Sunday, September 10, 2017

Solving the Mysteries in the Vatican Secret Archives

As the U.S. editor of The Vintage News, I edit stories and write them. It's rewarding to see the reach of the history-news website--there are as many as 6 million readers a month!

A favorite story of mine is a feature I wrote on a scientific breakthrough in medieval manuscripts.

Breakthrough discovery on 13th century parchment kept in Vatican Secret Archives created a new mystery

The appearance of purple dots on manuscripts written in the Middle Ages has long been a frustrating problem. The dots grow and grow until they obscure the writing on a scroll or book page, making it impossible for us to read the words today. Keeping the manuscripts in a controlled environment, such as the air-conditioned, low-light sanctum of the Vatican Secret Archives, can only do so much. The spread of the purple dots has destroyed documents that historians are desperate to learn from.



But this year a team of researchers led by an eco-toxicologist at the University of Rome Tor Vergata–using as their sample a 16-foot-long, 1244 parchment roll asking that a man named Laurentius Loricatus be made a saint–discovered what created the purple dots. It was salt-loving marine microbes, according to a paper released September 7 in the journal Scientific Reports.

At first, the results just didn’t seem right. “When my students came to me, saying, ‘Luciana, we found marine bacteria,’ I told them, ‘Repeat, please; there is a mistake. There must be a mistake,’ ” Dr. Luciana Migliore told Live Science.

To read the rest of the story, go here.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The OTHER Anne Boleyn

By Nancy Bilyeau

Anne, queen of England

In September 1534, Hatfield House radiated incredible tension. The handsome manor, built forty years earlier by a cardinal, housed an army of servants and two Tudor princesses: one-year-old Elizabeth, the cherished heir to Henry VIII's throne and the daughter of Anne Boleyn, and 18-year-old Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and former heir to the throne, now very much in disgrace. She had been forced to join her half-sister's household and lived there as an inferior. Turning her into a quasi-servant was part of King Henry's campaign to break Mary's spirit because his daughter would not acknowledge his second marriage as lawful.

This particular day, Mary lay in bed, seriously ill. Her sickness was a matter of international incident, as rumors of poison swept through courts and filled ambassadorial letters. Thanks to her mother, she was a first cousin of the Emperor Charles V, and his vigilant and suspicious ambassador in England, Eustace Chapuys, told many people he feared for her life.

Hatfield House today 

Elsewhere in Hatfield another woman, much older, was distraught, even, according to contemporary accounts, prey to fits of weeping.  If Mary died, she would be blamed and the repercussions were terrifying. Her name was Anne Boleyn.

No, not that Anne Boleyn. The other one.

The woman in charge of Hatfield was born Anne Boleyn, the sister of Thomas Boleyn. She long ago made a good marriage to Sir John Shelton and raised eight children in Norfolk. That all changed when her niece became queen of England and she was thrust into a prestigious position that progressed from stressful to impossible.

Looking at the interactions between the two Anne's is enlightening.

The senior Anne was born in 1475, the daughter of Sir William Boleyn and Margaret Butler, daughter of the earl of Ormond. Anne grew up in comfort at the Boleyn seat of Blickling Hall, in Norfolk. * There are no authenticated portraits of her, but based on the much-admired beauty of two of her daughters and her Boleyn nieces, we can assume she, too, was attractive. A stained-glass window image of her shows a woman with a trace of fair hair, unlike her famously brunette niece.

A stained-glass image in Norfolk identified as Lady Anne Shelton

Her husband, Sir John Shelton, was from an important land-holding family. Around the time they married, he was made high sheriff of Norfolk. He attended the coronation of Henry VIII in 1509 and attended Queen Catherine of Aragon at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 but the couple were not inner-circle royal courtiers like Thomas Boleyn. The Shelton base was in Norfolk--until her niece Anne became a force to be reckoned with.

It's unlikely that the two Anne's were close. While the younger one was also born at Blickling Hall, she spent much of her youth outside England. In 1513, Anne Boleyn was sent to Europe to serve Regent Margaret of the Netherlands, followed by the French Queen Claude. She returned in 1522 and spent much of her time at court or at Hever, in Kent. But once she married the king, Anne Boleyn--hated by Catherine of Aragon loyalists and unpopular in the country at large--desperately needed supporters, and that meant recruiting members of her extended family.

The first Shelton to be plucked from Norfolk was the Sheltons' teenage daughter Margaret, called "Madge." She attended Queen Anne in spring 1533 and in January 1535 records show she received a royal gift. That same year she had a colorful--if not notorious--role to play at court, but more on that later.

When Princess Elizabeth was born in September 1533, her parents set her up in a separate royal household twenty miles away at Hatfield, to emphasize her prestige. It's often emphasized that this had nothing to do with lack of love for their daughter (born in place of the prayed-for son), and was a normal thing for royalty to do. To do so with a three-month-old was a bit unusual. Catherine of Aragon had kept the infant Mary Tudor close by. Mary received her first lady governess, Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury (and a Yorkist noble), at age four and she was not sent away to Wales with her own extensive staff until she was nine.

With Elizabeth, it was extremely important that her position be as exalted as possible as soon as possible.  Anne Boleyn was involved with all the details of her daughter's care and wardrobe and setting up her household and visited when she could. Elizabeth had a wet nurse and many servants. The woman who spent the most time with the red-haired baby was Lady Margaret Bryan, also a trusted relation of the Boleyn family.

Lady Margaret Bryan

Lady Anne Shelton and her husband, both of them in their late 50s, were the ones officially put in charge of the princess's household.  Perhaps it was because they'd succeeded in raising a large, thriving brood. More likely, it was because they would do what the Boleyn family needed done.

Before the end of 1533, Hatfield had that other, most unwilling member: Mary Tudor. Catherine of Aragon, in exile but insisting she was queen, hadn't been allowed to see her daughter for a while but sent her a stream of letters urging resistance to King Henry. Mary complied without hesitation. She refused to acknowledge the annulment of her parents' marriage. She was the true princess, she insisted. She said she would not address Elizabeth as princess but as "sister," just as she addressed the illegitimate Henry Fitzroy as "brother."

This news sent Queen Anne into a rage. In one of her many letters to her aunt, she wrote that if Mary insisted on being called a princess, she was to have her ears boxed as a "cursed bastard." It was a priority to curb her "proud Spanish blood."


