Saturday, May 19, 2018

Earl of Sussex: "Right trustie and right well beloved cousin"


With Prince Harry and Meghan Markle taking the titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex, it made me think of a person who bore the title of Sussex and played a crucial part in the life of Elizabeth I.

His name was Thomas Radclyffe, and he was the third Earl of Sussex.



Throughout her whole life, Elizabeth turned to and trusted the relatives on the side of her mother, Anne Boleyn. Thomas Radclyffe was part of the Howard clan. Anne Boleyn's mother. Elizabeth Howard, was his aunt. 

Although Sussex signed the document agreeing to the accession of Lady Jane Grey, which was what Edward VI wanted, he was one of the courtiers who broke away early on and rode to the camp of Princess Mary, Henry VIII's oldest daughter, to offer her support in taking the throne. Mary made him her commander-in-chief during the time when it looked as if she would have to wage a battle. Sussex had Catholic sympathies and Mary's efforts to return the country to the Old Religion must have appealed.

Sussex, at that point 28 years old, became an important councilor to Mary after she'd officially ousted Jane Grey. But it was after the Wyatt Rebellion, when those who opposed Mary's marriage to the Catholic Prince Philip, that Sussex's loyalty to his cousin Elizabeth became clear as well. Elizabeth was arrested under suspicion of conspiring against Mary, and a deputation of lords that included Sussex came to take Princess Elizabeth to the Tower of London on Saturday, March 17.

Elizabeth protested being taken to the Tower, asking to see the Queen, her half-sister. She was told no. She then asked to write a letter to the Queen and that too was refused. Elizabeth was by all accounts very upset. 

But it was at that point Sussex came forward. 

Sussex fell to his knees before Elizabeth and said, "You shall have liberty to write your mind and, as I am a true man, I will deliver your letter to the Queen and beg an answer, whatsoever comes there of."

Elizabeth wrote a pleading, eloquent letter, protesting her innocence, which Sussex then took to Queen Mary. She was enraged that Elizabeth was allowed to write to her and said, "Such a thing would never have been allowed in my father's time!"

Elizabeth survived her ordeal in the Tower, when she came closest to execution than any other time in her life, and it was in part due to the intervention of Sussex. There was no hard evidence against Elizabeth, and a leading nobleman in the realm being willing to risk the Queen's wrath to support her sister may well have slowed down the movement to proceed against Elizabeth.

Sussex continued to support her throughout Mary's reign, and when Elizabeth I became Queen in 1558, he was one of her most important courtiers. Sussex always distrusted Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, but even though he vigorously opposed her marrying Dudley and criticized him at every turn, Elizabeth never punished him for it.

In her letters to him, Elizabeth addressed Sussex in a 1570 letter as her "right trustie and right well beloved cousin," and he was a key councilor for the rest of his life.

Sussex is without a doubt an admirable title.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Crown in the Czech Republic

I'm excited to report that my first novel, The Crown, sold well in the Czech Republic. Its publisher was Euromedia Group--I still have the facebook post from a few years ago on how excited I was to get them as my twelfth foreign publisher for the book, when the deal was first made.

Its title is Koruna. And my name becomes Nancy Bilyeauova :)

I think part of the reason the book is doing well is its dramatic cover:



What do you think?




Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Cover Reveal Day for "The Blue"!



Today is the day to share with everyone the cover of "The Blue," my historical thriller set in the 18th century that asks the question: What would you do for the most beautiful color in the world?

The cover was created by designers at Endeavour Quill, my UK-based publisher for the novel. I think they did a great job!




I can also share the very first endorsement blurb: ‘Bilyeau’s sumptuous tale of mystery and intrigue transports the reader into the heart of the 18th century porcelain trade—where the price of beauty was death.’ E.M. Powell, author of the Stanton & Barling medieval mystery series.


In this book, I plunge into the luxury-obsessed Georgian society of the 1750s, when someone would go bankrupt collecting porcelain. But it was also the time of a war with France, and spying between the two countries was flourishing. In "The Blue," these two worlds intersect, with a heroine, Genevieve Planche, drawn from the Huguenot Spitalfields neighborhood.

This book is a big departure for me, based on years of research, and I worked to develop some multi-faceted characters.

I need your support :) Please go to my brand new Goodreads page, and mark the novel "Want to Read." I'd be extremely grateful :)

The book will be published this Fall, in print and on digital in the UK and US. Details to follow...



Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Inspiration for "Phantom Thread"



I fell in love with the film Phantom Thread last December, and immediately set about to learn all I could about Cristobal Balenciaga, the Spanish haute couture legend who inspired Daniel Day Lewis. I approached the website Willow & Thatch to write about the film and its inspiration. Willow & Thatch is doing a wonderful job of covering historical films and TV series.


