Status of Women in Sixteenth Century France

‘Frenchwomen,’ said a critic, ‘are very devout in seeming, but in point of fact they are very light and very free. Every one of them, even if she be a courtesan, wishes to be treated as an honest woman, and there is no lady of bad fame who has not some objection to make to the morals of her neighbour. Their manners and talk are most agreeable, but one fault they have and that is avarice.’

Nuns, apparently, were worse. But then many were quite secular in their habits, certainly Henry IV of France enjoyed affairs with several, including Marie de Beauvilliers, abbess of Montmartre, and possibly several others. He did like to spread his favours.

Women often chose to enter a nunnery, considering this a better option than marrying a man they didn’t care for. And who could blame them since most marriages, and even being chosen as someone’s mistress, was often outside a woman’s control.

Others were incarcerated in a religious house by a husband with an eye to finding a new wife, a danger which threatens Queen Margot in The Reluctant Queen. This is the sequel to Hostage Queen and continues the story of Marguerite de Valois as she is reunited with her philandering husband in his castle at Nerac. Nothing quite works out as she hoped as there is a rival for Henry's affection in the delectable form of La Belle Corisande. Margot is ultimately forced to run, but can she escape with her life...?

The next love in Henry's life is Gabrielle d’Estrée whose one wish is to marry for love, but her mother sells her as a mistress to three different men before she catches the eye – and the heart – of Henry of Navarre, now King of France. Henry promises to marry her, but Gabrielle’s difficulties have only just begun...

Is the love of a king enough to secure Gabrielle both the happiness and respectability she craves and a crown for their son as the next dauphin of France?

What struck me most about Renaissance women when doing my research was how independent and well educated many of them were. Margot was proficient in French, Italian, Latin, Greek, music and mathematics as well as her devotions. But it wasn’t only royalty and the aristocracy who believed in education. The bourgeoisie were also great advocates of such refinements. It was considered that an educated woman was better able to maintain her family’s health, raise her children well, make her husband content and keep a household in order. The reformation also encouraged education for girls so that they were able to read the scriptures for themselves and be spiritually closer to God.

Daughters were, however, kept very much on a tight rein. They were expected to walk behind their mothers, and were rigorously attended and chaperoned at all times. When travelling they were expected to ride en croupe behind a servant, observing the proprieties by clinging only to the pommel and not by putting their arms about the servant’s waist. Clearly that would have been beyond the pale. Nor were young ladies allowed to drink, although their mothers might be allowed to add a splash of Burgundy to give their water a little colour and flavour.

‘But their deportment,’ said an observer, ‘conveyed rather their good taste than their truth.’

So, a passion for women’s rights simmered beneath the surface. How wonderful! Men grumbled, of course, at women’s independence, just as they do now. Nothing changes! They complained that their wives talked too much, stopping to gossip with passers-by in the street. They objected about their readiness to go alone to church or market, often being out and about for hours at a time, and ‘their husbands never daring to ask where they were.’

Marriage was less about love and more about wealth, position and power, which meant, as we romantic novelists know, plenty of opportunity for extra-curricular activity in the way of affaires. Henry IV is reputed to have enjoyed at least 60 mistresses, and sired numerous  children with 11 of them, and probably many more we don’t even know of. He is said to have provided for them well and been a loving father. Nevertheless, he had great difficulty winning Gabrielle, and was greatly jealous of every man who looked her way. But with such a beauty who can blame him?

The proprieties and ritual of marriage began with les accords when the happy couple joined hands in the presence of their parents. Next came the fiançailles when the bans were published. The parents, bride and bridegroom would visit the curé together to attend to this important matter. Then came the Epousailles which of course took place in church. The bridegroom was not allowed to enter without giving a considerable sum in alms, and guests were chosen to attend the wedding breakfast with an eye to the money they’d be likely to give. A bowl was handed round at dinner into which donations for a ‘nest-egg’ for the couple could be dropped.