                                             Mary Tudor as a young woman


The next several years of Mary Tudor's life were so traumatic they are believed to have damaged her physically and psychologically. In her teens she was often described as pretty, accomplished in music and a dedicated scholar, as well as a faithful friend. Praise was more muted in her twenties.

But the truth is, this period was horrible for Anne Shelton as well. She was under orders from the king and queen of England to break Mary down. The elder Tudor daughter had a strong will and seethed with hurt and anger. She was fully prepared to contest every single point of etiquette and household business with Anne Shelton. On one side was the Sheltons' niece, the Queen, calling for ear boxing. But on the other side was Ambassador Chapuys, representing the most powerful monarch in all of Europe, the Emperor Charles. He made it known to Anne Shelton that any forceful actions against Mary could have consequences for her.  A year earlier, Lady Shelton was managing her husband's estates in Norfolk and seeing her first grandchildren born. Now she was in the sights of one of the most brilliant and resourceful ambassadors of the century. (What disturbed Chapuys most were reports that the queen was making wild threats about Mary, including vowing to have her killed if Henry VIII ever left the kingdom. She famously said "I am her death and she is mine.")

For Mary, outwardly petite and delicate, it was simple. War. Mary would not eat with the rest of the Hatfield household; she stayed in her room most of the time; she demanded unsupervised access to exercise; she refused medicine offered when she felt poorly; she would not answer unless addressed as Princess. She also attempted to send and receive secret letters, which the Sheltons did their utmost to prevent.

Anne Shelton did not box her charge's ears. She issued orders, she meted out consequences. She did plead with Mary to cooperate, and when Mary refused she is known to have taken her by the arms and shaken her. Harsh words were said. The household had to move from Hatfield at one point, but Mary wouldn't leave the manor house unless she was treated as a princess. Eventually, Anne Shelton ordered servants to pick up Mary and carry her bodily out of the building.

It would be logical to assume Anne Shelton hated Mary. But despite the frequent quarrels, she didn't.

Her nephew, George Boleyn, and the Duke of Norfolk chastised Anne Shelton for behaving to Mary "with too much respect and kindness, saying that she ought only to be treated as a bastard." Her bold response: "Even if the Princess were only the bastard of a poor gentleman, she deserved honour and good treatment for her goodness and virtues."

The unhappy household struggled on. In the fall of 1534 Mary, whose health was never strong, fell ill "with a disease of the head and the stomach." Ambassador Chapuys asked King Henry if Mary could be reunited with her mother or her former governess, the Countess of Salisbury, to be nursed. Henry VIII"s reply: "He replied that the Countess was a fool, of no experience, and that if his daughter had been under her care during this illness she would have died, for she would not have known what to do, whereas her present governess [Lady Shelton] is an expert lady even in such female complaints."

Chapuys then made it crystal clear to Anne Shelton the stakes: "I warned her by a third hand of the mischief which might arise to her if anything happened to the said Princess, and I also took care to get the King's physician to tell her that of late there was a common report in London that she had poisoned the said Princess."

Ambassador Chapuys

When a worried Anne Shelton brought in an apothecary to give Mary some pills, she became worse. The apothecary dissolved into panic. As for Anne Shelton, Chapuys reported triumphantly that she was "in terrible fear, so that she can do nothing but weep when she sees the Princess so ill."

Mary recovered, to the deep relief of all at Hatfield.

The year 1536 brought about many changes to all parties, most of them brutal. The death of Catherine of Aragon devastated Mary. Queen Anne attempted a conciliation with Mary, facilitated by Anne Shelton. If Mary would acknowledge her as queen, she'd be a "second mother" to her and expect only "minimal courtesies." But the girl rejected this overture with great rudeness.

In May, Anne herself was arrested. All too soon the status of Princess Elizabeth would be plunged into uncertainty, bordering on penury.

But first, Anne Shelton had one more important part to play in the life of her niece. When Queen Anne was imprisoned in the Tower of London, Lady Shelton was definitely one of her six attendants, appointed by Thomas Cromwell. The queen bitterly complained about her female attendants, saying she "never loved" any of them and they were spies.

This seems strange, after the service Lady Shelton did in raising Elizabeth and controlling Mary. Some historians have speculated that their relationship strained to the breaking point because of what happened to Margaret Shelton, "Madge," while she served the queen.

According to court gossip, Henry VIII had an affair with Madge.  The king was taking mistresses during this time. Chapuys wrote: "The young lady who was lately in the King's favour is no longer. There has succeeded to her place a cousin of the Concubine [Queen Anne], daughter of the present governess of the Princess [Mary]."



An even more sordid theory was that the queen connived to put Madge in her husband's bed so that he wouldn't fall in love with a woman from a family hostile to the Boleyns and so undo her. (Which is exactly what happened with Jane Seymour later.)

After her brief affair with the king, Madge Shelton was engaged to courtier Henry Norris but they never married. He was charged with adultery with Queen Anne and beheaded. Also the queen once accused Sir Francis Weston, who was married, with flirting with Madge, according to her own ramblings in the Tower. He told Queen Anne he came to her chambers not for Madge for her "herself." Weston, too, ended up accused of sleeping with the queen and lost his life. It was a complicated, appalling situation, and certainly not the dream of any mother. *

Was Anne Shelton at the side of her niece when she, too, was executed? We don't have these women's names and there were conflicting reports. One eyewitness said the queen's handful of attendants were "young," and Anne Shelton was pushing 60. The queen's ladies wept that day. It's not hard to imagine that Lady Shelton would cry at this frightening scene, no matter the women's differences.

The Tower of London chapel where Queen Anne is believed to be buried

There are two more points to be made. After the death of Anne Boleyn, Lady Anne Shelton remained on good terms with her two charges, Elizabeth and Mary Tudor, even though both soon passed from her hands. When Mary Tudor's right to the throne was contested in 1553, Anne Shelton's oldest son, Sir John, rushed to Kenninghall to support her and not Lady Jane Grey. Mary took into her household several of the Shelton children when she became queen of England. As for Elizabeth, she considered the Sheltons as much her family as the Careys, another branch of the Boleyn tree. When the half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth quarreled, Elizabeth sometimes fled to the Sheltons' homes, for comfort.

When Elizabeth in turn succeeded to the throne, Shelton women were some of her favorite ladies-in-waiting. Anne Shelton's granddaughter, Audrey, was a devoted lady of the bedchamber and walked in Queen Elizabeth's funeral procession in 1603.

