Saturday, September 22, 2018

Evidence Found of a Centuries' Old Scottish Feud

There are feuds, and then there are feuds.

The conflicts between clans in 16th and 17th century Scotland are famous, and one that raged between the Campbell family and the MacDonald family was particularly unrelenting.

Now a seal owned by one of the clan leaders, Sir John Campbell of Cawdor, has come to light. It was buried beneath mounds of rubble at Dunyvaig Castle on Islay, where the clans fought.

Islay is the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides islands, off the west coast of Scotland, and is celebrated today for its whisky. In fact, Islay is known as “The Queen of the Hebrides” and celebrated as the reigning monarch of a typically smoky, peaty style of single malt whisky. Its 17th century history was considerably more tumultuous.

 
The artifact that attests to the conflict was described as “remarkable” and “extremely rare” by archaeologists.

Once used to sign and seal charters and documents, the seal is a disc of lead that carries the inscription “Ioannis Campbell de Calder.”  (Calder was the original spelling of Cawdor). It carries the Cawdor coat of arms with a galley ship and a stag and is dated 1593.

The Campbells and the MacDonald’s fought over Dunyvaig in the early 17th century, with a series of sieges of the castle until the Campbells won. Sir John took ownership of Islay in 1615.







A field school student has unearthed the seal of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor, a leader of the Campbell clan. Photo by Islay Heritage and the University of Reading

 
Losing the castle was a bitter blow for the MacDonalds. The castle was once the naval fortress of the Lords of the Isles, the chiefs of the clan MacDonald. Most of the castle remains are from the 16th century but the foundations are believed to be centuries older.

The seal was found by a field student during an excavation of the castle being carried out by Islay Heritage and the University of Reading. According to the BBC, University of Reading student Zoë Wiacek, who found the seal, said everyone on the dig became excited when it was uncovered.

She said: “I removed a piece of rubble and it was just sitting there on the ground. I immediately knew it was an important find, but had no idea what it was. I called over my trench supervisor, and when it was lifted, the soil fell away to show the inscription.”

The clan feud was a bitter one and long lasting, with much blood spilled.

The website Memories of Scotland says, “Memories run long in the highlands of Scotland and, we've heard tell, the bitterness between Clans Campbell and MacDonald continues to this day. The clash between these two ancient Celtic houses, which has lasted for hundreds of years, is not just about lands, religion, Jacobitism, or even betrayal. Rather, it is about power.”

In 1344, the chief of the MacDonalds began to style himself “Lord of the Isles.” Each of the succeeding Lords of the Isles rebelled against their Stewart king, often in coordination with the English kings.
Dunyvaig Castle, Islay, Scotland. Seen from northeast. Photo by Otter CC BY-SA 3.0

Said Memories of Scotland, “They sought an independent Highland kingdom and bitterly resented paying fealty to lowland Scots. They had been kings and wished to be kings still. Yet, they were completely unsuccessful and there were only four acknowledged Lords of the Isles.”

The Campbells, however, sought power in Scotland while cooperating with the Stewart kings, and they were the ones who tried to take down the MacDonalds.

“The Campbell lands lie in Argyll. By the 16th century, the chiefs were Earls of Argyll, and these days (and for some time past) there has been a Duke of Argyll, the 9th of whom married a daughter of Queen Victoria.”


As the clan with the muscle in that part of Scotland, the Campbells were all too ready to besiege the castle on Islay and try to dislodge the MacDonalds. After they won, there was of course considerable bitterness.

The most notorious chapter in the clans' feud was the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692. The Campbells, now loyal to the British Crown, held by William of Orange, instead of the Stuarts and their Jacobite cause, initiated an underhand and savage attack against the MacDonalds. Their soldiers killed the chief of the clan, 33 other men, two women, and two children.

The massacre took place after the Campbells and their followers were welcomed by the MacDonalds for two weeks of Celtic hospitality. The Campbells had pretended to come as friends. But in the dark early morning of February 13, 1692, the guests slaughtered their unarmed hosts, not even sparing the children.

