INTERVIEW WITH JUDITH STARKSTON

I am happy to announce the winners of Stephanie Churchill’s book giveaway, which we held on my blog when I interviewed her for her latest book, The King’s Furies.  She generously offered to give the first two books in her trilogy to the winners, The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter.  I enjoyed all three of the novels very much and I am sure the lucky winners will enjoy them, too.  Drum roll…..the winners are Lin Heiberger, Nancy F Lambert, and Eric Pratt.  You can contact me via my website or on Facebook or Stephanie on Facebook to provide your contact information.

The guest on my blog today is my friend, Judith Starkston, who writes fiction set in the ancient world of the Greeks and Hittites. I met Judith several years ago at the Tucson Festival of Books. We talked books and writing over a long dinner, but today’s conversation had to happen online with only virtual company, so, unfortunately, no good food could be shared. Judith is, however, offering a book giveaway and to be eligible, readers need only post a comment on this blog. Two winners will each receive a free copy of Priestess of Ishana. The books will be in e-book format and the contest is global, not limited to American readers.

Sharon: So, Judith, over that Tucson dinner, we talked about your fascination with the Trojan War and Briseis, the woman Achilles took captive. But these days, you’re writing about another woman, also from the Bronze Age—a queen whom very few people have ever heard of. You’ve written the first two books of a series featuring her, Priestess of Ishana and Sorcery in Alpara. And you’ve chosen to combine fantasy and history. I’m intrigued.

Tell me about the Hittite queen, Puduhepa, upon whom you’ve based your fictional main character, Tesha. She is not exactly a household name. How did that source of inspiration come about?

Judith: Puduhepa had the misfortune to rule a kingdom that got literally buried and forgotten amidst the upheavals at the end of the Bronze Age (c. 1200 BCE). Hence, even though she ruled for decades over the most powerful empire of the world at the time, she’s barely made it into the history books and only very recently. I discovered Puduhepa originally when researching that first novel you mentioned set in the Trojan War (Hand of Fire). The culture of Troy was largely that of the Hittites. Fortunately, recent archaeology and the decipherment and translation of many thousands of clay tablets have filled in parts of the lost history. As I researched, I came across the letters, rites and judicial decrees of a highly influential queen who ruled for decades. You know from your research how enthralling it is to hear a historical voice coming to you from across the centuries. Counter to my expectation based on the surrounding kingdoms of the time like Egypt or Babylonia, Hittite queens had full political power by law and custom and remained rulers even when their husbands died. A powerful queen in the extremely patriarchal ancient Near East? I was hooked. Puduhepa caught my imagination with her combination of pragmatic leadership and mystical religious beliefs. I chose her name in my fiction, Tesha, because Tesha is the Hittite word for ‘dream’ and Puduhepa was famous for visionary dreams sent by her goddess. The other thing she was known for in her lifetime was an astonishingly happy marriage and the equal partnership she maintained with her husband. That also was not the norm in her world.

Sharon: I know you take your history seriously, and you’ve dug in deep with the research (sorry for the archaeological pun). With your historical focus, why did you choose to write in the fantasy genre?

Judith: For two reasons—one having to do with full disclosure to the reader and the other having to do with Hittite beliefs and their potential for engaging storytelling.

While knowledge about the Hittites has expanded greatly in the last twenty or so years, there still remain giant gaps in historians’ understanding of this intriguing ancient world power. To be honest about my imaginative filling of those gaps, I’m up front that my storytelling combines fantasy and history. For instance, I give my historical figures fictional names, though often only minimally different from their real names.

The other reason I turned to fantasy arose from the prevalence of magic and the supernatural within Hittite religious rites. In essence, I allow those rites to do what the Hittites believed could happen. My main character started her career as a priestess, and her closeness to her goddess was profoundly important to her. Giving her magical beliefs free room also made for much better storytelling. I do extend the fantasy beyond the historical framework when it makes sense for the story, but I start the fantastical elements within Hittite practices, such as their extensive use of analogic magic and their obsession with demonic curses. I take the foundational “rules” for my fantasy from Hittite rites themselves, but I find letting my plots go into the fantastical entirely liberating and my readers love it.

