17 February 2017

New & Noteworthy: February 17

Lots of news from our contributors this month!

Laura Rahme interviewed Lisa J. Yarde this week at her blog Teranga and Sun, where they discussed writing, reading, the Historical Novel Society, and some of Lisa's novels, including the upcoming final volume in her Sultana series, SULTANA: THE WHITE MOUNTAINS. You can check out the full interview here: This week on the Writer's Couch: Lisa J. Yarde

Libbie Hawker is celebrating the recent release of her newest title, WHITE LOTUS, from Running Rabbit Press. Congratulations Libbie! You can learn more about Libbie and her books, including WHITE LOTUS, at her Amazon Author Page. Welcome to Unusual Historicals, Libbie!

J. K. Knauss is proud to announce that she has been granted a residency at the prestigious women writers' retreat Hypatia-in-the-Woods in September. Meanwhile, the Seven Noble Knights book launch continues with a great review by the Historical Novel Society, an interview with the Book Doctors via the Huffington Post, a fun interview with author Seymour Hamilton, and a full-page appearance in the Saint Helens Chronicle. A local book club is reading Seven Noble Knights in February, and J. K.'s blog will be sure to report back on the literary insights and Spanish cuisine. And finally, if you're in Massachusetts on May 3rd, don't miss J.K. reading from Seven Noble Knights at the Harvard Book Store with memoirist Nadine Kenney on a perfect theme for Mother's Day.

Alison Morton's Roma Nova Series I-III set (INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, and SUCCESSIO) was released on February 10 at a value price. If you haven't read the first three Roma Nova novels, this is great way to start. Links: Amazon | iTunes | Nook | Kobo  In other news, Alison was recently interviewed by Angela Wren about writing alternate history, and by Heather Campbell about receiving the BRAG Medallion. Last but not least, Alison also announces a new home for her ROMA NOVA books: Pulcheria Press, launched February 3. Congrats Alison!

15 February 2017

Mistresses: María de Padilla, Practical Queen of Castile

María de Padilla and Pedro of Castile with María's coat of arms 
By J. K. Knauss 

María de Padilla met King Pedro of Castile during the summer of 1352, when she was eighteen years old, “intelligent, beautiful, and small in size,” according to contemporary chronicles. The king, who was also eighteen at the time, recognized in her a kindred spirit, and she quickly became the love of his life. Although Pedro’s monarch status obliged him to marry more politically advantageous women, María’s willingness to accept his love outside the bonds of matrimony earned her an important place in European history and the royal gene pool. Indeed, it’s difficult to take two steps in Sevilla and in some parts of Castilla y León today without coming across a monument dedicated to her, a room she lived in, or a monastery she founded.

A salon in the King Pedro area of the Royal Palace in Sevilla
Photo by J. K. Knauss 
King Pedro (r. 1350–1369) has not one but two sobriquets recorded in the history books: the Cruel, or the Just. This reflects the complex panorama of the time. He was loved or hated, but no one was indifferent to his policies in a war with Aragón, or his stance regarding what would become the Hundred Years War. These were the early days of sociopolitical turmoil following the Black Death, which had already devastated the Iberian Peninsula and would strike again during Pedro’s reign.

María came of noble lineage, and many of her family members were appointed to high offices at court. It was probably inevitable that she and the king would meet at some time, but it happened to occur during a trip the king made to Asturias to deal with Enrique, his half-brother who would eventually kill him and take the crown, beginning the Trastámara dynasty.

The Salon of María de Padilla as it was furnished in 1892.
Courtesy of pastpictures.org 
Many stories have circulated about the king marrying María in secret soon after he met her, and later glossing over the legally valid ceremony because of political pressures to marry Blanche of Bourbon, first cousin of the King of France. The marriage failed spectacularly, and a later one was also short-lived and lacking issue. María, on the other hand, gave Pedro four children: Beatriz, who became a nun at Tordesillas; Constanza, who married John of Gaunt because King Pedro’s loyalties really lay with the English; Isabel, who married Edmund of Langley; and a son who didn’t survive childhood.

