I can think of no better way to end the year than to do an interview with my fellow writer, David Blixt, about his latest novel and whatever subjects that come up in the course of our conversation; with David, you never know.

Sharon: Here we are again, David.

David: Thanks for inviting me. Though I’m not sure why you had me lay out a plastic drop cloth before I could sit down…

Sharon: Oh, you never know how these interviews will turn out.

David: Ominous. Have you been watching Dexter?

Sharon: Possibly. So David, you have a new novel out. Tell me about it.

David: It’s about the woman who basically invented undercover reporting, Nellie Bly.

Sharon: The title is “What Girls Are Good For”. Provocative, especially today.

David: I know. It was the publisher’s choice, and it makes me nervous. But it’s also totally appropriate. It’s the title of the newspaper article printed by the Pittsburgh Dispatch that made young Elizabeth Cochrane so angry she penned a letter to the editor. That letter was too explosive for them to publish, but they hired her as a reporter for her unique perspective.

Sharon: And what perspective was that?

David: That women who work were not evil or fallen or unwholesome. The article posited that “A woman’s sphere is encompassed by a single word: home.” Saddled with the pen-name Nellie Bly, Elizabeth set out to refute that by humanizing working women. Her first series was called “Factory Girls”, with her showing portraits of these young ladies who all had to work to survive.

Sharon: I take it these weren’t the traditional schoolteachers and nurses.

David: Not at all. She interviewed women who worked in barbwire factories, steel mills, shoe factories, cigar rolling plants, hinge manufacturing. She did so well in humanizing them that management started complaining to the newspaper, and she was sent to report on flower shows instead.

Sharon: That sounds very frustrating.

David: It was. She rebelled by insisting the paper pay her way to Mexico to be their foreign correspondent there. After five months she was chased out for exposing corruption in the Mexican government.

Sharon: I like her already. But you said undercover reporting.

David: Yeah, she was the first of what become known in the newspaper business as the “Stunt Girls”, which was dismissive as hell considering what she achieved. In 1887 she feigned madness and got herself committed to the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island – Roosevelt Island today. That’s what she’s probably most famous for, along with her trip around the world two years later.

Sharon: How far in her life does “What Girls Are Good For” go?

David: Through the aftermath of the insane asylum exposé. She released her experience in a book, “10 Days In A Madhouse”. But reporting was a little different at the time. She related a lot of events as scenes, not a single narrative. And there’s a great deal she left out, especially the brutal character assassination by a rival newspaper that she had fooled into reporting on her insanity. The whole last third of the novel is the full story of the asylum and the grand jury investigation her story provoked.

Sharon: Was there a particularly hard scene to write?

David: There were two. One is when Nellie’s life is threatened in Mexico. The other was during her stay in the madhouse, her very worst night there, where they tried to dose her with chloral. That was rough, involving a lot of things about her that have only been hinted at to that point.

Sharon: This book feels very timely. When did you start on this?

David: Believe it or not, I started this in April of 2016, before Trump or the #MeToo movement blew up so huge.  I was reading about female action stars in the silent film era, and I noted how at least half of the characters they played were based on Nellie Bly. She was even the basis for Lois Lane in Superman comics. I didn’t know much about her, so I looked her up and instantly dropped everything else to focus on her.

Sharon: Speaking of Superman, I remember you’re a fan of comic books. Do you have a writing Kryptonite?

David: Facebook, definitely. Facebook has really slowed my writing output, especially in the current political climate. And I read too much of the news. I like to debate current events and keep informed. It’s important, I think. But it’s also killer for getting momentum in my writing.

Sharon: I’m always asked about writer’s block. I’m sure you are, too. But have you ever gotten reader’s block?

David: Oh yes! I mostly read research these days, not for fun. And when I do, I binge something entirely outside of historical fiction. I went through the entire Dresden Files series this summer – a wizard living in Chicago, very noir. What I’m trying to be better about is reading books by fellow authors in my field. I have a project I’m working on that hopefully will help with that.

Sharon: Can you tell us more?

David: Can’t talk about it yet.

Sharon:  Onward, then.  How many unfinished books do you have at present?

David: Six or seven. Plus the Nellie Bly sequel I haven’t started yet.

Sharon: Seems a wee bit fickle. Have you considered choosing the one that attracts you most?  Or the one I want you to write next?  Can we expect a fifth Star-Cross’d novel soon?

David:  I’m working on it. But “soon” might be optimistic. There are a couple other novels I’ll have finished before that one. But all the research is done, and I’ve started it. And I’ve been recording the audiobooks. The Master Of Verona came out last year, and Voice Of The Falconer is coming in December.

Sharon: I adore those books. Has it been fun revisiting them?

David: Not only fun, but helpful as I plot future storylines. I’ve been reminded of threads I hinted at – especially a connection to the Holy Roman Emperor that is going to help the next novel a lot.

Sharon: One of the many things we share is a passion for medieval stories. Is that home base for you?

David: Yes and no. The majority of the stories I have in mind take place somewhere between 1300 and 1600. I chalk it up to my three decades of performing Shakespeare. But I’m also attracted to people. Nellie Bly is a great example. I want to write about fascinating people of different eras to illuminate our own.

Sharon: You mention Shakespeare. Are we getting another Will & Kit novel?

David: Absolutely. It’s going to be called “Fire At Will”, and it will be Shakespeare and Marlowe accidentally causing the Spanish Armada attack.

Sharon: You have three series going at present, and I understand you’ll have another with Nellie Bly. Do you want each series to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

David: I’m placing ties in all of them, though very tenuous ones. In What Girls Are Good For, it’s only a couple Shakespeare and Dante references. But there’s a coin that will show up in all the series at some point. And I like to drop references to other works of historical fiction, like The Name Of The Rose, when characters overlap. I’m actually looking to find a way to tie the next Star-Cross’d book to your novel The Reckoning.

Sharon: Do you do that often, hide secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

David: I sprinkled anagrams through all the Star-Cross’d novels. I call out friends all the time. There’s a sword maker in Chicago named Neil Massey. I put him in a couple novels for fun as the armorer for my characters – things like that. I amuse myself, mostly.

Sharon: I’m glad to hear you amuse someone.

David: Oh Sharon. You know you’re amused by me.

Sharon: Not in the way you think. Remember the drop cloth.

David: Right. Well, look at the time— (rises to go)

Sharon: Smart lad. You’re lucky I enjoy your writing. Also that you’re a decent actor with a very nice family.

David: That gets me by in a lot of places.

Sharon: Say hello to Jan and the kids, by the way.

David: Hello to Jan and the kids, by the way.

(Sharon lifts crossbow from the wall as David flees for his life)

Sharon: Damn. Should have put the plastic down by the door…

It is obvious that David and I are good friends; either that, or we were drinking when we did this interview.  Seriously, I am always happy to be able to alert my readers about a new David Blixt novel.  His Star-Cross’d series, set in medieval Italy, is mesmerizing.  It has some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever encountered between the pages of a book and they are people who actually lived!   I always thought the Plantagenets led highly improbable lives.   Well, even a swash-buckling soldier king like the Lionheart is cast into the shade by Cangrande della Scala, who ruled Verona in 14th century Italy and whose adventures read like fiction—but they are not.  He was an acclaimed battle commander, a shrewd politician—think of him as Machiavelli’s role model—a patron of the celebrated poet Dante; he even managed to get a role in Boccaccio’s Decameron!   You can meet him in The Master of Verona and David’s subsequent books.   And for a change of pace, try his hilarious spoof about the young Will Shakespeare, Her Majesty’s Will.  For me, it will be Nellie Bly and What Girls are Good For.    Below is a link to David’s website; when you see all he’s accomplished, you may wonder if he has a clone chained up in the basement, and I would not put it past him.   Did I mention that he is also a gifted actor and playwright and skilled in the use of medieval swords and rapiers?   He always denies those rumors that in his spare time he leaps tall buildings at a single bound and is faster than a speeding bullet.   The jury is still out on that one.

