An Interview with Philippa Jane Keyworth

Please join me in welcoming sweet Regency novelist Philippa Jane Keyworth, who is as charming as the novels she writes. She is currently on tour with her latest release THE UNEXPECTED EARL.

 ‘Six years after being jilted without a word of explanation, Julia Rotherham finds Lucius Wolversley standing before her once again–unexpected, unannounced, unwelcome. With her heart still hurting and, more importantly, her pride, Julia must chaperone her younger sister, fend off fortune hunters, orchestrate a fake engagement, and halt an elopement–all whilst keeping the man who jilted her at arm’s length. But what Julia doesn’t know is that this time, the Earl has no intention of disappearing, and this time, he has more than an explanation to offer….’

Available for purchase now at:

Barnes&Noble     Amazon US     Amazon UK

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Now let’s find out more about Philippa!

What sort of writing education/experience do you have?

Writing education? Experience? What are those? Hahaha!

My writing education finished at GCSE, I haven’t done any formal qualifications since. And experience – well apart from writing lots in my free time – I don’t know what would classify as experience.

I’ve written since I was little, like most authors, the age-old tale if you will, and now at twenty-four have two books published by the independent house Madison Street Publishing. The second is The Unexpected Earl, which came out on the 20th September 2014! So that’s all very fantastic. But in truth, in some ways I feel just as much at the beginning of learning when it comes to writing as I ever did. I’ve picked things up yes, but there’s just so much to writing I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around all of it.

Describe the typical day for author Philippa Jane Keyworth.

Oh, typical doesn’t seem to apply to my life. Now look at me, picking apart the questions, hehe! But seriously, great question as it really made me think. I don’t really do typical, I’m a bit of an oddball, you see, and, with lots of plates in the air at once, what works one month won’t work the next.

At the moment what I’ve been doing is getting up when my husband goes to work which is nice and early. It gives me an hour to get ready and about an hour to write before I have to go to work or university, depending on the day. This has been working really well for me, in fact, as I write this I am currently just up for the day, it’s still dark, and I’m clinging to my coffee like a life-preserver ;-)

Some people are night owls, some are morning people, and I seem to be the latter. I take after my dad, so up early and cracking on when my brain is clear and productive is great. The only problem is I seem to be rather spent by early evening! But the plus side is, I’m managing to work steadily on manuscripts etc…and interviews of course…

What inspired your story?

In truth, I just love headstrong heroines, I always have. The books I read that really get me are the ones with strong female protagonists who aren’t afraid to speak their minds or the truth. Who are keen to fight for what’s right, and whose nature sometimes leads them into trouble. Julia Rotherham in The Unexpected Earl is like this.

And I really do think that none of us is perfect either, so I like to write that into my characters, they make mistakes and sometimes you want to box their ears, like I expect some people want to do with Julia and Wolversley my hero, but you also sympathize with why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Plus, I just love LOVE. I love writing about romance, and angst and the excitement but also the heart-wrenching-ness of beginning to like someone, falling in love and working through your differences. It’s all rather delightful.

Who is your favorite character and why?

This is hard. With my first book I could pick them out a mile off, but with this one it’s a little different. I have lots of peripheral characters who, hopefully, will grow on the reader, and I rather like them.

I like how Mr. Rotherham loves his daughter and they have this relationship that is half spoken and half unspoken.

I like James the stable master, and how he knows his mistress well and admires her horsemanship. And I like Fitz, Wolversley’s butler, who has white hair that looks like its been electrocuted and has a brilliant way of questioning his master without getting into trouble ;-)

And of course, I do like Julia and Wolversley. They are both wonderful, especially when together sparking off one another.

Then again, I am rather biased…aren’t I…?

Is there anything in particular you would like readers to know about The Unexpected Earl?

The only thing I want readers to know when it comes to things I’ve written is that I really want them to enjoy themselves. I wrote the books because I loved to do so, and I want people to be able to sit back with a cuppa and enjoy what I’ve written, escape from the world a while, and meet some characters they can come to have a liking for.

What’s next?

Ha! I’ve been trying to keep a bit quieter about this online as it’s rather different compared to what I’ve had published.

So I’ll leave you saying, I have already written another historical romance, in a slightly different time period, that I’ll be working on in the future. And as for what I’m working on right now, I’ll reveal it when the time is right ;-)

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And now Philippa has honored us with a little teaser from THE UNEXPECTED EARL:

Julia’s green eyes flashed dangerously. Her face contorted into a scowl before she unfurled her fan and looked about her. Wolversley could see that an excuse was on the tip of her tongue and she was about to disappear into the crowds.

He cut in before she had the chance. “I simply wish to dance with you.”

He did wish it. He had not seen her in six years. Six long years. Now she was here before him, and even her temper was not dampening his wish to dance with her. She was perplexing—and intriguing. The suddenness of their re-acquaintance had taken him by surprise, and evidently her as well.

“And I simply say, no! Do not lie to me, my lord. You have clearly succumbed to propriety’s demand for you to partner me—your host’s spinster daughter. In light of that, excuse me for not finding the offer flattering or leaping to accept it.”

“You see straight through my manners.” His mouth curved up on the right side into a half smile of admiration for her wit. He had forgotten just how quick her wit could be. Despite the unladylike rebuff, he bowed in acknowledgment and then attempted to present what he thought was another olive branch. “We have not spoken for these six years—may I at least procure a little conversation from you?” Let her speak, just a little. How much in this moment he wished to hear her talk!

When he saw the look in her eyes, he knew he was flogging a dead horse. She had no intention of remaining in his company an instant longer than she must.

His own intentions were a little less clear to him. Why was he seeking her out? Was it guilt, or surprise at seeing her again? Or was it merely a curiosity—after so much self-discipline in avoiding her—to see for himself the woman she had turned into?

“You showed no such desire when you abruptly severed our acquaintance six years ago, my lord. It therefore seems odd that you should seek conversation now. What reason could you possibly have?” Her voice was less flustered, instead of the wildly changing pitch there was a warning edge to it.

Wolversley set his jaw. It appeared her rudeness knew no bounds. He had assumed from her silence at the door that she could barely remember him and was embarrassed when he took her hand. Clearly, that was not the case. The more he tried to talk with her, the more he beheld the lack of manners and quick temper that had plagued her youth—and played a merry role in their many adventures together. Where time had clouded the extent of both these attributes in his mind, the present was rapidly bringing back the memory in full, rich color.

