Monday, May 08, 2006

Historical novels in search of an author

On the off-chance that any historical novelist reading this needs a subject for a new writing project (um, right), may I humbly suggest one of the following medieval women. Royal women and royal mistresses are in vogue, so the timing would certainly favor such topics. (Nest of Deheubarth is another good example, but you've read plenty about her lately, and who would buy a novel about an obscure Welsh noblewoman these days? Besides me, that is. Sigh)

(1) Sybilla Corbet. Mistress of Henry I (one of the many), mother of his illegitimate children (again, one of the many). She married Herbert Fitz Herbert, whose father was Henry I's chamberlain, and apparently bore children to both her husband and King Henry over a period of thirty years. She must have had considerable influence with the king, since her eldest daughter, Sybilla, became queen consort to Alexander I of Scotland.

(2) Alice Perrers, mistress of Edward III, who supposedly stole rings from Edward's body while he lay on his deathbed. (Though this is likely a false rumor.) Fortunately, I just read that Candace Robb is at work on a novel about her. According to her online newsletter, A Gift of Scarlet will be published in the UK in April 2009. That's three long years away. I will be patient.

(3) Isabelle of Angoulême, queen consort to King John. Jean Plaidy has written a novel about Isabelle's rivalry with the French queen at the time, Blanche of Castile (The Battle of the Queens), but surely Isabelle deserves her own novel... one that covers her marriage to the son of her former fiancé, Hugh of Lusignan. Besides, in every novel I've read about her, she's portrayed as a heartless bitch.

(4) Joan of Navarre, queen consort of Henry IV, widow of the Duke of Brittany, who was falsely accused of witchcraft after Henry's death. What more potential for drama could any writer need? Witch Queen by Maureen Peters is a novel about her life, though it's short and rather superficial.

(5) Mary, the daughter of King Stephen who became Abbess of Romsey. Abducted against her will by Matthew, Count of Flanders and Boulogne, Mary was forced into marriage with him. They had two daughters before she returned to her much calmer life at Romsey. Her story certainly offers plenty of drama, though the romantic aspect might be lacking. But if you can't wait for a more in-depth novel about her, why not read Princess, Nun, and Wife by Judy Walker, which Romsey Abbey sells in their gift shop for £6.99.

Who else would you like to add to the list, royal or not, medieval or not?


  1. Well, here's a few:

    Eleanor Cobham

    Philippa of Hainault (who could also use a decent biography)

    Gwenillian, who was born a Welsh princess but spent most of her life as a nun

    Jeanne (or Joan) of Flanders, Countess of Montfort, active in the Breton civil war in 1342, who is said to have gone mad after being brought to England in 1343 (too much rain?)

  2. Well, I prefer to write male MCs, so I'll leave those books to other writers. :)

    My suggestion:
    Galla Placidia, daughter of Theodosius I, sister of Emperor 'the Chicken' Honorius, betrothed to Stilicho's son Eucherius (who was assassinated), captive of the Goths and then married to their king Athaulf, and after his death to the Roman general Constantius, mother of the emperor Valentinian III. There's a German biography about her which is a bit on the dry side.

    She plays a secondary role in my NiP Towards the Kingdom of Tolosa but someone good in writing novels about historical women should do her entire life justice, not only an episode. :)

  3. I should have concluded with... female or not. You can pick male MCs to put on the list too :)

    I'm not that familiar with Jeanne of Flanders, so did some online research. "Joan the Arsonist"?

    Dare I ask why Honorius was called The Chicken?

  4. Because he had a score pet chicken for which he obviously cared more than for politics and Rome. There's a story that when he was told Roma had fallen, Honorius thought it was about his favourite chicken named Roma. That can, of course, be an exaggeration by some ill-meaning chronist, but fact is, Honorius was weak, listened to the wrong people (to have Stilicho assassinated was the most stupid idea), withdrew to Ravenna when things in Rome looked uncomforatable but left his sister behind (that's how she got captured) and was in all, incapable of dealing with the Goths in Italy and Constantine and Jovinus in Gaul. It was also Honorius who in 411AD told the Romans still living in Britannia that the Roman Empire could do better without that rainy island in the north. Maybe not such a stupid idea per se since Rome had trouble on all frontiers and Britain kept breeding ursurpers and was beset from all sides (Irish invaders in the west, Picts in the north, Saxons in the southeast) but it was the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.

    I don't know if anyone really nicknamed Honorius 'the Chicken' but some of my characters do. :)

  5. That's her! Joan the Arsonist.

  6. Thanks - fascinating stuff!

    I own a novel about Galla Placidia, and I think it's a romance between her and the Goth king. It didn't get very good reviews (check it out if you want). So it looks like there's plenty of room for one more :)

  7. Well, according to Placidia's letters they did fall in love; it happens even in political matches (or some time before the marriage in this case) but that book sounds boring.

  8. Interesting post and comments! I'd love to read a novel about Philippa of Hainault, who is always portrayed as a 'passive breeder' and nothing else. Isabelle of Angoulême would be really interesting, too.

    Another fascinating subject could be Elizabeth de Clare, Edward II's niece - widowed 3 times by the age of 26, then lived another 38 years. Her third husband was her uncle's 'favourite' Roger Damory, who later turned against the king and was sentenced to death for treason. There's a great bio of Elizabeth by Frances Underhill.

  9. What is it about the de Clare sisters, being married off to their uncle's favorites? Thanks, Alianore, I wasn't familiar with Elizabeth's story.