One amusing rule I found for widows, was that they were obliged to wear a high necked dress, long cloak and a veil, and in Italy the authorities felt obliged to pass a law restricting the style as widows’ veils had become ‘dangerously attractive.’ You can’t keep a bad girl down.

The Reluctant Queen
out in paperback late July/early August
View it here on Amazon.


How to format an ebook for Kindle

The important thing in formatting for ebooks is to keep things as clean and simple as possible.

Basic requirements are:
1. No page numbers.
2. One space only after a full stop.
3. 1.5 spacing between lines.
4. Left align. Do not justify.
5. Times New Roman 12 (Don’t use fancy font. Kindle will change it to TNR anyway, so you might as well save it the job of converting.)
6. It is essential not to use the tab key. Instead use the return key, or the slide rule just below the toolbar to 0.5cm. Better still use the Format/Style manager section.

Step 1
Start by clicking on Edit/Select All
You’ll find Format/Style somewhere on your toolbar, depending which version of Word you are using. It will list All Styles available. You might not wish to mess with Normal so choose Body Text or something similar. (I use Body Text First Indent). Stick to one only. You can modify it to the requirements listed above by clicking on font, then paragraph, (see below) and finally choose the language. To add an indent click on Special/First Line, and in the By: box put 0.5
Set the before and after spacing to 0 pt.

Click OK and apply. The document should be reformatted. This format should also now be offered on your toolbar.

Step 2
To see what you are doing when formatting click the show/hide feature on your toolbar designated by the mark. (This will show paragraph returns, extra spaces as dots, tabs or any other strange formatting. If it’s not in your toolbar, you can usually find it in Tools/Options/View and then under Formatting Marks.) If it shows up any odd little right facing arrows this is evidence that you’ve used your tab key.

Here’s a quick way to delete them:
Click on Edit/Select All
Click Find/Replace/More.
Click Special and select Tab Character from the list.
Leave the Replace box blank
Click - Replace All.
(The screen will tell you how many tabs were deleted.)

Now use Find and replace to change two spaces to one space after a full stop.
You can also use Find and replace to change straight quotes into curly ones, which Smashwords prefer.

Hyphens which were put in with the ctrl key and found at the end of lines in a print book, can be anywhere on the page of an ebook. They will create a break in the word which irritates the reader. To eliminate them click on Find/More/Special and choose optional hyphen. Leave Replace blank. Click Replace All.

Step 3
As you go through the document you may choose not to indent after a time break, in which case just manually delete the indent.
Alternatively you can select the line - right click/click Paragraph/By… and replace the 0.5 with 0. OK (or Enter)
Check through till you’re happy with what you’ve done.


A New Direction

I’m a compulsive buyer of books, both new and second hand and one day while browsing along my shelves I spotted one I’d bought years ago in Hay-on-Wye. It was called Queen of Hearts, written back in the 60s by Charlotte Haldane. It proved to be an autobiography of Marguerite de Valois and as I began to read I was immediately intrigued. Margot, as she was familiarly known, was no average woman, rather one born before her time, and I wanted to know more about her. So I began on a journey of twelve months research and discovery which led me to write a stirring tale of her adventures, her intrigues and passions, and the dangers she faced in the sixteenth century French Court.

The trilogy begins with Hostage Queen where Margot’s mother, who was Catherine de Medici, marries her off to Henry of Navarre, despite Margot being a Catholic and Henry a Huguenot, in order to bring to an end to years of religious wars. Margot wasn’t exactly thrilled by the prospect as she was in love with Henri de Guise. But as with all royal princesses, she was expected to bring political benefit through marriage. Within days of their wedding Paris was embroiled in the Massacre of St Bartholomew and the couple are kept virtual prisoners in the Louvre. Navarre was a likeable enough fellow but not the faithful sort. Once Margot realised this, she started a love affair with Guise, a dangerous undertaking, and intrigue and scandal surrounded her at every turn. Margot lived in fear of her life while recklessly flouting convention as far as she dare. Somehow she had to save her husband's life, help him to escape, and then follow him to safety. A task fraught with danger…                                   Buy Hostage Queen on Amazon:

