Thank you so much Elizabeth for not only taking the time out of your busy schedule to answers these questions but for your delightful and impressive work as an author of quality in the area of Historical England.
Thank you very much for asking me onto your blog. I always find answering interview questions interesting because they often throw out details that I wasn’t aware of myself until I thought about them.
Terra ~ The Greatest Knight was the beginning of the William Marshall story and now we have part two in the form of The Scarlet Lion. What drew you to this particular unknown hero?
Elizabeth ~ I’ve been writing the Middle Ages for many years now – since my teens (long time ago!) so I know the life and times pretty well. Any writer who has researched the 12th and 13th centuries cannot fail to come across the great William Marshal. What drew me to him was the incredible life he led. He crammed more into his 72 years than most of us today will manage to achieve in our own lifetimes. He came from a reasonably advantaged background it’s true, but he was a younger son without an inheritance and he had to make his own way in the world – and make it he did. He saved the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine when she was ambushed. He rode with her sons. He was a champion of the joust and widely traveled throughout Europe and the Middle East. He married a great heiress and he was involved in drafting the Magna Carta. In all, William Marshal served five kings of England. To the first one he was a hostage and a 6 year old pageboy, to the fifth, he was regent of the country until the child Henry III came of age. William’s growth during that fantastic life journey can be traced, and one can see from it that he kept his integrity intact throughout. That’s a rare and wonderful thing, and a story that just had to be told.
Terra ~ In The Scarlet Lion who would you say is your most devious of all characters? Who is your most beloved of all the characters and why?
Elizabeth ~ King John would definitely have to be the most devious. I think he had an excellent brain and when he wasn’t feeling threatened and when he was on steady ground, he was a fine sovereign. Unfortunately he tended to be paranoid, constantly thinking that folk were out to get him, and he behaved in such a way that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. He trusted no-one. Very little was above board with John. Given a choice between taking a straight road and digging a tunnel, the tunnel won every time. His biographer W.L. Warren sums it up very well when he says that John had the “mental abilities of a great king, but the inclinations of a petty tyrant.”
Choosing a most beloved character is difficult because I am very fond of the main players. William and Isabelle will always occupy a very special place in my heart whatever I write, that’s a given. Of the other characters, I would probably have to say William’s eldest daughter Mahelt is a favorite. I have a novel coming out about her in May in the UK titled To Defy A King. The fact that I’ve chosen to write about her, tells me that she left an impression on me while writing The Scarlet Lion. For seven years she was her father’s only daughter and to him she was a little princess, while she adored him. She was also a tomboy with a spark about her. So although her role is not large in The Scarlet Lion, she called to me across the centuries.
Terra ~ Your eye for detail is astounding and doesn’t just draw the reader in but it actually pulls them in with force. How much research is involved to get the storyline to do this without over doing it?
Elizabeth ~ You can never do too much research, but the trick is not to info-dump it in the novel because that will put readers off straight away. You the writer need to know as much as possible because it then informs your writing and it flows in an organic way. The more you know, the better your people will be of their time and place and it will just come as naturally as breathing. The screenwriter Robert McKee says in his 10 commandments for writers that “Thou shalt know thy imaginary world as well thou knowest this one.” It’s great advice for a historical novelist. For example, a unit of money in the 12th century was called a mark, and it was worth thirteen shillings and fourpence. But it was a unit of weight and not an actual coin. The coins themselves were silver pennies of which there were approximately 160 to the mark. I recently read a novel where someone enclosed two marks inside a letter and obviously the writer knew that a mark was a monetary unit. What they didn’t know was that to put two of them in a letter would amount to 320 coins!
You could say it doesn’t matter. Most readers won’t know. But every time you get something wrong, you are taking a step away from the period and the people. While it’s impossible to get everything right (and I know I make mistakes), the more research you do, the better you can walk in the world of your time period and the deeper your audience will be drawn in. But it has to flow and be of the characters and not just stone walls of information dump.
Terra ~ I must admit that until I was given the opportunity to read The Greatest Knight that I was more into the fluff and quick romance. Your writing in book one and book two have actually given me a new craving for something more fulfilling. Could you give us a few pros and cons to the heavier reading and the benefits one could achieve from them?