Mary Shelton, later Hevingham, by Holbein

Finally, one of Anne's Shelton's other daughters, Mary, made quite an impression on the men of the Tudor court, including the poets Thomas Wyatt, who sighed after her in verse, and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey. She was mentioned in passing in an ambassador's letter as drawing the interest of Henry VIII after the death of Jane Seymour. Well, we know he had a predilection for sisters! Mary Shelton possessed talent in her own right, contributing to the Devonshire Manuscript, a collection of 185 poems. She married Sir Anthony Hevingham in 1546. One of their children, Arthur Hevingham, is believed to be the ancestor of Diana Spencer.

And so when Prince William succeeds to the throne, a descendant of Anne Boleyn will reign at last. But it will be the other Anne Boleyn.



* More information on Blickling Hall and the homes of the early Boleyns can be found in the book In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, by Natalie Grueninger and Sarah Morris. Their new book is In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII. Review here.

* An excellent historical novel on Madge Shelton, At the Mercy of a Queen, was written by Anne Barnhill. Interview with Anne here.

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Nancy Bilyeau is the author of a trilogy of historical novels set in Tudor England: The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry. The Crown was an Oprah pick of 2012 and The Chalice won the Best Historical Mystery Award from Romantic Times Reviewers. The Tapestry was a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier award for Best Historical Suspense in 2016.



Saturday, August 26, 2017

Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Book Editor

I didn't know much about Jackie Kennedy's career as a book editor, but in a vague way assumed that she was no more than a dilettante in publishing. After stumbling on a book about her life early this year, I read an intriguing chapter about how much she put into being a book editor. She acquired nearly 100 books over a long and steady career. As a lifelong editor myself, newspapers and magazines, I wanted to know more.

I pitched a story on her book career to Town & Country, a regular home for my work, and they gave me the greenlight. I researched the First Lady's life in this period very thoroughly, sticking to her professional life and not diving into the gossip. I came away from it with respect for Jackie.

The eventual story seems to have pleased my own editor at Town & Country, and I'm happy to share it here:


How Jackie Kennedy Became a Powerful Book Editor After Leaving the White House

With little experience in the publishing world, she went from being First Lady to making just $200 a week


By Nancy Bilyeau

Early one September morning in 1975, a 46-year-old woman busied herself preparing to go in for the first day of a brand-new job. She boiled an egg, saw her teenage son out the door to Collegiate School, donned a conservative gray shirt dress, and caught a taxi outside her 1040 Fifth Avenue apartment for midtown Manhattan.


When that cab pulled up outside 625 Madison Avenue, it looked like a riot was erupting. Every reporter and photographer in town was jostling for advantage outside the office building’s entrance, joined by a crowd for whom curiosity had edged into fixation. The woman calmly got out of the taxi and made her way into the building, which housed the New York editorial office of Viking Press.


Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was reporting for her first day of paying work since 1953, when she was an unmarried “inquiring camera girl” for the Washington Times-Herald...
 
Jackie Kennedy Onassis. David Mcgough, from Town & Country

 


To read the whole story, go here.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Writing about New York City crime

I write thrillers and I have a part-time job as the deputy editor of The Crime Report, a website of the Center for Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, so I guess you could say crime is already my "thing."

As the U.S. editor for the website The Vintage News, I edit a wide variety of stories, from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the wonder of flapper shoes to crimes of the past. I've edited stories on Lizzie Borden and Victorian poisoners. For today, I wrote a story set in my city, NYC, and a famous mafia hit: the shooting of "Big Paul" Castellano outside Sparks Steak House


Why ordering a hit on “Big Paul” Castellano at Sparks Steak House was John Gotti’s big mistake

New York City is famous for its steakhouses, and since opening its doors at 201 East 46th Street in 1977, Sparks has been a carnivore crowd favorite. The essential components of a steakhouse are as follows: tables covered nearly to the floor with spotless tablecloths, set in dark, wood-paneled rooms; middle-aged men serving as waiters, their flawless manners stopping short of obsequiousness and their Brooklyn, Bronx, or Queens accents proudly on display; really good booze, like a Macallan single-malt whisky or a $100 bottle of Bordeaux; and of course the food itself: large, succulent meat portions, accompanied by baked potato heaped with butter, chives, and sour cream.

Since steakhouses haven’t changed much since their Mad Men heyday, you can assume that specific entrĂ©es found on a Sparks menu today—prime sirloin, filet mignon, and sliced steak with bordelaise sauce—were also on the menu in the 1980s.

It was the prospect of a dinner plate graced by the third cut of a prime rib of beef that drew a 70-year-old man named Paul Castellano to Sparks on the evening of December 16, 1985.

“Big Paul” Castellano was highly knowledgeable about meat, and not just because his father was a Brooklyn butcher. Since his friend, cousin, and brother-in-law Carlo “the Godfather” Gambino died of a heart attack in 1976, Castellano had been the boss of the Gambino family, considered the most powerful of the five families of the New York City mafia and worth an estimated $500 million a year. Aside from the usual racketeering, extortion, loansharking and control of certain unions, the Gambino group had a stranglehold on the concrete business and the supply of poultry and meat to much of the city.



To read the rest of the story, go here.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Celebrating the Danish publication of my 3rd novel



The foreign sales of my books mean a great deal to me. I love to think of people reading my work in other countries. One of my favorite publishers is Forlaget Punktum, in Denmark.

I received a box in the mail yesterday containing the Danish version of my book. The title they chose is a translation of "The Forbidden Covenant."

Interestingly, my title for the book was "The Covenant," but my American publisher changed it because they had a book of the same title a couple of years ago.

Here's the cover:



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Who Inspired George R R Martin in "Game of Thrones?"


I'm a Game of Thrones fan, and nothing could give me more pleasure that speculating on the historical people who might have inspired George RR Martin.

As the Town & Country headline says: "The real life stories of bastard kings, faceless assassins, and incestuous royal families." Yep, the gang's all here!





To read the story that just went live on Town and Country, go here!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy 4th of July with a Trip to Nathan's Hotdogs on Coney Island

On the Fourth of July, I wanted to share my story on Nathan's Hotdogs, which started in 1916 with a nickel and a dream.


My story for The Vintage News:

On the Fourth of July, the corner of Stillwell and Surf avenues in Brooklyn, New York, is transformed into a media circus, with ESPN broadcasting live an event that for at least an hour puts baseball, America’s favorite summer sport, deep in the shade. Tens of thousands of people crowd close, breathing in the odor of fried food mixed with salt air, stepping over thick television cables, hearing the screams of seagulls overhead, to witness it: Nathan’s Famous International Hotdog Eating Contest.