My “quarter turn to the fantastic,” to borrow Guy Gavriel Kay’s phrase, allows me to honor what we actually know while also owning up to my inventive extensions.

Sharon: So tell me about this happy marriage and partnership Puduhepa had. How did that come about?

Judith: The goddess of love and war, Ishtar, took full credit for this union. (She’s called Ishana in my novels.) A match literally made in heaven, so to speak. Both Puduhepa and Hattusili, her eventual husband, said Ishtar, via dreams, commanded them to marry. They appear to me from the record to be entirely sincere in this understanding. Hattusili was the younger brother of what the Hittites called the “Great King,” the ruler of the Hittite Empire. Hattusili vowed before leading his brother’s troops into battle against Egypt that he would give all his spoils of war to Ishtar if she gave him victory. He viewed Ishtar as his personal patron goddess. He attributed to her his survival of a childhood illness and the rescue from a couple career-ending situations. When he arrived at the finest temple in the realm to make good on his vow, loaded with Pharaoh’s golden treasures, who was there but Priestess Puduhepa, young, very beautiful and incredibly smart? That’s how they met. We have this story from a document Hattusili composed that’s often called his “autobiography” although it isn’t anything like a modern autobiography. In it he also says, “the goddess gave us the love of husband and wife . . . and our household thrived.” We also have Puduhepa’s incredibly poignant prayers on behalf of her husband when he was struck down by ill health. Their equality as partners shows up repeatedly over many years, most visibly in Puduhepa’s independent seal on key treaties and letters where she grants lands to vassal kings and other powerful acts. She shows no signs of needing her husband to “co-sign.” I portray from the inside their early meeting and falling in love, but intriguingly, Hattusili also mentions he was accused of sorcery at this time, an accusation that carried the penalty of death in a legal system that otherwise opted for exile. Interesting that! So I took this divinely inspired love story and combined it with some Bronze Age political intrigue, international scheming, magic and a murder mystery.

Sharon: Describe one of the strangest details about the Hittites you found from your research.

Judith: The Hittites were obsessed with curses of all sorts—what we might call dark magic. They believed sorcerers could sicken and kill their enemies, for example. We find this belief expressed in places as diverse as court cases, divinations, and prayers. None of the “how to curse” rites survive, but one describing a curse removal does. Not all of the text survives in a readable way but my favorite part (which I used in Priestess) describes touching the cursed person with a loaf of specially made bread to absorb the curse’s pollution. The bread is stuffed with chickpea paste (hummus, in essence) as the absorbing substance. Once the bread touches all the prescribed places on the victim’s body, the priestess is commanded to burn it and thus send it back to the demons of the Underworld whence curses were thought to come. I hope I haven’t ruined hummus for any of those reading this interview. It’s one of my favorite foods. I actually wrote a cookbook of Bronze Age foods that people receive (after a short story) when they sign up for my author newsletter, and I have recipes for three different styles of hummus in it, so I’m pretty dedicated to good chickpea paste!

Sharon: What’s an aspect of Puduhepa’s historical life that you hope readers will take away from your portrayal of Tesha?

Judith: Puduhepa provides a worthy model for leadership—particularly the value of female leaders, which we’ve been thinking about lately, so this seems timely. She certainly wasn’t perfect, and some of her actions are hotly debated among historians as possibly self-serving or politically motivated rather than ethically driven. She gave me nuanced material to work into my hero’s character. But, despite that human complexity, or perhaps because of it, she had brilliant skills as queen in many areas: diplomatic, judicial, religious and familial. Most famously, she corralled Pharaoh Ramses II of Egypt into a lasting peace treaty. The surviving letters to Ramses reveal a subtle diplomat with a tough but gracious core that made her able to stand up to the arrogant Pharaoh without giving offense. She also took judicial positions that went against her own citizens when the truth wasn’t on their side. Fair justice wasn’t something she was willing to toss overboard when it was politically inconvenient. Her equal partnership with her husband was a much-admired model even in the patriarchal world of the ancient Near East.

Sharon: I remember talking to you about your extensive research travels, one of the best perks of being an author. Can you share some highlights from your more recent travels?

