Historical Fiction

I’ve always had a passion for historical fiction. I read all of Jean Plaidy’s novels as a girl, also Norah Lofts, Anya Seton, Mary Stewart, and others. I’m still addicted. Now I enjoy Susan Holloway Scott, Elizabeth Chadwick, Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory, among others. I’ve recently finished reading Royal Affairs, by Leslie Carroll. Described as ‘A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy.’ It’s non-fiction but great fun. Each section is quite short and dishes the dirt on such as Jane Shore, Katherine Swynford, and the ladies who entertained the various Kings through history from Henry II, including Henry VIII, Charles II, and the various Georges, to Wallis Simpson, and others from modern times. Carroll is American and has a lively, robust style with a wry sense of humour. I like the fact I can dip into it as I please.

A recent novel I’ve enjoyed is Wife to Charles II, Hilda Lewis. This was originally written in 1965 but still reads well. Lewis has a good narrative style and you really feel for Catherine of Braganza. She was sweet and naïve, excited at the prospect of marriage, but soon becomes hurt and bitter. Her misfortune was to fall in love with Charles, but not be able to produce the required heir, while his many mistresses produced a bevy of beautiful healthy babies.

Royal Harlot by Susan Holloway Scott is the story of Lady Castlemaine, mistress to Charles II. She was what my mother would have described as a trollop – no better than she should be – I love that phrase. Scott gets over her adventurous, greedy character very well, yet despite the fact she is completely amoral you nonetheless feel you’re on her side. Most entertaining and compulsively written in the first person.

I can heartily recommend all three.


Visit to Nérac

While undertaking the research for Hostage Queen, I couldn’t resist paying a visit to Nérac, a beautiful little town in South West France. We saw the long gallery, all that is left of this once fine palace. Inside it was all stone walls and achingly cold, but then it was early in the year.

There’s a model of the palace as it was in Margot’s day, and portraits of Henry on the walls. Portraits of his various mistresses too, including la Belle Corisande, Gabrielle, and others. Something of a rake, he was nevertheless loved by the French people when he took the crown as Henry IV, and proved to be a good king.

The town itself is delightful, small and pretty. The houses with their honey stone walls and red roofs are delightful, and from the point of view of the modern tourist there is an excellent selection of small hotels and excellent restaurants. There are also several delicious chocolate shops. Breakfast at the patisserie was a particular treat as we could watch the baker making his baguettes with their pointed ends while sipping our café and nibbling our croissants.

We enjoyed exploring the streets, viewing his statue, and walking in the Queen’s garden, where Margot herself must have strolled. Perhaps she bathed in the river that runs beside it. There’s a small bath house, probably built after her day.

We explored the surrounding countryside which seems to comprise mile upon mile of forest, punctuated by delicious little villages. Henry loved hunting, and it was easy to imagine him riding out across country, perhaps with Margot racing along beside him. A delightful part of south-west France I can highly recommend for a visit.