‘I could not put this book down from the moment I started it. I practically inhaled the content.’ Poppy Coburn on Daughter of the Last King
To those of you who have already read one or more of my historical novels: I would be grateful if you get the time to post a brief review on Amazon or Goodreads. Thanks to those of you who already did so. A few lines is enough and it all helps. My next novel is published in a week’s time. Here are some recent reviews:
On Conquest: Daughter of the Last King:
‘As the drawbridge came down, I ventured in. In fact, I remember nothing of what happened in my everyday life until I came out at the end.’ The booktrail on amazon.co.uk
‘Nest is a fascinating character torn between two cultures and … two men. The book offers fantastic insight into the lives of women of the period; the frustration of being kept in the dark about events, the lack of control … and the constant reminders that a woman’s greatest currency is her ability to bear children.’ Lisa D on Madwoman in the Attic blog
On The Viking Hostage:
‘machiavellious plotting … human chess played with lives and land.’ Ani Johnson on The Book Bag
‘brings the historical condition of women to life through vivid storytelling.’ AMM on amazon.co.uk
Thank you very much to those reviewers and all readers who have enjoyed the books.
Publication Day for my new historical novel, The Drowned Court, is approaching. The novel continues the story of Nest ferch Rhys and King Henry I in 12th century Wales, England and Normandy.
A review of the first book in the trilogy, Daughter of the Last King:
‘As the drawbridge came down, I ventured in. In fact I remember nothing of what happened in my every day life until I came out at the end.
The level of detail and care and attention which has gone into this novel is spellbinding but it never gets in the way of the plot at all. It strengthens and improves it explaining how life must have been, how daily tasks were carried out to how the ward of a king must behave. The story of Nest is complex and multilayered but reads like a charm. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this book will be heavy going given the subject matter, it’s not – it’s a brilliantly woven tapestry of historical intrigue where I felt as if I’d been part of the novel, and part of Nest’s life and I missed her for a while afterwards.’
King Henry I was the third Norman king of England, after his father, William the Conqueror, and his older brother, William II. Henry reigned in England and most of Wales for 35 years, keeping a peace there, but he struggled with frequent outbreaks of rebellion in Normandy, where he was Duke from 1106.
It is interesting to speculate about King Henry I’s attitude to women. Because of his cross-Channel kingdom, he was frequently absent from England and, on several occasions, he entrusted the Regency of England to his capable wife, Queen Matilda. He had a close personal and political relationship with his extremely able sister, Countess Adela of Blois, who kept him well-informed about events in Normandy and France through an extensive network of spies.
King Henry had at least 15 mistresses and 22 illegitimate children. Spending time with women, hunting, and collecting relics appear to have been his main leisure activities when not coping with the enormous task of managing his kingdom. He took care of his mistresses and acknowledged, educated, and advanced the children he had with them, including his illegitimate daughters. A number of his mistresses were nobly born and were with him for several years, suggesting that these relationships were emotional and intellectual engagements, as well as sexual encounters. He had three children with Ansfride and between four and six children with Sybil Corbet.
He made a serious attempt to install the first female sole ruler of England, when he named his daughter, Empress Matilda (or Maud), as his successor, after the death of his only legitimate son. He forced the English and Norman barons to swear oaths of fealty to Maud as heir to the throne. But when King Henry died suddenly in 1135, Maud was pregnant in Normandy and her cousin, Stephen, sped to Westminster and usurped her throne, sparking off 13 years of civil war in England.
Two of the Kings’s sons (his legitimate heir, William Adelin, and his illegitimate son Richard, by Ansfride) and one of his illegitimate daughters (Mathilde, Countess of Perche) drowned in The White Ship disaster in the English Channel in 1120, along with many other young members of his court, which must have been a devastating event for him to deal with.
There is one blip in his record of relationships with the female members of his extensive family. His illegitimate daughter, Juliana, by Ansfride, attempted to kill him with a crossbow after he had allowed her two small daughters, his granddaughters, to be taken as hostages and then maimed. They were blinded and had their noses slit. The incident was the fault of Juliana’s husband, Eustace of Breteuil, who was in rebellion against Henry and had first maimed the boy hostage in his care. However, as king, Henry could have chosen to protect his granddaughters. Instead, he chose to act according to the letter of the law, however brutal in this case. He was, certainly, a fascinating and complex character and a highly successful king.
