The Story So Far ...

Monday, 14 August 2017

Writing to Music: A Medievalist Approach - Emily Murdoch

For the latest in the series Writing to Music I am delighted to turn the blog over to Emily Murdoch.
Over to you Emily...

If music be the food of love, play on . . . where words fail, music speaks . . . without music, life would be a mistake . . . It is hard to find anyone who does not love music, even if our tastes will vary! As an author, there are very specific conditions that I have to work in to be able to get the Muse flowing, and music is a vital aspect of many authors. The question is, did it for our medieval ancestors?

We can argue about medieval literacy until the cows come home, but the fact that the medieval ear had a true love affair with music is one few would argue with. There is a great deal of sheet music that has come down the ages to us from the time before the 1500s, and much of it from the church. 

Singing praises to God was just as much second nature to them as singing the latest chart songs to us; it brought them closer to each other and to their Maker in a way that only religious harmonies can. 

In fact, the very idea of melody and harmony intertwining, weaving in and out of each other like a woven basket was born in the monasteries, and some believe it was used as a form of concentration – and entertainment – for the scribes copying out new versions of the Holy Scriptures.

That is not, naturally, to say that music was only found in the province of the cloister. The battlefield was just as likely to contain song and instruments, but for very different purposes – and much lewder lyrics! Marching songs, songs to stiffen the sinews, songs to encourage you to move faster, think quicker, kill speedier . . . The Crusades bore a huge medley of different songs, some in English, some in French, and all just as unpleasant about the enemy. 

Just as I may write a quickly-paced scene with a quickly paced tune in the background, so previous generations of soldiers have been spurred on by the beating of their heart and the pounding of a drum. That respect, perhaps, not much has changed. 

As the medieval era began to turn towards the Renaissance, perhaps the last great medieval King took it, and transformed it into something more than an ode to the love of God, or the love of war: but instead, the love of a woman. Henry VIII was more medieval tyrant than reformed Renaissance man, despite his father, and he knew that music itself could be put to work, to do something for you, to sing for its supper. His wooing of Anne Boleyn, no matter which side of the debate you come (Team Katherine? Team Anne?) was a truly transformative change in the way that we see music. Now it wasn’t just the world changing the music. Music was changing the world.

Henry VIII in 1509

We know thanks to modern science and studies that listening to music with lyrics can really hinder our concentration, and I surely can’t be the only one who has been listening to a great song, and then realised that I had typed out the lyrics for the last two sentences! Having low level music, however, has shown in some studies to increase productivity and reduce the stress hormone cortisol in the body, so our ancestors can’t be all wrong. 

Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, absolutely hated writing to music, and instead stated that he would rather write in a soundproofed room on the top floor of a building, with no feet stomping above him. Stephen King loved writing to music so much that he actually created his own band of authors! He called it ‘The Rock Bottom Remainders,’ and it contained writers such as Amy Tan, Scott Turow, Joel Selvin, and Barbara Kingsolver.

I certainly find music an excellent soother when I am trying to work out a key passage in one of my books, and I have found songs, humming, and musicians tripping across my page more than once in a wonderfully poetical irony.

I would be remiss to end the article without sharing some of the music that I listen to when I am writing! When writing in my medieval series, I love to immerse myself in historically accurate tunes: Mediaeval Baebes is a gorgeous vocal group that recreate medieval music and at times, put a modern spin on things. 
Musa Venit Carmine -Youtube

When I’m writing my bestselling Regency series, it’s all about soundtracks: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, even Northanger Abbey! It’s a wonderful way for me to keep the manners and civilities in mind as I write. 

For my most recent series, Western historical, I’ve taken a completely different approach, writing to modern ‘cowboy’ music, to separate myself from my other series! It can get slightly complicated when I write more than one series in a day, but the music grounds me, keeps me close to my (current) historical time period, and forces me to stay centred on what I’m working on.

No matter what, I always have RainyMood on in the background. I love the sunshine so I have no idea why I am always desperate for the sound of the rain behind me, and I absolutely love this free website. 
Rainy Mood 
Check it out, and read any of my books at the same time: you’ll be listening to the same sounds that I did when writing it.

Thanks so much, Emily!