When planning which archaeological sites to visit on my second trip to Turkey, I bemoaned to the Turkish archaeologist who guides and translates for me that the site of Puduhepa’s hometown, Lawazantiya, had never been identified. From numerous tablets excavated from the empire’s capital city Hattusha, we know the name Lawazantiya, its general location, and that it had seven springs, but I thought we lacked even a tentative site location. But my archaeologist friend was more up to date than I was.

A new archaeological excavation, with preliminary results published only locally in Turkish, had made a strong case for being Lawazantiya. Sure enough, there are seven springs in the area around this dig and also extensive Bronze Age ruins on the mound, including parts that could correspond to the famous temple of Ishtar we know existed there (where Puduhepa was priestess).

We arranged to go to the site so that I could study the physical setting and ruins. That would have been splendid all on its own, but, even better, the director of the dig spent the entire day with me, explaining and examining the excavation. We also visited each of the seven springs—locations that I found very useful later as I l drafted Priestess of Ishana. Accompanied by the rest of the dig’s excavators, we had a delightful lunch of freshly caught fish at a restaurant beside the largest of the springs. It was easy to imagine my Tesha and Hattu sitting in the shade of the willows in that lovely spot, although I confess when that spring appears in my novel, it’s all conflict and trouble, not quiet picnicking!

Sharon: Thank you so much for a very interesting interview, Judith.  Priestess of Ishana sounds fascinating.  What’s your next project

Judith: As you mentioned, I’ve now written the first two books in this series based on Puduhepa’s life, Priestess of Ishana (book 1) and Sorcery in Alpara (book 2). I’m drafting the third book—no title yet. If readers are interested in my book news, special offers, and the history and archaeology of this ancient civilization (and the cookbook I described), they can sign up for the author newsletter on my website, link: https://www.judithstarkston.com/

Purchase Hand of Fire: https://amzn.to/2KOb6a0

Purchase Priestess of Ishana: https://amzn.to/2DXpdXt

Purchase Sorcery in Alpara: https://amzn.to/319vuIj

11 Responses to “INTERVIEW WITH JUDITH STARKSTON”

  1. Cristina Says:

    Sharon one of the blessings of following you on Facebook and your blog are all the other awesome storytellers you introduce us to, further expanding our scope for imagination! Thank you!

    This tale sounds amazing (and so does the story of writing it, so jealous of that archeological visit!), I look forward to diving into the Bronze Age. Count me in for the giveaway!

