Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Lost Children of Charles I

Princess Elizabeth's Tomb Sculpted by Carlo Marochetti

Born in 1635, Princess Elizabeth was called "Temperance" due to her kind nature. When she was seven, her father, Charles I marched into the House of Commons with troops to demand the arrest of five MPs. London was soon in open revolt and the royal family forced to flee for their safety.

The King and two elder sons, Charles and James, established a new royalist government at Oxford, but the Commons refused permision for Elizabeth and two-year-old Henry, Duke of Gloucester to join their parents, keeping them virtual prisoners at St. James's Palace. Their mother and baby sister, Henriette Anne, born in 1644, eventually fled to the continent, but Elizabeth never saw her mother again.

A sickly child, Elizabeth broke her leg in 1643 and was moved to Chelsea with her brother and tutored by the female scholar Bathsua Makin. At eight, she could read and write Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian and French and the scriptures in their original tongues.

When Elizabeth was ten, her hostess the Countess of Dorset died and she and Henry were placed in the care of the Duke of Newcastle in a house on the Thames. James, Duke of York was allowed to visit, but Elizabeth was concerned about him being around the king's enemies for any length of time and provided the clothes, and perhaps the plan for his successful escape to the continent.

In 1647, Elizabeth and Henry were living at the country home of the Countess of Leicester. The French ambassador described her as a "budding young beauty" characterised by grace, dignity, sensibility and intelligence. Unlike her father she could judge characters and understand different points of view. But she was powerless, distraught and saddened as the tragedy of the English revolution unfolded. As parliamentary prejudice hardened, the Countess of Leicester was ordered to treat her royal charges without special privileges.

In January 1649, when Charles was tried, found guilty of treason and condemned to death, Elizabeth wrote a long letter to Parliament requesting permission to join her sister, Princess Mary in Holland. This request was refused until after the execution had taken place.

On the day after Elizabeth's 13th birthday, King Charles was allowed one last meeting with Elizabeth and Henry. The prematurely aged king told her not to grieve as he would die a martyr and he gave her a Bible, which she kept close at hand for the rest of her short life.

The royal children were stripped of their titles and no one was allowed to kiss their hands or treat them as royal. Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester was now merely “Mr Harry”. Parliament continued to treat then with consideration, but the myth that they planned to marry Elizabeth to a commoner and apprentice Henry to a trade is royalist propaganda.

In July 1650, the ruling Council of State decided to move Elizabeth and Henry to their father's former prison, Carisbrooke Castle. Elizabeth complained that her health was not equal to moving, but it went ahead anyway; taken there by the king's former servant Anthony Mildmay, described as, "at heart a knave".

Elizabeth had always suffered ill health, possibly including rickets. On the Monday after her arrival she caught a chill, that developed into a fever which turned into headaches and fitting. On the morning of Sunday the 11th September 1650, Elizabeth was found dead, her head resting on the open Bible that had been her father's parting gift. Ironically three days later, unaware of the tragedy, the Council of State decided on her release so that she could join her elder sister Mary in the Netherlands. (Henry was released to Mary in early 1653).

Elizabeth's coffin was laid in a vault under the floor of St Thomas Church in Newport, Isle of Wight, with a stone marked "E.S." for Elizabeth Stuart as her only memorial. She was fourteen years old.

In the 1850s Victoria and Albert, whose holiday home, Osborne House is on the Isle of Wight, hired Carlo Marochetti, an Italian sculptor to complete a new tomb for Elizabeth in Carrara marble. Completed in 1856, Queen Victoria was so impressed with the result, she hired the same sculptor to carve the mausoleum statue for herself and Albert.

Henry, Duke of Gloucester joined his two brothers in exile and in May 1660 returned to England with the new King Charles II. In September, he died of smallpox - aged 20.

Henry Duke of Gloucester 1653 aged 10

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

2009 Historical Novel Society Conference

Your jet-lagged Hoyden just stepped off the plane, her head a-buzz from the 2009 Historical Novel Society Conference in Schaumburg, Illinois, which was held last weekend, June 12-14.

There were some superb fan girl moments when I got to gush all over honoured guests Margaret George, Sharon Kay Penman, and Margaret Frazer, a fellow Minnesotan who writes engaging novels about sleuthing medieval nuns. Diana Gabaldon was as stunning as ever in her turquoise shawls and was the star of the Late Night Sex Reading. Unfortunately, being such a meek jet-lagged soul, I had gone to bed before her reading. For the next conference they need to have an *earlier* sex reading for those of us who need our eight hours of sleep.

I was lucky enough to meet up with my fantastic fellow Hoyden and Firebrand, Kim Murphy, who took part on the pertinent panel, Is Sex Necessary? Spicing Up Your Historical Novel (or Not) I hope the next Late Night Sex reading showcases our fabulous Kim!

Surviving as a writer in hard times seemed the dominant theme of the conference this year. Touchstone editor Trish Todd gave a great talk on the state of the market. What's selling now generally involves well known historical figures. An English setting is a plus. Paperback is a much easier sell than hardcover. Ms. Todd said that as an editor, it's important for her discover what her author's brand is and find out how she can help establish that brand. May every writer have an editor as market-savvy as Ms. Todd!

Barbara Peters, the powerhouse behind Poisoned Pen Bookstore and Poisoned Pen Press, told us that, contrary to popular opinion, the author tour is not dead. Indy bookstores can do a lot for authors and generally offer more support in terms of hand-selling and event-hosting than the big chains who demand coop money for book placement. Midlist authors need to get public face time, however they can, so get out there and meet the lovely people who work at your local indies. Sometimes it's better to set up your own tour than to rely on a publicist with no local knowledge, Peters pointed out.