The second book, Reluctant Queen, continues the story of Henry IV and Margot, of what happened when she was reunited with her husband in Nerac, and with her relationship with Guise. It then moves on to Henry’s mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées. History tells us that when Gabrielle was sixteen years old she was so lovely that her mother sold her as a mistress to Henri III. A most unnatural mother if ever there was one. Gabrielle, however, got the worst of the deal as she was passed on from lover to lover, including the Cardinal de Guise, who she was with for more than a year until May 1588 when he left for Paris to support his nephew, the Duke de Guise, in what became known as the Day of the Barricades. And then she caught the eye of the new King Henry IV. Margot absolutely refuses to divorce him in order to allow him to marry his whore, but there are more ways than one of getting rid of a troublesome wife…

Out in papberback at the end of July 2011

Buy Reluctant Queen on Amazon

I’ve just finished the last in the trilogy, titled The Queen and the Courtesan, which will be out in the Autumn. In this Henry is embroiled with Henriette d’Entragues, but she isn’t satisfied with simply being his mistress, she wants a crown too. Despite his promises to marry her, he is obliged by political necessity to marry Marie de Medici, an Italian princess who will bring riches to the treasury. But Henriette isn’t for giving up easily. She has a written promise of marriage and is prepared to do whatever it takes to declare the royal marriage illegal. Queen Margot eventually returns to Paris, much to the new queen’s despair. Hasn’t she enough problems dealing with a mistress out for revenge, let alone an ex-wife?

The fascinating part of writing this type of true historical is the research. I love working out what kind of people they were, why they made the mistakes they did, what was their motivation, what made them tick and how did others respond to them? The same rules of characterisation apply, except that you can’t make it up. You have to be a bit of a detective and build them from clues. Then it’s a case of reading through a mass of material, and as it’s impossible to put everything in, deciding which are the relevant parts for your story. I discovered it was vital to read widely, so that I could negotiate my way through political and religious bias, what was likely to be rumour or propaganda, and often pick up gems from one source that weren’t available in others. It’s like putting together a jig-saw, but gathering the pieces from different boxes. I was sorry when the tale was told and I had to say goodbye to my characters whom I’d come to know and understand so well.


Moving Forward in my journey as a writer.

Work became my solace, my sanity. I poured my heart into my writing, and I was lucky in the years following to have two books in the top twenty Sunday Times bestseller lists: Polly’s War and The Favourite Child.

But what is a saga?
Do we class it as romantic fiction, a historical, or a genre in its own right? In the old Norse tradition it was a story of heroic achievement or marvellous adventure. In the modern version it’s a nostalgic tale about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary events in their lives. The ingredients generally include a strong woman as the main character, striving against all odds to make her place in the world and ultimately find love. Also, people love to read about a place they know. It’s not simply a question of painting pretty scenery. The setting must be an intrinsic part of the book, one that is familiar, which we can recognise and identify with.

As well as this strong sense of place, the genre uses a multi-layered viewpoint and a page-turning plot. They deal with universal themes in a small domestic setting, social history at ground level, dealing with the position of women and the working classes, often forgotten in the larger dome of history. But then not all history was made on the battlefield. And it is important to set this domestic scene against a view of a wider world.

Catherine Cookson is considered to be the instigator of this genre, and made a point of dealing with difficult subjects, in particular women’s issues: illegitimacy, abuse, class, divorce, rejection, adoption, betrayal, loss. There is no limit to the topics covered, and emotion can run high in these stories. In The Bobbin Girls the issue is how much damage can a lie do if it is big enough? In Kitty Little it is loyalty and betrayal. The Favourite Child concerns bringing contraception to the masses in the 1920s. Candy Kisses is about child abuse. And there are many more: 35 published titles so far, including my other historicals. In my latest sagas: The House of Angels and Angels at War, the story examines how the three sisters overcome the damage caused by an abusive father.