Boosted by the popularity of competitive eating, the 4th of July contest is “Major League Eating’s Super Bowl, so to speak,” says sportswriter Mark J. Burns in a Forbes column. It’s a Super Bowl with stars, no less. Joey Chestnut, 33, the defending champion, downed 70 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes in 2016, to set an all-time record. Former construction manager Chestnut is believed to earn upwards of $200,000 a year on the competitive eating circuit.

One wonders what the man who started it all—Nathan Handwerker—would make of this feat today. In 1916, he launched what became a hot dog empire with a small stand on the same corner. A near-illiterate shoemaker’s son accustomed to 18-hour workdays, at 19 he had left Poland and a family that hovered on the brink of starvation to follow his dream. “We were seven brothers and six sisters and we didn’t have a lot to eat,” says Handwerker in the excellent 2015 documentary Famous Nathan.

That Nathan Handwerker should end up a beloved fixture of Coney Island is perhaps not so surprising, for this stretch of beach in southwest Brooklyn drew the most audacious of all dreamers for decades


To read the rest, please go here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Interview with Adrienne Dillard on Jane Boleyn


One of the reasons I'm so captivated by the 16th century is the complexity of the people who lived then. Among the real-life characters of the Tudor court who I find endlessly fascinating is Jane Boleyn, born Jane Parker and for much of her life called Lady Rochford. She has for years been depicted as quite a villainess, a woman who supposedly testified against her husband George Boleyn after his arrest in the treason conspiracy launched against his sister Queen Anne, and who was later executed for her part in the adultery conspiracy of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII.

But in recent years, there has been a backlash against the negative view of Jane Boleyn, one that claims there is no evidence of her being the one to testify against her husband, and to substantiate the shocking charges of incest with the queen. Has Jane been defamed by history, by historians, novelists and screenwriters?



I have the good fortune to interview Adrienne Dillard, the author of the new novel The Raven's Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn. I enjoyed this historical novel very much. Adrienne created nuanced portrayals of all the members of the Boleyn family, and put me inside the court of Henry VIII. I am rethinking a lot of my perceptions!

We're both lovers of Tudor history. I've found there's always a spark that leads us there. For me it was watching "The Six Wives of Henry VIII." What triggered your interest in the Tudors?

I've always been a huge fan of all eras of history, but I came to the Tudors as an adult. After my step-father died in January 2008, I tried to get my mom out of the house as much as possible. She must have been really desperate to get out one afternoon when I convinced her to go see The Other Boleyn Girl in the theatre...It's definitely not her normal cinema fare! Throughout the movie, I just kept thinking that there was something off about it, but I didn't know enough about the period to nitpick. That night I picked up Eric Ives' brilliant biography and I was off and running.


Was Jane Boleyn the most compelling member of the Boleyn family to you from the beginning?

No, not at all. I really had no connection to her. I was lucky enough to find Julia Fox's biography very early on so I wasn't indoctrinated with the "nasty Lady Rochford" perspective, but she didn't really pique my interest until after I wrote my first novel. Thanks to TOBG, I was always really drawn to Mary and her children. It wasn't until I made the difficult decision to have a surgery that ended my ability to have children that Jane really came into my consciousness. The surgery happened right around the anniversary of her execution so her story was all over my social media while I was laying around at home feeling sorry for myself. Here, I had a healthy son, but she died utterly childless in a time and place where that was practically unacceptable. How would she have felt about that? That was when I really connected with her.


How did you arrive at your conclusions about her character that led to your depiction of her in the novel?

Fox's biography played a huge role in how I saw Jane and really changed the way I looked at the historical record. She planted a seed of the idea that scribes have biases...and you can see that play out even now. Look at all the books that have come out about the recent election we just had in the US. They all offer behind the scenes "facts" about the events and the politicians involved, but each one has its own slant based upon the writer's ideologies. This is nothing new, it's been going on since the first recordings of history. With that perspective in mind, I went back to the primary documents and began reconsidering their sources. The Jane that emerged was far more complex. She wasn't a saint by any means, but she was humanly flawed. She made decisions that make you want to scream, "No! Why would you do that?!" But having gone through the tragedy of my mother's widowhood, I could identify many of her more irrational choices as symptomatic of someone dealing with terrible grief.

What is the "fact" about Jane that frustrates you the most, the thing you consider untrue but most people believe?

I think it's the "fact" that Jane hated her husband or was jealous of Anne. There really is no proof of that. In fact, I would argue that the sources show just the opposite. 


What do you think she looked like?

Oooh, that is a good question. I wish I knew! I would imagine that she was probably unremarkable in appearance or else there would have been some commentary on it. If she looked like her father, she may have had striking eyebrows and a distinctive nose; a long, slender neck and high cheekbones. I hope that maybe, one day, a portrait will be unearthed that we can say is conclusively her.


How did you come to the conclusion you did about her procreative situation? (Trying not to do spoilers)

To put it simply: the values of the time. Even if Jane had the most miserable marriage on record (doubtful), there is no way that they were not trying for children. As Anne got closer to the throne, the Boleyn's wealth and influence was growing. George was the sole heir to an Earl. It was imperative that he procreate. The fact that they cohabitated for at least a decade without issue led me to believe that either one, or both, struggled with infertility.

Lady Rochford in "The Six Wives of Henry VIII"


Actresses usually play her as a villain. How do you feel about that?

Well, annoyed for sure, but also BORED with it. It's such a lazy way out and so cookie-cutter. It's far more difficult to play someone who operates in a grey area, capable of both good and folly.


There were other maids who helped Catherine Howard with her secret meetings with Culpeper. And no maid of honor or lady in waiting was arrested in the case of Anne Boleyn. Why was Jane singled out?

I think her involvement really infuriated the king. Here, he and Cromwell (who was very connected to Jane's father) had "saved" her from the Boleyns, helped her get her jointure, gave her a place at court, and this was how she repaid him. What impertinence! She had to be punished. Better yet, one last reminder of his Howard wives out of the picture. In Henry's eyes, she had to go. 


How did you come up with the structure of two timelines for the novel? I liked that!

Thank you! My goal in writing this story was to show the affects of grief. In many cases, the person you were before a tragedy is vastly different than the person you are after the tragedy. I wanted to show Pre-1536 Jane and Post-1536 Jane side-by-side so you could see the differences clearly...and maybe, perhaps, come away with an explanation for her involvement with Katherine Howard. We are who we are because of our life experiences; in this structure, you could immediately see those connections.