Her parents’ supervision had, when she was younger, kept her lack of manners somewhat in check. He was sure that even now, her father and mother’s absence had a part to play in her cutting conversation. Her unpleasant allusion to their past had brought a shadow over his face, but the exhibition of her temper and rudeness was producing a smile he could not help.

If his courtliness was so repugnant to her, perhaps touching upon their past, as she seemed so keen to do, would lay flat her hackles. “I simply wish to converse with an old friend”—he finally let the smile transform his face–“and beautiful woman.” He could not help that last part—it slipped out unbidden. But he should have known that the honeyed compliment would be too far a step….

“My lord.” She turned to face him. Her eyes held a resolve he could not remember seeing before. Her stance took on one of importance and quite suddenly she was no longer just the impetuous schoolroom miss he had seen when last they met. “Do me both the honor and the courtesy of ceasing these adulations with which you are smothering me. I am no great beauty. Even in my bloom I was merely pretty, as well you will remember. Nor have I ever, in these years apart, claimed your friendship.”

Her fan snapped shut. “Enjoy the ball. There are plenty of beautiful women who may indeed wish to converse with you and could even be persuaded to accompany you onto the dance floor.” She let the corners of her mouth pull upwards in something akin to a satisfied smile, but he perceived her eyes held nothing of mirth. “I have no expectation that our paths will cross again.”

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Learn more about Philippa Jane Keyworth and stay up to date on her writing by visiting her website:

Philippa Jane Keyworth Writing, Wit & Wonderings…

 

An Interview with Kim Rendfeld

Please join me in welcoming historical novelist Kim Rendfeld, a terrific person and talented author of two sweeping emotional tales set in eighth century Francia during the reign of Charlemagne. She is on tour with her latest release THE ASHES OF HEAVEN’S PILLAR.
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Can love triumph over war?

772 AD: Charlemagne’s battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her beloved husband died in combat. Her faith lies shattered in the ashes of Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. The relatives obligated to defend her and her family sell them into slavery instead.

In Francia, Leova is resolved to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her own honor. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master, and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family. Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon and is Sunwynn’s champion — but he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband.

Set against a backdrop of historic events, including the destruction of the Irminsul, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar explores faith, friendship, and justice. This companion to Kim Rendfeld’s acclaimed The Cross and the Dragon tells the story of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances.

Available at Amazon U.S. (Kindle and print), Amazon U.K.Amazon CanadaAmazon Australia (Kindle), and other countries as well as Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

Advance Praise for The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar

“Carolingian Europe comes alive in Kim Rendfeld’s sweeping story of family and hope, set against the Saxon Wars. Her transportive and triumphant novel immerses us in an eighth century world that feels both mystical and starkly real.”  - Jessica Brockmole, author of Letters from Skye

“A captivating historical filled with rich detail, compelling characters, and a well-paced plot that keeps the pages turning to its very satisfying end. A true delight for fans of historical fiction. I couldn’t put it down.” — Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi Mysteries

The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is refreshingly set in a less familiar medieval period – soon after Charlemagne has conquered a portion of today’s Germany and its people. The characters are refreshing also, common folk instead of the lords and ladies who are the usual inhabitants of historical novels, and how they adjust to their new condition is fascinating. Altogether, this book was absorbing from start to finish.” – Roberta Gellis, author of The Roselynde Chronicles

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And now, to the interview. Let’s find out more about what makes Kim Rendfeld tick.

What sort of writing education/experience do you have?

My background is in nonfiction, with 25 years in journalism and public relations. These fields taught me to care more about communication than cleverness and question sources and their motives, skills that come in handy when writing and researching historical fiction. Primary sources are great, but the authors sometimes bent the truth – a lot – if it suited their needs.

However, I did need to unlearn a few things. News reporting by its nature is objective and emotionally distant. A good news article doesn’t take sides nor presume what’s going on inside someone’s head. In fiction, you’re telling the story from a specific point of view. You want the readers to experience what the characters is feeling and understand why.

Describe the typical day for Kim Rendfeld historical novelist.

A lot of it is squeezing in time to write around my day job and other responsibilities. After I get home from work and feed the cats, the daily question is: Do I work on my third novel? An upcoming blog post? Promotion? What can wait another day (or five or 10)?

I do most of my writing in my office, a converted bedroom in the home I share with my husband and two spoiled cats. I typically wear slacks and a comfy top. During my writing time, I turn off the e-mail and social media, and when the house gets too noisy, I close the door. The cats, however, still feel free to make demands.

What sparked your interest for this particular era?

I’ve never outgrown my fascination with legends and fairy tales, but what got me hooked on the days of Charlemagne is a story about the origin of Rolandsbogen, an ivy covered arch on a high Rhineland hill. To avoid introducing a spoiler to people who’ve yet to read my debut, The Cross and the Dragon, I will say only that it involves lovers being separated by a lie.

When I started writing The Cross and the Dragon, I knew little about the Middle Ages and had only heard of Charlemagne in middle school, but oh, what a fascinating history it is, a combination of battles, religion, and family feuds causing wars.

What inspired your story? How much is pure fiction and how much is historically documented?

The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar grew from my research for The Cross and the Dragon. Two grim realities stuck with me: Charlemagne’s 772 destruction of the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the Saxon peoples, and war captives becoming slaves.

I could not explore those realities in Cross and Dragon because my first novel is about Frankish aristocrats who have their own difficulties to contend with. I needed to write another book to recount the historical events from the pagan Saxon side.

In The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, the wars, the Frankish spring assembly in Paderborn, King Charles’s complicated personal life, Widukind, Sturm, and the Irminsul are all real. I did need to use some imagination to fill in the details such as what the Irminsul was made of and what was said at the assembly. My portrayal of the pagan Saxon religion is my best guess because little is known about it. Believing it to be devil worship, the Church did what it could to destroy it, and the Continental Saxons didn’t have a written language as we know it.

As a pagan, peasant Saxon family, the main characters are products of my imagination. Written sources from this time period depict pagans as brutes and treat war captives like property. Historical fiction is one way to fill the gap and restore humanity to these people.

Who is your favorite character and why?