Her unsanctioned relationship with Pedro caused the historians of her time to overlook her accomplishments. While it’s possible she stayed out of the political arena, it seems unlikely she never told the king what she thought of any of the volatile issues of his reign. She is on record as buying expensive properties and founding the convent of Santa Clara de Astudillo. All of the buildings associated with her feature elegant mudéjar and Gothic architecture.

The author pretends to be María de Padilla on a hot September day. 
María died at about 27 years of age in 1361, possibly as a result of plague. Her body was buried in the convent she had founded. But her remains were soon transferred to join other members of the royal family in the royal chapel in the cathedral of Sevilla, where they still rest today. This move could have been motivated by Pedro’s continued devotion, but it was also strategic in gaining recognition of María’s son, Alfonso, as Pedro’s heir. In any case, María de Padilla is remembered as Pedro’s queen, in the practical sense if not by law.

The "Baths of María de Padilla" below the Gothic area
of the Royal Palace in Sevilla are actually
the rain catchment system. Photo by J. K. Knauss 
Although mostly unappreciated in her time, María’s story has captivated novelists and artists ever since. A nineteenth-century opera offers two emotional interpretations of her historical status. In the first version, which was rejected by censors, María seizes the crown from Blanche of Bourbon’s head and then commits suicide. In the final version, Pedro proclaims María as his queen instead of Blanche, and María perishes from the overwhelming joy of attaining what later critics believe must have been her most fervent wish.

A driven fiction writer, J. K. Knauss has edited many fine historical novels and is a bilingual freelance editor. Her historical epic, Seven Noble Knights, was published by Bagwyn Books, and she is working on the sequel. J. K. Knauss earned a PhD in medieval Spanish with a dissertation on the portrayal of Alfonso X’s laws in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, which has been published as the five-star-rated Law and Order in Medieval Spain. On the contemporary side, her YA/NA paranormal Awash in Talent was published by Kindle Press. Find out more about her writing and bookish activities here. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, too!

10 February 2017

Mistresses: Mrs. Dorothea Jordan & King William IV

They nicknamed him "Silly Billy". A more flattering nickname was "The Sailor King". Sandwiched between such iconic monarchs as George IV, whose extravagant lifestyle defined the aesthetics of the Regency Era, and his Queen Victoria, King William IV, former Duke of Clarence (1765-1837) easily gets lost. There is no label attached to his reign. One could call it either "post-Regency" or "pre-Victorian". That period is not covered in literature extensively. And yet, the time between 1830 and 1837 was a time of transition and transformation. The reforms put in place by William IV paved the road for Queen Victoria. He was the last king of the Hanoverian Dynasty and the oldest king to ascend the throne. It was a case of somewhat surprising late-in-life rise power.

William IV; source -
Wikimedia Commons
William IV spent his early years in the Royal Navy, stationed in North America and the Caribbean. Apart from having a personal tutor present on board, William did not enjoy any privileges that would set him apart from the rest of the sailors. He did his share of heavy physical work. During the American War of Independence, he was stationed in New York. Allegedly, George Washington had attempted to kidnap him, knowing that the young man had a habit of walking out unescorted. Fortunately for William, the plot did not come to fruition. Decades later, William endeavored to repair the Anglo-American relations. His subsequent commanding officer, Horatio Nelson, praised him, "In his professional line, he is superior to two-thirds, I am sure, of the Naval list; and in attention to orders, and respect to his superior officer, I hardly know his equal." In 1789 William’s father, George III, made him Duke of Clarence and St. Andrews. Following an arm injury a year later, William was removed from active naval service. The Admiralty did not honor his requests for reinstatement. It must have been agonizing for William to stand on the sidelines during the Napoleonic Wars.

Actress Dorothea Jordan: source -
Wikimedia Commons
Being the third son, William assuming that his chances of becoming a king were very slim, so he did not feel the pressure to get married and produce legitimate children. So he cohabited with an Irish-born actress whose stage name was Mrs. Dorothea Jordan (1761-1816) known for her long and gorgeous legs. She was a few years older than William and had a track record of love affairs with some pretty high-profile individuals that had resulted in three out-of-wedlock births, so she did not exactly fit the image of a seduced and discarded ingenue. Their affair lasted for twenty years and produced ten children, all of whom took the surname of FitzClarence - a homage to Dorothea's Irish roots combined with William's title as the Duke of Clarence.

Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen:
source: Wikimedia Commons
His favorite daughter Sophia went on to marry Philip Sidney, a relative of the famous poet Percy Shelly. The rest of his daughters went on to marry lords and politicians. William and Dorothea enjoyed a surprisingly normal domestic life, but they ended up separating over financial disputes. Dorothea was given custody of her female children and a stipend on the condition that she would not return on stage. When she violated the stipulation and resumed acting in order to pay off some debt, William seized custody of the girls and withdrew his allowance. Dorothea ended up moving to France and dying in poverty - a distressing end for what had started as an illicit fairy-tale.

After parting with his long-time mistress, William embarked on a wife-hunt. After several years of looking for a suitable candidate, he married a 25-year old Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, who welcomed his illegitimate children but could not produce an heir - her own children all died in infancy. One positive thing that came out of William's marriage to Adelaide was that he became frugal and disciplined, which worked in his favor when he became monarch.

*This article is excerpted in part from the original post by M.J. Neary at: http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2016/06/king-william-iv-gap-monarch.html 

01 February 2017

Mistresses: Isabel de Solis / Sultana Soraya of Granada

By Lisa J. Yarde

Mistress. The word has many connotations but in history most often conjured the definition as in Merriam-Webster of, "a woman other than his wife with whom a married man has a continuing sexual relationship."

Nani Jimenez as Isabel de Solis /
Sultana Soraya of Granada
in Isabel series 
In medieval Moorish Spain, the concept of mistress didn't necessarily exist. Islam, the predominant religion of the region, gave men the right to have four wives and as many concubines as they chose. Importantly, any Christian or Jewish woman made a wife or captive could keep her faith under Islamic law, although the children with her husband or master would be raised as Muslims. Throughout my twenty-year study of Muslim rule in Spain, the stories of captives who became the wives and concubines of rulers have come to light. None fascinated me more than Isabel de Solis, later known as Soraya, the eventual second wife of the Nasrid Sultan Abu'l-Hasan Ali of Granada (Muley Hacén in Spanish sources). A true survivor, she's been portrayed in other novels, most recently Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book and onscreen by Nani Jimenez in season two of the Spanish dramatic series, Isabel, about the unification of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. 

Most of Isabel's history remains murky, but some facts are certain. Reputedly, she was the daughter of Sancho Jimenez de Solis, leader of Martos, which is a Castilian town on the border with Moorish Spain. There's no mention of whether Isabel had brothers or sisters in the sources. However, her father is noted as having a second wife whom people called Arlaja the Moor. During Isabel's youth, a Muslim prince Muhammad al-Zaghal, the brother of Sultan Abu'l-Hasan Ali, raided at Martos and captured Isabel in a church. By this time, Isabel had anticipated a different future, with her betrothal to Pedro de Venegas of Luque. Her father did not pay the usual ransom for Isabel became a slave in Granada's Alhambra palace.
Eastern view of the Torre de la Cautiva, taken during
my 2013 visit to Granada
Purportedly, she lived the palace's Torre de la Cautiva at some point. 

She attracted the attention of the Sultan, who eventually wed her, although he already had a first wife in his second cousin, Aisha. One somewhat strange legend of Isabel's life says that as she came to his bed as a virgin, Abu'l-Hasan Ali fell under her spell, ignored his spouse to his detriment, and once invited his subordinates to smell Isabel's bathwater! During her marriage, she had two sons Nasr and Saad. By then she also had a new name, Soraya, which means 'star' in Arabic and a new religion because she converted to Islam. Given that Muslim law would have allowed her to remain a Christian, why didn't Isabel do so? Had she abandoned her faith by choice or under some duress?