December 22, 2018


  1. skpenman Says:

    For some reason, the link to David’s website did not come through correctly. Try this one.

  2. Priscilla Says:

    David has really gotten me interested in Nellie Bly! Excellent interview. But now I am curious. How is Sharon’s aim with the crossbow? Did David escape to write the sequel?

  3. Stephanie Says:

    David’s interviews are always highlights for me. Thanks for posting this, Sharon. And David, next time you have to flee like that, throw a cheesecake at her. It will distract her long enough for your getaway.

  4. skpenman Says:

    Stephanie, stop telling the world about my guilty pleasures! On the other hand, who doesn’t love cheesecake? So you’re forgiven.

    I hope my Facebook friends and readers who celebrate Christmas had a wonderful day with their friends and families.
    December 29th was the date of one of the most shocking events of the Middle Ages, the murder of Thomas Becket in his own cathedral. Henry’s angry, heedless words had set it in motion and he would pay a high price for his careless rage, Becket’s death casting a shadow across his reputation, stirring up all sorts of trouble with the Church, and probably causing Henry some personal grief himself, for it was said of him that once he loved, he never entirely turned his affections away from that person. I think he likely mourned the Becket he remembered, the friend who’d been as close as a brother. I was originally planning to post a scene from Becket’s death in Time and Chance, but decided instead to go with Henry’s penance scene the following year at Canterbury Cathedral. Humbled and shaken by the rebellion of his own queen and sons, he made a spectacular act of contrition, submitting to a flogging by the monks and then holding an all-night vigil by the slain archbishop’s tomb.
    Devil’s Brood, pages 246-247
    * * *
    He’d not been able to invoke the saint’s presence, but it was easier to imagine Thomas’s earthly spirit lurking in the shadows, watching his abasement with sardonic amusement. (omission) Had the man he’d known and trusted and loved ever truly existed? Or had he been a fiction from the very first? Henry desperately wanted to know the answer, an answer only Thomas Becket could give him.
    “It is just the two of us now, Thomas. No one else can hear our secrets, so why not talk to pass the time? We have hours to go till dawn, time enough for honesty if nothing else.”
    He waited, heaving a sigh that echoed in the stillness. “Come, Thomas, hold up your part of the conversation. You need not do anything dramatic, like loosing a thunderbolt or performing one of your miracles. But at the least, you could extinguish a few candles to show you are paying attention. Surely that is not too much to ask?
    Henry leaned forward, rested his head upon his drawn-up knees. He was either burning up with fever or losing his mind. “Sancte Thoma,” he mumbled, “requiescat in pace.” But there was as much pain as mockery in his voice, and when he looked up, he saw the crypt through a haze of hot tears. “Do you know why I did not grieve for you when you died, Thomas? Because I’d already done my grieving. I trusted you, I had faith in you, I loved you more than my own brother. And then you turned on me. But it need not have been that way. You could have served both me and the Almighty, and what a partnership we could have forged, what we could not have done together!”
    His tears were falling faster now, but there was no one to see them. “I am truly and grievously sorry that our paths led us to this place, this night. I do mourn you, Thomas. But do I think you are a saint? God’s truth, I do not know. You are the only one who can answer that question, my lord archbishop. We both know you could never resist a challenge. So take it up. Prove my doubts are unfounded. Prove me wrong.”
    Dropping to his knees, he winced at the pain that action caused his fevered, battered body. “St Thomas,” he said in a low, husky voice, “guard my realm.”
    * * *
    And Becket did, at least in the eyes of his medieval contemporaries, for at the same time that Henry was praying before his tomb, the Scots king was being captured at the siege of Alnwick, thus effectively ending the rebellion against him.
    Henry’s penance scene was one of the most challenging I’ve ever written. It seemed out of character for him, so I had to make sure the scene was firmly rooted in the Middle Ages, reflecting the beliefs of the time. That old axiom that there are no atheists in foxholes can apply equally well to the medieval world. Henry was not one of the more pious of English kings and he was far less superstitious than many of his contemporaries. But he still believed in God and divine punishment and could not be sure that his old friend turned enemy was not a saint, however unlikely it seemed to him. I needed to reveal Henry’s heart and mind in this scene and was not certain I could pull it off. But when I began to write, I was amazed and grateful by how easy it was. It all fell into place perfectly. When I did Henry’s monologue in the crypt, it was almost as if he were whispering in my ear. It turned out to be one of my all-time favorite scenes—and I am happy to report that the feedback from my editors and readers was all I could have hoped for, too. But as I reread the scene prior to posting it on Facebook, it made me realize anew how much I miss writing about Henry and Eleanor and their Devil’s Brood….sigh.

  5. skpenman Says:

    I hope the new year is getting off to a good start for my friends Down Under, and that it will be a better, kinder year for all of us, including our battered Mother Earth. Now on to medieval history.

    December 30th, 1460 was the date of the battle of Wakefield, in which a Lancastrian force defeated the Yorkists when they rashly ventured out from Sandal Castle. The Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury were among those who lost their lives. The death that shocked people, though, was that of the Duke of York’s seventeen year old son, Edmund, who was captured after the battle and murdered in cold blood by Lord Clifford. Edmund was the first character that I had to kill, and it was a challenge. I didn’t realize then how much blood there’d eventually be on my hands, but writers always remember our “first.” Even after so many years, when I reread that scene on the bridge at Wakefield, I feel a sense of loss, and from what readers have told me, they do, too. RIP, Edmund, I wish your life had not been cut short so brutally.

    Here’s an interesting “What if?” query about this battle. The Duke of York’s eldest son, Edward, was not with him at Wakefield, having chosen to go with his cousin, the Earl of Warwick when the Yorkists split up. But what if Edmund had gone with Warwick and Edward with his father? Would the outcome have been the same? Might there have been a King Edmund on the English throne? I don’t think so, for Edward’s successes were due both to his military acumen and his personal charm and charisma. In fact, I think it is possible that if Edward had been at Sandal Castle on that fateful December day, he might have convinced the Yorkists that it would be folly to take the Lancastrians’ bait. I don’t doubt that he’d have seen the danger and even though he was just 18, he was already supremely confident. He was also a brilliant battle commander, as he would prove in just three months, winning the bloodiest battle ever fought on British soil. Historians talk about Richard the Lionheart, Edward I, and Henry V when discussing England’s most notable soldier kings, and justifiably so. But I think Edward IV ought to be included in those discussions. So I am not sure that Wakefield would ever have happened if he’d been with their father instead of Edmund. Readers? What do you think?

    On today’s date, December 31th, Leopold V, the Duke of Austria died in 1194, a particularly gruesome death that convinced his contemporaries he was being punished by God for having defied the Church by laying hands upon a crusader king. He had remained defiant, even threatening to kill Richard’s hostages if Richard did not send his niece to Austria to marry Leeopold’s son, one of the many conditions of Richard’s release. Richard had not wanted to do this, but to save his hostages, he yielded. His ten year old niece was on her way to Vienna when word spread of Leopold’s death. She was able to return home, but ironically, given the future that lay ahead of her—held prisoner by John and then John’s son for forty years—it would have been better for her if the marriage had taken place.