  2. Sharon K Penman Says:

    This is my first Facebook post on my new computer; so far, so good. I resisted the urge to drive a stake through Malice’s evil little heart, and instead relegated her to emergency backup status, which bumped my former backup, Miscreant, to the practice squad. I once read that Colleen McCullough had six electric typewriters (yes, it was pre-computer) because she lived on an island and it was challenging to get repairmen out there when one of her typewriters broke down. I remember feeling envious of her multiple typewriters. I suppose I am half-way there now, with three computers. The new one’s name is Draig, by the way, which is Welsh for Dragon. I was tempted to call him Drogon, but decided that with millions of Game of Thrones fans worldwide, there are probably thousands of computers already named Drogon.
    I decided to do my Today in History post for November 10th, which is very Welsh-centric.
    November 10th, 1177 was a dark day in the history of medieval Wales, for it was on that date that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd made a forced peace with the English king, Edward I. Not surprisingly—for Edward was not known for showing mercy to a defeated foe—his terms were harsh ones. Llywelyn had to yield the four cantrefs east of the River Conwy and all land already seized by Edward. He was allowed to retain control of the island of Mon, but only as a vassal, compelled to pay a thousand marks a year to the royal coffers and if he died without an heir of his body, it would revert to the Crown. He had to pay a staggering fine of fifty thousand pounds (later remitted by Edward in an act of calculated generosity) and yield ten highborn hostages, free his brother Owain and the man who’d plotted to assassinate him. He must swear homage and fealty to Edward and forfeit the homage of all but five lords of Gwynedd, all others to owe homage only to the English king.
    The Reckoning, page 259.
    * * *
    Llywelyn was permitted to retain the title that was now only a courtesy, Prince of Wales, a hollow mockery that seemed to him the cruelest kindness of all.
    On November 9th, Llywelyn came to Aberconwy Abbey to accept Edward’s terms, feeling like a man asked to preside over his own execution. A remembered scrap of Scriptures kept echoing in his ears like a funeral dirge: “Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen.” Gwynedd had been gutted by a pen, just as surely as any sword thrust. He’d lost more than the lands listed upon parchment; he’d lost the last thirty years of his life, for Gwynedd had been reduced to the boundaries imposed upon the Welsh by the Treaty of Woodstock in 1247. Llywelyn had been just nineteen then, new to power and to defeat. That had been his first loss to England, and his last—until now, until the Treaty of Aberconwy, which destroyed a lifetime’s labor in the time it took to affix his great seal to the accord. Never had he known such despair. And the worst was still to come, for on the morrow he must ride to Rhuddlan Castle, there make a formal and public surrender to the English king.
    * * *
    Edward had one final surprise for Llywelyn when they met on November 10th at Rhuddlan Castle. Llywelyn had been assured that his wife, Ellen de Montfort, held hostage by Edward for the past two years, would be released, but Edward reneged, insisting that Ellen would not be freed until Llywelyn had proved his good faith and loyalty. Since Ken John is working (diligently, we hope) on a novel about Othon de Grandison (known as Otto in The Reckoning), I could not resist quoting one more paragraph of the chapter, for Othon/Otto was just as shocked as Llywelyn by Edward’s surprise; he’d been the one to deliver the king’s assurances to the Welsh prince. Again, from the Reckoning, pages 266-267.
    * * *
    The tension did not subside. One spark and the air itself might kindle, Otto de Grandison thought morosely, not at all happy with this unexpected turn of events. Had he so misread Edward, ignored the strings trailing from the offer to restore the prince’s lady? Had it truly been his mistake? He thought not, but it was now, for kings did not err. He gave Llywelyn an apologetic look, then turned at the sound of a muffled shout. Striding to the window, he unlatched the shutters. “My liege, the Welsh prisoners have just ridden into the bailey.”
    * * *
    It was never easy to serve a king, especially for a man of honor. Some things never change.

  3. Joan Says:

    I agree with Cristina, how fortunate we are! Thank you Sharon & Judith Starkston for an extremely interesting interview! And always so fascinating to learn how authors approach their work. So clever & fun to bring the magic of their beliefs into fruition in the novel.

    Sharon, Draig, not Drogon, allows me to segue into my newfound passion……finally watching GOT on Crave/HBO which I recently subscribed to!!! It’s taken over my life, am into the 2nd (& not the last) rerun on my new 50′ screen which pulls me right into it & also spend hours online. I was hesitant to watch the last season because of the brouhaha. It must have been difficult for those who read the books (& still waiting), but as a TV series fan, as painful as it was to watch, I found it a natural progression of the story. It left me with a lonely & sad feeling. And I’m sorry I missed all the commentary on your blog posts, Sharon, over the last few years.

  4. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I wanted to remind my fellow Bernard Cornwell fans that his new Uhtred adventure, Sword of Kings, is coming out in the US on November 26th; lucky readers in the UK were able to purchase it last month. And I wanted to share some good news with you all; we got our first review of The Land Beyond the Sea, which will appear in the December issue of Booklist. Very happy to report it is favorable. But then I’d not be likely to post a bad review, would I? Although I do often quote from the worst review I’ve ever gotten when I am out on book tours. It was an evisceration of The Sunne in Splendour; the reviewer hated everything about the book, her loathing so intense that I did wonder if she had any Tudors tucked away in her family tree. At the time, it drew blood, all of it mine, for it was my first bad review. But once the shock ebbed, I realized how over the top it was, rather like using a crossbow to shoot a hummingbird, and I could see the humor in it. Audiences agree with me, for they always laugh when I share the last line in the review: “God has probably forgiven Richard III by now, and in time, He may even forgive the author.” Now that is unintentionally funny!

