Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Where Have I Been?

I haven't been blogging much lately, but I've an excellent excuse--I've been working on a short story, set in 13th-century England, that I submitted to Amazon Shorts. It hasn't yet been accepted for publication (from I what I've read, it usually takes a few weeks to hear something, and acceptance isn't a sure thing), but I'm hopeful. The heroine, Aline le Despenser, is the mother of Hugh le Despenser the elder, and was mentioned in a scene in The Traitor's Wife.

Amazon Shorts, if you're not familiar with the concept, are electronic documents of 2,000 to 10,000 words that can be downloaded for 49 cents, after which they can be stored on one's computer. They can also be printed for those who prefer not to do their reading online.

I didn't see all that many historical fiction offerings in Amazon Shorts, though my search could hardly be called exhaustive. There are some nonfiction Shorts from some well-known historical fiction authors, notably Margaret George (on Helen of Troy) and Bernard Cornwell (an autobiographical piece).

I won't go much into Aline's life here, because that would spoil the story (which if not accepted by Amazon will be posted on my website), but here's an interesting tidbit: she was daughter to one justiciar of England, wife to another, and daughter-in-law to another. Through her marriage to Roger Bigod, she became the Countess of Norfolk. A letter from her appears in Anne Crawford's Letters of Medieval Women.

I've gotten to be quite interested in the thirteenth century, and am seriously considering setting a full-length novel during the Barons' Wars. Sharon Penman, of course, set Falls the Shadow during this conflict, but with so many fascinating people living at that time, there's still plenty of less explored territory left for the rest of us. So we shall see!

This, incidentally, is the first short story I've written since college. The last one, which I dearly hope I had the sense to destroy, was about a college student who picks up a guy at a laundromat. (Yes, I spent a lot of time hanging around laundromats myself in college. Yup, I too think it was a wise move to switch to historical fiction.) Its one saving grace, probably, was that it had no sex scenes.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Guest Historical Spam

Nan Hawthorne and Gabriele C. have unearthed some historical spam of their own, as they mentioned in the comments section of the previous post. It seemed a pity to bury these exciting new discoveries in the comments, so here they are. (Spam seems to have been around longer than hitherto realized.)

Richard the Lionhearted

Your Kind Assitance Is Sought

I am Mr. Sal A. Din. My emirs have collected an unprecedented amount of dinars for a good cause and I need someone to come and get it and take it back to a good, secure exchequer.

I will send you enough marks to cover your expenses if you can pick up the gold at Acre by summer of 1191.

Edward I

YOU ARE ALREADY APPROVED!!!!!! Need money for a war with, say, Scotland? London Jewry Lenders Association has the loan you need, any amount, guaranteed! Evcen if you have thrown us out of your country, just bring us back and we'll write that check today!

Nan Hawthorne
Blue Lady Tavern

Germanicus must have missed an email.

Want to become Emperor? We have the Mutineering Legions TM Package: three on the Rhine and three on the Danube for you to take and kick uncle Tiberius off his ivory chair in the Palatine.

And the special offer only valid until June 14 AD: The German rebels are willing to make a treaty with you, becuase Arminius doesn't like Tiberius, either. You can even get some Cheruscian cavalry.

Gabriele C.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Historical Spam

I have a mailbox on my website, which collects its fair share of spam. Most of the spammers seem to be under the impression that I require a great deal of medication to keep me going from day to day, though in fact the only being in our household who has a prescription is Ginny the cat, who takes Prozac. And she gets hers from the vet.

So this morning as I was deleting my spam, I thought to myself, What if historical figures got spam? And so--yes--another blog post was born.

Anne Boleyn

Frustrated because no matter how hard you try, you can’t produce a male heir? Don’t worry, try Heir-Be-Here! Tested on hordes of the lower classes, this revolutionary new product guarantees a living boy within nine months of the first application.

Try it today. Don’t delay.

Queen Isabella

Lonely? Neglected by your husband? Don’t sit at home and pity yourself. Try our dating service, Lusty Lords. You’ll find plenty of REAL MEN to choose from. Just put a hood over that pretty head of yours and come on by to our headquarters in the Tower.

Richard III

Need to find missing persons? Our staff of trained investigators can do the job! Engage our services today and get our two-for-one special!