The horror of the Glencoe Massacre is thought to have inspired George R. R. Martin in his “Red Wedding” section of Game of Thrones, in which one family is wiped out under the guise of hospitality.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

DNA Evidence and the Princes in the Tower

The fate of the Princes in the Tower, who disappeared in the late 15th century, has become not only an obsession but a question loaded with potential blame--and exoneration too.

Some say Richard III, the boys' uncle, had them killed, but others furiously defend Richard and point the finger at those they say stood to gain from the removal from the succession of the vulnerable sons of Edward IV.

Before he died at the age of 40, Edward IV instructed his younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, to serve as Lord Protector for his oldest son, also named Edward, who was just 12.

Portrait of Richard III of England
The trouble was, Edward's queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and that brother, Richard of Gloucester, hated each other. There was a lethal split in the family, and Richard seized his older nephew and had him put in the Tower of London for his "protection" before the coronation. The boy's maternal uncles were killed, and Elizabeth Woodville fled with her other children to Westminster Abbey, claiming sanctuary.


But after weeks of intense pressure on the widowed queen, Richard was able to secure the younger son, too. Both princes were placed in the Tower of London. Richard declared himself the rightful king and took the throne as Richard III. He was the one who had the coronation, not his nephew, on July 6, 1483.
The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1483, by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878, part of the Royal Holloway picture collection.
The two princes were last seen by any members of the public in the summer of 1483. Richard III reigned as king but was killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and in the time of his successors, Henry VII and Henry VIII, it was widely said that Richard had murdered his nephews. Rumors of the deed circulated in the last year of Richard III's reign as well. It became a baffling mystery, and source of debate.

Now researchers say a recently identified DNA sample could bring some answers.
The DNA obviously cannot come from the boys' direct descendants, since the two of them, Edward V and Prince Richard of York, were assumed to have disappeared before they reached adulthood, married, and had their own children.

 
But the boys' maternal grandmother, Jacquetta Woodville, is the confirmed ancestor of a modern-day English opera singer, a woman named Elizabeth Roberts, whose female-line mitochondrial DNA scientists were able to isolate. Elizabeth Roberts is the 16 times great-granddaughter of Jacquetta Woodville, also called Jacquette of Luxembourg.
King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower of London, by Paul Delaroche.


That still raises the question: How does one compare Elizabeth Roberts' DNA to the boys' DNA when they disappeared?

That brings the story to a wooden box discovered two centuries after the boys vanished. Workmen in the Tower found a box buried in the grounds near the White Tower in 1674. The bones were thought to be that of the two princes and were buried in Westminster Abbey in an urn by order of Charles II.

Researchers say that if the DNA could be extracted from those remains and compared to that of Elizabeth Roberts, and there is a match, it proves that the dead boys were Edward V and his younger brother, Richard of York. And that, some say, strengthens the theory that Richard III had them killed while they were confined in the Tower of London.



However, there are problems with that line of logic. Some defenders of Richard's reputation say that Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, and also the Duke of Buckingham both had something to gain from the murder of the princes, and could possibly have gained access to the Tower during that time, or bribed someone with access.

If the bones of the boys in the buried box do not match with the Woodville descendant, Richard's defenders say that means the princes did not die in the Tower of London. Some say one or both were spirited away and lived in obscurity, although why that would happen is hard to explain. Some say the younger prince was Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne eventually executed by Henry VII.

“The discovery of the descendant, and her decision to supply a sample of her DNA have opened up significant avenues of investigation. The traditional narrative surrounding the so-called Princes in the Tower is deeply problematic – but this new DNA brings solving a number of key questions that much closer,” said Philippa Langley, the historical researcher who was responsible for successfully discovering the long-lost grave of Richard III, in an interview published in The Independent.

Sarcophagal urn of the presumed bones of Edward V and his brother, Richard, Duke of York


Another problem with this theory is that it is unlikely permission will be granted for the bodies buried in Westminster Abbey to be tested. The Abbey has turned down similar requests in the past 50 years, and there seems but a slim chance of officials changing their mind.