Story begins here:

With the balloon skirt, and the tunic, chemise and baby-doll dresses, fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga reinvented the 20th century female silhouette. Balenciaga was a man ahead of his time, and he’s the inspiration for Reynolds Woodcock, the lead character in the 1950s-set new period drama Phantom Thread.

The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum remembers him as “Perfectionist, extraordinarily technical, creative, innovative… He was a genius that revolutionized the concept of dressing… Wherever he went, Cristobal Balenciaga sparked passions.”
Below, Nancy Bilyeau looks at how Phantom Thread opens the door to understanding a very private, and extraordinarily gifted, man.

Phantom Thread's Inspiration

By Nancy Bilyeau
“One fainted. It was possible to blow up and die.”

Those were the words of legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland about seeing the new work of a certain designer at his Paris house. There was one fashion show in particular, held in the early 1960s, when Vogue Editor in Chief Vreeland recalled, “Audrey Hepburn turned to me and asked why I wasn’t frothing at the mouth at what I was seeing. I told her I was trying to act calm and detached because, after all, I was a member of the press. Across the way Gloria Guinness was sliding out of her chair on to the floor. Everyone was going up in flame and thunder.”

The collection they were seeing was one by Cristóbal Balenciaga.

What may seem bizarre to us now, in the age when fashion designers employ battalions of publicists and Instagram launches style Influencers who expose to the world their hour-by-hour clothing choices, is that there was no question of Balenciaga appearing before the public at the end of that particular 1960s show, one displaying his “masterpieces of sculptural purity,” as they were described, or of giving even a single interview. There could only be perhaps a glimpse of the man that Christian Dior called “a master for all of us”: From the doorway to the ateliers, Balenciaga often peeked through a hole in the curtain.


For the rest of the story, go to Willow and Thatch, a wonderful website: link.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

My Tribute to Philip Kerr, a Superb Novelist

By Nancy Bilyeau


Over the last two years, I've discovered the fiction of Philip Kerr. His Bernie Gunther series was both a suspenseful, intelligent mystery series and an example of finely told, atmospheric historical fiction, set in 20th century Germany.

As the editor of the monthly digital magazine The Big Thrill, I pursued an interview with Kerr. He agreed. But on the eve of the interview, Philip Kerr died. Here is the story I wrote:





Philip Kerr



"That's the thing about real life; it all looks so implausible right up until the moment when it starts to happen. I have my experiences as a police detective and the events of my own personal history to confirm this observation. There's been nothing probable about my life. But I've a strong feeling that it's the same for everyone. The collection of stories that make us all who we are only looks exaggerated or fictitious until we find ourselves living on its stained and dog-eared pages."

So opens the novel GREEKS BEARING GIFTS, the 13th in the Bernie Gunther series, written by Philip Kerr. Through the publicist for Putnam, his U.S. publisher, Kerr, a London resident, agreed to his first interview with The Big Thrill, a story that was planned for this month's "International Thrills" column. Before the interview could be completed, Kerr died of cancer on Friday, March 23rd.

His long-time editor Marian Wood said, "Working with Philip Kerr was the kind of experience all editors hope to have. In the twenty-plus years we worked together I found him responsive, funny, brilliant, and totally committed to his writing and hence, to being edited as long as he thought the editing was serious. He was an amazing human being and I will always miss him. At the moment, there is a huge hole in my life. I suspect it will stay with me as long as he lives in my memory—which means, as long as I live.  He was special. More people might do well to learn that from his work and his ways."

Nearly 30 years ago, Philip Kerr’s novel March Violets introduced the character of Bernie Gunther, a sardonic, hard-drinking detective. What made Gunther a bold choice of character was that in the series he is a detective working in Nazi and post-war Germany. Gunther always loathes the Nazis and is known for his defiant, abrasive nature. But he is also a survivor. When no less a Nazi than Reinhard Heydrich of the SS orders him to serve as "his number one trouble shooter" within the police, he has no choice but to agree. Gunther solves murder cases in the midst of war, whether in Berlin, the city that owns his soul, or on the edges of battlefields, in prisons, at Nazi retreats, or, later, in German communities in Argentina, France, and Cuba. Mysteries in which the crimes of individual murder are solved within a time of horrific war casualties have been written before, as in the excellent Foyle's War series. Bernie Gunther, however, is always in a state of conflict over his feelings for his own country: He loves Germany while feeling shame, bitterness, and a certain incredulity that he has survived as long as he has.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Was Henry VIII a Psychopath? Probably ... Not

I know more about Henry VIII than I do about psychopaths. Or at least I think I do. I'm under the impression that psychopaths don't feel guilty about the bad things that they do. They're not capable of it.