I also liked your depiction of day to day court life for Jane and her husband . How did you research that?
Henry's household records are a treasure trove! His inventories for food and masques, gambling and travel all painted a pretty detailed picture of what the court was doing from day-to-day. Another excellent resource is the Lisle Letters. They are jam-packed with information and gossip about the goings-on at court. Plus you get a very intimate look at all the requirements for maids during the sections that deal with Anne Bassett's court career.

To learn more about Adrienne's novel go here.



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Nancy Bilyeau is the author of a trilogy of Tudor mysteries: The Crown, The Chalice, and The Tapestry, sold in North America, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Russia, and several other countries,

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The New York Times, Richard Price, and Me

I was fortunate indeed to interview Kevin Flynn, an editor and investigative reporter for The New York Times who was part of the team that won the Pulitzer for its coverage of 9/11. Flynn edited the anthology The Book of Crime:

I began the interview for website The Crime Report curious about what role investigative journalism and crime reporting can play in today's changing media landscape and he gave a thoughtful reply. I'm sharing here the beginning of my story:


 

The Crime Report: Looking at the breadth of these crime stories, the tremendous variety, it’s hard not to think about the state of the media today. How do you see crime coverage at the big urban dailies evolving in a time of staff cutbacks and digital disruption?
Kevin Flynn: I don’t know that I’ve read enough into the coverage of folks outside New York to be much of a national expert, but I don’t think there is any question that here in New York City there has been a move toward lesser coverage of smaller crimes by the dailies. To some extent, that has been offset by the work of websites like DNAInfo, which has done a good job of covering local crime. And to some extent, the proliferation of social media tools like Twitter has made everyone a local crime reporter.In situations like a bombing or a bomb scare, dozens of largely reliable people now have the ability to report their first-person perspectives on what happened. It’s a tool we have to be careful in relying on, but for the most part people provide accurate accounts of what they think they see, and the volume and redundancy of what they report usually gives me confidence in them. That said, the average person is not in position to tweet about crippling shortfalls in a police budget or gaps in a disciplinary procedure for officers. I think it’s important that, as we manage staff reductions at newspapers, we make sure that essential reporting on police departments as institutions never falls through the cracks.

To read the rest of the interview, go here

Novelist and screenwriter Richard Prince contributed a foreword to the book, and he agreed to my request for an excerpt. It was a true privilege editing the words of Price! To read what he has to say about the different types of crime reporting, go here.



Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Enduring Myth of Anastasia

I'm proud to share a story I wrote for Town & Country on Grand Duchess Anastasia. Why, a century later, do we still want to believe the Bolshevik slaughter of the Romanov royal family in 1918? I dug into the history, reading a great many books and looking up newspaper stories. I visited a Russian cathedral on the Upper East side of Manhattan, talking to a "White Russian," and interviewed the lyricist who wrote songs for the musical on Anastasia that opened yesterday.

Read the entire story here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hans Holbein and the Politics of Art

By Nancy Bilyeau

Just two years into the reign of James I, a Dutch painter and poet named Karel van Mander toured Whitehall Palace and came upon something truly memorable: a large wall mural of two generations of Tudors. Dominating the nine foot by twelve foot mural was the long-dead Henry VIII. At his side was his third wife, Jane Seymour; above the couple were his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

Whitehall mural, a 17th century painting reproduction

Van Mander was stunned. He wrote that Henry VIII "stood there, majestic in his splendor...so lifelike that the spectator felt abashed, annihilated in his presence."

Lifelike. This was the supreme achievement of the mural's creator, Hans Holbein. then and now. Peter Ackroyd has written, "He illustrates his sitters in the light of some sudden but characteristic emotion, as if he had caught their thought on the wing."

Hans Holbein the Younger

It is in part because of Holbein that we feel we know the Tudor personalities, from Henry VIII and Jane Seymour to Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell to a baby Prince Edward. But do we really know Holbein?

It seems to us now as if Hans Holbein the Younger was always there, the favorite, the prize artist of the king. But in fact his artistic reign was fairly brief. He did not become "court painter" until shortly before painting that famous mural. It had taken years to win the trust of Henry VIII and secure royal commissions. Just three years after the Whitehall mural, he was under a cloud because of his painting of Henry's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Three years after that, he was dead.

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Hans Holbein was born in 1497 in Augsburg, now the third largest city in Bavaria, Germany. Then it was a "free Imperial city" within the Holy Roman Empire, faithful to emperor and pope. Hans Holbein the Elder came from a family of talented artists and made sure to teach his son everything he knew. The father painted mostly altarpieces, church windows and other religious works--in the late medieval age, this was where artists found their majority of paying work.

Martin Luther transformed Germany--and then the rest of Christendom--when he challenged papal authority in 1517, nailing his 95 theses to the door of the castle church of Wittenerg. Two years earlier, Hans and his older brother Ambrosius had moved to the thriving Swiss city of Basel to work as journeyman painters. He created portraits and murals and designed woodcuts for printers. But soon enough Hans Holbein was engulfed in Luther's revolution.

Dance of Death, the Abbot

Holbein's cover of the Luther bible

It is in his woodcuts that Hans Holbein the Younger gives some indication of his religious beliefs. He designed the title page of Martin Luther's bible. And he created woodcuts for The Dance of Death, an eerie series of drawings showing a skeleton reaching for people across every level of society: merchant, king, abbess, old woman---and pope. Death came to everyone, high or low, was the message.

But in the first of several ironies, when Holbein came to England, his sponsor was Sir Thomas More, known for his hatred of Luther and determination to destroy the books written by those who wanted to reform the church.

Holbein departed from Basel in 1526, leaving a wife and children behind. Religious commissions had dried up as Lutheranism ignited. No one wanted altarpieces anymore. To earn enough money to live--and to, hopefully, find fame--he'd need to establish himself in a foreign court. He tried France first, but nothing happened. The famous Dutch Renaissance humanist Erasmus, whom Holbein had painted at least twice, gave him a letter of recommendation to be given to Sir Thomas More, a fellow Humanist and one of the most valued councilors of Henry VIII.

Sir Thomas More

Holbein may have lived in More's Chelsea home for a time. What is known for certain is that he painted a famous portrait of Sir Thomas as well as many of his family members. More raved about the artist's abilities in a letter to Erasmus. If he knew about Holbein's belief in religious reform, he'd decided to overlook it.

