06 May 2012

Guest Blog: Lisa J. Yarde

This week, we're welcoming historical fiction author, Lisa J. Yarde. Her upcoming title, THE BURNING CANDLEwill be available next month exclusively on Kindle. Lisa is here to talk about the novel and offer a copy in the winner's preferred format. Leave your comment for a chance to win. Here's the blurb:

Love is for women who have choices. She has none. 

In eleventh-century France on the eve of the First Crusade, Isabel de Vermandois becomes the wife of a man old enough to be her father. He is Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan. A hero of the Norman victory at Hastings and loyal counselor to successive English kings, Robert is not all Isabel had expected. Cruel and kind by contrast, he draws her into the decadent court of King Henry I. As Robert's secrets are unraveled, Isabel finds her heart divided. Her duties as a wife and mother compel her, but an undeniable attraction to the young William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, tempts her. In a kingdom where love holds no sway over marital relations, Isabel must choose where her loyalties and her heart lie.

Based on the life of a remarkable medieval woman forgotten by time, The Burning Candle is a story of duty and honor, love and betrayal. 

**Q&A with Lisa J. Yarde**

Why did you choose to write about Isabel de Vermandois, the heroine of The Burning Candle?

She was a remarkable figure, the culmination of French Capetian and Carolingian dynastic interests, with a Grand Prince of Russia for a paternal great-grandfather. Isabel became the wife and lover of the most powerful Anglo-Norman earls in King Henry I’s court, Robert de Beaumont and William de Warenne. She had thirteen children who survived to adulthood and most married well. Through them, Isabel became progenitor of several historical figures. Her descendants included men like Simon de Montfort who rebelled against King Henry III of England. Her grandson was Richard de Clare, also known as Strongbow, the Lord of Leinster and Justicar of Ireland. The children of William Marshal, “the greatest knight that ever lived” were also Isabel’s great-great-grandchildren. The great Scottish King Robert the Bruce was a descendant too.

How did you research the period and your heroine?

There is very little reliable information about Isabel. For instance, chroniclers of the period state that she consented to her marriage with Robert de Beaumont, which took place when she might have been eleven or fifteen. Frankly, what would a medieval teenaged girl at the mercy of her parents have done, except agree to the union with a man old enough to be her father?

To construct the best portrayal of her possible life and times, and the men who shaped events around her, I relied on a variety of sources. They offered a general understanding of medieval society and the prevailing influence of the Roman Catholic Church. The arrival of the Normans altered England and during the kingship of Henry I, power became centralized. Isabel’s husband Robert played a key role in its administration. I found fantastic resources for the movement of Henry’s court through the countryside, allowing me place Robert and Isabel at key moments in history. The King’s illegitimate children influenced their father’s life and the history of their country. Henry offered one of them as a bride for William de Warenne, which the novel explores in detail. The sources also gave invaluable information on Robert’s household officers and retainers, men whom Isabel would have known or encountered during her marriage.

The life of Robert de Beaumont and his conflicts with the Church, in particular his and Henry’s nemesis, the Archbishop of Canterbury Anselm of Bec, is remarkable. So too are the fates of Robert and Isabel’s children, including their interactions with Henry I, and William de Warenne and his heirs. Immersing myself in the period allowed me to write effectively about Isabel.

Even with extensive research, there are aspects of Isabel’s life you will never know. How did you create her character?

I have portrayed Isabel as someone who followed the dictates of others, up to a certain point. When she agreed to the marriage with Robert de Beaumont, she surrendered her will to the wishes of her parents. In the union and its numerous children, she did the duty expected of a medieval woman. With the introduction of William de Warenne, their relationship becomes a catalyst for Isabel’s growth and change. Her affair with William took some daring. I see it as a moment of decisive action. She went against convention, risking scandal and damnation at a time where people were obsessed with consequences for their immortal souls. In writing about her, I considered other moments where she might have sought to break free from constraints, the demands society placed on her as Robert’s wife and mother of his children. She is a complex, multi-faceted character, and I hope, a reflection of the real woman history has forgotten.

You have written three novels set in medieval society. Why have you returned to this period?

It’s the best! Medieval settings have always fascinated me – the structure of society, a blend of mysticism and superstition coupled with lawlessness and brutality. Religion dominated every aspect of Western life from the times people ate and prayed, to the sexual roles and activities of couples in their own beds. It was also a time of great change and expansion. Isabel married on the eve of the First Crusade, in which her father Comte Hugh de Vermandois also participated. Many of Isabel’s descendants took part in the Crusades that followed, including one of her sons who died fighting the Turks.

Are you going to write more on the medieval period?

Try to stop me. Right now, I am working on the next in my Moorish Spain series, entitled Sultana II: Two Sisters. It is the story of two friends, a Castilian noblewoman named Esperanza and her Jewish companion, Miriam. In the fourteenth century, the Moors capture both women and sell them into the harem of Sultan Yusuf I of Granada. Each of the women bears the Sultan a son and finds diverging paths in a dizzying rise to power. Yet, they are both aware that one heir will inherit the throne and only one woman can claim the revered title of Mother of the Sultan. The resulting conflict sets up devastating consequences for their friendship and destabilizes Moorish Spain, already waning under the determined campaign of Spanish Christians to take back their country.