    The circumstances of Leopold’s death probably gave even the German emperor a few uneasy moments. He’d crushed his ankle when his horse rolled on him, and when it turned black, his doctors warned that only amputation could save his life. But none of them were willing to attempt it, including his own teenage sons. So Leopold himself held an axe against his ankle and ordered his steward to strike it with a mallet. It took three tries to chop the ankle off, and it did not save Leopold. He was lucky, though, that he was able to reconcile with the Church on his deathbed, for he’d been excommunicated for the part he’d played in Richard’s abduction and imprisonment. But when he expressed contrition, his cousin, the Archbishop of Salisbury, absolved him of his sins after he promised to return Richard’s hostages and repay his share of the ransom. Before the archbishop would permit him to be buried in consecrated ground, though, he extracted a vow at graveside from Leopold’s eldest son, that he would honor Leopold’s deathbed promise.

  6. skpenman Says:

    Today I thought it would be interesting to chat about one of the most interesting—if unsuccessful—medieval kings, the youngest of Henry and Eleanor’s Devil’s Brood. You can still find histories, even biographies, of King John that declare he was born on December 24, 1167. They are wrong. John was born in 1166. Had he been born in 1167, he could not have been Henry’s, for he and Eleanor were apart when she’d have needed to conceive for a December 1167 birth. Curiously,, while some of John’s biographers get this wrong, none of Eleanor’s do, all correctly placing John’s birth in 1166. How did this confusion develop? A misreading of an entry in the chronicle of Robert de Torigny, abbot of Mont St Michel, erroneously placing it in 1167. So how about John’s Christmas Eve birth? Again, there is no evidence to support this traditional date. Since he was christened John, an entirely new name not found in the family trees of either of his parents, it seems reasonable to assume he was named after the saint whose day it was, St John the Evangelist, which means that he was born on December 27, 1166. Since we know John had a perverse sense of humor, I suspect he’d have been amused to know that something so simple as his birthdate was capable of causing such confusion.

    John was Eleanor’s tenth child, her eighth with Henry; one chronicler mentioned a ninth child who was either stillborn or died young, but that has not been verified. Surviving at least ten trips to the birthing chamber is a remarkable accomplishment for any woman, especially one in the Middle Ages. Eleanor was forty-two at the time of John’s birth, and a strong case can be made that she’d just learned of Henry’s liaison with Fair Rosamund Clifford, one that was serious enough for him to have ensconced the girl at Woodstock palace. So how welcome was this fourth son, needed neither as an heir nor a spare, a son who might well have been a living reminder of an unhappy time in her life and her marriage?

    No historian can truthfully answer that, of course, although some have tried. Fortunately, historical novelists have greater latitude in such matters and I can say for a certainty that my fictional Eleanor did indeed have ambivalent feelings toward her last child. Is she, then, to blame for John’s problem personality? Well, both Henry and Eleanor made their share of parental mistakes; they failed to instill any sense of brotherly solidarity in their sons, and not only did they have favorites, they compounded that sin by making it abundantly clear; for Henry, it was Hal and then, after his death, John, and for Eleanor, it was always Richard. But I think Henry has to shoulder most of the blame for the man that John became, for he was the primary influence during John’s formative years, Eleanor being held prisoner from the time that John was seven until he was nigh on twenty-three. The last of the Angevin eaglets was undoubtedly clever, capable, undeserving of the mocking sobriquet given by his enemies, “John Softsword.” But for whatever reasons, he seems to have been the most emotionally damaged of the Devil’s Brood, and his kingship would be a failure. He is, however, great fun to write about, so I am already looking forward to his return to center stage in my next Justin de Quincy mystery.

  7. Susan Says:

    Speaking of books, Sharon, do you have information on the publication date of the Land Beyond the Sea? Secondly, when might there be a next de Quincy mystery? We Justin fans have been waiting a long time!!!

  8. skpenman Says:

    I didn’t get to post this yesterday, but it is definitely worth mentioning. On January 3rd, 1431, Joan of Arc was turned over by the English to the Bishop of Beauvais. Her trial began on the 9th and she was burned at the stake for heresy on May 30th, 1431, at the age of nineteen. Her trial was a farce; the bishop did not even have jurisdiction to try the case. It was politically motivated; the Duke of Bedford had claimed the French throne for his nephew, Henry VI, and by accusing Joan of heresy, the English hoped to cast doubts upon the legitimacy of the French king, Charles VII, who abandoned Joan to her fate. Twenty-five years after her death, the Pope Calixtus III launched an investigation into her sham of a trial. She was proclaimed innocent of heresy and declared a martyr—twenty-five years too late. She was not canonized by the Catholic Church, though, until 1920. She is one of the five patron saints of France, sharing that honor with St Denis, St Martin of Tours, St Louis IX, and St Theresa of Lisieux. Joan is perhaps one of the best examples of real life being more improbable than fiction. No historical novelist would have dared to invent her story!

    Back to January 4th. On this date in 1066, Edward the Confessor died, setting the stage for the fateful battle of Hastings, which resulted in the death of King Harold and the seizure of power by William, the Duke of Normandy, known in his own time as William the Bastard and in history as William the Conqueror; I think we can assume that he preferred the latter epithet. Helen Hollick has written a moving novel about this period of English history, titled I am the Chosen King in the US, published in the UK and Down Under as Harold the King.

    There was another happening on January 4th in 1903, not in the least medieval, but both bizarre and sad. I was not sure if I should even mention it, for it shows humankind at its worst. But it also shows that we’ve made some progress in how we treat the other denizens of our planet. A circus elephant named Topsy was electrocuted after having been declared dangerous after killing three men; one of them was a sadistic trainer who tried to feed her a lit cigarette. They’d actually planned to hang her until the ASPCA objected. Thomas Edison, of all people, suggested that they electrocute her and he actually filmed it. As you can probably tell, my sympathies are with Topsy. These highly intelligent animals have been exploited by men for centuries; you think they wanted to cross the Alps with Hannibal? (I would still love to know how he managed to pull that off.)
    Have a good weekend, everyone. Fly, Eagles, fly!

  9. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Playing catch-up again, I am looking back to January 6th. It is Epiphany, of course, which was an important holiday in the MA. And it was the day that the Eagles upset the Bears, bringing joy to Eagles Nation, but I will not dwell on it out of sympathy for my friends who are Bears fans. So…back to history. Harold Godwinson was crowned on this date in 1066, but his reign was to be short-lived; in October, he was slain at the battle of Hastings. As I mentioned recently, Helen Hollick has written a novel about Harold. And on this date in 1169, the French king and the papal legate coaxed Henry and Thomas Becket to meet. Here is a paragraph from that scene on p. 390-391 of Time and Chance.
    * * *
    The Bishop of Sens had just come into view, and as the crowd parted, Henry saw Thomas Becket. This was their first meeting in more than four years and his immediate, unbidden thought was that those years had not been kind to Thomas. Becket had always been of slender build; now he was gaunt. Fair-skinned by nature, his was now the sickly pallor of the ailing. Henry suddenly believed those stories he’d heard of Becket’s deprivations and denials, no longer dismissed them as self-promotion. The archbishop’s eyes were hollowed, his dark hair well salted with silver, and his black beard had gone white. Only his height was as Henry had remembered. His throat tightened unexpectedly; could this be the man who’d once playfully tussled with him over a crimson cloak?
    * * *
    But their reconciliation ended in acrimony when Becket again insisted upon doing homage to the English king “saving the honor of God.” Even the French king sided with Henry at Montmirail, asking him reproachfully if he wished to be more than a saint. No, but I do think he had yearnings, conscious or not, for martyrdom.
    On January 6, 1367, the future King Richard II was born. And in 1540, Henry VIII wed Anne of Cleves; their marriage would end in six months, probably to their mutual relief. We know that Henry was displeased with Anne and it is likely that she did not find him attractive, either, for the days when he’d been the handsomest prince in Europe were decades past; given Henry’s sordid matrimonial history, Anne must have been thankful that he was resorting to an annulment and not the axe.