Emily Murdoch is a historian and writer. Throughout her career so far she has examined a codex and transcribed medieval sermons at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, designed part of an exhibition for the Yorkshire Museum, worked as a researcher for a BBC documentary presented by Ian Hislop, and worked at Polesden Lacey with the National Trust. She has a degree in History and English, and a Masters in Medieval Studies, both from the University of York. Emily has a medieval series, a Regency novella series, and the first volume of a five-part Western series published, and is currently working on several new projects.

Buy her books from Amazon UK and Amazon US
You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, BookBub, and Facebook.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Administration in the Reign of Charlemagne

You know me, I like trawling through old documents – and the other day I found one of my own (I’m over fifty, therefore I am part of history!) This is the write-up of a paper I delivered many years ago, back when I was still a teenager. I've recently been re-visiting the reign of Charlemagne and looking again at the letters of Alcuin, exploring the relationship between Charlemagne and Offa of Mercia. Here though, it seems the task was to talk about administration in the reign of Charlemagne (Charles). 

Royal Courts

In the seventh and eighth centuries, the Lombard kings had a palace at Pavia which was a permanent base, and which housed royal treasure and an archive of important documents. King Pippin took this over and made good use of the resources. Nothing similar existed north of the Alps at the beginning of Charles’ reign, although the Merovingians had favourite residences and itinerant writing offices. When they weren’t campaigning, the Frankish kings moved their entire court from one estate to another.

Frankia in the early eighth-century Image Public Domain

These rural estates made up the royal domain, or fisc. Their origins were various; they could be estates previously belonging to Merovingian kings, family lands of Charles’ ancestors, estates acquired by confiscation or conquest, and consequently they were widely scattered.

In such estates where the itinerant court was not a frequent visitor, but where there was a reason for maintaining the property, (eg providing hospitality for journeying royal servants) it was entrusted to a prominent local figure who had to pay a rent on it. 

Incidentally, because the interests of the fisc were involved, and because he wished to encourage the payment of compensation instead of vendetta, Charles completed the change from private to royal minting, which resulted in the king’s head, and, importantly, the name, being on the coins.

Image attribution

It was necessary to know what resources each estate had in advance of the royal party’s arrival, and servants had the task of seeing that the produce of a particular estate was available for consumption by the court. Charles, encouraging the use of the written word, ordered the preparation of estate inventories, and an elaborate set of instructions was set out for the estate administrators (the Capitulare de Villis). The estate inventories were very detailed – I quote from one such inventory which would have been forwarded to the king, as instructed in the Capitulare de Villis.
We found in the domain estate of Asnapium a royal house built of stone in the best manner, 3 rooms; the whole house surrounded with balconies, with 11 apartments for women beneath one cellar; two porticoes; 17 other houses built of wood within the courtyard with as many rooms and other appurtenances, well built’ 1 stable, 1 kitchen, 1 mill, 1 granary, 3 barns. 
Farm produce: old spelt from last year, 90 baskets which can be made into 450 weight of flour; 100 measures of barely. From the present year, 11- baskets of spelt, planted 60 baskets from the same, the rest we found. 430 measures of oats, 1 measure of beans, 12 measures of peas. At the 5 mills, 800 measures, small measures. At the 4 breweries, 650 measures, small measures, 240 given to the prebendaries, the rest we found. At the 2 bridges, 60 measures of salt and 2 shillings.”
The location of this estate is not known, but it is easy to imagine the daily life and living conditions.

The Frankish court was indeed very companionable – as we know from Einhard (Charles’ biographer) Charles was a hearty eater, and close association with the king meant that the men hunted with him, ate and drank at the same table and advised him. Until the court became an imperial one *, protocol remained very simple.

Charlemagne at Dinner - from the 'Talbot Shrewsbury Book' : Attribution


Most important (although he was never allowed the unique influence that Charles’ ancestors had attained as mayors) was the Count of the Palace. He exercised a general power of supervision and discipline, and later played a part in legal proceedings which came before the king if the decision of the local court had been ignored.

Aspects of domestic court life fell under the supervision of marshals, or seneschals, and as courtiers they were given other and greater duties besides.

Most other laymen who were not part of the mass of menial servants were numbered among the royal vassals (vassi dominici). They formed an elite fighting-troop around the king in battle, and in peacetime they performed duties ranging from royal legate to investing a recipient of a royal grant with property. Bullough** mentions a certain vassal, Leo, who was not even a Frank, who became a key figure in the administration of the subordinate kingdom of the Lombards. Personal acceptability and gaining royal trust certainly gave a man high standing with the king.