It is not always easy to write such difficult scenes yet from the emails I get, they often touch a chord. Anyone who has ever suffered abuse, whether as a child, or bullying in school, in a violent marriage, or even in the work place, will appreciate how the first thing you lose is self-esteem. You are demeaned, humiliated, debased and shamed so that you come to hate yourself, a deliberate ploy on the part of the abuser as it puts the power in his hand. The Angel sisters have to deal with all of that, find love and a happy ever after. Wherever human emotion is involved you can find a story, and a writer must be honest with her reader and write from the heart.

Here's the blurb for Angels at War, now out in paperback:
Two years have passed since Livia and her sisters suffered at the hands of their brutal father and Livia is set to marry the handsome and caring Jack Flint while her sisters are contentedly living at Todd Farm. Yet she dreams of bringing back to life the neglected drapery business which was left to her when her father died. But is she prepared to jeopardise the love she shares with Jack to achieve her wish?

Racked with guilt over the tragic death of her sister Maggie, she promises never to let anyone down again and to do something worthwhile with her life. But standing in her way is the wealthy and determined Matthew Grayson, who has been appointed to oversee the restoration of the business. His infuriating stubbornness clashes with Livia’s tenacity and the pair get off to a bad start. But as her problems with Jack worsen, Livia finds it increasingly difficult to resist his charms. Despite all the emotional turmoil, she is also resolute in her support for the Suffragette Movement which puts further strain on her relationship with Jack. With the extra pressures of her sisters’ problems, is it possible for Livia to regain control of her life?

I’ve now published 25 sagas and a couple of years ago began to feel the need for a change to freshen my creativity and add to my output, so struck out in a new direction.

I'll tell you more about that next week.


Dark Days

I was enjoying my new career. I finished that first series then went on to write Lakeland Lily which deals with snobbery, and the effects of World War I, followed by The Bobbin Girls, set against the wonderful back-drop of Grizedale Forest where two young people in love try to escape the disapproval of parents and make a new life for themselves. I signed a new contract for more books. Everything was going well. I’d achieved my dream. Life was good.

And then one sunny day in August, 1998, I got the kind of call no parent ever wishes to receive. I learned that my daughter had been killed. She was 27. I’m not going to linger over this part of my story as it is too painful, even now. Bad things happen to good people all the time. You just don’t expect it to happen to your own beautiful daughter.

The next few years were dark as we dealt with our grief. Writing, as you will appreciate, was the last thing on my mind. My publishers stood by me, put everything on hold and waited. My husband changed his job and we bought a small guest house. We still had to earn a living and being together every day helped enormously. My other daughter, and everyone else in the family was back at work. I had been a published writer for 10 years so felt I should do the same. The trouble was my brain was a lump of soggy pudding. Writing isn’t something you can just turn on like a tap, and my muse had gone, my hunger to write had evaporated. What was the point of it all? I asked myself. Why should I even bother to try? They were just silly little paperbacks, with no value at all. Don’t we all feel this way when real life suddenly becomes overpowering?

But my writer friends wouldn’t allow me to be so defeatist. They convinced me that Anna would expect me to keep on writing, that she was as proud of my talents as I was of hers. They reminded me how the first thing someone does when dealing with sickness or loss, is to try to lose themselves in a story. People seek escape from their troubles, and often find it in the books they read, so writing novels isn’t useless at all, they insisted. It’s a service in it’s own small way, a therapy as well as entertainment. Writing is a gift, one that in a strange way can transcend the horrors of life, the dark days of ill health and pain, and help you deal with them. It’s a step into the sub-conscious, which operates on an entirely different level. Like in our teenage years when we wrote our troubled thoughts into a secret diary, as grown-ups we can still tap into that stream-of-consciousness writing. Which surely brings hope to us all?

And so I booted up the computer but found I was unable to go back to the original novel, which held painful associations. It would be another two years before I felt able to go back to Kitty Little. Instead, I dug out an old rejected piece and started to rework it. My editor encouraged me, and in a bid to keep myself from falling into that dark bottomless pit, little by little I began to write again.

You can check out my ebooks here.

Buy from Amazon

Next week I'll be talking about Moving Forward, and what exactly is a saga.