  10. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Many of you may have already seen this video, for it quickly and understandably went viral. But for those who missed it, here is a California firefighter surfing when he gets some unexpected company.

  11. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Susan, I am sorry for the delay in responding, but your post was erroneously tagged as spam! I don’t have a publication date yet for The Land Beyond the Sea; sometimes it seems that the writer is always the last to know. :-) And I am happy to report that I am planning to write another Justin mystery now that The Land Beyond the Sea is done. Justin is a good lad, has been waiting very patiently while those pushy Angevins claimed center stage.

  12. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I wanted to wish my American Facebook friends good luck with the miserable winter weather currently battering the country from coast to coast, with worse to come this weekend. Now, here is today’s entry for historical happenings on this date.
    On January 15th, 1478, a rather sad marriage took place, between the second son of Edward IV, Richard, and Anne Mowbray, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. He was not yet five years old; she was around the same age. The idea of marriage between such young children is something hard for us to fathom today, and their wedding seems even more pathetic because we know that they both died so young, Anne three years later in 1481 and Richard most likely in 1183. Sad.
    Those pushy Tudors have crashed today’s party, for on this date in 1535, Henry VIII declared himself the head of the English Church and on January 15th in 1559, his brilliant daughter Elizabeth was crowned as Queen of England.

  13. Sharon K Penman Says:

    It seems like I am expressing concern for my Facebook friends in the path of winter storms every day. Now it is Harper wreaking havoc as it heads east. Stay safe, guys. Here are some historical musings to take your minds off the bad weather.
    On January 16, 27 BC, Octavian was granted the title of Augustus by the Roman Senate, marking the beginning of the Roman Empire.
    On January 16, 1245, Henry III’s second son, Edmund, was born. Edmund was a character in Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, and I became quite fond of him and his French wife, Blanche. The history of kings is rife with troublesome younger brothers like George of Clarence. Edmund was an anomaly, for he was loyal to his own elder brother, Edward I. He was also the founder of the House of Lancaster, but I forgive him for that. 
    On January 16th, 1325, the poet Petrach’s beloved Laura was wed to a man named Hughes de Sade; it was Petrach, of course, who would give Laura literary immortality.
    On January 16th, 1409, Rene, the Duke of Anjou, King of Naples and titular King of Jerusalem, was born. Rene was the father of Marguerite d’Anjou, the Red Queen of Lancaster. Although he was known as Good King Rene, I’ve always regarded him with a jaundiced eye, for he did little to ease the last years of his unhappy daughter, who was dependent upon a small pension given her by the French king.
    And also on January 16th, 1362, a prosperous German city, Rungholt, sank below the waves when a powerful storm surge of the North Sea engulfed the island of Strand. A medieval Atlantis, Rungholt, would give rise to legends like that other “lost city,” with people claiming that they could hear the church bells of Rungholt chiming beneath the waters of the North Sea.

  14. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Well, here I am again, worrying about all of you in Harper’s path. Stay safe and warm this weekend. How many more days till spring?
    This link is to a story that has nothing whatsoever to do with medieval history, but I found it very interesting and so I wanted to share it. Robert Frost’s famous poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, is now part of the public domain; all of his works are as of January 1st. When I was reading about that development, I found this remarkable account of the misplaced comma. We all know how erroneous punctuation can alter the meaning of a sentence. One famous example is “Let’s eat, Grandma” which changes dramatically if you omit the comma, “Let’s eat Grandma.” But in this case, a Dartmouth professor took it upon himself to move a comma in Frost’s poem and altered the sentence entirely.

  15. skpenman Says:

    As so many of us hunker down before Harper hits, here is something interesting to read about historical pets. I admit I was rather taken with the idea of an alligator swimming around in a White House bathtub. I was surprised that they did not include Mary Queen of Scot’s devoted little dog, who is said to have followed her to the scaffold and crept out from under her skirts after she’d been beheaded.

    And January 17th 1706 is the birthdate of one of America’s Founding Fathers, the remarkable Ben Franklin, who is definitely my own favorite. In his 84 years, he accomplished enough for a dozen lifetimes. Franklin invented the lightning rod, bifocals, swim fins, and urinary catheters, among other things. He is credited with discovering the Gulf Stream. He began Philadelphia’s first volunteer fire company and started the first subscription library in the colonies. He was America’s first Postmaster General. Oh, and without his diplomatic skills, France would not have entered the war against England and the colonist’s rebellion would have ended in failure. He was also more charming than the law should allow and very witty. I’ll confine myself to just one example. Commenting about the gifted but prickly John Adams, he observed wryly that “John Adams is a man of great—if intermittent—magnanimity.”

  16. skpenman Says:

    I hope all of Harper’s victims are staying safe and warm. Much of the US is experiencing temperatures only a polar bear could enjoy, but you still might want to venture outside briefly tonight to see the eclipse of the Super Blood Wolf Moon; I am surely not the only one to think that would be a good name for a rock band. Here is the link. Weather permitting, all of us in North and South America should be able to see it. This is also true for small pockets in Europe, but sadly, my friends Down Under are out of luck.

  17. Joan Says:

    Commas, eh?
    Frost’s poem will always remind me of the year my brother suffered a stroke that paralysed half his body & left him with serious aphasia. A great love of his, Robert Frost’s poetry helped us immensely with his speech therapy.

    Thrilling to watch the lunar eclipse!

    I must start reading David Blixt’s novels soon! Very intriguing interview.

  18. skpenman Says:

    That is a wonderful story, Joan. Has your brother been able to make a full recovery?
    As for David’s books, you won’t be disappointed. He is very gifted and very funny and I learned a great deal about medieval Italy from his Star-crossed series.

    I have some happy news about When Christ and His Saints Slept. We’ve been told that it will be available for sale as an audio book on February 12th, although it does not seem to be available yet for pre-ordering. Now I have to play catch-up again with my Today in History posts.
    January 19, 1486 was the wedding day of Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor. She seems to have been both kind-hearted and pragmatic, for she managed to make the best of a forced marriage to the usurper, and the utterly unsentimental Henry actually mourned her death. But this could not have been a happy wedding day for her, a young and beautiful woman shoved into bed with the avowed enemy of her House, a man whose official portrait looks like a wanted poster and who displayed all the warmth and charm of a Bill Belichick press conference. I hope she found happiness in her children, though she had to endure the tragic loss of her eldest son, Arthur. Her second son, Henry, was said to have adored her, and I wonder if she might have been a settling influence upon him if she’d not died so young.