At the time of the succession those in the royal comitatus who could write were entirely clergy. It was they who wrote the royal diplomas, most of which have disappeared without trace, so we don’t know exactly how much work was involved. We do know that in the writing office there were men of different grades, ranging from the man who authorised the preparation right down to the lowly copier.

Capitulare de Villis

Surprisingly, the preparation of the capitularies was normally the work of other court clergy – at any rate north of the Alps, for in the Italian kingdom these tasks seem to have been performed by the lay notaries of the palace.

At the head of the entire complex was the arch-chaplain. He was well placed to influence the royal policy towards the Church. Charles’ first arch-chaplain was Fulred, who was a prominent figure and was high in the royal favour. His successors, Anilgram and Hildebold didn’t play such a prominent part – they were probably overshadowed by the presence at court of a lowly cleric – Alcuin. [Presumably my ‘audience’ would have known that Alcuin was an Englishman who famously went to the Carolingian court, and perhaps I hoped for, and received, a small laugh of recognition here!]

The Territorial Count

The counts were comparatively few in number. Professor Ganshof puts the number between 250 and 300 at any one time. Bullough puts the figure much lower, around 30. It is impossible to tell; very few names are known, and the texts of the time rarely record the fate of individuals.

As well as their military role, they had to attend court every so often to hear the royal commands. The capitularies laid on them the responsibility of suppressing disorder, and encouraging the peaceful termination of feuds, ensuring criminals did not escape justice by hiding in an area outside the count’s jurisdiction (an immunity), protecting those who were unable to protect themselves – widows and orphans of freeborn landowners, monasteries and churches.

Detail: attribution as above

Where counts were not directly responsible for the lands of the fisc, they had to keep a watchful eye on those who were. In some areas they were responsible for the permanent defence of some portion of the frontier (this was possibly their only military role – although they may have had to provide men to fight, it is not clear whether they themselves fought alongside the kings, for as I shall explain later, the king was loath to take them away from their regular responsibilities. 

The territorial units were very different. In Frankia east of the Rhine the authority seems to have been based around a group of royal estates, in some cases mingled with those entrusted to other counts. West of the Rhine the territorial county was an area with definite boundaries, sometimes corresponding to the old Roman territorial boundaries. There were differences in size, character and strategic importance between the counties. There were also differences of responsibility and power among the counts.

Who were the counts?

Quite often, they were the sons or relatives of other counts. It was rare to find them succeeding their father’s county, and if they did, it would be by imperial command. Being born into certain Frankish families meant a good chance of future office. This probably meant that Charles could expect to retain their loyalty. Most free-born laymen who agreed to become vassi could expect at some future date to be rewarded with a county somewhere. This probably also meant a sharper distinction between the two classes as the Frankish magnate families saw office going to other men, they sought access to privileged positions.

Nineteenth century depiction of early medieval Franks

Comital office though was not restricted to the Franks, or even to the magnate families. There were Bavarian and Lombard counts as well. The unity of the kingdom must have been helped to a certain extent by the coming together at court of all the counts.

Law and Order

The principle remained that a man was to be judged according to the law of his ‘tribe’ and despite the capitularies, marked regional differences persisted.

However, the courts were ordered to enforce the law of the king. This is one of the main themes of the capitulary agreed between Charles and his magnates at Herstal in March 779. It condemned murder, robber and perjury:
8. Concerning murderers and other guilty men who ought in law to die, if they take refuge in a church they are not to be let off, and no food is to be given to them there. 
9. That robbers who are caught in an immunity area should be presented by the justices of that area at the count’s court; and anyone who fails to comply with this is to lose his benefice and his office’ anyone who has no benefice must pay the fine.
 10. Concerning a man who commits perjury, that he cannot redeem it except by losing his hand. But if an accuser wishes to press the charge of perjury they are both to go to the ordeal of the cross; and if the swearer wins, the accuser is to pay the equivalent of his wergeld*** This procedure is to be observed in minor cases; in major cases, or in cases involving free status, they are to act in accordance with the law.
14. Concerning the raising of an armed following, let no one dare to do it.
22. If anyone is unwilling to accept a payment instead of vengeance he is to be sent to us, and we will send him where his likely to do least harm. Likewise, if anyone is unwilling to pay a sum instead of vengeance or to give legal satisfaction or it, it is our wish that he be sent to a place where he can do no further harm. 
23. Concerning robbers, our instructions are that the following rules should be observed: for the first offence they are not to die but to lose an eye, for the second offence the robber’s nose is to be cut off; for the third offence, if he does not mend his ways, he must die.
These crimes figure again and again in the capitularies, making one wonder how effective Charles’ measures were, although it must be remembered that violence and crime were prevalent in the middle ages. [And presumably if a one-eyed, nose-less man approached you, you'd be wary...] 

