her breakfast, is on the rocks.

From book one, you can expect a ill-conceived riot of fedoras, hot vampires, sewers, swarms of intelligent rats, werewolf It Girls, puddings, boylesque performers, murders, tentacle monsters, sex demons, nightclubs, biker wizards, blues bars, magic swords and ninja zombie nuns.  Oh, and karaoke.

The first time I heard about the Kate Kane books, I heard the words ‘lesbian paranormal investigator’, and found my fingers trending inexorably towards Amazon’s ‘Buy Now’ button.

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