Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Emma of Normandy's Remains ID'd Over 900 Years Later


Researchers investigating the remains held in six mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral, one of the most important religious establishments in medieval England, recently made a discovery: the body of Queen Emma, married to two consecutive kings of England in the 11th century.

Emma of Normandy, while a teenage princess, was married to the older Saxon king, Ethelred, and after he died she was wed to the Viking ruler, Cnut. She had children by both husbands. Medievalists.net said, "Daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, she was the wife of two successive Kings of England, and the mother of King Edward the Confessor and King Hardacnut. She was a powerful political figure in late Saxon England, and her family ties provided William the Conqueror with a measure of justification for his claim to the English throne."

Winchester cathedral
Winchester Cathedral

Emma was a direct descendant of Rollo, a Viking warrior who became the first duke of Normandy and died in 930 AD. Cnut invaded England, intending to rule the country, and one theory is that Emma, a widow, married him to save the lives of her children. However, historians believe her second marriage turned out to be happier than her first. Cnut was also the king of Denmark and Norway.
Queen Emma of Normandy
Queen Emma and her sons being received by Duke Richard II of Normandy.

Emma died in Winchester in 1052. She was buried alongside her Viking husband, Cnut, and their son, Hardacnut, in the Old Minster, Winchester, before being transferred to a cathedral built after the Norman Conquest. Her son by her first husband, Edward the Confessor, was among the last Saxon kings of England. When he died childless in 1066, it led to the overthrow of the Saxons by the Normans.

At Winchester, the contents of six chests have been analyzed and radiocarbon-dated. University of Bristol biological anthropologists found they contained the remains of at least 23 individuals, which is several more than originally thought, according to the BBC.


"It has long been believed that the six mortuary chests contain the mortal remains of Anglo-Saxon kings and bishops, but for many years this has merely been the subject of speculation," said medievalists.net. "The bones had been co-mingled over the centuries and it was clear that the chests did not contain whole skeletons."

The chests had inscriptions saying who was supposed to be contained within, but the names did not accurately describe the contents. Historians believe the contents became mixed in the mid-17th century when the cathedral was ransacked and the bones were scattered by soldiers during the English Civil War in 1642. "They were repacked by locals so it was not known whose remains were replaced, or if they were the same bones," said the BBC.

Royal Chest Winchester Cathedral
Mortuary chest from Winchester Cathedral. This is one of six chests near the altar, and claims to contain the bones of Canute and his wife Emma. Photo by Ealdgyth CC BY-SA 3.0
A cathedral spokesperson said, "Working in the Lady Chapel at Winchester Cathedral, which became a temporary laboratory, the researchers reassembled over 1,300 human bones, with the aim of restoring the identity of the kings, one queen, and several bishops traditionally thought to be within the chests. The ability to identify the sex, age and physical characteristics of these individuals has resulted in some exciting discoveries, including the remains of a mature female dispersed within several chests."

Diet was a factor in analyzing the bones. The results of the radiocarbon dating were evaluated by estimating the "marine reservoir" effect for each person, "since high status individuals ate large quantities of fish from the rivers and the sea which contain older radiocarbon," said medievalists.net.

The age of the individuals was also concluded after studying dental formation and attrition, changes in the bone surfaces, and the closure of the cranial (skull) sutures.

A version of this story appeared on The Vintage News.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Revealing Sketch of Madame de Pompadour



There were few women more careful of their image than Madame de Pompadour, one of the characters in my novel The Blue.

She was a beautiful and cultured 24-year-old year old when she met Louis XV in 1745 and became his mistress. But from the beginning she was surrounded by critics and would-be rivals. She needed to ensure that her royal lover saw her in just the right light. One of the ways she did that was commissioning portraits of herself looking fresh and radiant, exquisitely dressed.  But she was never just a beauty--she was a beauty with a brain, and she wanted that to be an emphasis too.

This portrait by Francois Boucher is one of my favorites. It's a sketch painted in 1750 and she's a bit more informal in it than usual. We're supposed to see that, holding her hat in one hand and picking up a bracelet with the other, she's just about ready to go out--perhaps to meet Louis XV.

There's a jumble of ribbons on the dressing table to underscore her feminity; a pile of books and sheet music lie on the floor to testify to her literary and cultural interests. Her little dog waits to see where she's going. And on the cabinet above are two porcelain vases. Of course porcelain was her passion. :)



She's an endlessly interesting woman, and one who I loved reading about and thinking about while writing The Blue.


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The Blue, a suspense story set in 18th century England and France, was selected by Town & Country as one of the Best Books of 2019. It is an editors' pick in the Historical Novel Review.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Review of The Blue in NB Magazine!