From the capitulary, it can be seen that Charles recognised that private vendetta still has a part to play in the maintenance of law and order, although where monetary compensation was offered it had to be accepted.

The local courts were presided over by someone acting in the name of the king – usually the count. Ordinary law-worthy men supported the parties to a dispute, saw that the established procedure was observed, and declared the law. It is no clear whether the count was always expected to attend in person.

Because of the great authority of the counts, and their duty of pursuing and punishing crime, there was plenty of room for corruption – improper levying of services, demand for free hospitality when travelling, taking of bribes etc.

One cleric, Theodulf, found it less upsetting to accept small gifts than refuse them. Royal Missi (legates) were used to check the activities of the counts. This left the problem of who to use for the job. Vassi might lack the necessary prestige to be effective. If a count was used he would be taken away from his regular responsibilities.

This all seems to end rather abruptly. My guess is that the last page is missing, because I would have been obliged to provide a bibliography (we delivered the papers, then handed in written-up versions). Ah well, it wouldn’t be an historical document if it didn’t leave some little question mark, would it? 

*look out for a future post about how things changed after the imperial coronation
**Presumably Donald Bullough
***wergeld = man price; the payment in gold according to the man’s worth/rank in society

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review/Interview: Blessop's Wife by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

This month's featured novel is a medieval murder mystery, although I'm not sure that completely sums up Blessop's Wife.

Barbara Gaskell Denvil was born in Gloucestershire, England and later moved to London. Her Scottish father was an artist and playwright, her Australian mother was a teacher, and Victorian author Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell was a great, great, great aunt. 

When younger Barbara worked in many literary capacities and published numerous short stories and articles, but now writes full length novels.

Her passion is for late English medieval history and this forms the background for many of her historical novels, although she also writes fantasy novels. 

Find Barbara on Amazon or on her BLOG

A review can be a powerful thing - never underestimate it! I came to Blessop's Wife because I'd read the Discovering Diamonds review. This site is a wonderful place to learn about new historical fiction. From there, I went over to Amazon and read the preview sample. I was hooked. What an opening page; the author employs every one of the senses to describe the scene and we are not simply watching poor Tyballis, we are experiencing what she is experiencing, we can smell what she smells, see what she sees. She runs. I would have run too.

It is 15th century England and King Edward IV wears the crown, but no king rules unchallenged. Often it is those closest to him who are the unexpected danger. When the king dies suddenly without clear cause, rumour replaces fact – and Andrew Cobham is working behind the scenes.
Tyballis was forced into marriage with her abusive neighbour. When she escapes, she meets Andrew and an uneasy alliance forms with a motley gathering of thieves, informers, prostitutes and children eventually joining the game.
I have read a fair few books set in this period and all of them have been told from the point of view of one of the 'major' players of the time, either Elizabeth Woodville, or Richard of Gloucester. In this story, the fictional characters take centre-stage. And a superb cast of characters they are, too. London in medieval times provides a noisy, dirty, smelly and frightening backdrop as this band of allies is drawn together first through having nothing more in common than being in straitened circumstances. The people all live under the same roof and this is the only reason for their interaction, until they begin to work together to aid the cause of their benefactor, Andrew, and to help when any of their crew is in difficulty or danger.

This book has everything - murder, mystery, danger, adventure, history, and love stories. As I read it, I got caught up in the lives of the fictional characters, enjoying being taken along on their adventures, but all the while being reminded that this story was rooted firmly in its historical context and these people had a part to play in the major events of history. The fictional and non-fictional characters are put together in such a way that it was hard to tell where the join was.