 In 1529 Sir Thomas More became chancellor of England. It would seem that Holbein couldn't have picked a better patron.

But More was devoted to Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, and although he tried hard to avoid it, he got caught up in the Great Matter of the king's divorce. More did not have a high opinion of Anne Boleyn, who would eventually become Henry's second queen, and could not swear an oath of supremacy to king over pope. In 1532 he resigned as chancellor, in anguish, claiming illness.

Holbein was not damaged by his patron's fall from power because he'd returned to Basel, to his family and his circle of artist friends. But this was no place for an artist. The pendulum had swung so far in Basel that religious reformers were destroying statues and works of art in churches. It is believed that some of Holbein's paintings were burned in the rages of iconoclasm. Holbein decided to go  back to England. Before he left, he painted his wife, looking undeniably sad.

Holbein's wife and two of their children

There was a whole new group running the Tudor court in 1533, and Holbein headed for the top. His new patron? The stylish Anne Boleyn. He designed decorations for her coronation; pieces of jewelry; and several silver cups. It is believed that he painted Queen Anne's portrait, but after her fall, Henry VIII had many images of his second wife destroyed. One that survives is a sketch of Anne signed by Holbein.

The Ambassadors

Perhaps the greatest contribution Anne made to the legacy of Holbein was sponsoring his painting The Ambassadors, considered his master work. The strongest clue that Anne commissioned the work is that on a table between the two Frenchmen is a wooden cylinder used to determine dates. Visible is April 11, the day that the court was officially told that Anne Boleyn would be awarded royal honors.

Holbein's sketch of Anne Boleyn

Anne's execution in May 1536 could have led to Holbein's downfall. Instead, he shifted again, becoming the favored painter of Henry VIII himself and Thomas Cromwell, who many believe concocted the charges against Anne of adultery and incest.

Henry VIII, the year Anne Boleyn was executed

Holbein painted Jane Seymour, Anne Boleyn's prim-looking replacement as queen, and the family mural in Whitehall. He received the all-important commissions to paint the king himself and his heir, Prince Edward. He painted Cromwell. This was when Holbein's status at court became official and he earned an annual salary of thirty pounds.

Jane Seymour died the same year that the mural was painted. Henry VIII was reluctant to marry a foreign princess without having any idea of what she looked like. So Holbein was sent to various courts to paint the candidates: France, Flanders, Germany.

Anne of Cleves

In Cleves, he painted Anne, the older sister of Duke William, and Henry was charmed by her appearance. Yet from almost the moment he set eyes on her when she arrived, days before their wedding, he loathed Anne of Cleves. "I like her not," the king declared.

Did Holbein, the artist celebrated for his lifelike images, over-flatter Anne of Cleves in his painting? Did he feel pressure from Cromwell, who supported the marriage alliance to a German power, to make her look more attractive than she was? Cromwell was arrested and then executed in 1540, and one of the reasons for his shocking fall from power was that Henry felt his minister had bungled his fourth marriage. "I am not well handled," the king said, menacingly.

Thomas Cromwell

Did Holbein handle his part well? Others have said that Anne of Cleves' painting must have been accurate because, unlike Cromwell, Holbein was not punished in the fallout of the Cleves divorce. Which is strictly true. But Hans Holbein did not receive any more high profile royal commissions. He concentrated on private commissions, such as miniatures of various members of the nobility, like Katherine Willoughby, the young wife of the Duke of Suffolk.

In late 1543 at the age of 45, Hans Holbein died, perhaps of the plague, in London. He left a will, written in haste. His debts were settled and some of his monies went to the care of the children in Basel he had left behind. His grave is unmarked.

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Sources:

Ackroyd, Peter, The Life of Thomas More

Ives, Eric, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

Thurley, Simon, Whitehall Palace: An Architectural History of the Royal Apartments, 1240-1690

Weir, Alison, Henry VIII: The King and His Court

Wolf, Norbert, Hans Holbein the Younger, the German Raphael

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Nancy Bilyeau is the author of an award-winning trilogy of historical thrillers set in the time of Henry VIII. The protagonist is a Dominican novice. Her trilogy, The CrownThe Chalice, and The Tapestry, is on sale in North America, the United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, and Germany.



* This blog post originally ran on English Historical Fiction Authors.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Truth About Elizabeth of York

"The White Princess" brings Elizabeth of York center stage. For Town of Country I wrote about what the Starz miniseries gets right about the real Elizabeth of York and Henry VII--and what it gets wrong.





There's an interesting interplay going on between this series and Game of Thrones. The marriage of Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor ended the Wars of the Roses, the long, bloody medieval conflict that many believe George R. R. Martin used as his basis for the fantasy series. Now, with "The White Princess," you can see the influence of Game of Thrones. Not just with casting: Michelle Fairley, the beloved Catelyn Stark, plays Henry's mother, Margaret Beaufort. But even the visuals of the shows evoke Game of Thrones, as you can see here:

The White Princess


Game of Thrones
 
 

Read my story for Town & Country on Elizabeth of York here.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

When Frankenstein Met The Earl of Surrey

By Nancy Bilyeau

This is a story of magic and monsters, of poets and parents, and writers with enormous dreams and very little money.

Picture this: Young Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, known as the "poet earl" for his brilliant literary innovations in the mid-16th century, wanders through Europe in great style, tended to by servants and accompanied by learned and amusing friends. Nonetheless, Surrey pines for his ravishing mistress, Geraldine, left behind in England.

Henry Howard, earl of Surrey

In a sonnet, Surrey had written :
"Bright is her hue, and Geraldine she hight:
Hampton me taught to wish her first for mine:
And Windsor, alas, doth chase me from her sight.
Her beauty of kind, her virtues from above;
Happy is he that can obtain her love."
One day, in Italy, the lovesick Surrey turned for a cure to one of his companions, German-born Cornelius Agrippa, who, besides being a scholar, physician and soldier, was an astrologer and student of the occult. Agrippa "was one of the most celebrated men of his time...but he was a man of the most violent passions and of great instability of temper."

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa

Agrippa possessed the ability to summon up apparitions for his friends, often displaying them in a crystal glass. One day, to please the Renaissance humanist Erasmus, he'd summoned an image of Tully, giving an oration in ancient Rome. For Sir Thomas More, Agrippa delivered "the whole destruction of Troy in a dream."

Surrey longed to see the faraway Geraldine, and Agrippa complied. In the "magical glass," Surrey saw the "beautiful dame, sick, weeping upon her bed, and inconsolable for the absence of her admirer." The Howard heir was distraught.