Example? Hmmm...well....Hannibal Lecter?  The serial killer who chews his way through Thomas Harris's novels Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal is supposedly a bona fide psychopath. And I've seen Silence of the Lambs--twice--and shudder whenever I picture Anthony Hopkins' cannibalistic fava-beans riposte or hear him saying, "Ready when you are, Sergeant Pembry."

This is why when the news broke that Henry VIII was in reality a psychopath, it gave me pause. King Henry famously sent two of his six wives to the chopping block and laid waste to a long line of courtiers, ministers and relatives. Still, I was having a hard time with him gobbling an annoying gentleman of the privy chamber.

But I repeat, my knowledge of the world of psychopaths is not extensive. According to Psychology Today, there is no diagnostic test that proves someone is a psychopath--there is a list of criteria, and if a person fits enough of the list, then the chances are good. On the list: uncaring, shallow emotions, irresponsible, overconfident, selfish, inability to plan for the future, and last but not least, violent.

So I decided it was time to, if you will, put Henry Tudor on the couch.

The 16th century was far, far different than our own. However, what's important to remember is that within the context of his time, Henry VIII was considered outrageous, puzzling, menacing and unpredictable. I'm not talking about his subjects but his peers, other monarchs whose views were communicated through ambassadorial letters.





Henry VIII: Psychopath?
This theory about Henry's mental wiring comes from Oxford researcher Kevin Dutton, who wrote The Wisdom of Psychopaths: Lessons in Life from Saints, Spies and Serial Killing. Although it might seem strange, this is, among other things, a self-help book. "Psychopaths have a lot of good things going for them," declares the book's website. "They are fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused--qualities tailor-made for success in twenty-first century society." And for the mid-16th century too? Instead of feeling repulsed by Henry's psychopathic side, should I be proud of him? When he consigned devoted ministers Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell to the Tower, he wasn't cold, he was charismatic. Way to be the boss!

Byron: Dangerous to know, but no psychopath
Still, I wanted to know how Professor Dutton diagnosed Henry Tudor. It seems that he used a similar list of criteria to what I found in the article in Psychology Today, ranging from emotional detachment to feelings of alienation, and 10 people considered "Britain's greatest" were put to the test. Only Henry VIII scored high enough to fit the definition: 174 on a spectrum that required a minimum score of 168 to make it to Psychopath. The nine who did not make it: Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens, Freddie Mercury, Lord Byron, William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde. (Britain's Greatest. I love Queen, but Freddie Mercury?)

If you'd like to know more about the job requirements for being a psychopath, Professor Dutton has a quiz--or rather a "Challenge." Typical of the questions: "Cheating on your partner is OK so long as you don't get caught." Hmmmm. When I think of Henry's marital history, it seems that cheating on his partners was OK even if he were caught. Didn't the Tudor king inform his outraged second wife, "Close your eyes, as your betters have done before you"?

Perhaps Professor Dutton is on to something. But before I agree to lump Henry VIII with Ted Bundy, I thought I'd refresh my memory on what other psychologists and historians have said about Henry's psychological state. His outrageous reign has led to all sorts of speculation.

Young Henry VIII
Henry VIII:  Extreme Narcissist? A carefully argued article published in 1972 by Miles F. Shore in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History (The MIT Press) found, after examining Henry VIII's behavior with a psychoanalyst's view, that the king exhibited "distinct behavior changes, and at least one depressive episode." The author blames a childhood swinging between "extravagant adulation and brutal discipline," as "exciting ceremonials and pageantry" came and went, replaced by "boredom and loneliness." This produced an adult who seemed confident, accomplished and flamboyant but beneath the surface was insecure, dependent and anxious.

According to the journal article:
"For Henry VIII, the first seventeen years of his reign had seen the acting-out of a series of grandiose narcissistic fantasies. His crisis came when these had to be modified in the face of real events: his injuries, his military and political disappointments, and his inability to have a legitimate male heir. Biological factors and the erosive effect of real events on his grandiose fantasies were the major precipitants of his crisis....compulsive attempts to remain young with hypochondriachal concerns, sexual promiscuity and possible real character deterioration."
Such analyses have deepened since the 1970s. In her excellent book The Creation of Anne Boleyn, author Susan Bordo probes the mind of Henry VIII to try to figure out how, after such an all-consuming and passionate love for Anne, he could callously sign her death warrant after three years of marriage. It's a question that bedeviled people in Henry's time and every century since. "In 2012, this kind of personality would probably he diagnosed as borderline or narcissistic," Bordo writes.