The new book The Mythology of the Princes in the Tower in which the DNA discovery is revealed “was written by an Essex University historian, John Ashdown-Hill, who tragically passed away just a few months ago,” according to The Independent. It is being published in July 2018 by the UK publisher Amberley Books.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Unhappiest Royal Marriage of all: George IV and Caroline of Brunswick

The wedding of Prince Harry to American actress Meghan Markle and the upcoming nuptials of another of Queen Elizabeth's grandchildren, Princess Eugenie, to Casamigos Tequila brand ambassador Jack Brooksbank make it clear that marriages in the English royal family are made for love.

It wasn't always this way.

For centuries, the monarchs of England married to forge alliances with other European countries, with the side benefit of dowries fat enough to fill depleted royal treasuries. For example, in 1662, Charles II's bride, Catherine of Braganza, was said to have brought with her a dowry of 2 million Portuguese crowns, plus the port of Tangiers.

Many of these marriages evolved into working partnerships within which some affection, and perhaps even love, developed.

But there were very unhappy ones too.

Three of Queen Elizabeth's four children divorced their first spouses, but this wasn't easily done in the past. Unhappy kings could imprison their queens, as Henry II did with Eleanor of Aquitaine, or execute them, as Henry VIII did with Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (he managed to annul marriages to two other queens too).

George, Prince of Wales and later Prince Regent


In the annals of royal matrimony, however, there is nothing quite like the marriage of George IV to Princess Caroline of Brunswick. It kept going from bad to worse, until reaching the nadir of George's coronation on July 9, 1821, when at the age of 57 he finally succeeded George III.

Estranged from her husband and living abroad, Caroline returned to England to be crowned as Queen. She was told not to attempt entering Westminster Abbey for the ceremony but ignored that advice. Caroline arrived and attempted entry, but the Deputy Lord Chamberlain slammed the door in her face.

Caroline of Brunswick



After banging on the door and shouting that she belonged inside, Caroline stumbled back to her carriage. Later that night she fell ill, and she died three weeks later.

This tragedy began years earlier, in the 1790s, when Prince George realized he had no choice but to marry a princess. The heir to the throne had wracked up massive debts as an extravagant pleasure seeker.

St Margaret Church, Westminster Abbey, London

George IV served as Prince Regent (meaning he carried out the duties of the monarch due to his George III's unstable mental state) for ten years, but was not able to be crowned king in his own right until his father's death in 1820.

During this period, George III was still in possession of some of his wits -- and he seriously disapproved of his oldest son's lifestyle. The king sent letters "void of every expression of parental kindness or affection," said a contemporary.

To make matters even more difficult, George had entered into an illegal marriage at age 23. He wed a woman he was desperately in love with, Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, a commoner, a widow, and a Catholic. It was against the law for a royal to marry without the monarch's consent and the spouse of a Catholic could not succeed, but he lived with her fairly openly for a number of years.

Maria Fitzherbert, secret wife of the heir to the throne

The prince's debts mounted, and his father remained intractable. Why should he pay for the lifestyle of a son without a family? Finally, George IV, who was tired of Maria in any case, informed his father he was ready to marry a fellow royal and start a family. His debt of £650,000 was cleared -- and his bride was secured.

Caroline, then 27, came from the minor royal German house of Brunswick. Many of the British monarchs of the 18th and 19th centuries married Germans, who were reliably Protestant.

Caroline was George's first cousin, since her mother was one of George III's sisters. The king, her father-in-law, always liked her -- much more than he liked his son.

Caroline in 1795, shortly before her marriage

But there were warning signs that she was not the best match for the heir to the throne. George, for all of his faults ("gluttony, drunkenness, and gambling," observed a courtier), was acknowledged as a man of great taste. He patronized artists and was himself a talented singer; he pushed for innovative architecture, and he was on the forefront of fashion.

Caroline was not very well educated, excitable, garrulous, and badly dressed. One biographer of George III wrote that she was "rumored to be dirty and extremely indiscreet and was undeniably no beauty."


Other observers at the time thought that she was well meaning and friendly, and would have calmed down and made a good wife if the man in question were a kind one. That's not, sadly, what Caroline got.

The couple met for the first time three days before the wedding date. George embraced her, then withdrew to a corner and called for brandy. Caroline, for her part, was taken aback by his appearance and behavior and said, "My God! Does the Prince always act like this? I think he's very fat and he's nothing like his portrait."