That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. Do I choose Leova, a strong, determined mother who sacrifices and goes to great lengths to protect her children? What about her daughter, Sunwynn, a sweet-tempered girl who becomes a compassionate young woman? And then there is Leova’s son, Deorlaf, who grows from an angry preteen to a clever young man willing to brave demons and starvation to save his family from a cruel master.

How could I possibly decide?

What’s the most surprising bit of research you’ve unearthed?

When I first started researching this time period, I thought medieval people didn’t bathe because they thought it unhealthy, and as an author, all I would need to do was figure out if they’d notice how bad they smelled. Well, I was wrong. Medieval people did bathe – and princes did so once a week. Admittedly not as often as Americans who can’t get by without a daily shower, but it’s more often than I was led to believe. Plus, medieval folk thought it was healthy. The people who didn’t bathe were penitents and aesthetic monks and nuns denying themselves pleasure.

A bonus surprise: Cabbages didn’t form heads 1,200 years ago. Another reminder that even vegetables change over time.

Is there anything in particular you would like readers to know about The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar?

One question I explore in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is what happens when two opposing sides actually meet each other off the battlefield and see beyond the caricature, the depiction of the other side as only “The Enemy,” a group of people capable of great evil. My heroine and her children must sort out who is friend and who is foe.

What’s next?

Soon, I hope to get back to writing my third novel, which is about Fastrada, Charlemagne’s fourth wife. Or third if you believe that the mother of Charles’ eldest son, Pepin, was only a concubine. Fastrada was queen when Pepin tried to overthrow his father, and years after Fastrada and her widower died, a couple writers blamed her cruelty as the cause.

Never mind that they never specify what Fastrada supposedly did. Never mind that Pepin might have resented being cut out of the succession. Never mind that Pepin’s mother probably was Charles’s wife divorced for political reasons, and she and her noble family might, just might, hold a grudge.

For those reasons, I think Fastrada was maligned, and in Lady Queen Fastrada (my working title), I speculate about the dynamics behind this dysfunctional royal family.

Is there an excerpt you’d like to share?

Here is a little bit from the first chapter, when Leova and her children are fleeing their village ahead of invaders.

Derwine hugged Sunwynn. “My dearling, be good for your mother.”

Leova dropped her sack and ran to her husband. She held both his calloused hands in hers and looked up into his clear blue eyes. His face was tanned, much of it covered by a pale blond beard hiding smallpox scars. Well over thirty years of farm life had hardened his muscles, and the scar under his left eye gave him the look of a Saxon warrior.

“Leova, my love, as soon as it is safe for you to return, I will find you,” he said. “If I die…”

“Husband, don’t speak of that. You must live for my sake and the children’s.”

Derwine kissed her long and tenderly. They lingered in their embrace. “No man could ask for a better wife. Stay safe, for my sake.” He gently pushed her away. “Now go.”

Leova and Sunwynn took three sheepskin cloaks from the pegs on the wall and picked up their sacks. For a moment, Leova hesitated and turned back for a last look at Derwine. Despite her terror, she did not want to leave him.

“Go!” Derwine yelled. “Leave now!”

Thank you, Ginger, for this opportunity to talk about my writing and my books.

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KimBookPhotoSmallerMore About Kim Rendfeld:

Kim Rendfeld has a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and legends, which set her on her quest to write The Cross and the Dragon.

She grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, with a minor in French. If it weren’t for feminism, she would be one of those junior high English teachers scaring the bejesus out of her students, correcting grammar to the point of obnoxiousness. Instead, her career has been in journalism, public relations, and now fiction.

Kim was a journalist for almost twenty years at Indiana newspapers, including the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, The Muncie Star, and The News and Sun in Dunkirk, and she won several awards from the Hoosier State Press Association. Her career changed in 2007, when she joined the marketing and communications team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She gets paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoys it. She is proud to have been part of projects that have received national recognition.

Kim lives in Indiana with her husband, Randy, and their spoiled cats. They have a daughter and three granddaughters.

To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com. You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at KimRendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

Ashes_Tour_GraphicTo find the next stop on Kim’s blog tour click HERE

 

SALE!! How Bridge McCoy Learned to Say I Love You just 99¢ through 9/14!

Robert K. Swisher Jr.

Robert K. Swisher Jr.

I first met Robert K. Swisher Jr. nearly two years ago in an authors’ promotional group on Facebook. (Wow! Can it really be that long?) He was running a free book day at Amazon, so in addition to spreading the word about the free day, I also downloaded the book. As my life is in a constant state of flux, I didn’t get to it right away, but we kept in touch on Facebook and even exchanged a few real messages.

About a year later, Mr. Swisher asked me if I’d like to review one of his earlier efforts. He called it a “magical love story between a cowboy and a city lady each on a quest on different sides of a mountain.” I knew he was the kind of writer that could tell a story wherever he was inspired, but the few promotions I had helped him with were for fast moving, tongue-in-cheek, fanciful works, very far from what he was pitching to me for review. I eagerly accepted, curious as to what he considered a love story.

Needless to say, I was floored. How Far the Mountain completely lived up to his description, and I quickly became a fan of this versatile, sensitive, sharp-witted author. When his most recent release, HOW BRIDGE MCCOY LEARNED TO SAY I LOVE YOU, was available for sale, I snatched it up and was not disappointed. Though very different than HOW FAR THE MOUNTAIN and HOPE, it was equally enjoyable and left me eager for the next. Now you can get it for just 99¢ through 9/14. Let’s hear a little bit about HOW BRIDGE MCCOY LEARNED TO SAY I LOVE YOU in the author’s own words:

When I started to write, everything I wrote was serious – life, death, broken heart, and on and on. After 14 traditionally published novels ranging from contemporary fiction, historical fiction, poetry and literary, I decided to go indie. I can list many reasons for going indie: bad contracts, lousy royalty splits, time between checks … on and on.

When I went indie I had lived in many art towns scattered around the United States and, in my travels, I had also lost being completely serious. Thus HOW BRIDGE MCCOY LEARNED TO SAY I LOVE YOU was born. I pictured in my head all the weird but great people I had met in the art towns and somehow wanted to tell their story. What exactly the story would be I had no idea.