16th century treatment for syphilis
HENRY VIII: Syphilitic? Psychosis can result from untreated late-stage syphilis, which was first recorded in Europe in 1494. Ten to 30 years after infection, the sufferer experiences delusions, headaches, and impaired judgment. Because Henry VIII did exhibit these characteristics in the 1540s--and he was known to take mistresses in his 20s and 30s--syphilis was a theory tossed around for years. But recently, medical authorities have pretty much shut the door on this one. Henry did not exhibit the other physical symptoms of untreated syphilis: seizures, mania, ataxia. And he did not undergo any of the bizarre treatments used for syphilis. At least, not as far as the historical records reveal.

HENRY VIII: Brain damaged? Henry VIII was a serious athlete when young, suffering a few falls while relishing the dangerous sport of jousting. But several years ago a theory made the rounds that his most serious fall, in January 1536, caused a two-hour loss of consciousness. Did this injury to his brain transform him from affable and charming to cruel and paranoid?

The flaw with this theory is that Henry VIII exhibited cruel behavior long before 1536. This was a young man who executed two of his father's unpopular ministers shortly after taking the throne in 1509, and pushed through the arrest and execution of his cousin, the Duke of Buckingham, on flimsy charges in 1521. He didn't need to fall off a horse to commit acts of brutality.

Henry VIII's jousting armor, at the Tower of London
In her fascinating book 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII, historian Suzannah Lipscomb argues that the jousting accident did have a profound effect on the king, in a number of ways. It aggravated his leg ulcers, which caused "recurrent and excruciating pain" for the rest of his life. No one in that kind of pain is in a good mood. And this fall affected him psychologically in other ways, forcing the king to face his mortality and weakening his sense of manhood at a time when, at the age of 42, he had no legitimate male heir.

HENRY VIII, Unrestrained? Henry VIII might have been psychotic, or neurotic, or perpetually pain-stricken, or depressive. We have no way of knowing, five centuries after his death.

Some people feel he was manipulated by others: his father, his wives, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell. But biographer Jasper Ridley is one who vigorously refutes the idea that Henry VIII was manipulated by others, the vacillating victim of court faction. In his work, Henry VIII is willful, aggressive, selfish, ruthless. A tyrant.



It was Thomas More who is thought to have said of his friend, his master and his murderer, "For if the lion knows his own strength, then no man could control him."

Henry VIII, at his coronation at the age of 17, was anointed with holy oil. The sovereign thus formed a mystical connection to God, one that Henry and all three of his children took very seriously. It was a moment and an ensuing transformation that few of us can truly grasp in the year 2018. It goes beyond modern psychiatry and biography and deep into the mind of that ever-fascinating enigma, Henry VIII. What to us might look psychopathic, from the viewpoint of the Tudors, was expected behavior to one who was anointed, of sacred flesh, and, let's not forget, head of the Church of England.

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Read Nancy Bilyeau's newsletter for more links to nonfiction stories about history and for first look at new short stories, giveaways, and the first chapter from Nancy's upcoming spy novel set in the 18th century: The Blue. To subscribe to the monthly newsletter, sign up here.

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Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the award-winning historical trilogy The CrownThe Chalice and The Tapestry, published by the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster. The protagonist is Sister Joanna Stafford, a Dominican novice. In The Tapestry, the executions of Cromwell and Hungerford are part of the story. To learn more, go to www.nancybilyeau.com



Saturday, February 17, 2018

Historical Novel Society: Announcement of My 18th Century Thriller




I'm so pleased that Historical Novel Society, in it quarterly publication Historical Novel Review, released the news of my upcoming novel, The Blue. I'm moving from the 16th century to the 18th century with this book, which revolves around a woman artist, a French Huguenot living in London, who gets caught up in a spying conspiracy to steal the formula for a new shade of the most beautiful color in the world.


The publication date right now is Fall 2018. Exact date to follow!

From HNS:

"Endeavour Ink, a new imprint of Endeavour Press, has bought Nancy Bilyeau's fourth novel, The Blue, a suspense novel set in the porcelain-workshop race for supremacy in 18th century England and France, for publication in the UK and US in print and digital formats." :):


2018 is going to be exciting. I will be sharing all sorts of things for the rest of the year--an extra chapter of The Tapestry that was cut from the book, one that contains Princess Mary; a prequel to the trilogy I've written; and special advance tidbits of The Blue. I'll release all of the information on how to get the goods through my newsletter, so if you haven't already, please sign up here. It will take just a minute. :) 

And stay tuned!!