The spyloft in St Alban’s Cathedral inspired a scene in my new novel, The Drowned Court. In the scene, King Henry first lays eyes on his last known mistress, Isabel de Beaumont. A spyloft was a structure with a concealed passage and spyholes, giving the monks the ability to discreetly keep an eye on visiting pilgrims and the priceless relics they had come to venerate. In the novel, King Henry, instead, uses the spyloft to gain an eyeful of the young Isabel.
The Drowned Courtis published by Impress Books in October, and is the second in my Conquest trilogy, focussed on the eventful life of the Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys, who was one of King Henry’s mistresses.
I will be giving talks on my historical fiction in November:
‘I had looked out upon the wide kingdoms of the Earth as if I were caught up in ecstasy, flying far and wide through words …. Now, however, I will return exhausted to my black-clad life,’ declared the monk historian, Orderic Vitalis, who lived and worked in a Norman monastery in the 12th century.
The Drowned Court is my new novel, published by Impress Books in October, and the second in my Conquest trilogy, focussed on the Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys, and the Welsh struggle against the Normans in the early 12th century. Nest had a very eventful life. As a mistress of the Norman king, Henry I, and the sister of Prince Gruffudd ap Rhys, who attempted to take his lost kingdom back from the invaders, she was unavoidably enmeshed in the conflict, and became a potent symbol for both sides.
Parallel to Nest’s story, which is based on fact, the novel recounts the activities of a Flemish nun named Benedicta (who is fictitious). Benedicta was given to the church as a child, grew up in a Norman convent and is a friend to Orderic Vitalis. King Henry, who is also Duke of Normandy, and his sister, Countess Adela of Blois, have an extensive network of spies operating in Normandy, and Benedicta is drafted into their ranks. They send her to Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, where she finds one of the largest female monastic communities in Europe. Fontevraud is ruled by women, and is a hotbed of intrigue relating to the enemies of King Henry. The abbey’s founder, Robert d’Arbrissel, has been seen by some historians as an early feminist. He was rumoured to practice ‘syneisaktism’: sleeping with the nuns as a form of mortification of the flesh. Three of the count of Anjou’s rejected wives are at the convent, including the notorious former Queen of France, Bertrade de Montfort. Count Fulk IV of Anjou was ‘a man with many reprehensible, even scandalous, habits’, according to Orderic Vitalis. The wives of the Duke of Brittany and the Duke of Aquitaine, also find their ways to Fontevraud, disappointed by the behaviour of their errant husbands. Sister Benedicta’s scribing skills come in handy as a cover for her spying for King Henry amongst these illustrious and repudiated women.
I will be giving talks on my historical fiction in November:
Today is Hide a Book Day organised by the Book Fairies. Books will be left all over the world for readers to find. This year, the books are also hiding to celebrate the 10th birthday of Goodreads, and that celebration goes on all month. My books are hiding in London, Narberth, Bristol and Toulouse over the coming days.
In my interview published today on The Displaced Nation, author Harriet Springbett talks about being an English writer living in France:
‘When I go back to England and see bookshops stuffed with books, or blogs featuring new books every day, I feel intimidated. Writing stories suddenly seems rather pointless and I wonder what I can possibly add to the overloaded bookshelves. Then I come home to France and it feels rare and right once more. France is my cocoon. If I lived in England, I’m not sure I’d be a writer.’
Harriet’s Tree Magic is published by Impress Books. She is currently writing a story set in the Pyrenees.
The photo shows the tiny chapel at Alendo in the Pyrenees.
My review of Maria Bucur’s book, Gendering Modernism, has just been published in Times Higher Education.
In this book, we learn that the Royal Academy was established in 1768 by a group of artists, including two women, but no other female artists were admitted until 1936 and that 88 per cent of the funding for the 1913 Armory Show in New York came from female art patrons.
The book grapples with the paradox that Modernism challenged gender polarisation and misogyny, but also reinforced and amplified them.