While working on the novel I wrote a funny four book mystery series about a private detective looking for love who is saddled by a not so nice guardian angel. I also wrote a funny golf book, so HOW BRIDGE MCCOY LEARNED TO SAY I LOVE YOU was five years in the making. In it you will meet people who are paranoid because there is only 6 billion years left for the world. Dogs that are tired of organic dog treats. Homeless people that want take home bags renamed. Lampposts that moved to a commune. A lady who is so happy bubbles follow here around. A woman that believes there is a rock of rocks that knows all and will lead man to salvation. These and many more living in Lost City, an obscure art town that Bridge McCoy, who walks two steps forward and then one backward, never wants to see change. The story of a man that when he tries to tell the woman he loves he loves her all he can say is “I, I, I, I, Lo, Lo, Lo,” and he starts choking like there is a meatball stuck in his throat.  

From September 8 – the 14th HOW BRIDGE MCCOY LEARNED TO SAY I LOVE YOU IS ONLY 99 CENTS, which all the characters in the book have complained to me about, saying I am selling them off cheap—they think I should price the book at $10,000—artists, go figure. Enjoy.

And here is my 5-star review of this unusual, unexpected, and un-put-downable love story:

Transforming the ridiculous into the sublime …

How Bridge McCoy Learned To Say I Love You is the heartwarming tale of a cowboy turned writer who cannot find the words to tell his ex-hippie, coffee shop owner girlfriend the depth of his feeling for her. Set in a Southwestern art town, the book is filled with other such colorful characters, endearing and quirky in their own rights.

Masquerading as a lighthearted love story, this unlikely premise offers an astute commentary on the disconnected state of the times and also gives us a look into the fantastical mindset of a writer. Not PC but neither discriminatory (it pokes fun at everyone in equal measure) Swisher’s voice is subtle, deceptively humorous, and polished enough to transform the ridiculous into the sublime. The engaging narrative is peppered with little gems of wisdom along the way, straightforward yet profound insights I have come to think of as Swisherisms. The author does a consummate job of disguising life’s great truths in hilarious but thought-provoking sarcasm and, like a true philosopher, he raises as many questions as he answers.

I have loved the previous books I’ve read by this author, which had a gentler, more compassionate feel about them, but I also enjoyed seeing this different facet of such a versatile writer—cynical with an intelligent and biting wit, but delightful all the same. I never laughed out loud while reading a book as much as I did with this one, and I look forward to the next with keen anticipation.

 

Louis XVI: Capet or Bourbon?

In the introduction to my latest release, I give a brief rundown of the dynastic houses of France. Anyone who reads historically based literature pertaining to Europe is probably familiar with several French royal houses. The branches of Angoulême, Anjou, Artois, Burgundy, Orléans, Valois, etc. are prevalent throughout the Middle Ages, and when Marie Antoinette arrived at Versailles in 1770, the crown had been firmly in the possession of Bourbons for nearly 200 years. Her husband, Louis XVI, was the fifth king descended from this line, but upon his deposition, he became an ordinary citizen dubbed Louis Capet. Who were these Capets, and what impact did they have on France?

In ancient times, most of the area to the north and west of the Roman Empire was known as Gaul. Many a brave Roman had attempted to conquer the wild occupants of these lands, but it was Julius Caesar who was credited with the formidable accomplishment of subduing the barbarians and bringing order to their uncivilized way of life. Unfortunately, they were resentful of this presumption and recaptured their territories some 500 years later. At this time the largest portion of the natives had come to be known as Franks, the Salian branch of which was led by Childeric I son of Merovech, the namesake of the first dynastic house of France, the Merovingians. Sometime after retaking their homeland from the Romans and defending it against the Visigoths, Childeric sired Clovis I, who eventually united all of the Frankish tribes as one people.

The next dynasty to rise to prominence was that of the Carolingians. The most recognizable name among them is Charlemagne, who turned the land into a thriving center of culture and religion. He not only inherited the position of King but was also appointed Roman Emperor by the papacy. He spent a good portion of his reign defending his birthright, but despite his efforts to keep the land as a whole, upon his death it was quarreled over, divided, and subdivided amongst his descendants, until it reached a similar state of separation as before the unification achieved by Clovis.

For over a century and a half this segregation persisted until Hugh Capet came along and made himself a force to be reckoned with. Born in Paris, he was from a powerful family descended from King Robert I with substantial landholdings in West Francia. Hugh spent the early years of his adulthood establishing a reputation for fairness and allying himself with the Holy Roman Empire. Well regarded by his peers for the “goodness of his soul,” he was eventually elected to the seat of King of the Franks, uniting the splintered factions and making the position a hereditary one, though only attainable by the senior male heirs as the Salic Law, as well as that of primogeniture, was implemented at the same time.

Hugh centered his power base around his birthplace and duchy, Paris, restoring it as the capital and running the kingdom from there. He is held by most historians as the father of modern France, the founder of the Capetian Dynasty, and the common ancestor for many royal houses throughout Europe. The direct Capetian heirs ruled France until 1328 when a crisis of succession ensued, and the House of Valois, a cadet branch, came into ascendancy. From this point on, all of the successors to the throne, no matter which branch of the family they came from, were descended from the House of Capet.

But being from the same bloodline did little to curb the rivals’ desire to wear the crown or diminish their treacherous impulses to attain it. The House of Valois was plagued by internecine strife and commingling of tainted bloodlines for the whole of its tenure, even surrendering the crown to England on a couple of occasions and sparking the Hundred Years’ War. Eventually, Charles VII took charge and won the crown back for France and the Valois, who ruled until 1589. The last Valois, Henri III, was assassinated by a fanatic and was succeeded by Henri IV, the first Bourbon King and the ancestor of Louis XVI, who would be known as Louis Capet after being deposed, which brings us full circle.

Although it was said that Louis disliked the new surname, he lived up to its reputation of grandness and showed great strength during his final tribulations. Many of his actions, or inaction, while he wore the crown would indicate that he was an indecisive and weak ruler, but in his personal life he showed remarkable resolve, his honorable conduct winning him a fair measure of respect and admiration from his detractors. This was how I chose to portray him in INSATIABLE: A MACABRE HISTORY OF FRANCE ~ L’AMOUR: MARIE ANTOINETTE, and he has become one of my favorite characters to date. Kindle, paperback, and Nook editions of INSATIABLE are available at:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes&Noble

Connect with Ginger at:

Amazon’s Ginger Myrick page      Facebook

Goodreads      Twitter

*This post was originally run at Kim Rendfeld~ Outtakes of a Historical Novelist.