I'm very happy to share a review of THE BLUE published in the UK literary magazine NB. It is a literary magazine and online platform for book lovers, book clubs and all round bibliophiles.
Nota bene is a Latin phrase, often truncated to simply NB, meaning take note and has been used as a mark to encourage readers to pay particular attention ever since. :)


The review begins:

While Nancy Bilyeau’s earlier trilogy of books, The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry, are historical mysteries set during the reign of Henry VIII, with The Blue she has leapt forward a couple of centuries to the 1700s and changed direction somewhat to produce a top-notch historical thriller that encompasses the oppression of women, the persecution and suspicion of religious minorities, the on-going conflict between England and France, the changing artistic landscape, and the early days of industrial espionage.

To read the review, go here.

 



Sunday, February 17, 2019

'The Blue' No. 1 Best-selling Historical Thriller for One Week


I'm very excited to tell you that 'The Blue' became the No. 1 Best-Selling Historical Thriller on Amazon U.S. on Sunday, February 10, and it's the No. 1 in that category today.




I'm grateful for the support and the reviews, including the endorsement from Annamaria Alfieri, author of the Vera and Tolliver series of historical mysteries set in British East Africa, beginning in 1911, who said:

"Nancy Bilyeau’s historical spy thriller The Blue is my absolute favorite sort of book: a compelling  story with a plot so twisty and suspenseful that you’ll forget to to eat your lunch.  Written in prose as smooth as Madame de Pompadour’s best gowns, with  characters every bit as colorful and vivid.  All of it deftly embroidered with engrossing history and a soup├žon of delicious romance. You will never look at the color blue the same way again."

Thank you!!


To find out more, go here.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

'The Blue' Discounted to .99 on Boookbub Day

It's a big day. My novel THE BLUE has been chosen as the Bookbub offering for all the newsletter subscribers whose chosen category is Historical Fiction. Since Bookbub wants to promote novels on discount, my publisher has lowered the price of the book to .99 for the ebook in the United States and the United Kingdom. The discount is in effect until Friday, Feb. 15th.



Other exciting news: the Historical Novel Review has bestowed on THE BLUE an Editors' Pick in the February issue: "...Bilyeau takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the history of porcelain making and through the world of 18th-century French and British espionage. On that ride, we meet Madame Pompadour at Versailles, walk the halls of the British Museum, and stroll the streets of 18th-century London. On that journey, too, Bilyeau introduces us to a memorable cast: Genevieve, who is faced with seemingly impossible choices which test her resolve and her faith; slick and despicable Courtenay; Sturbridge, clever, funny and always with something up his sleeve. Bilyeau’s research is impeccable, taking what might have been a dreary industrial novel and making it into a living, breathing drama. Kudos and highly recommended!" Full review here.

So please order the ebook today, and take advantage of this deep discount :). Click here.

Thank you!






Friday, January 11, 2019

Thank you, Ian Rankin!

I'm an admirer of the novels of Ian Rankin. I think I've read every Rebus book, and I've seen both of the TV series made from the books.

Which is why I'm so thrilled by his liking my book:


Saturday, December 29, 2018

What Links 'The Blue' to 'Last of the Mohicans'






By Nancy Bilyeau

It's exciting to set a historical novel in a time period that's rarely chosen by other writers.

And ... it's frightening too.

When I decided to write a thriller set during the competitive rage for porcelain, the 18th century jumped into play. The famous Meissen Porcelain began operation in 1708 and dominated Europe until Sevres Porcelain overtook it mid-century. But the English factories were contenders as well.

It's been called the long century and one thing is certainly clear: the 18th century was dominated by wars fought among the great European powers. France and England clashed again and again, beginning in the reign of Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, and continuing right through to the end with the Napoleonic wars.

A smart editor friend of mine, Daryl Chen, told me that she thinks historical fiction benefits from being set during a war. I agree with Daryl, and after researching the timeline of porcelain competition in Europe, I decided the Seven Years War was perfect. It began in 1756 and ended in 1763.

I don't know the percentage breakdown for the wars chosen by historical novelists being published in the 21st century, but I'd wager a guess it is 70 percent are set during World War Two, smaller numbers for World War One or the American or English Civil War. The Seven Years War? It might come in at .05 percent: my book, The Blue. :)

Which is too bad, because the Seven Years War was a dramatic, high-stakes, game-changing conflict that raged in Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. Its resolution changed the world significantly. It left such resentment in the hearts of the losers, the kingdom of France, that when colonists rebelled against England in America in 1775, the French, driven out of North America in the 1760s, were eager to send money and officers over the Atlantic to do damage to their enemy. Many believe that by doing so, France set up the conditions for its own revolution in 1789. There were many, many reverberations from the Seven Years War.