Elizabeth ~ I fully understand your comments re fluff and heavier reading. As a reader not a writer, I tend to alternate between the two and then I have both balance and enjoyment!
With more textured mainstream historical a reader will get more of a flavour of life as it really was back in that period. As a con, not everyone wants the nitty-gritty of daily life and perhaps having to deal with some of the traumas that happened to actual historical characters. A reader might escape to a different world, but it isn’t always escapism, or the kind of escapism they would choose to see. However, especially with the Middle Ages, the reader might find it interesting to know more about the daily life and that it wasn’t all the dirt and mud and nasty smells so often promulgated by Hollywood and popular media. A reader would find out that it was us as we were back then, and gain a real sense of connection to the past. The lighter romances tend to keep the modern mindsets and are more like modern people in fancy dress set down in a fantasy Medieval setting – Shrek style :-) I hasten to add there’s nothing wrong with that and some readers prefer to read in that style and genre. Straight historicals tend to have a meatier more diverse content.
Terra ~ You have given the women some back bone for a time period that I would think women would have less of a say no matter what their status was in life. Am I wrong to assume that women way back then were so subservient? That their status in life was nothing more than brood mares and pretty baubles on a man’s arm when he went to court?
Elizabeth ~ Women had a certain amount of power. The final say was always difficult, but within their worlds some of them were very strong indeed, even as others knuckled under. This is where understanding the mindset comes in. In a way it’s a bit like some modern cultures where arranged marriages still take place. A daughter’s virtue is part of the wider family honour and the marriage itself is part of this honour. A medieval woman, brought up to the expectation of an arranged marriage would generally see it in terms of the family honour and as her role and her duty to fulfil. And there would be a certain amount of pride in fulfilling that duty. Once children came along, she could rule through them as a matriarch, especially the sons. That was where a woman’s power lay. If the husband died, then the woman’s power increased too. Widows had the greatest say of all. Basically as a daughter, she was at her lowest in the pecking order. As a childless wife too the status was not brilliant, but given motherhood and widowhood, she was on the up. Nuns of aristocratic breeding were powerful too.
Women were not actually that much at court beyond a few big events. That’s something I’ve discovered as I’ve gone along. The queen would have a few ladies and there were the women who serviced the court – prostitutes and washerwomen, but mostly baronial wives and daughters stayed at home. The queen did have some considerable power. Henry I used his first wife as a regent for England when he had to be absent in Normandy. Queens were seen as vastly important as peace-makers in disputes. Isabelle de Clare, William Marshal’s wife, was always present in his political counsels and she made her opinions known. I would say that women did have power back then, but it would depend on the individual woman, and it was power within the parameters of their rules. A man might go out and bluster in the world, but a canny woman would still rule the roost – just as long as she didn’t try to take on a man’s role herself. For more information, I can recommend the reference work The Lady in Medieval England 1000-1500 by Peter Coss.
Terra ~ William and Isabelle have instilled into all their children the manners of importance to those born of their station in life. Would the lower in line children of real families of high status during that time period actually think that any child beyond the third might possibly need such training? Would the female children of said families been granted learning’s the same as their brothers?
Elizabeth ~ Oh yes, most children in an aristocratic household would have received training to fit their status and roles in life. Daughters were always fitted out for marriage – which would include knowing how to play the hostess to important visitors and play the diplomat and peace-keeper behind the scenes. Most would be able to read, if not write and they would have known the rudiments of estate management at least, even if they had stewards to do the actual managing. Sons too were fitted out, either for a life in the military or the church. You couldn’t guarantee that your firstborn sons and daughters would survive into adulthood, so you educated them all. When Eleanor of Aquitaine died, only 2 of the 8 children she bore to Henry II were still alive, and these were children numbers 6 and 8. Girls were perhaps not always educated in as much detail as their brothers, but they were fitted for their place in society. Even when handed over to another family in marriage, it was acknowledged that they would represent their birth family in their new household, and there was an element of pride in such representation.
Terra ~ The royal line of succession produced such a variety of different personalities. Do you think it is really possible that there might have been men of such honor and code of ethics as William Marshall?