 

How Marie Antoinette Lost Her Head: Death Dealing in 18th Century France

When I think about martial practices in 18th century France, my mind conjures images of swashbuckling pirates and The Three Musketeers. That may be historically inaccurate (The Dumas book is actually set 150 years before Louis-Auguste became King of France!) but the association is ingrained, and you know how hard it is to correct a misconception once it’s stuck. During my research, though, that notion was definitively set to rights, and I was fascinated by the weaponry in use at the time.

Of course, there were swords, which have changed little since their inception and were still prevalent during the time of Louis XVI. In fact, a visitor to Versailles could only be admitted if he were properly dressed, which happened to include a mandatory sword. This may seem counter-intuitive—Why would you want an armed man in such proximity to the royal family?—but those were the rules. In the days of Louis XIV when the court was first moved from Paris to Versailles, this may have been the King’s way of weeding out undesirables (read poor people) but by the time Louis XV came to power, many of these rules had been modified to accommodate the less fortunate to a certain extent. If one were not possessed of the required blade, he could rent one at the gate.

Muskets were also a staple of defense and early versions had been standard military issue in Europe for centuries. Because reloading was a slow and intricate process, complicated by cramped quarters and the confusion of battle, the musket drill was born along with a change in military tactics. Where pikes had been used in the past as offensive weapons, now they were switched to a defensive role. Because reloading of a musket took the undivided attention of its wielder, the pikemen were charged with the responsibility of protecting musketeers engaged in the process. As weaponry continued to evolve and the innovation of the bayonet came about, the involvement of pikemen became less essential.

If it’s such a painstaking process to reload, why not avoid the issue altogether, you ask? One of the coolest weapons I found in my research was a multiple barrel pistol (Later models were called pepperboxes.) designed to do just that. This was a specialty item, which no doubt cost a pretty penny. Like most forward-thinking modifications, it seemed a practical solution to having to reload if one found himself faced with a perilous situation. But as with many such great ideas came great impracticalities. This rare weapon had the nasty little habit of discharging all of the barrels at once or sometimes even exploding and causing more damage to the user than to the intended target. This prospect was so intriguing to me that I had to find a way to include it in my story, even using its drawbacks to my advantage.

The aforementioned arms were mostly used by the military and the well-to-do, who were the only people who really had access to them. When the revolution struck France and the commoners found themselves in need of defense, they stormed the Bastille. The people believed that firearms, ammunition, and gunpowder were being stored there, so they sacked it. When they didn’t find what they expected, they turned to what was available: pitchforks, scythes, cleavers, butcher knives, meat hooks, etc. You name it, it was used as a weapon. During the march of the market women, the participants rode on cannons and talked about carving up the Queen and making cockades from her entrails with whatever knives they had found and carried on their persons. And any historical account of the French Revolution, would be incomplete without the mention of severed heads being borne about on pikes. This happened to one of the Queen’s dearest friends, the Princesse de Lamballe. After her head was bashed in with a hammer then separated from her body with a butcher knife, it was mounted on the end of a pike for all to behold, a veritable trifecta of brutality.

Then there is the mother of all death machines, the guillotine. It may seem brutal, but it was actually designed with the intent to provide a swift and humane death. According to Dr. Guillotin, it was a very simple process:

“The mechanism falls like thunder—the head flies—the blood spurts—the man is no more.”

The guillotine equitably distributed so much justice during the French Revolution that it was nicknamed the National Razor. It seemed a perfect metaphor for the new equality the burgeoning Republic of France was attempting to effect. In its first public demonstration, it carried out judgement against a notorious highway man, the lowest of the low. From there it continued to work its way through all levels of society, eventually reaching all the way to its most privileged and most famous victims, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the former King and Queen of France.

In my latest release, INSATIABLE: A MACABRE HISTORY OF FRANCE ~ L’AMOUR: MARIE ANTOINETTE, I use all of the weaponry mentioned in this article, although not always in an expected manner. Kindle, paperback, and Nook editions of INSATIABLE are available at:

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*This post was originally run at The Sign of the Eagle ~ Jess Steven Hughes

Marie Antoinette: Queen of French Fashion

Marie Antoinette was perhaps most iconically known for her sense of style. Although many of the ideas of French fashion we associate with her—the elaborate gowns, towering wigs, and fanciful headpieces—were already in place at Versailles by the time she arrived on the scene, she did take some of the concepts to new heights and bent the rules to make her own way. But she wasn’t always as chic as we have come to regard her.

When fourteen-year-old Archduchess Maria Antonia first crossed the River Rhine and arrived at the border of France, she was dressed in the Austrian fashion. The fabrics and cut of her gown were luxurious and very expensive, but Austrians had the reputation for being much more staid and businesslike than their French counterparts. Although the young archduchess was the offspring of the Holy Roman Empress and considered a Daughter of the Caesars—the most high-born of European royalty—she was still looked upon as provincial by the sophisticated French. The first thing they did, before even allowing her to cross into their land, was to strip her of all things Austrian—undergarments, jewelry, hairpins, etc.—and dress her à la française. This meant that nothing from her homeland was to cross into France with her, even her little pug Mops. All of her former belongings were left on the Austrian side of the border, and Maria Antonia, clothed, made-up, and with her hair dressed according to the customs of Versailles, emerged on the French side of the line of demarcation as Dauphine Marie Antoinette. Although this process was meant as more symbolism than fashion statement, she now looked the part of first lady of the most stylish court in Europe.

Anyone who has dealt with a finicky daughter knows what it’s like to go through several changes of clothing in one day. For the new Dauphine, though, it was not persnicketiness but a necessary evil of her position. There was a huge difference between the stylish new gowns she desired to wear and being dressed appropriately for her state duties. When Marie Antoinette woke in the mornings, she went through the steps of her lever–the everyday toilette routine of her rising–during which she was dressed somewhat informally for the pre-noon activities she could not accomplish in her dressing gown. At noon, she went through the process of Chambre–her formal toilette–during which she applied her make up and donned her official court gown in front of whomever had been admitted to Versailles for the day.

These court dresses were very different than the regular gowns in fashion at the time. They were made with heavy traditional fabrics—brocades, satins, and laces—and trimmed with excessively ornate accessories—tulle, bows, tassels, and trains. You name it, it was thrown on there. The panniers required to hold these confections out to their best advantage were nearly twice the size of the ones worn under everyday dresses. There are accounts of women having to enter rooms sideways to accommodate their gowns. The necklines were low-cut and revealing, and the tightly fitted bodices—which lent even more contrast to the bell-shaped skirts—required a corset to be worn underneath.