I'm not the only one to have enjoyed this book; it has just been given a special award by Chill with a Book

After I'd read this book, I asked Barbara a few questions:

The characters of Edward IV and Richard of Gloucester are pivotal to the plot. What made you decide to focus your story on fictional characters?
I have always enjoyed basing my plots around genuine historical characters and events, while bringing in an entirely fictional storyline as the major component. This brings an element of reality into a novel, and that is something I immensely enjoy. I love using my years of research concerning these periods to conjure an atmosphere of reality. I want to enter that world, and I want to bring my readers with me. Simply telling the history of a real person, and adding fictional conversations and events to what has been gained from fact, does not satisfy my desire to create. Atmospheric creation delights me. Yet it would seem too shallow if it remained pure fantasy and did not include the truths of the era. History also delights me and some real characters of the past stand out as fascinating. I love to delve and dig, but I am uncomfortable with adding my own spin to the genuine past. I therefore combine history with fact, which satisfies me and hopefully also pleases my readers.

Without giving away any spoilers, you say that a certain key moment regarding Edward IV's demise, might plausibly have happened. How did you discover this theory, and was this what gave you the idea for the book? 
Yes, indeed, this was the spark which set off my initial inspiration.
This may constitute a spoiler, but the fact is the theory regarding Edward IV’s death is not my own. The king’s death in 1483 was entirely unexpected. He was a young man, dying just days before his forty-first birthday, and although there are suggestions that he was possibly obese, he suffered from no specific known complaint. Nor was any medical diagnosis publicly acknowledged at the time.. 
The suggestion I follow in my novel was put forward by Richard E. Collins, presented in the book The Death of Edward IV Part II by J. Dening and R. E. Collins , published in 1996. There is no proof of this theory, but it remains a possibility.

Given that most of your characters are fictional and the plots and intrigues have many twists and turns, how did you piece together the story - did the plotline require huge amounts of planning, or did you have most of the story in your head already?
All my books are written in much the same way – which you might call an absolute muddle! The initial inspiration starts off a flow of ideas which race around in circles, swell, retract, pop in and out of my dreams, and eventually start to make sense. Then I try to tame these ideas into a genuine plot, with a multitude of possible situations and characters. I make endless notes, lists, and pages of research. The characters solidify first. Then – finally – I write the book, and as I write I change almost everything. My imagination goes wild and I end up with quite a different book to the one I originally planned. It almost always happens this way and I find it tremendous fun. Heroes turn into villains mid-book and villains become my favorites. But my principal hero and heroine, who are always fictional, stay solid become real in my head, and guide me along. Indeed, sometimes I think they write the book for me. I also re-write many times, polishing and refining. I believe that rewriting several times is indispensable.

I so enjoyed the scenes with all the disparate characters who lived in Drew's house. Is this based on historical fact? By which I mean would there have been groups of people, different families, living together like that in and around London during this period?
I’m afraid I have no genuine historical basis for this idea, but there were certainly large rickety tenements where the poorer families lived squashed up together, and would have known each other – almost living in each other’s pockets (not that they had pockets back then!). Privacy was not a concern even for the rich, and for instance, the court was a great palace of separate rooms where the lords of the court all lived very close to each other, gossiping and plotting in various ways. London’s streets were squashed, houses almost combined, and sharing walls, and everyone knew everyone else’s business. Therefore my one large house occupied by many is not so far from the truth. I used a genuine fact, and changed it just a little to fit my story.

If readers have read and enjoyed Blessop's Wife, which of your books would you recommend they go to next?
I think both THE FLAME EATER and SUMERFORD’S AUTUMN. Both are set in the same era and follow plots with a variety of characters from all stations of life, include the mysteries of crime and the unknown criminal, include a fair background of genuine historical fact, and move fast through different episodes and events, leading to a generally cheerful conclusion, with some humor included., for however difficult life may be, there is always something to laugh at and cheer us up.

Sumerford’s Autumn is set during the early years of Henry VII’s reign, and brings the vastly differing  adventures of a family of boys into focus against the mystery and battles of Perkin Warbeck, the pretender. The first Tudor king makes some small appearances but the novel concentrates more on the mystery and chaos of the family, and the main hero’s romantic confusion.
The Flame Eater is set just a little earlier during the reign of Richard III, although he does not personally appear. Political strife, the background struggles of the era, and the events of the time are the backdrop to a very different romance, and a series of highly misunderstood murders. As usual, there is a large cast of essential characters, this time being mostly female. But I am particularly fond of my hero Nicholas.

