Library Talks – Historical Fiction

The Drowned CourtMy new historical novel, The Drowned Court, is published tomorrow by Impress Books. It covers the years 1107-1121 and focusses on the tumultuous lives of the Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys, and the Norman king, Henry I.

I am giving a number of library talks in November in Norfolk and Pembrokeshire to celebrate the new book:

Mon 13 Nov 11am Pembroke Dock Library. Free event.

Mon 27 Nov 2pm Downham Market Library, Priory Road, Downham Market, PE38 9JS. Illustrated talk, £3 including refreshments. Booking essential on 01366 383073.

My guest blogpost on writing the book is published on The Writing Desk.

History Questions

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Bertrade de Montfort in the centre with her second husband, King Philip I of France. Her first husband, Count Fulk of Anjou is on the right, and Philip’s imprisoned first wife, Bertha of Holland, is on the left. King Philip and Bertrade were excommunicated for their adulterous relationship. From The Chronicles of Saint Denis in the British Library.

My new historical novel, The Drowned Court, is published next week and a guest post by me on writing the novel is up today on Tony Riches’ blog, The Writing Desk.

‘I approach writing all my novels by asking questions that I have, after researching the historical evidence.’ The questions that drove my writing in this new novel include:

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King Henry I’s daughter, the Empress Matilda, the first woman to claim the English throne in her own right.

Was the Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys, lascivious, or a victim, or is there another way to look at her colourful life?

What kind of man was King Henry I and what motivated his relationships with the numerous women in his life: his wives, mistresses, sisters, and daughters?

Why was Amaury de Montfort such a stubborn opponent to King Henry in Normandy?

What would it have been like to be a spy in the pay of the Countess of Blois (King Henry’s sister) at the great abbey of Fontevraud, which was ruled by women, and housed many illustrious, repudiated wives, including Amaury’s notorious sister, Bertrade de Montfort, the former Queen of France?

As the drawbridge came down, I ventured in

The Drowned Court

 

 

 

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.’

A Norman feminist?

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.

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Empress Matilda

 

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.

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The spy loft, St Alban’s Cathedral

The Drowned Court is 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:

Monday 13 November 11am at Pembroke Dock Library, close to Pembroke Castle where Nest lived

Monday 27 November 2pm at Downham Market Library.

Medieval Wales

2 Welsh fortAbove is an artist’s impression of the Welsh fort at Carew that preceded the Norman stone castle occupying the site today. The sketch is based on findings from archaeology digs in the 1990s. The stone cross at the entrance to the site, inscribed with the name of the 11th century king Maredudd ap Edwin, is testament that Carew was an important centre for the royal family of the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth. My novel series, Conquest, is concerned with the surviving members of that royal family, after the Normans invaded and killed the last king, Rhys ap Tewdwr, in 1093, along with two of his sons. Initially, three of the king’s five sons survived but one of those soon died in a Norman prison. The youngest son was born in captivity in Carmarthen castle and was maimed to prevent any claim from him. Another son, Gruffudd ap Rhys, was hidden by his kin in Dublin and returned when he reached manhood to challenge the Normans for his lost kingdom. My novels centre on the king’s daughter, Nest ferch Rhys, whose colourful life led her to be dubbed Helen of Wales.

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I will be at Narberth Book Fair in the Queen’s Hall, Narberth in Pembrokeshire

on Saturday 23 September 10am-4pm,

along with 34 other authors and tons of books.

There will be talks, readings, workshops, children’s corner.

Entry and all events are free.

My new book, The Drowned Court, is set in the 12th century, and will be published by Impress Books on 30 October.