This seemed to be one of the things that Marie Antoinette objected to the most. There are letters still in existence today in which her mother chastised her over and over again for refusing to wear her corset. When Marie Antoinette became Queen of France, along with her subservience to her elders, her corset was one of the things she cast aside in the name of her newfound independence.

This was also when her relationship with Rose Bertin began in earnest. As Dauphine, Marie Antoinette frequented the dressmaker’s fashionable boutique and occasionally sent for her to come to Versailles. Now they began a more regular association. The couteurière packed up her tools of the trade twice a week and trundled them to the new Queen’s apartments to plan their creations for whatever the upcoming schedule of events had in store. Marie Antoinette also designed many of her own fabrics, usually a light background embroidered with light and airy floral patterns. This custom needlework found its way into Rose Bertin’s designs and many accessories of the Queen’s personal habitations. There were chairs, draperies, even silk wall panels and tables made to her specifications.

Working with the Queen’s hairdresser, Léonard, Mademoiselle Bertin also designed custom poufs—the inner pads and cushions—that supported the towering hairstyles of the time, some of which measured over three feet tall. Although wigs had been a required part of the costume of Versailles since its inception they literally reached new heights during the reign of Louis XVI and were cunningly sculpted to celebrate current events, one of the most famous commemorating the King’s inoculation against smallpox.

Shortly after Louis XVI’s coronation, he gifted his Queen with le Petit Trianon, which became her personal escape from the rigors of her position. Along with discarding the strictures of etiquette, she also put away the detestable corset and opted for simpler gowns that did not require one. Of course there were still state occasions when she had to revert to the overdone court dresses, but left to her own devices, she resorted to the comfort and easiness of poplin, muslin, tulle, or cotton lawn topped with a straw hat to complete the look. She even had a portrait painted dressed in this same simple manner. It sparked an unforeseen controversy, drawing nasty remarks ranging from outrage from courtiers at the Queen being depicted in her nightgown and diminishing the standing of the royals, to the common folk clamoring against her ‘playing at’ being a peasant. Although innocently done, many such unwitting blunders contributed to the disparaging of her character and the vilification of her public image, in part, leading to the downfall of the monarchy and the rise of the French Revolution.

*     *     *

EXCERPT:

As the Austrian party looked on, the teenager was summarily stripped and every last vestige of her homeland discarded. Even her little dog Mops was removed from her possession, and she cried out in surprise in her upset. Finally she stood there, naked and trembling without even her shift to shield her. She brought her hands up to cover the most feminine parts of her anatomy as a sour-faced woman, in charge of her transformation from Austrian to French form of dress, began an impersonal and meticulous inch by inch inspection of her flesh.

Antoine tried to keep her disdain from showing. Was this painstaking process really necessary with so many people in attendance? Surely this part of the ceremony could have been accomplished more quickly and privately. The thought occurred to her that she had probably not been so closely examined in the moments following her birth. It was said that her mother had only paused her paperwork long enough to push Antoine into the world then resumed her signing of documents immediately after. The picture was a silly one and produced a reflexive giggle from the fourteen-year-old, already discomfited over standing so exposed before a roomful of onlookers.

The woman interrupted her prodding to shoot the Austrian girl a reproving glare, mistaking Antoine’s amusement for contempt. She cleared her throat audibly and went on to explain in a haughty tone.

“These strict traditions have their origins in times long past. I assure you that they are completely necessary. They allow us to determine that you are exactly the pure and wholesome bride we are expecting and welcome you to France with great ceremony, leaving your former life behind. Essentially, you are entering on one side as Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, and you shall exit on French soil as Marie Antoinette, Dauphine and future Queen of France. Oh,” she said with a frown, “what is this here?”

Antoine turned and glanced over her shoulder to see what the woman had discovered to provoke the comment. The view of the woman’s dark eyes peering out over the curve of her bottom was almost more than she could bear. Her lips quirked to one side as she stifled her rising giddiness, reluctant to incur another reprimand.

“That’s just a scar left from small pox,” she managed in a normal sounding voice. “I had a mild case when I was a baby. Of course I don’t remember, but now I am immune, which is all to the good, because it means I can’t get infected.”

“Yes, it would be terrible for you to get infected,” the woman said enigmatically, looking up at her charge out of the corner of her eye. But she was still not convinced. “Are you certain? It is shaped somewhat like a bite mark,” she insisted, manipulating the flesh of the surrounding area, making sure it showed no signs of recent infection, no discoloration or seepage.

“My brothers may have been rough with me on occasion, but I don’t recall them ever biting me,” Antoine remarked wryly. Especially on my behind! she added to herself.

She shivered in her state of undress, wishing the woman to be done with the inspection and get on with the job of dressing her. When she had imagined herself as the Queen of France, this had not been a part of the vision. It was decidedly unlike the fairytale she had conjured.

Eventually the woman seemed to have satisfied her misgivings and called for the fine French linen chemise, which she settled down over the girl’s head with her own two hands. Her part accomplished, she signaled for the other ladies to bring forth the remainder of the garments necessary for the transformation. Then she sat back to make sure they performed the task to her exacting standards. Finally, the Austrian girl was dressed à la française to the satisfaction of the woman in charge and stood waiting for her next cue.

“It is now time to bid goodbye to Austria and be welcomed into France.”

Antoine began the process almost gaily, testing out her new persona with alacrity, buoyed by the beautiful French gown and elaborate new coiffure with its glittering adornments. But as the realization set in that this was probably the last time in her life she would see these staid, upright Austrian nobles, so representative of her native soil, she began to sniffle in sadness, dreading the final separation. By the time she reached the end of the line and her carriage companions stood before her, equally as miserable, the tears were flowing in an unstoppable stream. She clung fast to the princesses, knowing that as soon as they released each other, their connection would be severed in fact as well as principle.

As the last of her Austrian entourage vacated the room, Antoine was immediately set upon by the French attendants, who dried her tears and attempted to repair the damage to her meticulously applied maquillage. They wiped away the black smudges under her eyes and the streaks on her cheeks left by her tearful farewells. They dabbed white face paint over the bare patches followed by powder and rouge and relined her eyes with kohl. When Antoine was once again presentable, one of the friendlier girls drew close and made a show of neatening her hair.