    Anyway, here is the first review for The Land Beyond the Sea:
    Penman is justifiably renowned for her medieval epics, including A King’s Ransom (2014). Working on a large canvas, she illustrates the era’s political movements and the personalities of its movers and shakers with equal dexterity. In this standalone work, she focuses on the twelfth-century Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, ruled by relatives of England’s Plantagenets (her previous subjects). Among many well-crafted characters, several quickly stand out, including Baldwin IV, the gifted boy monarch tragically stricken by leprosy; his stepmother, Maria Comnena, a courageous Greek princess scorned by her late husband’s first, discarded wife, and honorable nobleman Balian d’Ibelin. As the Crusader states within Outremer (“the land beyond the sea”) defend their lands against Muslim military forces, which are led by the charismatic sultan Saladin, they struggle with internal strife. The royal succession is of pressing concern, since Baldwin can’t marry and expects to die young. The Muslims’ viewpoints are also relayed firsthand. From fierce battle maneuvers to the emotional corridors of an unexpected love story, readers will feel intimately drawn into the characters’ dramatic lives in Penman’s splendid historical novel. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Historical saga fans will pounce on best-selling and always thrilling Penman’s latest, which offers a particularly alluring setting. — Sarah Johnson

  5. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I am busy working on an interview that I will be doing on my blog, probably next week, with Bernard Cornwell about his latest Uhtred novel. It is another winner for this very gifted writer, as I am sure my British readers will echo; my American readers will have to wait till next week to find out that I am right and BC works his usual magic in Sword of Kings. Now on to a few Today in History thoughts.

    Yesterday was the birth date in 1428 of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who thought of himself as a Kingmaker but who fatally underestimated his cousin, Edward. On this date in 1499, Perkin Warbeck was hanged and on November 23, 1503, Edward and Richard’s sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy and devoted daughter of York, died at Mechelin at age 57. History usually identifies women by their husbands. There are a few exceptions, though. Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the most noteworthy, for this queen of France and England is known for the duchy she so loved. Another exception is Margaret, who is often called Margaret of York in recognition of her fierce family loyalties.
    Oh, and on November 23, 1272, the royal council in London sent word to Henry III’s eldest son that he was now England’s king. Edward had left the Holy Land by then, but he showed no urgency in returning home to claim his crown, not reaching England until August of 1274. He was recovering, of course, from the attack by an Assassin wielding a poisoned dagger and yes, I have wondered how dramatically history would have been changed, especially for the Welsh and Jews and Scots, if Edward’s attacker had better aim. The other reason why he saw no reason to hurry was that there were no other claimants for the throne, so he could take his time. Lastly, the legends to the contrary, his queen, Eleanora, is known to have loved him, but she did not suck the venom from his wound after the attack. Just for the record, it is never a good idea to try that with poisonous snake bites, either.

  6. Joan Says:

    Wonderful review, very high praise indeed! As if we’re not already pumped! Can hardly wait!

    I also came across this recently by George RR Martin…..Sharon Kay Penman is the strongest historical novelist working the medieval period at present.

  7. Teka Lynn Says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, Sharon!

  8. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Joan, you made my day, my week, my month, my…well, you get the drift!

    Teka, thank you. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, too. Next to Christmas, it is my favorite holiday.