Margaret Beaufort

Are you a mother who wants the very best for your son? Then you’ll want to get this fine educational toy, I Can Be King, to stimulate your son’s imagination and ambition. Comes with miniature soldiers, horses, vessels, subjects, a well-connected bride, papal dispensations, and everything else your son needs to start his very own kingdom.

Edward IV

Are you having performance problems these days? This is a common problem for all aging men and can be easily rectified with our amazing product, Splendik. Take a dose right before you have your lady friend over and you’ll be thrilled with the results! So will she!

Skeptical? Just listen to what Will H. said about our product: “I took Splendik and it changed my life! Now even my best friend wants the luscious babes I get!”

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Historical Fiction Preference Meme

On my travels through Blogger this week, I've been seeing a Women's Fiction Meme popping up on a number of sites. (It seems to have started here.) As it was geared mainly toward readers of romance novels, I've adapted it for historical fiction. Join in, all and sundry!

Straight Historical, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Historical Romance, or Time Travel?
Straight. I’ll occasionally venture into a historical mystery or a historical romance if it’s set in a time I’m particularly interested in, though.

Historical Figures as Main Characters or Purely Fictional Characters in Historical Settings as Main Characters?
Overwhelmingly, I prefer historical figures.

Hardback, Trade Paperback, or Mass Market Paperback?
I’ll buy a new book in hardback if it’s one I’ve really been looking forward to; otherwise, I’ll wait for the paperback (usually a trade). With used books, I’ll buy whatever’s available.

Philippa Gregory or Margaret George?
Hard to say. I really enjoyed Gregory’s last novel, and I really enjoyed George’s Henry VIII and Mary, Queen of Scots novels.

Amazon or Brick and Mortar?
Amazon, since most of the books I buy are either used or hard to find in brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Bernard Cornwell or Sharon Penman?
Sharon Penman. I haven’t read Bernard Cornwell’s books yet, though; one of these days.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?
Barnes and Noble, although since a Borders opened near my house, I’ve been spending more time there than I used to.

First Historical Novel You Ever Remember Reading?
As a good Southern girl, I naturally have to say Gone With the Wind.

Alphabetize by Author, Alphabetize by Title, or Random?
I don’t alphabetize, but when I rearranged my bookshelves this summer, I made a conscious effort to categorize my books by author, which is a vast improvement over the haphazard system I had before.

Keep, Throw Away, or Sell?
If I like a book, I’ll keep it. If I don’t, I’ll donate it to the library or to a thrift store. The only books I've thrown away are those that are falling apart.

Jean Plaidy or Norah Lofts?
I’ve enjoyed Norah Lofts’ books, but on the whole I’ll take Plaidy.

Read with Dust Jacket or Remove It?
Remove it if I’m toting it around a lot; keep it on if it’s not traveling off my end table.

Stop Reading When Tired or at Chapter Breaks?
Chapter breaks or section breaks, or whenever I get interrupted.

“It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?
”It was a dark and stormy night,” I guess. Nothing like hopping into the middle of the action.

Buy or Borrow?
Buy, unless it’s popular enough to be at my library and I’m not sure it’ll be a keeper. If I end up liking it, I’ll probably buy it.

Posie Graeme-Evans or Pamela Kaufman?

Based on skimming and on reviews by others with similar tastes, neither, I’m afraid.

Buying Choice: Book Reviews, Recommendations, or Browsing?
Browsing, mostly, but I pay attention to reviews and recommendations also. If it’s a subject I’m really interested in (e.g., Edward II), I may buy it without any of the above.

Dorothy Dunnett or Anya Seton?
Well, I’ve read one book by Anya Seton (the ubiquitous Katherine), which is more than I can say for Dorothy Dunnett. I suspect on the whole that I might prefer Dunnett if I ever got the long stretches of time to read her books properly.

Tidy Ending or Cliffhanger?
Tidy ending, tied up in a big bow.

Sticking Close to Known Historical Fact, or Using Historical Fact as Wallpaper?
Sticking close to known facts. The only place I like wallpaper is on walls.

Morning Reading, Afternoon Reading or Nighttime Reading?
Mostly afternoon, because I do most of my reading at lunch and while waiting for my kids.

Series or Standalone?