“Courage, Madame Dauphine,” the girl whispered under her breath. “You must now be presented to your French family, but first, la Comtesse de Noailles. If you will suffer a bit of advice, even la Dauphine would be wise to obey. The Comtesse prides herself on her strictness and adherence to the rules and regulations of etiquette. She attended the previous Queen of France and will not suffer the merest hint of insolence.”

“Thank you,” Antoine whispered back with a meaningful look.

The girl gave her a mischievous wink then turned and declared, “Madame la Dauphine is ready.”

*     *     *

Although my latest release, INSATIABLE: A MACABRE HISTORY OF FRANCE ~ L’AMOUR: MARIE ANTOINETTE, is a work of alternate history and borderline horror, I have stayed true to Marie Antoinette’s reputation and include ample mention of the Queen’s panache and her concerns with the world of fashion. Kindle, paperback, and Nook editions of INSATIABLE are available at:

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*This post was originally run at Philippa Jane Keyworth ~ Writing, Wit & Wonderings

Insatiable: Introductory price of $2.99

cover 353The eBook editions of INSATIABLE (Kindle and Nook) are currently on sale for an introductory price of $2.99, a great deal for a 400-page book! On July 1st the price will go up to $4.99, so get it now at:

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Here is the gorgeous cover designed by Arleigh C. Johnson of Historical-Fiction.com. Just click on it and you will be taken to the product page a Amazon, where you can get a four chapter preview of the book and check out the reviews. Here’s the blurb:

***WARNING***  This book is a work of alternate history and borderline HORROR with depictions of graphic violence. If you are looking for a straight retelling of Marie Antoinette’s story, DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK.

In 1770, fourteen-year-old Austrian archduchess, Maria Antonia, left her homeland to marry the most sought after prince in Europe. Upon stepping into France she became Dauphine Marie Antoinette and assumed a fairytale life would follow.

But being the Queen of France is not all masked balls, beautiful dresses, and extravagant living. There are horrifying and unnatural forces at work behind the scenes, a mysterious plague causing a sinister transformation in the residents of Paris. When Marie Antoinette learns the details, she is stunned to find out that France has kept the secret for over two hundred years, and now she will be burdened with one of her own.

Determined to be the obedient daughter of the iron-willed Holy Roman Empress, she agrees to fulfill her commitment to the French Crown, until she unexpectedly falls for the handsome Swedish count, Axel von Fersen. Torn between her husband and her true love, her duty and her desire, Marie Antoinette longs for the day when she can be free to choose her path and follow her heart.

The Indomitable Spirit of Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette is often thought of as a victim, and indeed she became a scapegoat for all of France’s ills, but many people don’t realize what a strong woman she actually was. She was daughter to the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa, a steely woman and ruler in her own right, who governed her empire with a formidable hand.

The Empress ran her family life with the same no-nonsense attitude, raising her children to be obedient in the extreme and acutely aware of their positions and duties. Maria Antonia was the fifteenth child and youngest girl, and was married into the French royal family at the tender age of fourteen. During these early years of her residence in France, Marie Antoinette was docile and eager to please. She was so overwhelmed at her circumstance—being in a foreign court with strange new rituals and no friends to speak of—that she did all that was asked of her. But eventually she began to chafe at the demands placed upon her and blossomed into her own person.

Four years after her marriage to the Dauphin of France, her husband was made Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette became Queen. In matters of government, after too many occasions when her husband ruled in direct opposition to her suggestions, Marie Antoinette decided to forgo her fruitless dabbling in politics in favor of the personal aspects of her life she could better control. She was now the Queen of France, and no one would dictate her comportment any longer.

For the duration of her residence in France, she had been slave to the strict system of etiquette in place at Versailles. She had never quite understood its necessity and always viewed it, and its enforcer, the Comtesse de Noailles—her Mistress of the Household whom she had mischievously nicknamed Madame Etiquette—with a considerable amount of disdain. The woman had been a necessary evil for a young foreign teenager hard-pressed to learn the new ways of her adopted country, but that rationale no longer applied. The Queen replaced the “old bundle” with her friend, the Princesse de Lamballe, leaving her young circle of intimates with no one to reprimand them. This was the first step toward establishing her own personality—and authority—and she continued to do as she pleased although not always for the sake of pleasure, which is a common misconception.

Marie Antoinette broke with tradition for sake of her children, which was the biggest motivation behind decisions later in her life that some people construed as rebellious. When her first child was born, it turned out to be a girl and not the anticipated Dauphin.  The new mother was reported to have said, “Poor little girl. You are not what was desired, but you are no less dear to me.” She went on to prove her devotion to the baby, even managing to nurse the child for a few months after her birth, which was unheard of and absolutely would not have been allowed had the child been male. She took the little girl with her to le Petit Trianon away from the unhealthy air of Versailles as often as she could, and when the keenly awaited Dauphin eventually arrived, she did the same with him. She even played a part in her children’s education, which was also not done with royal offspring.

Then, during the turmoil of the pre-revolutionary years, her husband, Louis XVI, began to suffer from the pressures of his position. He broke down on several occasions and was unable to attend important meetings with opposing factions. Although the Queen had previously been shut out of politics, now that the monarchy was threatened—and the security of her children’s positions within in it—she took the King’s place and did her best, despite her limited knowledge in this complicated sphere of royal responsibility.

Regardless of her noble efforts, the royal family’s lives came under serious threat. When urged by Louis XVI himself to take their children and go, Marie Antoinette refused to leave him. She stayed by his side during the troubles, even separating herself in her apartments at Versailles to reduce the risk to other members of her family when the palace was besieged by an angry mob. As evidence of the people’s hatred of their foreign queen, the rabble slew her guards, broke into her quarters, and hacked her bed to pieces, yet the Queen still had the composure to flee with her two ladies down a secret corridor to the safety of the King’s rooms.

The next morning the revolutionaries escorted the royal family to Paris under the watchful eye of the Garde Nationale. They were now prisoners, but the Queen was still not resigned to their fate. She learned code and continued to correspond with Axel von Fersen and made several plans of escape, unwilling to enact one unless the entire family could go as a unit. Finally they attempted it but were caught 40 miles from their destination and forced to return to Paris, where she continued to work toward preserving the monarchy for her remaining son, Dauphin Louis-Charles.