Thanks so very much, Annie, for these really interesting questions, and the chance to talk about my work.

Barbara's Fantasy Novel - FAIR WEATHER

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Historical Fantasy 24 Hours ~ Margaret Porter

I asked a group of talented writers and historians to imagine their 'Fantasy Twenty-Four Hours.' I placed no restrictions on time period, place, or format, save that they must go back in time. 

This month is the turn of author Margaret Porter. Journey with her as she spends at day at the Georgian theatre. But she's not in the audience...


My twenty-four hours of time travel would return me to my original profession—actress—and the world of the Georgian-era theatre, setting for at least three of my twelve published novels, and two future ones.

I was prepared for my career by none other than the premiere actor of our time, David Garrick. Described by nearly all critics as the greatest performer of his—or possibly any generation, he schools promising young actresses in the elegant parlour of his residence in the Adelphi. His lovely wife, by birth an Austrian, is a regular observer of these instructive sessions, and has been especially kind to me. Prior to their marriage, Mrs Garrick was a renowned dancer and protegée of Lord and Lady Burlington. Their callers are numerous—actors, politicians, even aristocrats. The Garricks are popular within a vast circle of society, and are intimate friends of Lord and Lady Spencer.

Mr & Mrs Garrick

Despite having the advantage of Mr Garrick’s tutelage, I’m not yet reigning queen of the theatrical realm, to be sure, but none would dispute that I am the princess. I well know the unwholesome reputations ascribed to female players, and can attest that in many instances they are justified. And yet not a few of us are women possessed of integrity and morality, whether spinster, wife, or widow. Many a time I have rebuffed unwelcome propositions from—I hesitate to employ the term ‘gentlemen’—rather, from the pleasure-seeking rogues who prowl the corridors leading to our Green Room and dressing rooms. I am not for them, nor they for me. 

This morning, in London, I rose at a reasonable hour and sent my footman for the newspapers, so I may know what has been written of me. After dressing, I made my way to Drury Lane for a rehearsal of our newest play. Afterwards, I visited the milliners of Cranbourn Alley and secondhand clothing dealers in the upper part of St Martin’s Lane—we actresses must organise our own wardrobes for the play. If I am in funds, I shop in Oxford Street as well. My new prominence as a player enables me to set fashions, and because my clothing is admired and even copied, I dress as finely as I can afford.

Margaret the Actress

For convenience, and economy, my lodging is an easy walking distance from my place of employment. In the evening if I’m due at Drury Lane, I dine before making my way to the theatre, and return at an advanced hour. This evening I do not perform, so I have penned my acceptance of Mrs Garrick’s standing invitation to watch the entertainment from the manager’s box. Afterwards I sup with her—and Mr Garrick, if he is able to join us—theatre business often keeps him late. I marvel that in the many years since their wedding day, he and his wife have not spent a single night apart. Such is their devotion to one another.

As additional proof that they treat me very much as a family member, I have paid many a visit to their charming villa at Hampton, on the River Thames. It was designed in imitation of Lord Burlington’s Chiswick retreat. We travel there tomorrow, and I am pleased to accompany them for more than one reason.

The Garricks' Villa at Hampton

I shall now share my greatest secret, which I beg you will hold in confidence. 

Last year, when staying at the Garrick’s villa, I became acquainted with their handsome neighbour, a former actor of good family, well-travelled. He resigned from the stage upon inheriting a substantial fortune and with it a riverside property. His mode of courtship was most endearing, and my admiration was succeeded by affection. In truth, he has won my heart. I have therefore accepted his marriage offer. 

He has shown me his delightful house, with river walk and gardens, and an orangery. I have already grown fond of his companionable dogs and pedigree horses. Someday I shall know the privilege of reading every volume in his well-stocked library.

My beloved assures me of his pride in my achievements, and regrets the necessity of curtailing them. And though I must surely—and willingly—surrender the stage upon taking his name, he proposes an alternative use of my experience and talents: writing. Mr Garrick has been very encouraging to female playwrights—Mrs. Clive, Frances Sheridan, Hannah Cowley—and expresses a flattering eagerness to receive the early fruits of my pen. He fears I might first attempt a novel, also a possibility, instead of a drama or comedy for his playhouse.

