27 February 2015

Lovers: The Princess and The Hostage

By Blythe Gifford

King Edward III of England had a total of nine children who lived to adulthood, and he worked hard to make sure they made marriages that would serve his medieval kingdom well.  For the most part.  But he had a soft spot for his eldest daughter, Isabella and although many matches were proposed for her, at age 28, she was still unwed.  Most historians suggest this was by her own choice and that she was content to remain at home with her parents, their favorite daughter, living in comfort, luxury, and with all the royal status of her rank.

Her parents provided her with enough lands and holdings to give her an independent means of support.  And when that did not suffice (often, it did not, for Isabella was known as a profligate spender), the king covered her debts.  She settled into a comfortable, if unorthodox life for the time. “The Exception Who Proves the Rule,” as historian Jessica Lutkin called her. 

Then, in 1359, England captured the king of France in a major battle, which entitled England to demand an enormous ransom for his return.  As part of the resulting complex treaty, a number of French noblemen were sent to England, to be held hostage until the money was paid.

Chateau de Coucy, France
One of these was Enguerrand, Lord de Coucy.  A powerful French lord, he had inherited his title at a young age and began his career on the battlefield at 15.  By the time he was 18, he was commanding men to suppress an uprising of French peasants.  When he arrived in England as a hostage, he was only 21, seven years younger than Isabella.

According to the rules of chivalry, these French hostages were treated more like guests than prisoners and treated to a succession of feasts and celebrations throughout their captivity.  (For my post on this see:  )  De Coucy, in addition to his prowess in war, excelled at the courtly arts.  According to Jean Froissart, recorder of all events of King Edward’s reign, "...the young lord de Coucy shined in dancing and caroling whenever it was his turn. He was in great favor with both the French and English..."

What woman could help but notice such a man?

History does not record when or how Enguerrand and Isabella met.  Did she admire him in the dance and call him over?  Did he present himself with a flourish?  Did their eyes meet and then…

Sadly, Froissart recorded none of this.  And so, when I wrote WHISPERS AT COURT, I was forced to create my own explanation.

But the spinster princess was obviously taken with the young Frenchman.  It is difficult to believe that the relationship could have developed without her active encouragement.  Was she suddenly thinking, as she reached 30, that she wanted a family of her own? 

Isabella had nearly wed at 19, a man of her own choosing, who was also a Frenchman, but one allied with the English.  Her parents had agreed and settled on the details, providing her with a huge and extravagant trousseau.  Five ships were loaded and waiting to whisk her away to Gascony, where the ceremony was to take place.  Then, at the last minute, Isabella refused to go. 
Why?  No one seems to know.  While they describe her trousseau in great detail (the silk mantle, lined with ermine, stitched in silver and gold embroidery, the robes of cloth of gold and crimson velvet), they do not record why a young woman who had chosen her own husband would turn back at the docks at the last minute.

So the aging princess who met the charming French hostage had a history of getting what she wanted, no matter what the cost.  Did she pursue him?  Some have said she married for love alone.  Others have suggested her father nudged her along.  Though England and France were, for that moment, at peace, having a key nobleman as part of the family could help balance the French king’s supporters.

And what of de Coucy?  Perhaps he the hunter.  And if so, what drew to this woman?

De Coucy's English arms as Earl of Bedford
Upon their marriage, he did have restored to him some English lands his family had once held.  He received an English title and had his ransom forgiven.  Those things were not trivial, but they hardly seemed to equal his life in France, where he had one of the grandest chateaux, dominion over vast lands, and was widely respected position as a leader of men.
But married they were, in July, 1365, at Windsor Castle in a lavish ceremony.  The amount spent on their wedding far exceeded that for Edward’s other daughters, yet more evidence that Isabella was, by far, his favorite.  Once again, history tells us more about the couple’s possessions than their emotions.  Apparently, the groom, as well as the bride, was given a crown. 
She was 33.  He was 25.

A few months later (was it reluctantly on her part?), Isabella and Enguerrand left for France, with official word from the king that “that all children, male or female, who at any time may be born to them abroad, shall be considered capable of inheriting lands in England, and shall be as fully naturalized as though they were born in the realm, all ordinances, establishments, customs, or usages .of the kingdom, notwithstanding.”

