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.”

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