Michelle Moran, Karen Essex, and CW Gortner gave a fantastic panel on what authors can do to promote their books in a dire econony. Moran stressed the importance of getting a good author website with a dedicated bloggers' and book group page. In terms of advertising, she pointed out that online ads get you more bang for your buck--blog ads are the way to go but just be sure to be creative in finding out what blogs your audience reads. Moran reported much success advertising her novels of Ancient Egypt on the LOL Cat website, I Can Has Cheezburger, which leads me to wonder whether there is a Crazy Horse Lady-centric site that would be great for advertising my novels!

Karen Essex talked about the importance of writing for the market--ie producing an excellent book that people want to read. Choose well known characters that intrigue people or, if you write about invented characters, find a wonderfully arresting setting.

C.W. Gortner discussed the importance of perserverance and investing in your career. It can't hurt and might help a lot to spend up to half your advance on publicity and marketing. If you blog, as he does wonderfully on his site Historical Boys, have something to say. It shouldn't be all about self-promotion. He felt that virtual blog tours are more successful in terms of sales and publicity than the traditional author tour.

Getting back on topic, namely Hoydens and Firebrands of the 17th Century, the freebies in our conference bag included galleys of Katherine Howe's magnificent debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, a meticulously researched book which dares to ask the question: what if historical witches were *really* witches rather than misunderstood eccentrics? Although I haven't yet finished reading the book, so far I'm impressed with her fictional depiction of historical magic and cunning folk and am intrigued that we've drawn on many of the same sources, such as Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic. It's very affirming to see that nonsensationalist fiction about historical witches and cunning folk is getting the critical and commercial success it deserves. Hopefully this will help dispell any number of inaccurate stereotypes.

Meanwhile my own forthcoming novel about historical cunning folk has undergone a name change. The original title was A Light Far-Shining: A Novel of the Pendle Witches, but my publisher felt that was a bit too wordy and hard to remember. My excellent editor helped me brainstorm a new, catchier title: Daughters of the Witching Hill. I like that very, very much. My witchy novel will be out in April or May of 2010. Watch this space!

The Witching Hill, aka Pendle, in May 2009. This is actually the view from my backyard!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Lost Colony Survivor?

In 1607, colonist George Percy wrote, “At Port Cotage in our Voyage up the River, we saw a Saluage (Savage) Boy about the age of ten yeeres, which had a head of haire of a perfect yellow and a reasonable white skinne, which is a Miracle amongst all Saluages." No other record has been uncovered about the boy, and apparently, Percy failed to investigate further. You can imagine my fertile imagination as a writer. Who could the boy have been? Where did he come from?

One of the most popular theories is that he was the son of a "Lost Colonist." The ten year old was found in the area of a native tribe known as the Arrohattec, which is near the fall line of the James River east of modern-day Richmond, Virginia.

For readers unfamiliar with the Lost Colony, it was a failed attempt at colonization by the English in 1587 on Roanoke Island, part of present-day North Carolina. All traces of over 100 colonists vanished when a supply ship returned three years late, except for a cryptic note carved into a tree, "Croatoan." On further examination, the note is less mysterious than has been portrayed in history books, but is beyond the scope of this article.

Over the years, several hypotheses have risen as to what became of the colonists, one of which is they had sought refuge with a "friendly" tribe known as the Chesapeake. The Chesapeake lived in the area of modern-day Virginia Beach but were annihilated in a very unusual move by the Powhatan (again beyond the scope of this article) soon before the arrival of the Jamestown colonists. Of course, the question arises that if the Chesapeake were annihilated, wouldn't any Roanoke survivors have died too?

The answer is "not necessarily." What most historians fail to take into account is that the Powhatan did not kill women and children, even in warfare. So, it's possible that a Roanoke colonist could have survived and been brought to the Arrohattec area, later giving birth to the blond-haired boy Percy spoke of.

Another theory to the boy's existence is a genetic anomaly. The Arrohattec like most of the native people tended to have black hair and brown skin (the "red Indian" references come from their body paint, not actual skin pigment). The theory is entirely plausible and seems to be in keeping with Percy's thinking, but there is another possibility which is often overlooked.

Before colonization, the number of Spanish and English ships that visited Virginia have gone unrecorded. One of these sailors could have also fathered the boy. Too simple? I had fun playing with the theories in my current book. In fact, I changed my mind a couple of times.

Kim Murphy

Monday, 1 June 2009

The Sun King's Legs

I stopped for lunch in Toronto recently after a doctor's appointment. It was a sunny day and I sat outside, facing the Bata Shoe Museum.

There, on an enormous banner, was a blow-up of my character's legs — the shapely legs of King Louis XIV of France.

(He's following me, I thought. He knows I'm not at my desk.)

Only they weren't really his legs.

Men in 17th century France were vain about their legs. Louis had beautiful legs in his youth, as many of his portraits show (it was said that he would always be recognized at a costume ball because of his legs) —
but the face that's on the portrait from which the Bata banner was taken is an old Louis, not matching these legs at all. I learned on a visit to Versailles that a youthful man's legs had been painted in.

I'm often asked what it is I love about French history, and I always think of the painting (below) of Louis greeting the Swiss ambassadors. There the ambassadors are, so somber in black, and there is Louis, a vision in pink ribbons and bows.

It's simply more fun.

I say this only partially in jest. Louis was an exceptionally athletic man: he earned his shapely legs. But in general there was something of the peacock in the 17th century male (including Louis and his cousin, King Charles II of England) that I find delightful. These were supremely macho men, but they were not afraid of pink.