Favorite Book of Which Nobody Else Has Heard?
I thought Mary Ellen Johnson’s The Lion and the Leopard (about a fictional bastard brother of Edward II) was very well written. It seems to have been that author’s only novel, unless she’s written under other names.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day From Some Famous Couples

Who said that you have to write romance novels to celebrate Valentine's Day in style? With the help of ACME Heart Maker, some famous couples in history (and in historical novels) have been doing it up right with custom-made candy hearts:

Thomas Seymour to Queen Katherine Parr:

Thomas Seymour to Princess Elizabeth:

Richard III to Anne Neville (remember the cookshop story):

Margaret Beaufort to Henry VII:

Henry VII to Elizabeth of York:

Henry VIII to Katherine of Aragon:

Edward IV to Elizabeth Woodville:

John of Gaunt to Katherine Swynford:

Edward II to Piers Gaveston

Roger Mortimer to Queen Isabella:

Queen Isabella to Roger Mortimer:

Hugh le Despenser the younger to Gower, Wales:

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Some Timely Polls

Having decided that the fix was on with my Jane Austen poll (Henry Tilney getting more than twice the votes Mr. Darcy got? And Mr. Knightley getting only 4?), I've replaced it with no fewer than three highly seasonal polls. So view and vote!

We'll be having some candy hearts on the blog tomorrow, so stop by!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Royal (and Wannabe) Vanity Plates

On a far less cranky note than the previous post, I was playing today on a site called ACME License Maker and decided to create some vanity license plates for some of the people who get mentioned on this blog from time to time. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find a site that would generate European plates, so you'll have to pretend they're over here in the US for a visit. Which isn't too much to ask, since you're already pretending they're driving cars.)

Marie Antoinette (I know she didn't say it, but I couldn't resist):

Elizabeth I:

Henry VIII:

Anne Boleyn:

Katherine Howard:

Katherine Parr:

Richard III:

Edward IV:

Edward II:

Queen Isabella:

Hugh le Despenser the Younger:

Roger Mortimer:

Edward III:

Dear Author: Not Only Did Your Query Suck, We're Going to Tell Everyone About It

I want to start off this post to say that I can feel for editors, agents, and publishers. Some of my day jobs have involved editing, and back in the days when an IBM Selectric typewriter (here's a link for you young folk who read this blog) was state-of-the-art technology, I was the editor of my high school literary magazine. (I was chosen not so much for my leadership skills as for the fact that only three people regularly attended meetings, and the other two graduated the year before me.) There I encountered our own modest version of the slush pile. A lot of the things sent to us were pretty bad, and the better ones were often plagiarized. So I can feel for people who spend much of their working life sorting through dreck to find publishable material, though I can think of a few worse jobs, such as working in an inner-city convenience store or slaughtering chickens.

Anyway, in surfing the lit blogs these days, I've noticed something that I find off-putting, and I'm curious if you do too. I'm speaking of editors, agents, and publishers who entertain their blog readers by jeering at the query letters that come their way.

Mind you, I'm not talking about bloggers who specifically offer to critique queries. Writers who submit to them do so with the knowledge that their queries may be the subject of a post. I'm also not talking about bloggers who poke fun at published books, which once let out into the world are fair game. I'm speaking of situations where a writer, having sent his or her query to a publisher or an agent with the expectation that it will be seen only by the publisher or agent or their staff, comes across the publisher's or agent's blog and finds his query the subject of a public laff-fest.

In most cases I've seen, the publishing "professionals" who do this have taken some pains to disguise the identity of the writer doing the querying. Still, I suspect that writers have recognized their own queries as the ones being skewered, since the humor in this sort of situation is lost if the query itself is disguised too heavily. (I should add here that I personally haven't experienced this, not having any queries in the works these days.)

When I've seen this practice defended, it's on the basis that it is for writers' own good, that by being ridiculed in this manner, they can learn to improve their queries. That may be, but the writer who sends a query does so with the expectation that he'll receive a yes or no answer (ideally, a yes), not with the expectation that he'll not only receive a no, but become the subject of a how-not-to-do-it-seminar conducted in cyberspace for the amusement of a blogger's readers. For the writer who's just worked up the courage to start shopping an MS around, the experience could be devastating. Sure, writers need to develop thick skins--but it's surely kinder (and, I might add, more ethical) to let them develop them naturally through the rejection process instead of through being post fodder.