A note from Mrs Garrick

My dear Mrs Garrick advises me to follow my Muse along whatever paths she may lead me . . . . And so I shall.


Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of twelve period novels, as well as nonfiction and poetry. A Pledge of Better Times, her highly acclaimed novel of 17th century courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans (son of King Charles II and actress Nell Gwyn), is available in trade paperback and ebook. 

Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.

Find Margaret on her Website
and on Twitter

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Jacobite Chronicles by Julia Brannan - The 'Baddie' tells his Tale

To coincide with the release of volume five in The Jacobite Chronicles - Pursuit of Princes -
I am delighted to welcome to the blog Mr Richard Cunningham, who has agreed to answer some of my questions... (although I don't know whether his author has approved his answers!)

In The Mask of Duplicity (Volume One), following the death of their father, Beth’s brother Richard returns from the army to claim his share of the family estate. However, Beth’s hopes of a quiet life are dashed when Richard, dissatisfied with his meagre inheritance and desperate for promotion, decides to force her into a marriage for his military gain. And he will stop at nothing to get his way...

Beth is coerced into a reconciliation with her noble cousins in order to marry well and escape her brutal brother. The effeminate but witty socialite Sir Anthony Peters offers to ease her passage into society and she is soon besieged by suitors eager to get their hands on her considerable dowry. 

The first in the series about the fascinating lives of beautiful Beth Cunningham, her family and friends during the tempestuous days leading up to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. 


AW: Welcome to my 'newspaper', Sir, and good day to you. I understand that you have consented to answer a few questions, which I hope you will not consider too impertinent.

RC: If I do, madam, I will not answer them. I find it extraordinary that a mere woman should be chosen to interview the military at all. I will have a word with your husband about it later. No good comes of indulging women and allowing them unnecessary freedoms.

AW: Let's leave aside the notion that my husband is my keeper, and I shall of course try to keep a civil tongue in my head, Sir. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with the Chronicles, perhaps you would indulge me as I take us back to the beginning of the story, as we know it, and ask you how you felt when you rode up to the family house that day, back in 1742, as the new master? What were your hopes, your expectations?

RC: I expected, of course, to be greeted as befitted my status as the master of the house and estate. I intended to use the money from father’s will to restore the house, which was in a deplorable state when I rode up the driveway.  This is what happens when you allow women to take charge – everything goes to hell. I understand that father was unwell for some time before his death, but even so, he could have employed someone to take care of my inheritance.

Once the house was restored and I’d suitably disposed of my sister, I intended to purchase a commission in the dragoons, and use the rest of the money to live as befits a man of some military genius, and to achieve the necessary introductions to those who could help me rise further in my profession.

Of course I had no idea then that father would have been so weak as to be influenced by my bitch of a sister into leaving me out of his will altogether. If I’d known that, I would have returned before he died, in order to persuade him otherwise, while he was still capable of dictating a new will and signing his name to it. And of course to have given him a chance to apologise for the way he treated me as a child.

AW: May I offer my condolences on the death of your father? And of course, Beth's rash behaviour after his death in Book One threatens to disrupt your plans concerning Lord Edward. Tell us about that, if you will? Do you find her a little, shall we say, wilful?

RC: A little wilful?! Dear God, madam. I see now by your choice of words, what manner of woman you are. Your husband has been very lax in disciplining you appropriately. I must definitely have words with him. 

My sister, or should I say half-sister, is a malicious ill-bred bitch, who deceives everyone by her outer appearance. Her mother was no better – the only attribute she possessed was her beauty, and she certainly made good use of that to hoodwink Papa into marrying her. I really think there was some witchcraft involved there. He never would have besmirched the memory of dear Mama otherwise. 

Not only  was she a whore, and an illiterate savage from North Briton, but a damned papist, for God’s sake!  No, I’m certain she bewitched him, not only then, but afterwards too. 