Having no choice, the two of them married on April 8, 1795. George drank so much that he spent most of his wedding night unconscious on the floor. It is said that in the first week of the marriage, the two of them had sex three times. And then...never again.


However, she had become pregnant, and Princess Charlotte was born nine months after the wedding (tragically, Charlotte would die at the age of 21 from complications during childbirth).

Just a few months after his marriage, George informed his father he wished to separate from his wife. King George III wrote to him, "You seem to look on your disunion with the Princess as merely of a private nature and totally put out of sight as Heir Apparent of the Crown your marriage is a public act."

But Caroline wanted out of the marriage as much as he did. She departed for the Continent in 1814. There she reportedly had affairs and perhaps even an illegitimate child. George of course had many affairs too, while trying to divorce his wife who he once called "the vilest wretch this world ever was cursed with."

The wedding of George, Prince of Wales, and princess Caroline of Brunswick officiated on April 8, 1795 in the Chapel Royal of St. James's Palace, London.

The public, however, took up Princess Caroline cause, sympathizing with her plight. English writer and chronicler William Hazlitt said, "It was the only question I have ever known that excited a thorough popular feeling. It struck its roots into the heart of the nation; it took possession of every house or cottage in the kingdom."

Even after he became king, George IV could not manage to get a divorce. Caroline had decided to return to England and take her place as Queen of England. A desperate George offered her a large bribe to stay on the Continent, which she refused.

The spectacle of her being turned away from Westminster Abbey while pounding on the door and shouting, "I am your Queen!" was an enormous scandal of the time.

Caroline died at the age of 53. Her funeral was a scene of general chaos, with an outraged public throwing bricks at soldiers who tried to keep order.

At her request, she was buried in her native Brunswick in a tomb bearing the inscription "Here lies Caroline, the Injured Queen of England."

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Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the Joanna Stafford trilogy, historical thrillers set in the 16th century, published in 9 countries, and the upcoming historical novel "The Blue," a suspense story set in the art and porcelain world of 18th century England and France.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Cover Reveal for 'The Lost History of Dreams'




Ta da! Here's the cover reveal for Kris Waldherr’s THE LOST HISTORY OF DREAMS, which Touchstone Books will publish on April 9, 2019! In this captivating debut novel in the gothic tradition of Wuthering Heights and The Thirteenth Tale, a post-mortem photographer unearths dark secrets of the past that may hold the key to his future.
Learn more or preorder here: https://tinyurl.com/y9mp9uwc
Read an exclusive interview about the cover design: https://tinyurl.com/losthistoryreveal

Share this post for a chance to win one early copy from Touchstone! US residents only.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

My Conversation with Ruth Ware

I was delighted to have the chance to profile Ruth Ware for the cover of The Big Thrill. Her new novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, is exactly the kind of mystery I enjoy reading.

Sharing my story here:


BETWEEN THE LINES: RUTH WARE

A Classic With Delicious Twists


The eerie Manderley estate of Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca has mesmerized not only decades’ worth of readers but also novelists—and for Ruth Ware, the Cornwall estate of Menabilly, which inspired du Maurier, has very particular meaning. The British suspense author, whose novel THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY is winning acclaim, said that Menabilly “was the main reason I chose to set my novel in Cornwall, as a tribute to her fabulous settings.”




Ware explained, “I tend to think of the settings for my novels as another character in themselves. I have to find the right place for my novels, just as much as I have to find the main characters, and they play off each other.”

In THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY, the “character” in question is a Cornwall house called Trespassn, and it’s much more than a slightly crumbling estate of wealth and dark secrets. It’s a property that the novel’s main character, Hal, may or may not be entitled to. Hal is a near-destitute tarot card reader with a stall on the Brighton Pier when she receives a letter saying that her grandmother has recently died and she may be due an inheritance. The problem? Hal believes her grandmother to be long dead. Should she decide to attend the funeral of the mysterious Mrs. Westaway, it’s those abilities to “read” people refined through tarot-reading that could set her own future.