This is a story that appeared in a chapter devoted to Agrippa in William Godwin's Lives of the Necromancers, published in 1834. And ever since, puzzled historians and biographers and literary critics have tried to figure out if there is one true thing in it.

A necromancer is a wizard, a seer, someone who can conjure the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events. Godwin's book begins with divination from the ancient times, moves through the Old Testament seers, Roman oracles and the "Arabian Nights," picks up speed in medieval times with Bacon and Magnus before concentrating on the Renaissance necromancers: Agrippa, Paracelsus, Faustus, John Dee, Nostradamus. Then it's time for the Lancashire witches and King James I's demonology before finishing up with the witches of New England. Whew.

The fact that Godwin, the revered writer of the book Political Justice and the novel Caleb Williams, wrote a tome about centuries of necromancers is bizarre. But that's not the only strange and remarkable aspect. Godwin was the devoted father of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. And in that famous horror novel, it is the 16th century writings of Agrippa that obsess a young student named Victor Frankenstein, leading him to create a living man from the parts of the dead.

 
             This first edition of Shelley's 'Frankenstein' sold for $175,000 in auction in 2015.

Before we continue, it must be acknowledged: The story of Agrippa revealing Geraldine to Surrey is fishy. Not that they weren't real people. Surrey, the first cousin of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, is famous in his own right: He and his friend Sir Thomas Wyatt were the first English poets to write in the sonnet form.

As for Agrippa, born in Cologne, he mastered six languages and studied medicine and law as well as the work of the Humanists. Alchemy was his passion, and he believed "magic comprises the most profound contemplation of the most secret things, their nature, power, quality, substance and virtues." He published De Occulta Philosophia, three volumes on magic. The lives of Agrippa and Surrey overlapped by 19 years, but the story of their meeting and traveling together in Italy is almost certainly not true. Moreover, Godwin may have known that ... but found it impossible to resist throwing it in the pot. More on Godwin later!

The facts: The charismatic Surrey was executed for treason in 1546. Henry VIII had grown acutely paranoid about the Howard family's pretensions to the throne. Surrey was the biggest threat because he had royal blood through his mother, Elizabeth Stafford, the oldest daughter of the third Duke of Buckingham, another arrogant charmer who lost his head to Bluff King Hal.

The sonnet "Description and Praise of His Love Geraldine" is one of Surrey's finest. Sir Walter Scott and Michael Drayton would later pay homage to its romantic power. But their being a real, devouring love behind the poem is also just too good to be true. The girl in the poem is thought to be based on a real female: Elizabeth Fitzgerald, daughter of Gerald Fitzgerald, ninth earl of Kildare. But when he wrote it, she was at most 10 years of age.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, aka Geraldine, after marrying

The aristocratic Fitzgerald family came from Ireland to London in 1533, when Elizabeth was six years old, and she and her brother became playmates to Henry VIII's children. Her father, however, was imprisoned in the Tower of London for corruption; he died there "of grief" in 1534. It is thought that a sympathetic Surrey wrote the sonnet in 1537 for the 10-year-old girl to improve her chances of someday making a good marriage.

So Surrey and Genevieve weren't really in love and Surrey never traveled through Italy. It's settled. Yet, nonetheless, Agrippa conjuring up Geraldine in a magic glass for Surrey is a story that kept showing up in art and letters. Watercolour painter Edward Corbould, favorite of Prince Albert, was the toast of London with his "The Earl of Surrey Beholding the Fayre Geraldine in the Magic Mirror."

Corbould's famous painting


The origin of this story can be traced to a book written after Surrey's death, from the quill of another author of the 16th century, the sort of talented rapscallion that keeps surfacing in our narrative. Thomas Nashe, a parson's son, became a leading Elizabethan playwright, poet and satirical pamphleteer. In his book The Unfortunate Traveller, published in 1594, a man named Jack Wilton rollicks through Europe, surviving many adventures and meeting famous people as if he were a Tudor-era Zelig. Some of the stories in the novel are based on real events, such as the Peasant Revolt in Germany. One of the people Wilton meets is the Earl of Surrey, and while traveling together they encounter Agrippa and his magic crystal. Geraldine revealed!

Nashe, a friend of Ben Johnson's, is thought to be one of the contributors to Henry VI, Part 1, published under William Shakespeare's name. On the opposite end of the prestige spectrum, he wrote erotica such as the notorious The Choice of Valentines, about a trip to a brothel. In response to the outraged criticism over his writing the 50 Shades of its day, Nashe penned this: "When the bottom of my purse is turned downward and my conduit of ink will no flower flow for want of reparations, I am faine to let my Plow stand still in the midst of a furrow."

Nashe was dead by 1601. A friend's epitaph: 
 "Let all his faults sleepe with his mournful chest/And there forever with his ashes rest/His style was wittie, though it had some gall/Some things he might have mended, so may all/Yet this I say, that for a mother witt/Few men have ever seene the like of it."
Surrey's stature grew in the pantheon of Renaissance literature over the next two hundred years ... and so did doubts about the Agrippa anecdote described by Nashe.  One early Surrey biographer pointed out that, aside from Geraldine being nine years old when the sonnet was being composed, "it is unlikely Howard was ever in Italy because he never made any mention of it." In the 16th century--no surprise--traveling around Europe was difficult even if you had money. The promise of the Grand Tour dangled far in the future.

And so we come to the Godwin family.



William Godwin's early life was a bit like Nashe's.  His austere Calvinist father was a Nonconformist minister in Norwich; Godwin was the seventh of thirteen children. He made his way to London in his twenties and, living hand to mouth,  joined a circle of young philosophers, poets and revolutionaries such as William Blake and Thomas Paine. In 1793 he published Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness, an enormously influential book that decried government and urged people to use their own reason to plan their actions. Godwin is today considered the founder of political anarchism.

Godwin fell in love with a fellow author and spirited revolutionary, Mary Wollstonecraft, a passionate believer in the rights of women who had an illegitimate child and suicide attempts in her own past. She died days after giving birth to their only child, the future Mary Shelley.

As the death toll of the French Revolution became more known, those who called for anarchy became less popular. Godwin, remarried, saw sales of his books begin to decline. He started a publishing business but it failed, nearly sending Godwin, a hopeless businessman, to debtors' prison. Friends rescued him with loans.