  19. skpenman Says:

    I am working on the Author’s Note, which is always more challenging for me than writing the book itself. I think it is similar to an actor feeling comfortable on stage, but getting nervous if he is asked to go on a talk show.
    I was looking back through previous Facebook posts to see if anything of historical importance happened on this date. I did find one item, although it does not involve characters I have written about. But in this old post, I included an amazing story about a diver and a dolphin in need, and I couldn’t resist reposting it tonight. So here we go to January 24, 1328, when Edward III, age 16, wed the 14 year old Philippa of Hainault. I believe there is some uncertainty about her actual birth date and she could have been younger, though. They would have 13 children and the marriage seems to have been a happy one, despite his notorious affair with Alice de Perrers.
    And here is my dolphin story which occurred in 2013, and was fortunately captured on video to reassure the cynics among us. Dolphins seem to be well disposed toward humans; there are a number of documented cases in which they saved people from drowning or from sharks. I guess this clever dolphin decided turn-about was fair play.

  20. skpenman Says:

    I hope you all are braced for the next Polar Vortex, which will be impacting much of the US and Canada; my sympathies, too, to my friends Down Under, where it has been hellishly hot. Now here is my entry for Today in Medieval History.
    On January 27th, 1186, Constance de Hauteville, aunt of the Sicilian king William II, was wed to Heinrich von Hohenstaufen, King of Germany, and heir to the Holy Roman Empire. She was thirty-one, he was twenty, and I think we can safely say that theirs was not a loving marriage. Heinrich was well educated, fluent in Latin, a poet like his enemy, the English king Richard, and very intelligent. He was also a sociopath. Wives of sociopaths rarely lived happily ever after. But Constance was a remarkable woman, courageous and resourceful. The more I learned about her, the more I found myself wanting to write about her. I did not expect to be able to do it, though. But then I was asked to write a short story for George R.R. Martin and Gardner Debois’s anthology, Dangerous Woman. Once I stopped laughing at the idea of me doing a short story, I started to give it serious consideration, and the result was The Queen in Exile, which may be the first short story to have an Author’s Note! While Constance also appears briefly in Lionheart and she has several scenes in A King’s Ransom, I was very pleased to have this opportunity to give her more time on center-stage.
    Her life was filled with high drama. Left behind in Salerno by Heinrich, she came close to being killed when the citizens rebelled against her hated husband. She was saved in the nick of time, but was then turned over to Heinrich’s enemy, Tancred, King of Sicily. Tancred treated her well, and eventually sent her under guard to be a hostage of the pope. She seized her chance when they encountered some of Heinrich’s imperial guard on their way to Rome, and they came to her rescue after she’d identified herself as their empress. Because of their age difference and her failure to conceive during the first eight years of their marriage, Constance was widely believed to be barren. But to the amazement and skepticism of the medieval world, she became pregnant in the spring of 1194, and was delivered of a healthy son in late December of that year, who would later gain greater fame than either of his parents. She was forty by then and Heinrich’s enemies—who were legion and well-deserved—claimed the entire pregnancy was a hoax, a scheme concocted by Heinrich to get a male heir. Constance was outraged by this malicious slander and countered it by inviting the women of the town of Jesi to watch her give birth, determined that none would be able to deny the legitimacy of her son. Heinrich’s cruelties soon drove the Sicilians into rebellion and Constance is said to have conspired with them. Heinrich apparently believed it, and her future looked very bleak, for now that she’d given him a son, he no longer needed her to lay claim to the Sicilian crown.
    . I have great admiration for Constance, wed to a man who had neither honor nor mercy. She deserved so much better, and I am grateful to that medieval mosquito who infected Heinrich with malaria and brought about his unexpected and sudden death in 1197—assuming that he did die of malaria, for dysentery has also been suggested, as has poison. While there is no evidence of the latter, if it was true, the question would not have been, Who would have wanted to murder Heinrich? It would have been, Who would not have wanted to murder him?
    Constance at once took control of her island kingdom, expelled Heinrich’s hated Germans, and devoted the remaining year of her life to safeguarding the Sicilian throne for her young son. Sadly, she died too soon, at only forty-four, but before her death, she entrusted young Frederick to a very powerful patron, Pope Innocent III. It was a shrewd move and would benefit Frederick greatly as he launched his remarkable career, becoming King of Sicily, then Holy Roman Emperor, and even King of Jerusalem. Constance has been neglected by history, as is too often the case with women. But Dante placed her in Paradise.

  21. skpenman Says:

    For those who still deny the existence of climate change—and we know who they are—I would mention that while much of the US is suffering under some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded, Down Under they are enduring one of the worst heat waves in Australia’s history. The climate is indeed changing and we can expect greater volatility, wilder storms, devastating droughts, horrific flooding, much of which we are already experiencing. I hope my friends in the US and Canada stay safe and warm for the next few days, and that my friends in Australia get some relief from their hellish summer. Below is a post about Anne Boleyn; it goes back a few years, so I am hoping most of you won’t remember it.

  22. skpenman Says:

    Oops. For some reason, the rest of the post was vaporized. Trying again.

    On January 29, 1536, Anne Boleyn was prematurely delivered of a stillborn son. Less than four months later, she was dead, sacrificed to Henry’s obsession with having a male heir—and possibly his roving eye, which had already alighted upon Jane Seymour, whom he wed eleven days after Anne’s execution. Henry was a class act. It is widely believed that Anne’s “failure” to give Henry a living son sealed her doom; this was the belief at the time, too, the Spanish ambassador Chapuys writing “She has miscarried of her savior.” However, the creator of one of the best websites about Anne, the Anne Boleyn Files, does not agree. You can read her argument for yourself here. I personally believe the miscarriage did mark a fatal turning point in their relationship, but then, I am certainly not an expert when it comes to the Tudors. In fact, when I typed the opening sentence in this post, I was amused to find I’d written that Anne Neville was the one delivered of a stillborn son. We know where my sympathies lie, of course, but I do spare some of it for Anne Boleyn. Whatever her flaws, she did not deserve the death she got, any more than Katherine of Aragon or silly little Katherine Howard did

  23. skpenman Says:

    I am posting some stunning photos of Lake Michigan, transformed into a frozen wonderland—as long as you don’t have to venture outside to admire it. It seems as if almost all of my readers and Facebook friends are being buffeted and battered by Mother Nature this week. We are freezing in much of the US and Canada, sweltering Down Under, and now the UK is being hit with bitter cold and snow. Yikes.
    Back on the history front, on January 23rd, 1264, the King of France lit a fuse that would set off an explosion in England. Simon de Montfort and his fellow barons had compelled Henry, the English king, to accept restrictions upon royal power in the Provisions of Oxford, which they saw as a natural corollary of the Magna Carta. When civil war loomed, both sides agreed to submit to the arbitration of the French King, Louis, who was also Henry’s brother-in-law. Simon was unable to attend, having broken his leg in a fall from his horse, and he was recuperating at Kenilworth Castle when he got the decision. Louis had ruled against the barons and in favor of his fellow king on all counts, even annulling the Provisions of Oxford although this went well beyond the scope of his authority. The Mise of Amiens was so one-sided that it made rebellion all but inevitable and four months later, the king’s army would meet Simon de Montfort and the barons on the battlefield at Lewes.
    I dramatize this event in Chapter 29 of Falls the Shadow. Here is the closing scene of that chapter, on page 395, after Simon has gotten the bad news and asks for a moment alone with his wife, Nell, who was, of course, the sister of the English king.
    * * *
    Dusk was fast falling; the last of the candles had guttered out and only a hearth fire now held the dark at bay. “Shall I send for a cresset lamp?” Nell asked, and Simon shook his head, held out his hand. She came slowly from the shadows, sat beside him on the bed. Taking her hand, he brought it to his lips, pressed a kiss into her palm. After a time, he said:
    “Henry may be God’s greatest fool, but he is still your brother. And Richard…he will likely oppose us, too, Nell.”
    “I know,” she said softly. She’d never truly thought it would ever come to this, never thought the day might dawn when her husband and sons would face her brothers and nephews across a battlefield. She shared Simon’s confidence, but not his darker moods. Hers was a world of sunrises, not sunsets, a world in which hope flourished and faith was rewarded, and she clung to that comforting certainty all the more now that her need was so great.
    “I trust in you, Simon,” she said, “and I trust in God. Whatever happens, it will be for the best, for us and for England.”
    * * *

