Today I'm super excited to have one of my closest author friends Debra Brown, here on the blog! She's written part of a new anthology called Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. Also check out my review of her book The True Companion of Lady Holmeshire.
Fanning Embers of the Past
My flame of love for British history has not been quenched but only kindled by the recent release of an anthology of blog posts by a group of writers titled Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. It is a case of “the more you learn, the more questions are raised”. An example of this creates sparks in the early part of the book.
I included a post about the early “Dark Ages” kings of what is now England. There were many, and covering them all in one essay meant barely skimming the surface of their lives. I washappy when Nancy Bilyeau wrote an article about just one of those kings, Athelstan. Why, she asked, is he so little known when he accomplished much? She gave some possible reasons.
1) It is possible, some say likely, that his mother was a concubine, making Athelstan illegitimate—which doesn’t work well to inherit a throne.
2) Questions persist as to whether he killed his half-brother, Edwin, the legitimate son of his father, by shipping him out in a boat with no oars, food or water.
3) Athelstan never married at a time when kings were expected to father an heir.
Other details about this blonde, handsome king include that he loved religious relics and received some as a gift from a man who wanted to marry Athelstan’s beautiful sister.
Some centuries later, as Anne O’Brien wrote, quoting early sources, “There was… in England a shameless woman and wanton harlot called Ales Peres, of base kindred… being neither beautiful or fair, she knew how to cover these defects with a flattering tongue.”
This woman, said to be born in the gutter and famously ugly—even accused of being a witch, won over the heart of a king to the extent that upon the Queen’s death she was given her jewels, embezzled money for her own husband, and even removed the rings from the fingers of the king on his deathbed. She’dpersuaded Edward to give her land and amassed fifty-six manors, castles, and townhouses throughout England. A formidable woman, she sat next to the judge to make sure her case was considered when hauled into court.
The question is, was she as bad as the records indicate, or was the fire stoked by the writers of these accusations—men who were jealous of the status she derived from the love of their king? Anne O’Brien takes these matters up in the book.
What do you know about the art of courtly love and the rules ofchivalric romance? Sandra Byrd writes that since many noble marriages were arranged for economic, familial, or political purposes, courtly love was a gentle game of flirtation wherein people might express true, heart-felt affection—for someone other than the spouse. The “perfect knight” romanced a mistress with poems, songs, and gifts, and he would joust in her honor.
One such dalliance, played out before all Europe, developed between the handsome, young King Henry VIII and the lady Anne Boleyn. Their refined, courtly relationship grew to become an inferno that changed the face of England and its religion forever.
The book is ablaze with curious facts. A favorite form of entertainment was public execution. It was more becoming for a woman to be burned alive than hanged. Near drowning in cold water was a “cure” for mental illness. Insurance could be purchased in a coffeehouse.
You can find the answers to many questions. How old did people live to be in the past—what age was old? Why did women sometimes dress as men? Newspapers were printed on rag paper and were expensive—where could you read the news?
As time goes up in smoke as it relentlessly does, books can keep history’s fascinating facts alive on paper and in our memories.
Castles, Customs, and Kings is praised by readers. "Fans of historical fiction and England will find the book rich in supplemental information to complement their reading with an introduction to authors of works they might enjoy." "I found the approach charming and reassuring." "It was literary comfort food – a recollection of childhood, warm and satisfying."
Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales can be purchased at Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. It will soon be available in other online bookstores.
Many thanks to Diamond for having me here as a guest!