There were children.  Two daughters were born to them in France, but for Enguerrand and Isabella, there was no lifelong happy ending.  When Edward III died in 1377, de Coucy gave up his English title and lands and returned his loyalty to the French king.  Isabella, who had traveled back to England frequently, returned home for good with their two daughters, and the couple lived apart for the rest of her life.  She died in 1382.  After her death, Enguerrand remarried, another Isabelle, this one the daughter of a French duke.  They also had a daughter, who did not live to adulthood.

De Coucy spent the rest of his life in wars and fighting, finally dying of the plague in 1396, after being taken prisoner while on crusade in Turkey.

And their children?  Marie de Coucy, born nine months after their wedding, married a French nobleman.  Philippa de Coucy married an English lord.  Somehow, seeming to prove that England and France had not, perhaps could not, be fully reconciled.  Even by love.

After many years in public relations, advertising and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years and one layoff later, she became an overnight success when she sold her first book to the Harlequin Historical line.  Since then, she has published ten books, primarily set in England and on the Scottish Borders, most revolving around real historical figures and events.  WHISPERS AT COURT, which revolves around the romance between Isabella and Enguerrand, will be released in June, 2015. For more information, visit www.blythegifford.com

Author photo Jennifer Girard

Illustration credits: "Sir Enguerrand de Coucy, 1st Earl of Bedford, KG" by Rs-nourse - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sir_Enguerrand_de_Coucy,_1st_Earl_of_Bedford,_KG.png#mediaviewer/File:Sir_Enguerrand_de_Coucy,_1st_Earl_of_Bedford,_KG.png

"Dessin Château-de-Coucy Rempart 011" by Collectionneur: Destailleur, Hippolyte (1822-1893) - Bibliothèque nationale de FranceCote : BNF Richelieu Estampes et photographie Rés. Ve-26j-Fol. DestailleurProvince, t. 5 , n. 1281 . microfilm A031428Identifiant: 07741283(Originally uploaded at fr.wikipedia; description page is/was here.). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dessin_Ch%C3%A2teau-de-Coucy_Rempart_011.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dessin_Ch%C3%A2teau-de-Coucy_Rempart_011.jpg

26 February 2015

Excerpt Thursday: THE VAGABOND VICAR by Charlotte Brentwood

This week, we're welcoming author Charlotte Brentwood, whose latest title is THE VAGABOND VICARJoin us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free e-book copy of The Vagabond Vicar; this giveaway is offered worldwideBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

William Brook is an idealistic young cleric, desperate to escape dreary England for a mission adventure in exotic lands. It's his worst nightmare come true when he is posted to a parish in a small backwater village, populated with small-minded people and husband-hunting mamas. He’s determined not to form any ties and to escape the country as an independent single man.

A free spirit, Cecilia Grant is perfectly content to remain in her family home in Amberley village - when she's not wandering the countryside at all hours painting. Marriage options are few, but that won't stop her mother from engineering a match with one of the ruling family's sons. Cecilia attempts to win the man, but what is it about the new vicar and his brooding ways that is so appealing? Could he be the only one who has ever really understood her, and can she discover what he is running away from?

As William struggles not to fall in love with the lady's intoxicating beauty and mysterious eccentricity, he finds himself drawn into the lives of the villagers, despite their best efforts to alienate the newcomer. When he makes it clear he's not sticking around, Cecilia strives to restrain her blossoming feelings for him. Just when it seems love may triumph, dark secrets are revealed in Amberley and a scandal from William’s past may see the end of not only his career, but his chance at finding an everlasting love.

