Tuesday, November 08, 2022

The historical novels of Irish writer Eleanor Fairburn are available again

Cecily quartet by Eleanor Fairburn

Eleanor Fairburn (1928-2015), whose real name was Eva (Lyons) Fairburn, was a highly regarded historical novelist and mystery writer. She wrote under various pseudonyms; you can find a lengthy biography of her, with details on her work, at the National Museum of Ireland. Within the historical fiction genre, she specialized in re-creating the lives of medieval and Renaissance women who had unfairly been forgotten and whose actions were frequently deemed scandalous in their time.

Most of her historical novels were never published in the United States, and I only became aware of them because I'd been collecting fiction about royalty. Novels about royal women were in vogue in the UK in the 1960s-1980s, and among them, Fairburn's novels stand out for their deft portraits of complex heroines and the circumstances they lived through.  The books weren't easy to find (many were published before I was born), and some never appeared on the secondhand market because they were so rare. 

Eleanor Fairburn's historical novels - Crowned Ermine, The Golden Hive, The Green Popinjays, The White Seahorse

In 2010, I wrote a review of Fairburn's The Golden Hive for this blog, as part of one of the reading challenges that were so popular then. Its subject is Nesta of Deheubarth, an 11th-century Welsh noblewoman who became a mistress of England's King Henry I.  The Golden Hive was published in 1966, and the writing still had a freshness that drew me in. If you follow Elizabeth Chadwick on social media, you'll know that she's also written a novel about Nesta (The King's Jewel) that will be out in April 2023, and I look forward to seeing her take on the character. 

After my post went up, I was excited to get an email from the author herself. She thanked me for the review, said it was a nice surprise to find it, and that she was hoping to interest her publisher in reprinting. I wrote back that I hoped that would happen. Fast forward twelve years, and the other day I came upon new editions of Fairburn's novels on Amazon, published by the Fairburn Estate, with new introductions and beautifully designed covers. Thanks to the rise of indie publishing, more readers today will be able to easily obtain her books without going through used book dealers.

Their subjects are as follows.  Links go to the Kindle editions, but they're also available in paperback.

The Cecily Quartet, photo at top, is a series of four novels about Cecily of York, mother of Edward IV and Richard III during England's War of the Roses, imagining her life from childhood through old age. The note on Amazon says the series was republished for its 50th anniversary. 

Crowned Ermine reveals the life story of heiress Anne of Brittany, who became twice queen of France in the 15th century.

Fairburn's The Green Popinjays is about Lady Lucia de Thweng, termed the "Helen of Cleveland." The author's first historical novel, it delved into the life and motivations of a woman of notoriety from 13th-century Yorkshire who married three times, divorced one of her husbands, and had several children out of wedlock. Read more about Lucia at the Cleveland & Teesside Local History Society.

The White Seahorse covers the life of Graunya "Grace" O'Malley, Irish pirate queen during the Elizabethan era.

and The Golden Hive is detailed as above. Three of Fairburn's mysteries written as Catherine Carfax, with settings ranging from Victorian England to then-contemporary France and Ireland, are also newly available.  If you decide to pick any of these up, please let me know your thoughts!


  1. DENISE K5:04 AM

    I had never heard of Eleanor Fairburn, thanks for this article! Going to check out these books on Amazon.

  2. Hope you'll find them interesting. Her novels have been out of print for so long, and it's great that readers have a chance to discover them again.

  3. Anonymous1:10 PM

    As a fan of history they all excite me