How else can you explain his attitude towards me, his only son and heir, once my sister was born? He loved me until she came along, but I could do nothing right after that. It was all Beth, Beth, Beth. She was spoilt entirely and I was utterly neglected. And when I tried to win father’s attention back, all I got for my trouble was a beating. That’s why I left home as soon as I could. I had hoped to become a captain of dragoons and then come back and show him I was worth his love, but the damn fool died while I was still a sergeant.

Oh yes, that Scotch savage he married tried to pretend she cared for me, but I could see through her. She even said she wanted to be my new Mama! How dared she presume that she could even aspire to kiss Mama’s feet, let alone be a mother to me? If I’d been old enough then, I’d have beaten her myself, showed her her place. She was badly in need of it.

No wonder Beth…Elizabeth has no idea how to conduct herself in good company.  Bad blood will out, And God knows she’s inherited no noble blood at all. She is all MacDonald. But father’s ridiculous infatuation with her mother meant that Elizabeth had no idea how to be anything other than a barefoot, knife-throwing heathen savage.  

If father hadn’t made such a stupid will, I swear I’d have broken my sister’s neck that day when I arrived at the house and she made a fool of me by pretending to be the scullery maid.

AW: Beth's lowly ancestry clearly irritates you, so presumably you must have been happy when Sir Anthony appeared 'on the scene', as we say in the modern world? Do, please, give us your opinion of him?

RC: Sir Anthony Peters is beneath contempt. I despise his sort, who think that a title (although baronet is not much of one), vast wealth, expensive tasteless clothes and low wit can excuse the fact that they are sick, perverted buggerers of boys. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had a catamite at home to keep him satisfied. They should be castrated and then strung up and left to rot in my opinion, as a lesson to others. Or made to enlist in the army. I would love to have the command of a few such as him. I’d soon knock them into shape, make damn sure they never sodomised a boy again.

Of course the ridiculous molly is also very influential. For some reason everyone seems to find him amusing to listen to, particularly women. That’s probably because like them, he’s empty-headed and interested only in the most trivial gossip. What the King and Prince William see in him, I have no idea. But he is very influential and as rich as Croesus, so of course it’s worth being civil to him, especially as he seems to show an interest in Elizabeth. Or rather in her dowry. Like many of his kind, he probably wants to marry some unsuspecting girl and get a brat on her to allay rumours, and leave him free to continue his disgusting sexual practices unmolested by the law. 

AW: In case it's not already clear, perhaps you could explain why it is you think that readers might not necessarily sympathise with your character? Do you think the author does you a disservice?

RC: The author is a woman. Need I say more? Probably most of her readers are of the feeble sex too, so they won’t have the wit to think for themselves, and will just believe all the lies she writes about me. Not that I give a damn about what she or any other woman thinks. They’re good for only two things; f*cking and breeding.

These dim-witted women have no understanding that the reason they can sit in their drawing rooms, drinking tea and gossiping about who’s swiving who in society is because real men like me are fighting wars and getting cut to pieces to save their way of life from those who would seek to destroy it. Like the damn papist French, and the barbarian Scots, to name only two.

If the author had any intelligence at all, I would be the hero of the book. After all, it’ll be a cold day in hell before limp-wristed fops like Sir Anthony save them from their enemies. Can you imagine him prancing across the battlefield waving a jewel-encrusted sword in one hand and a lace handkerchief in the other? The only chance he’d have of killing anyone is if they died laughing at him! 

Now I think of it, once I’ve had a chat with your husband, I think I need to have a word with the author too…

Well! That was quite the interview... Having read the first three books in this series I've come to have strong feelings about Richard Cunningham. For those who are new to this series, I can only advise that you take some of what he says with a good old-fashioned pinch of salt. You might discover that what he says, and what he sees of, the other characters is just what he wants to see. And it's certainly only what they want him to see...

Following on from The Mask of Duplicity is The Mask Revealed. Volume Three is The Gathering Storm and in Volume Four The Storm Breaks.

The 'storm' alludes to events which occur as the main characters move from London and the European Continent to Scotland, where Charles Stuart (the Bonnie Prince) has come to claim his inheritance.

Pursuit of Princes continues the story beyond the rebellion. The Duke of Cumberland seems determined to stay true to his reputation as the 'Butcher' and secrets may not be so much revealed, as betrayed...

Pursuit of Princes, Book Five in the series, is available to pre-order HERE (UK) or HERE (US) 

Connect with Julia at her Website