  9. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I hope all of my American friends and readers have a lovely, peaceful Thanksgiving tomorrow. And that those of you who are traveling will arrive safely at your destinations; these storms sound scary. Here is a post that I did last year—for the benefit of new readers, new Facebook friends, and those like me, who have very fuzzy memories!
    Historically, the 27th of November was the date of death in 1198 of one of the most interesting and courageous medieval women, Constance de Hauteville, Queen of Sicily in her own right, unhappy wife and happy widow of the royal sociopath, Heinrich von Hohenstaufen, and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederic II, one of the most colorful and controversial rulers of the MA. Constance had a remarkably eventful life—nearly being killed in a Salerno riot, captured and turned over to her husband’s rival, Tancred, only to escape as she was being taken under guard to Rome. She is most famous for getting pregnant for the first time at age 40 and then arranging to invite all of the local matrons to watch her give birth after learning that Heinrich’s enemies were claiming her pregnancy was a hoax. She also involved herself in a rebellion against her despot husband, horrified by the cruelty he was inflicting upon her Sicilian subjects, and likely would have been punished far worse than Henry punished Eleanor if not for an opportunist mosquito who chose that time to give Heinrich the malaria that claimed his life. (It has also been suggested he was poisoned, but while that is certainly plausible, historians tend to accept the malaria story) Constance at once kicked all the Germans out of Sicily and took the reins of power on behalf of her three year old son. Sadly, she outlived Heinrich by little more than a year, spending her last months in a desperate attempt to safeguard Frederick’s inheritance. She is the star of my first (and probably last) short story, A Queen in Exile, which appeared in George RR Martin’s anthology, Dangerous Women. She also made appearances in both Lionheart and A King’s Ransom. Here is my depiction of her death in Ransom, pages 567-568
    * * *
    Constance de Hauteville had celebrated her forty-fourth birthday on All Soul’s Day, but she knew it would be her last. She was dying. She’d been ill for months, and not even the doctors of the famed medical school in Salerno had been able to offer either hope or relief from the pain. She’d been very bitter at first, for she’d had little more than a year of freedom, a year to rule Sicily, to rid her kingdom of the Germans, to have her son with her—a privilege that Heinrich hade denied her, for he’d given Friedrich into the care of the Duchess of Spoleto soon after his birth. One year, one month, and twenty-seven days to have been a queen, a mother, and, God be praised, a widow. Not enough time. Not nearly enough.
    She’d faced it as she’d faced every crisis in her life, without flinching, without self-pity or panic. What mattered was her son, still a month shy of his fourth birthday. She’d done all she could. She’d exiled Markward von Annweiler, who’d been made Duke of Ravenna and Romagna by Heinrich. In May, she’d had Friedrich crowned as King of Sicily, letting Otto and Heinrich’s brother Philip fight over the imperial crown. And she’d turned to the only man powerful enough to protect her son, the new Pope, Innocent III. In her last will and testament, she’d named Innocent as Friedrich’s guardian until he came of age. Now, in what she knew to be her last hours, she could only pray that it would be enough, that her son would be kept safe, his rights defended by the Church, and that he would not forget her too quickly.
    * * *

  10. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I hope all of my American friends and readers had a lovely Thanksgiving and for those of you traveling for the holiday, good luck. Those storms sound very scary and there are few experiences more frustrating than being trapped at the airport. Like most people, I’ve had flights delayed due to bad weather, but my worst delay lasted 12 hours and was not weather related. We were supposed to fly to NYC from Shannon Airport in Ireland, and the plane had mechanical trouble, although the airline did not tell us that. Throughout the ordeal, they were so close-mouthed we began to suspect they were in training for jobs with M-16 or the CIA. As the hours passed, we were reduced to sitting on the floor as there were not enough seats and we could not leave for at any moment, the airline might announce the flight was ready to depart. Eventually, they dispatched another plane from Belgium, but it was not large enough for us all, and about 30 of us were still stranded. When they found a plane for us, we had to walk across the tarmac, never a good sign, and there it was, the plane that was to fly us across the Atlantic. I won’t say it was as small as the Spirt of St Louis or a crop-duster, but as we stared at it in shocked silence, the man next to me spoke for us all when he muttered, “Oh, my God.” And when we finally landed at JFK, the passengers all burst into applause. For those of you likely to have a rough trip back home, doesn’t that make you feel better? No…it wouldn’t for me, either. On to Today in History.
    All of the people I write about took the day off on November 30th. But there were two non-medieval deaths worth mentioning. On November 30, 1705, Catherine of Braganza, the much put-upon queen of Charles II, died. I always felt sympathy for Catherine. Deeply pious, this convent-bred bride was never at home in England, distrusted for her Catholic faith and scorned for her inability to give Charles an heir. Charles, of course, was probably the greatest womanizer ever to sit on the English throne; sorry to deny you the laurels, Edward IV. (And yes, Henry I sired over 21 illegitimate children, but I think he cared only about the sex; the women were merely the means to an end. Whereas I think Charles and Edward genuinely liked the ladies.) Catherine had to accept the presence at his court of her husband’s favorites, which had to be painful as well as humiliating, for she seems to have developed real feeling for the charming, lusty, and good-humored man she’d married. Charles became fond of her, too, not enough to “stay faithful to his marriage bed,” as they phrased it in the MA, but enough to try to protect her from the hostility of his more rabidly anti-Catholic subjects; he also intervened whenever a royal mistress was too disrespectful of his long-suffering queen. He refused to put her aside even after it became obvious she would never give him an heir, in kindly contrast to Henry Bluebeard Tudor. Of course it could be argued that in sparing Catherine’s feelings, he did his country no favors, for England would surely have been better off without the kingship of his inept, idiot brother, James. Catherine survived Charles by twenty years, remaining in England instead of returning to Portugal. She is said to have been the one who introduced tea drinking to the British public, thus inadvertently contributing to the causes of the American Revolution—remember the Boston Tea Party, people? The New York City borough of Queens is named after her, as she was the queen at the time of its founding—or so says Wikipedia.
    And on November 30th, 1910, the man I consider the greatest American writer, Mark Twain, died. His last years were filled with sorrow and bitterness and I think he was probably glad to go. RIP, Mark. I think you would be pleased to know that you are just as esteemed in our time as you were in your own.