  24. Sharon K Penman Says:

    This post is aimed at my American readers and anyone else in other countries who watched our Super Bowl. Since I have friends in Boston, I won’t say that this was one of the most boring SBs that I can remember. I’ll say only that it could not measure up to last year’s epic SB, coincidentally won by my Eagles. I did think the NFL commercial was hilarious. But for me and my fellow Game of Throne fans, the highlight had to be the shocking revelation that the Bud Light kingdom is in Westeros. See the story below for a link to the actual ad and some very funny comments on Twitter, including one by George R.R. Martin.

  25. skpenman Says:

    I am very happy to report that I finally finished the Author’s Note for The Land Beyond the Sea. Many of you know that I find these very challenging since I whine about it from time to time. I think it is similar to an actor feeling comfortable when he can stick to a script but getting nervous if he has to appear on a talk show and be himself. I do think they are important for historical novelists, though, since they give us the opportunity to let our readers know if we’ve taken any liberties with historical fact or to explain why we chose one set of conflicting facts over another. Next on the agenda will be the map, and then I should have some time to catch my breath before the copy edited manuscript comes back.
    Since you all know how much I love dogs (and other animals), I am sure it won’t surprise you that I was fascinated to read about a Florida woman who suffered a stroke and was saved by her two Labrador retrievers, who raced out of the house when she gasped for them to get help, returning with a neighbor who called 911. Dogs have often come to the aid of humans in need, sometimes total strangers, but this story sounds so Lassie-like that it is probably a good idea that there is video evidence, all captured on this lucky woman’s home camera. Here is the link; enjoy.

  26. skpenman Says:

    I am already falling behind in my Today in History posts, for February was an eventful month for medievals, at least the ones I write about. Here are two consequential occurrences that happened on today’s date.

    February 7th, 1102 was the birthdate of the Empress Maude, AKA Matilda, the almost-queen of England. She failed, of course, to claim her father’s crown, but her son Henry succeeded where she had not, becoming king at 21 and forging the dynasty so much more interesting than those upstart Tudors.

  27. skpenman Says:

    Okay, this is the second time only part of my post was copied and pasted onto this website. Trying again.

    Also, on February 7th, this time in 1478, George, Duke of Clarence, was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death after a trial presided over by his brother, Edward. Legend has it he was drowned in a butt of malmsey, but that is rather unlikely. George is probably the worst brother ever inflicted upon a medieval king. Yes, worse than John. True, John did his best to see that Big Brother Richard rotted in a German or French dungeon, but he did have some redeeming qualities. He was intelligent, for one, and seems to have been genuinely interested in governing; he also shared the Angevin sardonic sense of humor. I honestly can’t think of any virtues that George possessed. He was shallow, selfish, showed no aptitude for anything other than causing trouble, and had no more understanding of loyalty than a hungry shark. I need to get inside the heads of my characters in order to bring them to life on the printed page and I can tell you all that being inside George’s head was not something I’d ever recommend.

  28. Joan Says:

    I just discovered the opera Anna Bolena on youtube. Have been listening to some opera faves recently & now tackling this 3 hour plus production a bit at a time. Anna Netrebko, gorgeous soprano, plays Anne Boleyn & Elina Garaca is Jane Seymour. The tenor as Henry VIII isn’t a name I know.

    Getting into some of those characters’ heads must be very scary indeed! Requiring a good deal of courage!

    Love, love your Author’s Note after the novel ends. Always fascinating, it’s a bit more time with the story before we unwillingly & sadly, close the book.

  29. Joan Says:

    …..and thank you Dante!

  30. skpenman Says:

    Yes, definitely, Joan! David’s portrayal of medieval Italy is riveting.

    I hope all of my readers are coping with this endless winter (and summer, of course, Down Under.) A huge snow “event” in the Seattle region, too much rain in California, more icy weather in the Midwest, and a nasty storm battering the UK. Maybe it is time to run up the white flag and hope Mother Nature shows some mercy? Now on to historical happenings. I confess this particular post is not a new one, but it is over three years old, so I am hoping that you all have faulty memories like mine!

    February 2nd was an important day on the medieval Church calendar—Candlemas. And this date resonated in several of my novels. February 2nd, 1141 was the battle of Lincoln, in which Stephen was defeated and taken prisoner by Robert, the Earl of Gloucester, on behalf of his sister, the Empress Maude. At the risk of seeming blood-thirsty, I like writing of battles and this was a good one, filled with high drama and suspense. February 2nd was also the date of an important Yorkist battle, at Mortimer’s Cross in 1461. Edward, who’d become Duke of York and head of his fractured family upon the death of his father at the battle of Wakefield barely a month ago, was trying to prevent Owen Tudor and reinforcements coming out of Wales from joining the Lancastrians, and he forced a battle not far from Wigmore. Even before the fighting began, he faced a challenge when a parhelion appeared in the sky, a phenomenon that made it look as if there were three suns overhead. Naturally this frightened his soldiers, but the quick-witted Edward cried out that the suns represented the Holy Trinity and was an omen of victory; he would later adopt this as his cognizance, the Sunne in Splendour. Having staved off disaster, he then proceeded to defeat the Lancastrians, captured Owen Tudor, and had him executed—not surprising, since the heads of his father and brother and uncle were even then on poles above Micklegate Bar in York. Edward then went on to receive a hero’s welcome by the city of London and shattered the Lancastrian hopes in a savage battle fought in a snowstorm at Towton on Palm Sunday. What is truly remarkable is that Edward was not yet nineteen years old.

    I thought of Edward’s parhelion when I was reading a chronicler’s account of the building of Richard I’s beloved “saucy castle, “ Chateau Gaillard. I was familiar with the exchange between the kings over Chateau Gaillard. Philippe, fuming at seeing this formidable stronghold rising up on the Vexin border, vowed that he would take it if its walls were made of steel. When he was told this, Richard laughed and said he’d hold it if its walls were made of butter. But there is another story about Gaillard not as well known. In the spring of 1198, Richard was personally supervising the construction, as he often did, when a shower of blood suddenly fell from the skies. Naturally, this freaked out everyone—everyone but Richard. The chronicler reported that “The king was not dismayed at this, nor did he relax in promoting the work in which he took so great delight.” Now I confess my first reaction to this story was an uncharitable one, wondering if the chronicler, William of Newburgh, had been hitting the wine when he wrote this. Shower of rain and blood? But when I Googled it, I discovered that red rain has indeed fallen at various times, and there were even some unsettling photos of a red rain in India that really did look like blood. Clearly strong-willed men like Richard and Edward were not as superstitious as their brethren.