**An Excerpt from The Vagabond Vicar**

Cecilia slipped out after breakfast on Saturday, intent on painting the late summer wildflowers. On her way back home, she saw a distant view of the churchyard, and some movement caught her eye near the vicarage. There appeared to be someone working in the pottage garden next to the house. She moved closer, with the intention of striking up a conversation with the worker, asking about what he was planting.
She walked down around the base of a mound, and through a grove of trees. Upon emerging from behind a large oak, she gave a start. It was Mr Brook working in the garden, furiously tilling the hardened soil. He hadn’t seen her, and though she felt she shouldn’t disturb him, she found herself stealing closer, pressing herself behind another oak only about twenty feet from the plot. She couldn’t help but examine him closely, as the sight of him was unlike she’d ever seen a gentleman before.
            William had worked up a sweat. His dark hair was tousled across his forehead, and dirt was caked on his cheeks and neck. His torso and arms were only clad in a shirt, with no coat, cravat or waistcoat. Apart from her father and brothers, Cecilia had only ever seen gentlemen in jackets or coats. And she had never seen a shirt, or the man within it, in such a state as this. He had torn it open at the neck, and she could see a broad chest speckled with hair. The damp fabric clung to his shoulders and well-formed arms. Cecilia watched him drive his hoe into the soil again and again, breathing hard with the effort. She swallowed, realising she had been gaping with an open mouth, which had suddenly dried out. She knew there was no way she could talk to him, her agitated mind flitting from one thought to the next. She emerged from the tree, intending to creep past the vicarage and on her way home. Her heart beating wildly, she began to shuffle through the grass.
            William chose that moment to pause in his work, stretching backwards and causing his shirt to pull out from his breeches. The glimpse of the muscles of his stomach made Cecilia gasp, and she clamped a hand to her mouth, too late. He bolted upright, and instantly his eyes were on her, freezing her steps. He held her stare for just a moment, before conflicting emotions washed across his face. First he smiled, then frowned, and then mumbled something as he looked down at himself. Even from her distance she could see colour creeping up his neck to his face, and she felt remorse for embarrassing him. He was working his own land, after all. She had no business spying on him.
            “Oh Miss Grant, I do apologise…” William looked about the yard frantically, locating his coat hanging on a fencepost. He started towards it, but did not advance two steps before he landed on his rake. The instrument jumped up and smacked him squarely on the nose.
            “Mr Brook!” Cecilia started towards him, coming to the low stone fence and hesitating for only a moment before sitting on it and swivelling into his plot. “Oh my goodness, you are bleeding!”
            He touched a hand to his nose then observed the thick red liquid on his fingers. With dazed eyes he took in her advancing frame.
“I am so sorry, Mr Brook. I was on my way back home from the meadows and elected to cut through the glebe. I never thought… oh do let me help you.” She hovered close to him as he produced a handkerchief and held it to his nose. She regarded his injury pitiably, her eyes widening at the sight of the blood in close quarters, before her gaze drifted irresistibly lower.
“Really Miss Grant, I am quite all right. You should be on your way immediately. I did not consider female passers-by when I reduced myself to this state.”
“Well, I shall go then,” Cecilia said reluctantly, her eyes clinging to the tail of his shirt. “But are you sure you will not let me attend to your wound? I feel terrible for causing you pain.”
William stifled a laugh. “It will only bleed for a few moments more, I am sure. Then I will resume my work. Your concern is most kind, but I am afraid it is wasted. And I must be grateful to you for teaching me a lesson about leaving my rake lying on the ground.”
Cecilia went back over to the wall, pausing as she sat.
William averted his eyes as she swung her legs over, and said, “Good day, Miss Grant.”
She turned back as his eyes met hers. He looked a little woozy, but magnificent. “Goodbye,” she breathed.

As Cecilia looked up at the vicar in church the next morning, she tried to keep her mind on the words he was saying. But it was no good. All she could see was the dishevelled young man she had encountered the day before. Instead of the confident authority which masked his eyes at this moment, she remembered the shy sparkle she had glimpsed, and the dark curls which had strayed across them.
Mr Brook pressed his fists on to the lectern as he spoke passionately about Jesus being every person who needs help. The message impacted Cecilia for several minutes and she was moved by his kind spirit and conviction. Then she also remembered the toned arms that had worked the earth, and as she watched his fists she was sure his muscles must be flexing under his jacket. When his eyes connected with hers, heat washed over her body. As the crimson rose over her chest and crept up her neck, she yanked her eyes away from him.
She blinked hard and looked down at her hands. Cecilia! she scolded herself. You cannot have impure thoughts about a man of God! This must be a sin.

Learn more about author Charlotte Brentwood

Charlotte developed serious crushes on a series of men from age fifteen: Darcy, Knightley, Wentworth and Brandon. A bookworm and scribbler for as long as she can remember, Charlotte always dreamed of sharing her stories with the world. The Vagabond Vicar is her debut novel.