The Cornwall estate Menabilly that served as the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”

The author of the psychological thrillers The Woman in Cabin 10, In a Dark, Dark Wood, and The Lying Game said the strikingly original character of Hal did not come as a product of exhaustive research. “Hal is very much straight out of my imagination,” Ware explained. “Most of my characters are—occasionally I’ll steal a small quirk or a figure of speech off a real person, but I try not to magpie too much from real life, it feels a little disrespectful and I fear my friends might start to rebel. She probably has a good dose of me, though. Most of my characters are me to some extent.”

And even though tarot plays a key role in the novel, Ware said, “I knew very little about tarot before I started writing the novel. I had seen the cards of course, and always found them beautiful and evocative, but I had no idea about what they symbolized and how to conduct a reading. I went into it thinking it was a load of old cobblers, to be totally honest —I’m not a natural believer in anything supernatural, and I tend to dismiss anything that isn’t provable in a sequence of peer reviewed double blind trials. But I emerged from the research process rather impressed, and more inclined to use tarot in my own life. Like Hal, I don’t think the cards themselves have any particular predictive power—but I do think that any process that encourages you to ask yourself questions about your motives and hopes and fears is probably healthy. Ultimately the cards are just a way of making you consider things from different angles, and analyze what forces might be acting on your life. I wouldn’t encourage people to take them too literally—like Hal, I think they can become a crutch. But as a means of enabling self reflection, I think they’re quite useful.”

Whatever her creative method, it’s clearly working. THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY is winning glowing reviews, from “Expertly paced and crafted” in Kirkus to “tense, twisty modern 
gothic” in Publishers Weekly.

The Washington Post in particular delighted in the novel’s charms, saying in its review, “A classic never goes out of style. Consider the confident simplicity of the dry martini, the Edison lightbulb and Meghan Markle’s wedding dress. Now, add to that list Ruth Ware’s new novel, THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY.”

The glories of the classic Rebecca aside, there was another du Maurier book that influenced Ware in her novel’s creation. “I re-immersed myself in My Cousin Rachel last year, having not read it for years, and I had forgotten quite how brilliant it is.“

The plot of THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY is definitely filled with twists and well timed revelations, and some instances of clever misdirection. Yet Ware said she is not an author who plots a book in detail ahead of time. “I work mostly by instinct,” she said. “I knew what the switch was going to be in this novel from fairly early on, but exactly how it pans out and how Hal discovers the truth was something I only figured out by writing. Of course there’s a fair amount of tweaking goes on after I deliver—I rely on my editors to tell me if I’ve revealed too much or have signaled too little. They are very good at being a test reader.”

One thing that is not present in the novel is a romance for Hal, interestingly. Ware admits, “It wasn’t something I set out to consciously do or not do—just how it turned out. But I’d written a couple of books in succession where the main character’s romantic problems were a sort of counterpoint or backdrop to the mystery playing out in the foreground, so I suppose perhaps unconsciously I wanted to do something different this time round.”

Ware’s work is being compared to that of Agatha Christie, whose mysteries are so adept with questions of identity, especially when it comes to money. “Yes, some of her best books are about this topic,” Ware said. “I would also encourage anyone who enjoys those themes to read Peril at End House and Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey, to both of which I owe an undoubted debt of inspiration.”

As for Menabilly, which Daphne du Maurier leased for years, Ware said, “I have never been to the real Menabilly, which is in private hands. I would love to visit, but part of me worries that it could never be as glorious and atmospheric as the fictional versions.”

This story ran on The Big Thrill on June 1.

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!!



Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Truth About Elizabeth I and Torture: "The Rack Seldom Stood Idle"

By Nancy Bilyeau




In 1588, more than halfway into the reign of Elizabeth I, a man named John Gerard, English by birth, returned to his homeland, setting foot on the coast at Norfolk. He was arrested six years later, in a London house he had rented. The government officials did not believe Gerard’s story that he was a gentleman fond of gambling and hunting. And they were right to do so. Gerard was actually a Jesuit priest, educated in Douai and Rome, and leading a covert and highly dangerous life in Protestant England.


Father Gerard was conveyed to the Tower, accused of trying “to lure people from the obedience of the Queen to the obedience of the Pope.” His interrogators demanded to know who had assisted him in England. He refused to name names.