Mary Godwin Shelley

Through it all, he devoted himself to the education of his daughter. Mary not only studied literature and languages but was surrounded by her father's scientist friends, chemists and surgeons who were fascinated by the notion of "animal electricity," also known as "galvanism," the study of muscle contractions causing an electrical current.

Godwin was furious and heartbroken when Mary, 17, ran away with the married poet Percy Shelley. London gossip snickered that Godwin had courted Shelley, heir to a fortune, because he was desperate for a patron for his strained writing life, and "sold" his child to the dissolute young man. It was definitely untrue.

It's well known that when Mary, Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori gathered at the Villa Diodati  in 1816, competing to see who could pen  the best ghost story, the talk was of the occult, of alchemists and necromancers. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley gave direct credit to Agrippa for setting things in motion. She wrote of her main character, a young student, coming across a book:
"Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate. I desire, therefore, in this narration, to state those facts which led to my predilection for that science. When I was thirteen years old, we all went on a party of pleasure to the Baths near Thoneo. The inclemency of the weather obliged us to remain a day confined to this inn. In this house I chanced to find a volume of the works of Cornelius Agrippa. I opened it with apathy; the theory which he attempts to demonstrate, and the wonderful facts which he relates, soon changed this feeling into enthusiasm. A new light seemed to dawn upon my mind..."
The student's fate was set. One day Victor Frankenstein would use "natural philosophy" to create life.

In mid-April 1817, Mary Shelley finished her fair copy of the novel. Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus was published in 1818, to mixed reviews. After her husband drowned in 1822, Mary returned to England. She became close again with her father, whose book sales foundered further as Frankenstein gained strength. Mary thrived as a writer and editor, and eventually helped to support her father financially. She wrote a friend in 1831 she was "full of disquietude for my father, who lives by his pen."

William Godwin, in later life

Godwin, although he'd written more than a dozen books, did not have a publisher when he created Lives of the Necromancers. It took him two years to find one for it, even though Mary was exerting personal pressure on editors and publishers she knew. Everyone rejected it. Finally, an obscure London publisher, Andrew Mason, took the book in 1834. (In his chapter on Agrippa, Godwin conceded that the "sole authority" for the Surrey section was Nashe. The episode is followed by tales of black-cat familiars and dangerous potions.)

The book found fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe,in particular, enjoyed its treatment of magic and superstition.

Poe, who hated just about everything, praised Lives of the Necromancers in Southern Literary Messenger, saying, "No English writer with whom we have any acquaintance, with the single exception of Coleridge, has a fuller appreciation of the value of words." Poe continued:
"Unlike the work of Brewster, the Necromancy of Mr. Godwin is not a Treatise on Natural Magic. It does not pretend to show the manner in which delusion acts upon mankind — at all events, this is not the object of the book. The design, if we understand it, is to display in their widest extent, the great range and wild extravagancy of the imagination of man. It is almost superfluous to say that in this he has fully succeeded. His compilation is an invaluable work, evincing much labor and research, and full of absorbing interest."


Edgar Allan Poe

(More recently, biographers have studied the book as proof of the shared interests of Mary Shelley and William Godwin. Some critics are rather baffled, trying to decide whether Godwin was mocking the gullible or celebrating mystical beliefs.)

Lives of the Necromancers was the last book written by William Godwin. In 1833, in recognition of his body of work, the Whig government granted him a pension of 200 pounds a year and a modest home in New Palace Yard. In April 1834, at the age of 80, he caught a cough and died, his daughter by his side. At his request, Godwin was buried next to his long-dead first wife, Mary Wollstonecraft.

The books of William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley have never gone out of print.

And neither have the books of magic written by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa.

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Nancy Bilyeau is the author of a trilogy of mysteries set in the 16th century: The Crown, The Chalice, and The Tapestry. for sale in North America, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain. The Crown was an Oprah pick: "The real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of murder, lust, conspiracy and betrayal."  The Chalice won the RT Reviewers Award for Best Historical Mystery. The Tapestry was released in paperback in March 2016. For more information, go here.




Sunday, March 26, 2017

My Bookstore Buddies

I was delighted to see two photos of my books, on sale at independent bookstores. I love the thought of readers browsing the tables and discovering my work! I've haunted bookstores since I was a grade-schooler and have found countless treasured novels that way.

Yesterday, my friend Diane Wilshere, whom I've known online since we were part of the same yahoo discussion group on Tudor England, sent me a photo that made me cry "Yippee!": My novel The Chalice is on sale as a "staff pick" at Powell's Books, in Portland. Powell's is one of the most influential bookstores in the U.S., a chain of stores actually, often called a "city of books."




The "Staff Pick" note says, "A little bit like The DaVinci Code...except the main character is a woman! Joanna Stafford was a novice in the Catholic Church until Henry VIII dissolved it; she's a nun on the run. Prophecy & Mystery!"

Last week, I received a wonderful email from some in a city closer to home. Melodie R. Winawer, author of the upcoming historical thriller The Scribe of Siena, spotted The Tapestry on the table of a bookstore in Saratoga, New York.



Thank you, friends, for sending me these snapshots from the front, and thank you, bookstores, for supporting my novels and bringing readers to the world of Joanna Stafford.





Wednesday, March 22, 2017

My Interview With Rhys Bowen

By Nancy Bilyeau

As the editor of The Big Thrill, I get books in the mail literally every day. Yes, even Sunday!

Last year, I was struck by the cover of one novel (an ARC in publishing lingo, standing for "advance review copy") and the author's name.

The book that I removed from its envelope.


I was intrigued. This didn't seem to be a book in one of Rhys's series of historical mysteries. (I'm an admirer of both series.) A glance at the press materials revealed that this was a "standalone," in the lingo of publishing, and a big epic World War II thriller.

Even though I had work up to my ears and was in the middle of two other books, I turned to the first page of In Farleigh Field, and was immediately captivated. I plunged into her suspenseful story of a family in 1941 England and how they become caught up in a widening conspiracy after a soldier is found on the family estate, dead in his parachute and with false papers. My favorite character was the young man living near the estate, the vicar's son, who is in love with one of the daughters but must investigate the possible treasonous conspiracy as a secret intelligence officer.

After finishing, I contacted Rhys's publicist and arranged an interview. We spoke for an hour on the phone and she was full of interesting stories and perspectives on England during World War II, women as spies, and how she wrote the book she wanted to write. Very inspiring.

And she was quite funny. I love the pictures she sent to accompany the interview, including one of her and a cutout of the Queen:



Please read my interview with Rhys here.

And check out In Farleigh Field!