Elizabeth ~ I certainly do. William was exceptional, but as with any society down the ages, there are always those who stand out, and many more who strive to be the best they can in terms of integrity and moral values. William was not an entire paragon, but his flaws make him all the more heroic for his ability to rise above them when the chips were down. When researching him in various sources, some more complimentary than others, I could see that he always tried to do make sure that what was best for the country always involved a path that was best for himself too if possible. Occasionally he sailed close to the wind when trying to preserve his lands and interests, but he never crossed the line. His peers liked and respected him. It is telling that the only man the country would unite behind in 1216 was William Marshal. That says it all.
Terra ~ The Royal House was quite fickle in those days and to gain favor would have cost much and dearly. What might a King of quality have given and asked for from those he felt worthy of notice?
Elizabeth ~ Kings would give lands often in the form of heiresses to favorites– thus William Marshal was given Isabelle de Clare in marriage by Richard the Lionheart because Richard wanted to raise William to high status. William had to pay a thousand marks out of Isabelle’s estates for the privilege. Kings would also give lucrative wardships to men they favored. Generally the wardship would have to be paid for, but if the warden was prudent, he could make good money for it. Kings gave gifts of money. Their favorites became sheriffs for fixed terms – although these men had to buy their way into the position in the first place. In the Church, kings would expect their favored clerics to become bishops and Archbishops. Sometimes it didn’t work out that way and squabbles between church and state ensued. Favored men were expected to provide the King with military backing, advice and loyalty against all comers. Again, expectations were not always fulfilled, although William Marshal obeyed the brief to the letter.
Terra ~ If you were given the choice to wear the fashion of today or high ladies fashion from the time period of your book, which would you choose and why?
Elizabeth ~ I’d wear modern clothes – no doubt about it! I would love to get out a medieval dressing up box and have a try on of the real high status garments of embroidered and gem-set silk. It would be fantastic to know how they really felt to wear and to walk in. I’d also like to try on male garb and peasant gear just to get an idea, but modern clothes, for women anyway, are so much more practical. Just imagine a medieval heroine if she had the freedom of a pair of jeans! Then again, her shoes would probably be more comfortable. Some things are gained and some are lost. I re-enact with an early medieval society, so I own some replica artifacts and have a slight idea of what it feels like. I can tell you that wimples and veils are a complete nuisance (well to me as a modern woman they are!)
Terra ~ Can you give us a glimpse into what might be coming in the future with your writings?
Elizabeth ~ Sourcebooks is publishing For The King’s Favor in the autumn. This first appeared in the UK as The Time of Singing. It is linked to the Marshal novels in that it’s about the Bigod family into which William’s daughter Mahelt married. It’s the story of one of the mistresses of King Henry II called Ida de Tosney, and what happened to her when she was no longer Henry’s paramour. Another novel To Defy A King, will be coming to the USA in 2011 and is published in the UK in May of 2010. It’s about Mahelt’s marriage into the Bigod family and the background to the Magna Carta. I’m currently working on a novel about Empress Matilda and her young stepmother, Adeliza of Louvain.
THE SCARLET LION BY ELIZABETH CHADWICK—IN STORES MARCH 2010
A page-turning novel of honor, intrigue, treachery, and love, continuing the story of England's greatest knight of the Middle Ages, William Marshal. Bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick, "an author who makes historical fiction come gloriously alive" (The Times of London), is known as a writer of uncommon historical integrity and accuracy.
By 1197 William Marshal's prowess with a sword and loyalty with his heart have been rewarded by the hand in marriage of Isabelle de Clare—heiress to great estates— and their brood is growing. But their contentment and security is shattered when King Richard dies. Forced down a precarious path by the royal injustices of the vindictive King John, the Marshals teeter on a razor-thin line of honor that threatens to tear apart the very heart of their family.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth Chadwick (UK) is the author of 17 historical novels, including The Greatest Knight, Lords of the White Castle, Shadows and Strongholds, A Place Beyond Courage, the Winter Mantle, and the Falcons of Montabard, four of which have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Awards. She won a Betty Trask Award for The Wild Hunt, her first novel. For more information please visit http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/, http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com/ and follower her on Twitter http://twitter.com/Chadwickauthor!
Contest Time: Sourcebooks is graciously sponsoring a giveaway of 2 copies of The Scarlet Lion. 2 winners, US and Canada only! Winner's will be chosen at the end of the week.