    For me, though, February 2nd has another, sadder meaning, for on this date in 1237, Joanna, daughter of King John and wife of Llywelyn Fawr, died at Aber and was buried at Llanfaes, where her grieving husband established a friary in honor of her memory. Below is that scene from Falls the Shadow, page 26
    * * *
    Joanna closed her eyes, tears squeezing through her lashes. So much she wanted to stay, but she had not the strength. “Beloved…promise me…”
    Llywelyn stiffened. She’d fought so hard to gain the crown for their son. Did she mean to bind him now with a deathbed bow? He waited, dreading what she would ask of him, to safeguard the succession for Davydd. Knowing there was but one certain way to do that—to cage Gruddydd again. And how could he do that to his son? How could he condemn him to a life shut away from the sun? But how could he deny Joanna? Could he let her go to her grave without that comfort?
    “Llywelyn…pray for me,” she gasped, and only then did he fully accept it, that she was indeed dying, was already lost to him, beyond earthly cares, worldly ambitions.
    “I will, Joanna.” He swallowed with difficulty, brought her hand up, pressing her lips against her palm. “You will have my every prayer.”
    “Bury me at…at Llanfaes…”
    His head jerked up. He had an island manor at Llanfaes; it was there that Joanna had been confined after he had discovered her infidelity. “Why, Joanna? Why Llanfaes?”
    Her mouth curved upward. “Because…I was so happy there. You came to me, forgave me…”
    “Oh, Christ, Joanna…” His voice broke; he pulled her into an anguished embrace, held her close.
    * * *

  31. skpenman Says:

    I am taking a break from working on the copy-edited manuscript to visit my Facebook friends and chat about this date in medieval history, for it was quite a busy day. February 10th was the date of death of two dukes, a king, one of those treacherous Stanleys, and the worst king-consort ever. Only two of them—maybe two and a half—were worth mourning.

    On February 10, 1126, William, the ninth Duke of Aquitaine, also known as the first troubadour duke, died after a long and eventful life. He had a keen sense of humor so he may have been amused that today he is mainly remembered as the grandfather of our Eleanor. But he also had a healthy ego, so maybe not. I would have grieved for him—unless I was one of his wives!

    On February 10, 1134, Robert, the Duke of Normandy died after being held prisoner by his not-so-loving younger brother, Henry I, for twenty-eight years. Robert seems to have been a feckless sort, certainly no match for the ruthlessness of Brother Henry, but he probably didn’t deserve nearly three decades of captivity.

    On February 10, 1163, Baldwin III, King of Jerusalem, died. He was only in his 33rd year and by all accounts was a good king, an adroit politician, and a courageous battle commander. He also seems to have been a genuine good guy, charming, affable, and handsome. His death dramatically changed the history of the Holy Land, for he’d not yet had children with his beautiful bride, the seventeen year old Byzantine princess, Theodora, and so the crown passed to his younger brother Amalric, the Count of Jaffa. Amalric had none of Baldwin’s charisma, being taciturn and introverted. He proved to be a capable king, though, but he, too, died prematurely, leaving a thirteen year old son as his heir, the boy who would tragically become known to history as the Leper king. Had Baldwin not died so young or had Amalric lived long enough for his queen, also a Byzantine princess, to give him another son, the kingdom’s doomed march to Armageddon might not have happened. There is no doubt that Saladin is one of history’s more fascinating figures, a brilliant politician, but his great victory at Hattin was based in part upon the disunity among his Christian foes, just as the first crusaders took advantage of Saracen discord to carve out the kingdom of Outremer eighty-some years earlier. Baldwin III does not appear as a character in my new novel, being dead by the time the book opens, but Amalric makes a few appearances and his son is a major character, of course. Had I lived then, I would definitely have mourned Baldwin.

    On February 10, 1495, William, Lord Stanley, was executed by Henry Tudor, accused of treason, irony at its best. Party time!

    Lastly, on February 10, 1567, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was messily murdered, a death that was richly deserved. One of my favorite scenes from the wonderful film, Mary, Queen of Scots, had Elizabeth (the incomparable Glenda Jackson) and Cecil practically falling on the floor laughing upon learning that Mary had been foolish enough to take their bait and marry Darnley.

  32. skpenman Says:

    Sorry to disappear again, but I’ve had to devote most of my waking hours to working on the copy-edited manuscript of The Land Beyond the Sea. This is never fun, for by this time, writers have become thoroughly sick of their own books, having had to dwell upon them at great length as they tried to make the manuscripts ready for submission, then going over their books again with their editors, and then with copy editors. The longer the book, the more tedious it becomes; I remember being so eager to escape Sunne that I’d was almost ready to root for Henry Tudor at Bosworth!

    Today’s historical post is a few days late. On February 13, 1177, Eleanor and Henry’s daughter Joanna, age eleven, wed William de Hauteville and was crowned as Queen of Sicily. It seems as if she and William had a happy marriage, although I doubt that she was thrilled about his harem of Saracen slave-girls. Yes, medieval women were realists when it came to male fidelity, but I suspect Joanna would have seen a harem as a bit much. Certainly “my” Joanna thought so. Joanna has always been a favorite of mine, the daughter most like Eleanor, and I was delighted to give her so much time on center stage in Ransom.

    And on February 13, 1542, silly little Catherine Howard became yet another victim of her husband’s monstrous ego. When Henry VIII discovered that she’d had a colorful past prior to their marriage, he was so outraged that he pushed a bill of attainder through Parliament making it treason for an “unchaste” woman to marry the king, then sent Catherine to the Tower, where she was beheaded on this date. It could be very dangerous to be a Tudor Queen, and I am not just thinking of Bluebeard’s wives. Jane Grey paid with her life for her family’s all-consuming ambition. So did Catherine Howard, although she had none of Jane’s intelligence or education, which makes her pathetic story all the sadder. Marriage to the aging, ailing, hot-tempered Henry was more than punishment enough for any sins of her feckless youth. Despite the legend, though, she did not say that she died the Queen of England but would rather have died the wife of Thomas Culpepper. Those about to be executed in Tudor England did not make defiant gallows speeches, wanting to spare their family from royal retribution. But Catherine really did ask for the block to be brought to her the night before her execution; she wanted to practice kneeling and putting her head upon it so she would be sure to do it correctly come the morning. How pitiful is that?

  33. Sharon K Penman Says:

    A quick escape from the copy-edited manuscript morass to say Hi. Copy editing is absolutely essential and I have great admiration for those who undertake this challenging task. It takes a laser-like concentration, a good memory, and a high tolerance for boredom since the copy editor does not get to read for the plot or the characters; they have to focus on details, not the big picture. Having said that, there has never been a writer who enjoyed the experience either. Even with a good copy editor, it can be stressful; with a bad one, it can be sheer torture. I am very lucky, for I’ve only had two really bad copy editors in my long career, one who was intent upon rewriting the book for me—not in his job description—and one who was—to put it politely—very anal-retentive. To give you an idea of the flavor of his work, I had written that Richard closed his eyes. He queried, “First establish that his eyes are open?” Unfortunately, this was Sunne, my first book, and therefore my first copy-editing experience, so I suffered in silence for much too long, assuming this sort of insanity was the norm.
    Happily, the copy editing for The Land Beyond the Sea really does fall into the normal range. It is still time-consuming, though, and naturally I had to deal with computer sabotage. I was horrified to discover this weekend that Mischief, my current laptop, had deleted all of my responses to CE queries after the fifth chapter. I learned long ago never to waste time trying to figure out why computers do things, but this does seem a bit extreme, no? Anyway, before I disappear again to into the editing swamp, here is a Today in History post for everyone, very late, of course.
    On February 1st, 1327, Edward III was crowned King of England; he was only 14 and the government remained in the hands of his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer. Jumping forward a few centuries, on February 1st, 1587, a conflicted Elizabeth I finally signed the death warrant for her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. And on a much happier, albeit non-medieval, occasion, Abraham Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment on February 1st, 1865 after it had been approved by the House and the Senate, and then sent it to the states for ratification. It would eventually be ratified by the requisite number of states in December of 1865. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, completing what had begun with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. My British readers can be proud that your parliament abolished slavery thirty years earlier than your cousins in the colonies.