They say publishing isn't the gentleman's business it used to be. I think they're right.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens!

Born on February 7, 1812.

I used to be a member of the Dickens Fellowship of New York, which each February would have a birthday luncheon for Dickens, complete with a decorated birthday cake. Long before my time there, the story went, a member went to the bakery to pick up the cake and found that she had forgotten her ticket showing that she had ordered it. Seeing the cake ready and waiting, she asked if she could pay for it without the ticket and was refused by the counter attendant, who asked, "What if Charles Dickens comes in looking for his cake?"

Well, it used to get a chuckle at the luncheons.

Dickens wrote two historical novels, A Tale of Two Cities and the rather obscure Barnaby Rudge. The latter is about the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots, and it's been many years since I read it. I found it rather hard going compared to Dickens's other novels, to tell the truth, but maybe it's time for a re-read. In the meantime, there's a plot summary here if you're interested.

I'm not as up with the latest Dickensian developments as I used to be, so I was fascinated to find this morning that a place called Dickens World is opening this April in Kent. Together with rides and shopping, Dickens World promises "a series of 'burlesque' evening dinner shows . . . created to provide a nightly menu of 'naughty delights' in the 'Free and Easy' Victorian Music Hall."

I should do my surfing at night. Thinking of the prospect of rides and naughty delights is going to make it virtually impossible for me to do my day job properly today.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Possibly Belated Happy Anniversary to Eleanor de Clare and William la Zouche

I've wished a happy anniversary to Eleanor de Clare and her first husband, Hugh le Despenser the younger, previously in this blog. It seems only fair to extend the same greetings to Eleanor and her second husband, William la Zouche, who married some time in January or February of 1329. Their short marital life--William died in 1337, followed a few months later by Eleanor--was an eventful one, to say the least, full of lucre, lockups, and litigation.

Zouche was a particularly unlikely suitor for Eleanor. Not only had Zouche been one of her husband's captors in 1326 (presumably sharing in the large cash reward that had been put on Despenser's head), he went on to besiege Caerphilly Castle, where Eleanor's eighteen-year-old son was holed up, and took his surrender in March or April of 1327. He was one of the men appointed to negotiate the unpopular treaty with the Scots on behalf of Isabella and Mortimer, and when Thomas Wake, a son-in-law and a supporter of Henry, Earl of Lancaster, fell out of favor with the ruling duo, they replaced him with Zouche as constable of the Tower of London.

What brought William and Eleanor together--"Hi, I'm the guy who captured your husband and your son" sounds like the pickup line from hell--is unknown. William did have another connection with Eleanor, though: he was the second husband of Alice, the widow of Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Warwick was uncle to Hugh le Despenser the younger. As one historian has pointed out, William evidently had a knack for marrying high-born widows. He himself was a younger son who had been one of Warwick's retainers. Zouche was old enough to have fought for Edward I at Falkirk in 1298; his father had died in 1287.

Eleanor de Clare had been a prisoner in the Tower of London since about the time of her husband's capture, but had been released at the end of February 1328. A couple of months later, she was restored to her third of the Clare inheritance--a somewhat surprising act of generosity on the part of Isabella and Mortimer, and a rather puzzling one given the obvious temptations posed by the sudden appearance of a rich, blue-blooded, relatively young, and demonstrably fertile widow on the marriage market. Perhaps Parliament or Eleanor's first cousin, Edward III, had pressed for her release and restoration to her lands; perhaps Isabella and Mortimer planned to marry her off to someone of their own choosing. (Or perhaps Isabella and Mortimer were simply in a good mood at the time.) In any case, Eleanor de Clare's tenure as a free and single woman was to last less than a year.

On January 26, 1329, Edward III ordered that a commission of oyer and terminer hear a complaint by John de Grey of Rotherfield that William la Zouche had abducted Grey's wife and his goods from Hanley Castle. That "wife" was none other than Eleanor de Clare. Sadly, what exactly happened between John de Grey and Eleanor de Clare is unknown, though it's my fond hope that enlightenment awaits somewhere in some long-forgotten Vatican file. Eleanor's biggest attraction for both John and William was presumably her lands, of course, but it's not entirely impossible that lust or love was involved also.