In a book Father Gerard wrote years later, he reports being one day “taken for a second examination to the house of a magistrate called Young. Along with him was another… an old man, grown grey.” Young began the questioning—what Catholics did Father Gerard know? “I answered that I neither could not nor would make disclosures that would get any one into trouble, for reasons already stated,” says the Jesuit.

Young turned to his silent colleague and said, “I told you how you would find him.” The older men looked at Father Gerard “frowningly” and finally spoke. “Do you know me?” he asked “I am Topcliffe, of whom I doubt not you have often heard.”

Sir Richard Topcliffe then led the interrogation, and Father Gerard was tortured by use of manacles for more than six hours. A friar said, ‘Twice he has been hung up by the hands with great cruelty…the examiners say he is exceedingly obstinate.”

Topcliffe, a lawyer and Member of Parliament, began serving the queen in the 1570s and seems to have reported to Sir Francis Walsingham. He hated Catholics with great intensity and boasted of having a chamber in his home containing devices “superior” to the ones in the Tower. The government allowed him to make official use of this home chamber. When a prisoner must be "put to the pain," it was time to send for Topcliffe. His favorite methods: the rack and the manacles.

Of all the mysteries of Elizabeth I, few are as baffling as the humane queen’s favor toward the inhuman Sir Richard Topcliffe, chief torturer of the realm. An undoubted sadist, he was the dark blot on her golden age.


When researching an earlier blog post on “Little Ease” in the Tower of London, I came across the 1933 book The History of Torture in England, by L.A. Parry.  The 16th century was when torture reached its height in England. “Under Henry VIII it was frequently employed; it was only used in a small number of cases in the reigns of Edward VI and Mary. It was while Elizabeth sat on the throne that it was made use of more than in any other period of history.” Parry quotes the historian Hallam: “The rack seldom stood idle in the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign.”

More recent historical works confirm this grim record. Prisoners were tortured and some were later executed. Anne Somerset in Elizabeth I said, “one-hundred and eighty-three Catholics were executed during Elizabeth’s reign; one-hundred and twenty-three of them were priests.” Elizabeth Jenkins, author of Elizabeth the Great, shudders over the “unspeakable Richard Topcliffe” and says, “The whole process of hunting down priests and examining them under torture was quite outside the domain of the law courts.”

How could the erudite Elizabeth who said she had “no desire to make windows into men’s souls” officiate over these horrors? Two people seem to have triggered this change in the queen. One was Pope Pius V who excommunicated the queen in 1570, branding her as a “servant of crime.” This act encouraged her subjects to rise up. 



The other was the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, a focus of possible rebellion the entire time she was held in the kingdom after she was driven out of her own land. Elizabeth's secretary, Walsingham, became her spymaster. The indefatigable Puritan was convinced that the Jesuits and other priests who secretly practiced in England were part of an international conspiracy to destabilize the realm and eventually depose the queen. Many of the interrogated priests, such as Father Gerard, insisted they were loyal to the queen, that they led secret lives because Mass was illegal. But some unquestionably were drawn into dangerous conspiracy against Elizabeth, such as the Babington Plot, which sought to replace Elizabeth with Mary.

In fact, the embattled queen, no doubt frightened as well as enraged, ordered that the guilty Babington conspirators be executed in ways so horrible it would never be forgotten. And so the first ones were. But the crowd of spectators, presumably hardened to such sights, were sickened by the hellish castratings and disembowelings. When the queen heard of this, she ordered the next round of traitors be hanged until they were dead.

Elizabeth realized she had gone too far. It’s regrettable that she did not realize that more often.

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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 Bilyeau's upcoming spy novel set in the 18th century: The Blue. To subscribe to the monthly newsletter, sign up here.



UK edition
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Nancy Bilyeau is the author of an historical thriller trilogy set in Tudor England, The Crown. The Chalice, and The Tapestry, published in nine countries. For more info, go to www.nancybilyeau.com.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

What Really Happened to Natalie Wood?