She lives in beautiful Auckland, New Zealand. When she's not toiling at her day job, writing or procrastinating on the Internet, Charlotte can be found snuggling with her cat Sophie, warbling at the piano, sipping a hot chocolate or enjoying the great outdoors.

22 February 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Téa Cooper on FORGOTTEN FRAGRANCE

This week, we're welcoming author Téa Cooper again, whose latest title is FORGOTTEN FRAGRANCE - From the Ocean to the Outback - Book IOne lucky visitor will get a free copy of Forgotten FragranceBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

Only one woman can confirm his innocence, and release him from the torments of his past.

 Determined to throw off the shackles of her convict past, Charlotte Oliver accepts her employer’s marriage proposal, even though she does not love him, and together they board a refitted whaling schooner bound for Sydney to begin their new life.

But life has a way of disrupting plans, and during the voyage the Zephyrus undergoes a mutiny. Captain Christian Charity loses his ship, but he also risks losing so much more. Charlotte has, in her possession, a tiny blue bottle and an Angel coin. On their own, they mean nothing more than a keepsake, but to Christian, they could mean everything – a past remade and a future with love. 

**Q&A with Téa Cooper** 

Thank you so much for the invitation to visit again. My latest release FORGOTTEN FRAGRANCE is the first book in a new series FROM THE OCEAN TO THE OUTBACK.
It’s a historical romance that takes place aboard a whaling ship somewhere between Tasmania and New South Wales, on the east coast of Australia with a lot of action and adventure and some seriously shady characters, a little bit of a pirate romp.

You are one of the few people writing Australian historical romance. What lead you down that path?

I was born and brought up in England, just outside London, and I have always had a fascination with all things historical. When I visited Australia I fell in love with the place and never went home. I was fascinated by the country and obviously started delving below the surface of the well-known historical facts. The one thing that resonated with me was the difference in life and the opportunities for women. They made such a success of the advantages of a new country, particularly as they were not hidebound by the strict social conventions of English society. Many of the first land grants in Australia were made to women and many owned their own businesses.

What inspired you to write Forgotten Fragrance?

Three things really: The first was a piece of jewelry made by a wonderful Australian company Republic of You. I was, still am, besotted by this glorious necklace and it became the steppingstone into this story. 

Then while doing some preliminary research I received a link from the Australian Maritime Museum to a thesis submitted to the Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, South Australia. Among the artifacts discovered on a deserted piece of coastline where whaling ships had stopped was a piece of blue glass, thought to be part of a small bottle. It seemed to be too much of a coincidence and my imagination took flight.

Couple those two discoveries with my ongoing fascination for the stories behind the people who have settled in Australia and Forgotten Fragrance was born. It was as though someone had given me the frame to a jigsaw puzzle – all I had to do was fill in the picture.

What is your next project?

I am very excited about this! I was asked by a group of American authors if I would like to join them in writing a boxed set of short and sweet regency romances to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo. I write ozistoricals, as one of the Australian reviewers has dubbed my books, so I agreed, on the condition I could tie my story to Australia.

After some longwinded research I discovered that there was one Australian at the battle of Waterloo. He was born in Sydney Cove in February 1793, the son of a member of the First Fleet and a convict girl.  And so The Caper Merchant was born. It is set in England and tells the story of Samuel Blue and Pandora, the girl he inadvertently falls in love with right at the wrong moment.

The Caper Merchant along with nine other regency romances will be published on 1st April 2015 as a boxed set entitled Beaux, Ballrooms and Battles – A Celebration of Waterloo.

I am currently working on The Great Platypus Hoax, which continues the story of Samuel Blue the hero of The Caper Merchant, and his twin brother Sydney as they rediscover their Australian heritage.

Thanks for the invitation to visit Unusual Historicals. Please drop by my website if you have a moment. I love to hear from readers and writers alike or you can subscribe to my newsletter if you’d care to stay in touch.

Learn more about author Téa Cooper
Best-selling Australian author, Téa Cooper lives in a stone cottage on one hundred acres of bushland, just outside the time-warp village of Wollombi, New South Wales. Although Téa was born and raised in England the majority of her books, both contemporary and historical, are set in Australia, the country she now calls home. When she isn’t writing Téa can usually be found haunting the local museum or chatting to the locals, who provide her with a never-ending source of inspiration. She is a member of Romance Writers Australia and Hunter Romance Writers and is a 2014 finalist in the Australian Romance Readers Awards for her historical romance, Jazz Baby.

Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/LtrSn 

ASIN: B00S493CS6              Publication Date: February, 2015


20 February 2015

Lovers: Harold Godwinsson and Edith Swan-neck

By Lisa J. Yarde

Harold Godwinsson, the last of England's great Anglo-Saxon kings and a national hero is remembered as much for his valiant stand at Stamford Bridge and his ultimate defeat at Hastings, as he is for the great love he shared with the presumably beauteous Edith Swan-neck, also called Edith the Fair. Harold, one among six sons of the powerful Earl Godwin Wulnothsson of Wessex and his Danish wife Gytha, was born between 1020 - 1022. The family came to power during King Canute's reign, but would endure some of its greatest trials during the reign of King Edward the Confessor, who married Harold's sister. After their father's death in 1053 at Winchester, Harold inherited Wessex while he had also held the earldom of East Anglia in his own right from at least the mid-1040's. He battled the Welsh on the western borders of England. Such a warrior must have seemed attractive to the women of his day, but supposedly, Harold's heart belonged to Edith Swan-neck. 

No one knows when or where Harold and Edith Swan-neck met, but their relationship lasted over twenty years. If Edith Swan-neck was the same person as Edith the Fair, then she was a great heiress of lands throughout Wessex, Harold's domain, which then encompassed the lower third of England. Harold and Edith Swan-neck were not united by any recognized Church laws. Their marriage is often referred to as having occurred in the Danish manner, more Danico, or Edith Swan-neck is called Harold's hand-fasted wife under a formal agreement that she and Harold considered each other man and wife. Whatever the appropriate term, this meant that any children from their marriage would be considered Harold's legitimate heirs. And there were children, at least three sons Godwin, Edmund, and Magnus, as well as daughters. There was Gunnhild who first went to Wilton Abbey like her aunt Edward the Confessor's wife, but through a later abduction or escape became the wife of a Norman, Alan Rufus. There was also Gytha, who escaped to Sweden (instead Denmark; thanks to author Carol McGrath for that correction) with two of her brothers and might have married Vladimir II Monomakh, the Grand Prince of Rus, part of a dynasty that would rule Russia until the 16th century. The union between the children's parents also allowed more than one wife, or permitted the husband to easily put aside the wife or keep her in the background, which is an important aspect considering how Harold and Edith Swan-neck's history unfolded. 

Edward the Confessor's death in January 1066 and Harold's selection as king of England by the rudimentary parliament set the stage for conflict with the Normans in northern France, but also led to more personal tragedy. For reasons, which remain unclear, Harold married a second time to another Edith, this time the daughter of Earl Aelfgar of Mercia, widowed in 1064. The bride's perspective on her new husband can only be guessed at; she might not have held a favorable view of Harold since he had spent the previous years attacking her first husband, the Welsh ruler Gruffydd ap Lywelyn. How did Edith Swan-neck feel about this union? There's no doubt she remained in Harold's life, but what must she have felt to see another woman call Harold husband and become his official queen-consort, especially one who would soon become pregnant and give Harold more children?  

Whatever turmoil might have existed in his private life, Harold had to turn his attention to the defense of England when his enemies King Harold Hadrada of Norway and Duke William the Bastard of Normandy decided to invade England in the fall. Harold defeated the Norwegian king at Stamford Bridge in September 1066, only to lose his life and kingdom to the Normans in the following month. After the battle, Edith Swan-neck had the terrible task of identifying her lover's body because the Normans had mutilated the king so as to make him unrecognizable, yet they needed to eliminate any possibility the English people would continue to revolt if they thought Harold yet lived. It's said Edith Swan-neck identified Harold by a marks or marks on his body that only she who had shared his intimate life would have immediately recognized.  


Image of Harold from the Bayeux Tapestry, public domain, sourced from Wiki Commons

Resources include The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle1066: The Year of the Conquest by David Howarth, 1066: The Battles of York, Stamford Bridge and Hastings by Peter Marren and The Godwins: The Rise and Fall of a Noble Dynasty (The Medieval World) by Frank Barlow.

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 written four novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two Sisters, and Sultana: The Bride Price 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.