The enigmas of Isabel's life as a mistress and later wife of the Sultan begin with her age; some sources state she became a captive as a child while others indicate she was older. It's also impossible to judge how long she had been in the harem before the Sultan noticed her. No one can know when their sexual relationship began, the full circumstances in which it originated, or when she married him. Sources have also suggested that the union between Isabel and Abu'l-Hasan Ali caused the eventual end of Moorish Spain because supporters of his first wife Aisha rebelled against the idea.

Isabel pleads for her freedom with the Sultan's first wife, Aisha
in Isabel series
It's a simple, tidy approach to the reason for Moorish Spain's eventual demise on January 2, 1492, but there were other factors in play long before the Nasrids surrendered to the Catholic monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. Another mystery is Isabel's final fate. After the death of her husband, she returned to the Christian faith and her sons were baptized. Nasr became Fernando de Granada and Saad took the name Juan de Granada. Both married wives from Spanish Christian nobility. But again, their mother's reversion to the faith of her birth is equally intriguing; considering that Castilian law gave the death penalty to apostates - did Isabel regret her life in Muslim Granada or was she a pragmatist who wanted to live at all costs?
Isabel de Solis / Sultana Soraya of Granada features as an antagonist in the last two novels of my series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, and Sultana: The White Mountains. In the earlier novel, she came to the harem as a slave of the Sultan's first wife Aisha at the age of ten and served for six years before she attracted attention, conceived her first son Nasr and became a rival. Here's an excerpt of her perspective on the title of "mistress" in the following scene from Sultana: The White Mountains.

Chapter 1

The House of God
Sultana Moraima

Gharnatah, Al-Andalus or Granada, Andalusia

29 Jumada al-Thani 887 AH / August 15, AD 1482
Soraya inhaled the hashish before she extended the pipe to Moraima, who declined.

“Ah. You don’t indulge. Another of your supposed virtues. Those which you must believe I lack because Abu’l-Hasan Ali desired me and made me his second wife.”

The queen’s swift return to the earlier topic made Moraima straighten. She gripped the edge of the table. “You promised to tell me truths about your love for the Sultan.”

“And I shall. It may surprise you, but I never sought my master’s heart. Among my former duties as a slave, I cared for his young daughter. A sweet and dutiful child. I escorted her daily from her mother’s apartment to the home of her governess or the Sultan’s chambers. At first, he ignored me, as any great man would have.”

Smoke billowed as she relaxed on her back and cast the water pipe to the waiting slave. With a faraway look in her eyes, her gaze traipsed over the extensive gardens, orange groves, and the forests bordering the Hadarro River to the hillside neighborhood of Al-Bayazin, sunbaked in the midafternoon heat.

Soon Moraima doubted the queen truly saw the landscape beneath her drooping stare. “You were speaking, Sultana.”

Roused from the stupor, Soraya rolled her head on the cushion. “Of what?” She swiped a hand across her brow and shooed a fly. “Ah, yes, about the Sultan. I will never forget the day he first spoke with me. I had come for Aisha’s daughter. She frolicked with her dolls, dancing beside her father’s table. Her happiness overwhelmed me, for I recalled having been such a little girl at play. Before the army of the Sultan’s father attacked my home at Martus. My father, the town leader, took me to the church and bid me remain quiet as a mouse. His new wife, whom people called Arlaja the Moor, hid with me. She was kind, had always given me sweetmeats from the kitchen when Father was not looking. She taught me Arabic in private, too. Father would have never approved, so she said it must remain our secret. And it did. When the marauders broke down the doors, she confronted them alone, while I hid beneath the altar cloth. She swore no one else remained with her. But they found me still. She died defending me, as they shoved a spear in her belly and dragged me away.

“While I sobbed at the memory in the corner, Abu’l-Hasan Ali came from his library with a book in hand. He approached me. I pretended not to understand the whispered consolation he offered. Still, when he took in his arms, I wept like a child. He patted my head and rubbed my shoulders, just as my father would have done. Then he sent me away. Each day afterward, he spoke with me about mundane matters, his favorite book or his success in the hunt. I believe he simply wanted someone to talk to, not a concubine with her cloying desperate attempts to gain a son or a wife who despised him. He seemed untroubled by my apparent lack of awareness. For I hid my knowledge of Arabic still.