  11. Sharon K Penman Says:

    I am making progress on the rewrites for my renovated website and wanted to ask you all for your opinion about a new feature. Many writers have a Question and Answer section on their websites and I thought it would be fun to add one to mine. What do you guys think? Would you make use of it ? Back to my Today in Medieval History post, I am going with a rerun, or as I prefer to think of them—a recyclable—here is one that first saw the light of day back in 2012.
    December 1st was not a lucky day for the following people. On this date in 1135, King Henry I died, a death that would set off nineteen wretched years for the English people, a time when they said “Christ and his saints slept.” Apparently, the story that he died of “a surfeit of lampreys” may just be a legend; too bad, for I rather liked that one. He did, however, die after feasting upon lampreys, which his doctors had forbidden.
    Also, on December 1st, 1170, Thomas Becket returned to Canterbury after a six-year exile in France. He wasted no time in infuriating his king again, and the clock began ticking toward his desired martyrdom on December 29th. Can I prove he sought martyrdom? No, but as a former lawyer, I think I could make a convincing case based on the evidence—his insistence upon excommunicating the Archbishop of York and the bishops of London and Salisbury, knowing full well that he’d be flinging a torch into the hayrick of Henry’s Angevin temper; his refusal to compromise; then his refusal to flee from the four knights who would slay him, even though his monks, aware that he was in great danger, pleaded with him to do so. Instead, he confronted and taunted the knights, and so gained immortality for himself and put Henry in an impossible position. I can’t say he anticipated being made a saint, but it may have crossed his mind, knowing how shocked Christendom would be by the murder of an archbishop in his own cathedral. I doubt that he’d have been pleased that Henry managed to wriggle out of the trap and his killers were subjected only to the penance of a pilgrimage. And since there is no evidence that Becket had an appreciation for irony, he probably would not have been amused that the reason his killers escaped punishment was because he’d refused to accept Henry’s attempt to reform the law with the Constitutions of Clarendon. As I had Henry say in Time and Chance, “The ultimate absurdity of this, Ranulf, is that their crime is one the Church would deny me the right to punish. Thomas insisted unto his final breath that only the Church could judge the offenses of men in holy orders and any crimes committed against them.” Since all the Angevins had a strong sense of irony, we can safely say that Henry took some grim amusement from that.
    And on December 1st, 1235, Isabella, the daughter of King John and Isabelle d’Angouleme, sister of Henry III, died in childbirth at the age of twenty-seven; the baby died, too. She’d been wed six years earlier to Frederick II, the brilliant, controversial Holy Roman Emperor, and had given him two children. Frederick was said to be fond of his beautiful young English wife, but her brother Henry was not happy that she was kept so secluded, rarely appearing in public. We do not know how Isabella felt about any of this–the match with Frederick or his harem or the luxurious, isolated life she led as his empress. Women’s voices were rarely recorded throughout most of history.

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