Despite William's status as a loyal supporter, Isabella and Mortimer were none too happy about his "abduction" of Eleanor--a hint, perhaps, that they had had other plans for her? William was promptly stripped of his positions of Tower constable and forest justice, and orders of arrest were issued for him and Eleanor. Meanwhile, for a second time William found himself besieging Caerphilly Castle, presumably because it and Eleanor's other lands had been seized by the crown.

William evidently abandoned his siege, but soon began keeping very strange company for a former Isabella and Mortimer loyalist. In March 1329, and again in July 1329, he and Ingelram Berenger borrowed money from two Londoners. Berenger had been a close associate of Eleanor's executed father-in-law, Hugh le Despenser the elder--so close, in fact, that he was quite lucky to have avoided the noose himself. Meanwhile, Edward II's younger brother, Edmund, Earl of Kent, was doing some plotting himself--to release Edward II, whom he believed to be still alive, from prison. Two of Kent's most active co-conspirators, as evidenced by his written confession in 1330, were none other than Zouche and Berenger.

Eleanor was less lucky than her husband. At some point in 1329, she was arrested in London and once again imprisoned in the Tower. The charge, however, seems to have not been her marriage to Zouche, but her theft of jewels (i.e., plate as well as gems) and florins from the Tower, presumably during her last imprisonment there. (When she stole them, why she stole them, how she stole them, and even if she stole them are mysteries; the few historians who have speculated on the matter think they came from Hugh le Despenser the younger's confiscated goods.) Eleanor was transferred at some point to Devizes Castle, where she remained until December 1329 or January 1330. In exchange for her release, she agreed to give her most valuable lands to the crown, with the proviso that they would be restored in the extremely unlikely event that she paid the crown 50,000 pounds in one day. Perhaps not at all coincidentally, Glamorgan was used in part to satisfy Queen Philippa's endowment when she was crowned at last in 1330, while Tewkesbury and Hanley Castle were given to Queen Isabella as compensation for Pontefract, which Isabella had turned over to Philippa.

On February 22, 1330, William and Eleanor were pardoned. Their stay in the crown's good graces was exceedingly short. In March 1330, the Earl of Kent was executed and his supporters arrested. William was one of those arrested, but he was released on mainprise fairly quickly.

Mortimer's downfall in October 1330 was welcome news to William and Eleanor. William was pardoned for his involvement in the Earl of Kent's plot, and Edward III restored Eleanor's lands to her, though he ordered that she pay a fine of 5,000 pounds for her theft. The order of restoration specifies that it was "made to ease the king's conscience," language that tends to support Eleanor's claim, brought in her petition to have her lands restored, that she had signed them over at Mortimer's demand out of fear for her life. Some historians have claimed that none of the 5,000-pound fine was ever paid, but entries in the Rolls show that Eleanor made installment payments on the fine, though the bulk of it remained unpaid at her death.

John de Grey, meanwhile, seems to have reasserted his claim to Eleanor at about this time, having been unable, as he claimed, to get it heard previously by the Bishop of Lincoln. The case traveled around the papal courts and also resulted in John pulling a knife on William in the presence of Edward III and his council. Edward III, unamused, had both men hauled off to the Tower for a short time. After no less than three appeals to the Pope (one wonders how John was affording this), the case seems to have been decided or dropped sometime after 1333. William ended up with Eleanor, while John married elsewhere and enjoyed a successful career at court and in the military, culminating in his election as a founding Knight of the Garter.

William and Eleanor, meanwhile, had had a son, William, who ended up as a monk at Glastonbury. (William's heir was his son from his marriage to Alice de Tony, while Eleanor's heir was her oldest son, Hugh.) William died in February 1337, Eleanor in June 1337. If Eleanor had indeed been abducted by William, instead of eloping with him, nothing indicates that either was unhappy in the marriage. William made Eleanor his executor, which suggests that he trusted her, and he was buried not in a place connected with his own family but in Tewkesbury Abbey, resting place of Eleanor's Clare ancestors and of her Despenser descendants. (The Lady Chapel, where Zouche was buried, was torn down in the Dissolution, but his effigy was moved to Forthampton Court, evidently by the abbot.) More tellingly, Eleanor immortalized both of her husbands in stained-glass windows at Tewkesbury Abbey, where they both can still be found, Despenser in one window and Zouche in the other, today.