  34. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I feel as if I am playing hide and seek with a dragon again, but at least a Copy Editing Dragon won’t take up residence the way my Deadline Dragons always do. He does require constant attention, though, so I have to keep this brief. For today’s history post, I am looking back to a dramatic day in February of 1194 involving one of my favorite characters, Eleanor of Aquitaine. I miss writing about the Angevins….sigh.

    On February 4th, 1194, Richard Lionheart was finally freed from his German captivity after paying an astronomical ransom. He’d been held for one year, six weeks, and three days. But two days earlier, he’d been double-crossed by Heinrich, who announced to the assemblage of German and English lords and prelates that he’d had a new offer from the French king and Richard’s brother John and, with an utter lack of shame, invited Richard to better it.
    From A King’s Ransom, Chapter Twenty
    * * *
    While Richard glanced down at the letters, the Archbishop of Rouen hastily translated Heinrich’s comments for Eleanor. The letters were indeed from Philippe and John and, as Richard read what was being offered and what it could mean for him, his numbed disbelief gave way to despair and then, murderous rage.
    His fist clenched around the letters and he flung them to the floor at Heinrich’s feet. But before he could speak, his mother was beside him. “Wait, Richard, wait!” She was clinging to his arm with such urgency that she actually succeeded in pulling him back from the dais. “Look around you,” she said, her voice shaking, but her eyes blazing with green fire. “Look!”
    He did and saw at once what she meant. Virtually every German in the hall was staring at Heinrich as if he’d suddenly revealed himself to be the Anti-Christ. Not a word had yet been said, but their expressions of horror and disgust left no doubt as to how they felt about their emperor’s eleventh-hour surprise. “Let them speak first,” Eleanor hissed. “Let the Germans handle this.”
    * * *
    The Germans did handle it; led by Richard’s friend, the Archbishop-elect of Cologne, they forced Heinrich to honor the original terms for Richard’s release. But Heinrich saved face by insisting that Richard would not be freed unless he did homage to the German emperor. Richard was outraged and refused, but again his mother interceded, convincing him that he had no choice. He was then freed on February 4th, although the forced act of homage left some deep psychic scars. I very much doubt that he’d have regained his freedom if not for Eleanor’s fierce, maternal devotion. Unlike Henry, Richard had always been willing to rely upon her intelligence and political acumen and they made a formidable team. Had Henry only been as sensible, he and Eleanor would have made a formidable team, too.

    Now I hear a dragon calling my name again. Did I mention how much I miss writing about the Angevins?

  35. Joan Says:

    Interesting insights into copy editing! But what a drag it must be for the author. “Richard closed his eyes….cause you see they’d been open, I mean apart from the constant blinking!”

  36. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Fortunately, he was not typical of copy editors, Joan. It was just my bad luck that this was my initial introduction to copy editing and so I suffered longer than necessary before I finally worked up the courage to speak to my editor about it.

    A quick visit to say hi before I disappear back into the void, AKA the copy-edited manuscript. I also have good news to share. I don’t know how many of you have been following the soap-opera saga of Justice and Liberty, two bald eagles who are the stars of a DC web-cam. They’ve been a devoted pair, together for 14 years, which is impressive even by human standards. But then Justice suddenly disappeared. Liberty remained at their nest, where she was soon being courted by other male bald eagles. She eventually accepted one and they flew off together, presumably into the sunset. Then a plot twist—Justice re-appeared as abruptly as he’d disappeared. We have no idea where he was or what he was doing during his time going walkabout—or flyabout. He must have had a plausible explanation, though, for on Friday, he was reunited with Liberty, who seems to have forgiven him, their 14 years together counting for more than a brief fling with that other eagle. Not totally a happy ending, for the eggs in their nest are not expected to hatch. But there’s always next year. And they are still doing better than another celebrity eagle couple, Mr President and First Lady; according to their webcam, they did not even lay any eggs at all this year. The story below has links to more news about Justice and Liberty and also a link to their webcam.

  37. Joan Says:

    3 cheers for the happily re-united, albeit chickless couple!! Lovely story!

  38. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I would bet that their reunion made a lot of people happy, Joan. We are starved for happy endings these days.

    I am sorry for having disappeared again, but I got a nasty surprise recently; I discovered that the copy editor for my new book had made some incorrect changes in dialogue without querying me about them first, as is customary. So I’ve been literally working around the clock to restore the original dialogue, which meant that real life came to a screeching halt. This week I was able to get the manuscript off to my editor, but now I have to go back to working upon my income tax records in preparation for seeing my CPA next week. Before I tackle that depressing task, I wanted to zip over to Facebook and Goodreads. It is so sad, but not surprising, that I have to yet again express my sorrow for a murderous attack upon innocent civilians, this time in New Zealand. There truly are monsters who walk among us and often there is no way to tell—not until it is too late. I know all our hearts go out to the victims of the two mosque shootings and to the people of New Zealand, who are experiencing a horror that has become all too familiar.

    I went looking in my archived posts for something to cheer us up, and came upon an amusing
    story of a mischievous medieval cat and a monk who was probably not happy with his cat’s contribution to his work. For all of us who love cats, we will nod and smile as we read this. There is a constant in our world, after all—our feline friends have not changed at all down through the centuries. Here is a photo of the evidence and an interesting article about cats, mice, and medievals.

  39. skpenman Says:

    A quick hi, for I am not free yet, just going temporarily AWOL. I wanted to alert my readers that today and tomorrow you can get Stephanie Churchill’s The Scribe’s Daughter for free. I really liked this book and you cannot beat that price! So do check it out here.

  40. Joan Says:

    We have an important role model in Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. A woman of admiration who has more balls than 95% of male power figures. Courageous & pro-active, she refuses to wait for the next mass killing to get action on gun control! And REFUSES to name the perpetrator in public forums! Brava Brava Brava!!!

  41. skpenman Says:

    I so agree with this, Joan. At least New Zealanders had a leader able to offer comfort in a time of such tragedy and then to take action to make sure it never happens again.

    I feel as if I received a pardon, for the copy edited manuscript is done and I’ve waded through the tax swamp without being sucked down into the quicksand. Now I can catch my breath and start chatting with my readers again! Lots of interesting historical occurrences in the month of March, so I’ll be kept busy trying to catch up. Meanwhile, here is another update about those eagles in need of marital counseling, Liberty and Justice. They seem to have reconciled, but he is continuing his wandering ways and how patient will she be? They need to keep an eye peeled for a sneaky raccoon, too.

  42. Joan Says:


Leave a Reply