“Until the day I could no longer pretend as he kissed my forehead and my cheeks. He begged me not to be so unhappy in his presence again, for the sight had almost broken his heart. Then I confessed I was never sad in his company. He cupped my chin and smiled at me. From such time, he knew my secret and kept it from his first wife, as I also buried my growing admiration and eventual love of him deep within my heart. Until those feelings shone brighter than the stars. That’s why he named me his ‘star’ on the night I gave myself to him and conceived our son Nasr. The night in which I confessed my eternal devotion. He showed me compassion, you see, and held no expectation. Not even of words. For him, I converted to the true faith of Islam, bore sons, and wed, because of our love. Gharnatah is a strange world, where one may enter the palace as a slave only to become a queen. A Sultana to rival her former mistress.”

Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings. Lisa has also completed a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two SistersSultana: The Bride Price, Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, and Sultana: The White Mountains, where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is also available.

27 January 2017

Meet My Protagonists....Sold to the Viking Warrior by Michelle Styles

SOLD TO THE VIKING WARRIOR Is my 25th Harlequin/ Mills & Boon Historical and is officially published on 1 February. It is rare in the publishing world to have published over 25 books (I had a couple of things by other publishers prior to being published by Harlequin).

A small departure for me is that although it is a Viking, it is set in the Western Isles of Scotland. I became interested in the area and its history when my youngest son spent a summer volunteering with the RSPB on Oronsay, a tidal island off Collinsay. When he returned , he was full of tales of how the Vikings had based their fleet on Collinsay and there were a number of Viking burials on Oronsay. My husband and I then spent a holiday on the magically beautiful island of Islay which also boasted a large Viking population and the idea for SOLD TO THE VIKING WARRIOR was born.

Unfortunately not much is really known about the exact history of Islay during that time period. Most histories start with Somerled, the semi-legendary founder of the MacDonald clan and who was himself half Celtic and half Norse. The name Somerled is a corruption of the Old Norse for Summer  Warrior.  Islay under Viking rule was most likely controlled by the Viking ruler of the Isle of Manx. We do know at this time, that ruler was Ketil who is mentioned in the Laxdaela saga. His overlord was Harald Finehair, the first king of Norway.

The heroine is Eilidith,  a lady of the cennell Fergusa on Islay. Cennell is the early Gaellic term for clan. At this point, mac simply meant son of, rather than the more formal naming of a clan. When Liddy was young, her home was invaded by Vikings. Her father, the chieftain or king of the cennell paid tribute to the Viking warlord and was able to keep his lands as long as he continues to provide tribute. Liddy married a Gaelic king, Brandon of the cennell Connall, one of the lone holdouts against the Vikings. Islay was not completely controlled by the Vikings, the Celts did manage to cling on and thrive in places. 

However, the marriage was not a success. He only wanted to marry her for her dowry and he had a narcissistic personality disorder. He made Liddy feel insignificant and ugly. Their twins were lost in a tragic boating accident which Liddy took the blame for. Brandon was trying to force her into a convent when he drowned.

When she was little, her grandmother used to say the butterfly mark below her lip marked her out as someone who do great things for the family.  When her father and brother are being at the Viking stronghold, Liddy decides to take her father’s ring, the one given to him by the Viking warlord to free them.

My inspiration for Sigurd
The Hero is Sigurd Sigmundson, a sell-sword Viking. He is the bastard of a Viking warlord and his Celtic princess slave girl and was more favoured by his father than his legitimate half-brother.  His life of relative luxury came to an abrupt end when his father died and his father’s wife was able to enact her brutal revenge. Sigurd barely escaped with his life.

He has spent years rebuilding his life and trying to get revenge against his half-brother. Using the skill of his arm and his natural leadership ability, he is now poised to realise his dreams. The Viking king has ordered him to bring the Viking war lord of Islay to justice after he refused to pay the tribute required. That warlord happens to be Sigurd’s half-brother.

You can read the first chapter on overdrive.com .

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide variety of time periods for Harlequin Historical. Her latest SOLD TO THE VIKING WARRIOR has just been published. You can visit www.michellestyles.co.uk for more information about Michelle and her books.