The famous Battle of Warburg, 1760

I never regretted choosing this time period for my fourth novel. But it was lonely. When I was finished writing The Blue and was going through the editing stage, in a moment of curiosity,  I plugged into Google "Movies set during Seven Years War."

A very short list popped up, but I smiled when I saw one title: The Last of the Mohicans. Of course! I saw the film in a theater when it came out in 1992 and I loved it. The Seven Years War is called the French and Indian War in North America, and the movie tells a story set amid that conflict.



In 1826, James Fenimore Cooper published his novel set in the upstate New York wilderness, detailing the transport of the two daughters of Colonel Munro, Alice and Cora, from Albany to Fort William Henry. Guarding the women during the journey are frontiersman Hawkeye and his loyal Mohican friends and adopted family Chingachgook and Uncas as well as a British officer, Major Duncan Heyward. After being betrayed by the renegade brave Magua, the party reaches the fort, only to lose it in a French siege. In the violence that follows, some of it along a cliff in the New York mountains, Cora, Uncas, and Magua are all killed.

In his film, director Michael Mann made huge changes in the plot. The thrust of the film is a romance: Hawkeye and Cora are the ones who fall in love, upsetting Major Heyward, who wished to marry Cora. After the surrender of the fort, betrayal, and flight, Major Heyward is burned to death by order of a Huron tribal leader, and Cora's sister Alice, Uncas, and Magua die.

It was the romance between Hawkeye, played by Daniel Day Lewis, and Cora, played by Madeleine Stowe, that captivated audiences. In particular this scene became immortal:




I decided to watch the film again recently, to see if there were any common themes between my novel The Blue and The Last of the Mohicans. I wasn't sure there would be. Different continents, for one thing. And Mohicans is a story paying tribute to the struggle over America, fought deep in the wilderness. My novel is about the frenzy for fine porcelain that preoccupied Europe regardless of the war, and how a young female painter's quest to discover the most beautiful shade of blue became tangled with objections of that war.

I was, quite simply, stunned by the beauty of this film. The love story is powerful, no doubt, but I swooned to the costumes, the sets, sophisticated cinematography, and the musical score that has taken its place as one of the best of the last 50 years.

In the opening of the film, cinematography, music, and action fuse in an elk hunt that is unforgettable:


In his first major Hollywood film, Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye carries the film, but I found the performances of Wes Studi as Magua, Russell Means as Chingachgook, and Stephen Waddington as Major Heyward (a difficult part) nothing less than amazing.

It is a bit easy to miss in such a romantic, gorgeous film, but there is a serious political theme to the film, one that resonated with me. As the story begins, the British are trying to recruit colonial settlers in New York to serve in a militia, a proposition that Hawkeye has nothing but scorn for. This puts him on a collision course with Major Heyward, a stiff officer obsessed with rank and victory who is appalled when a general tells the colonists that they'll be allowed to leave the militia should they hear their farms are being attacked by the French-led Native Americans. Once they reach Fort William Henry, the news of just such attacks--the enemy murdering helpless women and children--leads the colonialists to insist they be allowed to go to their families. But the British renege and refuse to let them go. "Those considerations are subordinate to the interests of the Crown," declares Colonel Munro. Hawkeye helps the Americans sneak away, but then he stays behind to be with Cora, who he loves, and is arrested for sedition. 

Hawkeye is arrested for sedition

 After the French blow holes in the fort with their superior guns, the English surrender and retreat. Although the sequence of multiple battles and escapes that takes up the last one-third of the film is for some fans their favorite part of the movie, I disagree. The theme of whether a person should stand up for their rights and personal freedom is lost among the running, attacking, and burning. And a weakly established romance between Uncas and Alice Monroe suddenly guides the narrative. 


Magua is killed in the finale, but Chingachgook has lost his son. He is now the "last" of the Mohicans,


But fighting for your freedom is still the deepest message of the film. And that dawning awareness of a person's right to determine their own fate amid a meaningless and brutal war between superpowers is an important part of my novel The Blue as well. The ideas sparked by the Enlightenment cannot be extinguished. The chemist who is creating the color blue, Thomas Sturbridge, puts science above politics. He is unimpressed by the war, and his ideals spark important changes within my main character, Genevieve.

In a Hollywood now dominated by cartoons and superheroes, it's sad to think about the narrative ambition and beauty of Last of the Mohicans. Happily, the film is admired and written about by others than me. I found a great story on its 25-year anniversary.

And because no one can be unmoved by the song "The Kiss," I leave you with this clip:




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The Blue is an editors pick by Goodreads and Bookbub. Publishers Weekly said: "historical fans will be well satisfied." To learn more, go here.