A month ago I wrote about the tragic death of Natalie Wood. Some startling developments in the case meant that it was time to update my story for The Vintage News today:



Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators say Robert Wagner is a “person of interest” in tragic death of Natalie Wood in 1981

By Nancy Bilyeau

In a stunning development, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators said in an interview released on February 1, 2018, that actor Robert Wagner is now a person of interest in the mysterious death of his then-wife Natalie Wood in 1981, and investigators want to speak with Wagner about the circumstances surrounding that death. No charges were filed after Wood drowned off Catalina Island on November 29, 1981. Law enforcement ruled the death accidental, but in 2012 the case was reopened and Wood’s death certificate was amended to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”

“As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina said in an interview with “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty. The full interview will air on the program “48 Hours” on February 3rd.

Hollywood mysteries have a way of seizing hold of us. To some, Marilyn Monroe’s death has contradictory, strange aspects to it, turning her 1962 demise into a cottage industry of books forwarding various dark theories. Unsolved crimes invite speculation, from the murder of silent-film director William Desmond Taylor to that of Hogans Heroes star Bob Crane.

But the death of actress Natalie Wood on November 29, 1981, is in a special category. When news broke that the 43-year-old was found drowned off California’s Catalina Island after being declared missing from their yacht by her actor husband, Robert Wagner, the world was horrified. Wood had been a star since she was a child, winning hearts as Maureen O’Hara’s daughter in Miracle on 34th Street in 1947. She dazzled in Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story, Splendour in the Grass, Gypsy, and other big-budget Hollywood pictures.

After an investigation by the Sheriff’s Department and an examination by Los Angeles’ Chief Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi, Wood’s death was declared accidental. New images flooded the newspapers and TV news, of a devastated Robert Wagner, wearing dark glasses....

For rest of the story, please go to The Vintage News.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Interview with Mystery Author Max Eastern

By Nancy Bilyeau

Max Eastern's debut novel is a suspenseful, hard-boiled, edgy and amusing story of a lawyer turned paparazzi who gets in way over his head with some dangerous people. The book, The Gods Who Walk Among Us, won the Kindle Scout competition and was published last year. Amazon selected it for a recent promotion of the top-rated mysteries and thrillers.





As one reader said in his review on Amazon: "When it comes to urban suspense, it's all in the details and the attitude and this book delivers both big time. Paparazzo Adam Azoulay stumbles into something much bigger than he bargained for when he spots a model/actress/vegan cleanse addict with an African dictator. What follows is a wild ride through a New York populated by exposure hungry celebs, air-headed philanthropists, a desperate dad, and a guy who just wants the truth told about a mass grave. Azoulay is great, cynical company and Eastern is meticulous and affectionate in his attention to the details of a still delightfully scuzzy NYC. This is a smart, sharp read that would appeal to Elmore Leonard fans and people who actually peruse a newspaper from time to time."

I got a chance to ask Max a couple of questions about his book, which I enjoyed quite a bit:




Question: It feels as if New York City is a character in this novel, you bring it to life with such vivid skill. How do you feel about the city?



Max Eastern: New York is classic; it's the center of the world, a glittering beacon on the seas, a cultural capital, where the best of the best are, a prosperous, rich epitome. But if you live here it's endless construction, subway delays, tiny, inadequate apartments, loud cheap window air conditioners, garbage collection at 12:00 am, weird smells, unidentifiable substances dripping from subway station rafters, endless lines. A recent contestant on Wheel of Fortune said he was a helicopter pilot for the NYPD. They first time that came to mind: was this the guy who hovered over my apartment for half an hour at midnight last night?


One of Max Eastern's photos of NYC, serving as inspiration image


Question: The plot revolves around a desperate--and very funny--effort to find a reclusive humanitarian figure in order to give him an award. I suspect you have quite specific feelings about awards.


Max Eastern: Awards are great if you get one and it feels good to give one to show appreciation and admiration, but they've gotten out of control. The spread of awards is crazy. Too much glad handing and back patting, and worship because a bunch of people got together to say someone gets a prize. The mutual appreciation societies are endemic and soul killing, and who really knows how they decide or every who decides. The Nobel Peace prize is awarded by Norwegian ex legislators. Does their imprimatur mean anything to you?

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To read an excerpt of Max's book and his blog posts about noir and hard-boiled thrillers--and his search for the perfect gin gimlet, the kind that Raymond Chandler wrote about, go to his website.