Eventually, even that slim hope was extinguished. The revolutionaries took Louis-Charles away from her in July of 1792. Soon after, she was removed from the Tower—where she yet shared the comfort of her daughter and sister-in-law—to the Conciergerie where she was utterly alone. But still, she would not break.

The trial to decide her fate was announced, and it was clear she would be made a sacrifice to the cause. At this point she might have given up, but she regarded the trial as a way to erase the stain on her reputation from years of scorn heaped upon it by an entire nation. Here was the chance to finally have her say, to defend her actions and leave her children the memory of a loving mother untouched by the hateful bias of the masses. She was given little time to prepare but defended herself admirably at the trial, even evoking a sympathetic response when she appealed to the women in the room after being accused of incest by her prosecuters. When she went to her death, it was with such dignity that witnesses called it haughtiness, disdain, or arrogance, but none dared say she lacked courage.

cover 353In my latest release, INSATIABLE: A MACABRE HISTORY OF FRANCE ~ L’AMOUR: MARIE ANTOINETTE, I’ve added one more complication to the mix; a mysterious plague causing a sinister transformation in the residents of Paris. In this work of alternate history, the Queen handles the unforeseen circumstance with the same steely aplomb that ruled her actions in documented historical accounts. The eBook editions of INSATIABLE (Kindle and Nook) are on sale for an introductory price of $2.99 through June 30th and are available at:

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*This post was originally run at Book Babe.

Le Petit Trianon and le Hameau de la Reine

Le Petit Trianon is a small classical Greek chateau on the grounds of Versailles most commonly known as Marie Antoinette’s retreat from the demands of court life. Often referred to as her “playhouse”, it was actually built in honor of another lady, slightly less royal but perhaps more influential in her time. The chateau was originally contracted for the Marquise de Pompadour, the most influential mistress of Louis XV.

Sadly, Madame de Pompadour died four years before the construction could be completed. By the time it was finished and ready for occupation, Louis XV had moved on to a new favorite, Madame du Barry, and the little getaway was consigned for her use. She employed it to host informal supper parties and hunting trips for her royal patron, and it was here during one such outing that Louis XV realized the severity of his final illness. He was rushed back to his apartments and died two weeks later.

When the old king’s grandson was crowned Louis XVI of France, he gifted his young wife, Marie Antoinette, with le Petit Trianon as her own personal refuge. As its mistress, she was free to renovate it however she saw fit. She had always felt a certain fondness for Laxenburg, her family’s summer retreat in Austria, which was more rural and carefree than the other royal residences. Intending to recapture a part of her happy childhood, the new Queen tore out all of the old ostentatious décor and substituted a light and airy theme in its place. She restructured the grounds surrounding le Petit Trianon with a more natural feel, plotting the design after the English gardens en vogue at the time, until it resembled the quaint country manor of her dreams. She also had many innovative new devices installed, mechanical screens and tables that could be raised and lowered through a system of cranks and pulleys.

It was here in her refuge of le Petit Trianon that she began to become her own person, surrounding herself with music and beauty, two things essential to her happiness. She threw all-night revels away from the prying eyes of the public. Even her husband could not join in unless she invited him. She cast aside all pretense of formality, shunning the stilted court etiquette in favor of a more down to earth atmosphere where her circle of friends could cut loose and make merry in any way they wished. For the most part, they simply enjoyed each other’s company, playing cards, listening to music, and engaging in silliness, although outsiders imagined far worse.

There is a formal opera house located within Versailles, but to indulge her passion for performing, Marie Antoinette had her own personal theater constructed at le Petit Trianon. She invited professional theatrical companies to perform there, and she and her cohorts also put on many polished pieces for royal friends and relatives and even the King in attendance. Some of the original backdrops for the sets—works of art in themselves—were preserved and restored and are still on display today.

But it seemed that even this private retreat would not be enough for Marie Antoinette. Although she had redecorated it and made it comfortable, the fact remained that it had been constructed for someone else and passed to her only after belonging to another. She wanted something entirely her own—designed, built, and furnished to her exacting standards. She had always entertained the idea of being a well-loved chatelaine, so she commissioned an entire rustic village complete with villagers to tend it.

The Queen’s Hamlet, or le Hameau de la Reine as it was known, was Marie Antoinette’s attempt to return to simpler way of life. She began with a seed of an idea in 1783, and the massive project took four years to complete. The fairytale village is set in a rolling green meadowland and consists of eleven main structures and their annexes centered around a large natural looking lake that was used for boating and fishing excursions. There are five buildings that were reserved for the Queen’s own personal use and cottages for the ‘peasant’ villeins and caretakers, each house with its own private vegetable garden. There is a dairy, dovecote, guard’s residence, a tower, and even a mill that was functional in its time. There were ducks and swans on the ponds, sheep, goats, and cattle in the pastures, and chickens in the brooding shed, everything a real farm would have to supply wool, fresh milk, and eggs. Intent upon getting her royal offspring away from the suffocating atmosphere of Versailles and teaching them about the importance of the outdoors, the Queen spent much of her time at le Hameau with her children and her loyal friends.

Ironically, the illusion of this simple country tableau was extremely expensive to achieve. It was unfortunate that the Queen embarked on such a whimsical endeavor at a time when the common people of France were suffering under a heavy burden of taxes and food shortages. Her personal expenditures added to weight to the title of ‘Madame Deficit’ attributed to Marie Antoinette during the latter part of her tenure as Queen of France and eventually contributed to the downfall of the monarchy and the rise of the French Revolution.

cover 353In my latest release, INSATIABLE: A MACABRE HISTORY OF FRANCE ~ L’AMOUR: MARIE ANTOINETTE, many pivotal events are played out at both le Petit Trianon and le Hameau de la Reine. The eBook editions of INSATIABLE (Kindle and Nook) are on sale for an introductory price of $2.99 through June 30th and are available at:

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*This post was originally run at Unusual Historicals.

 

Axel von Fersen: The Queen’s Favorite

Anyone who knows about Marie Antoinette will recognize the name of her favorite, Axel von Fersen. Although even experts in the field cannot definitively say whether they were physical lovers or not, there is no doubting that there was a strong bond between them. They shared a lifelong association that at the very least can be classified as a deep and lasting friendship. Their relationship began in their late teens and endured until Marie Antoinette’s death in 1793.

They met at an opera ball, a masked event on January 30, 1774, when Marie Antoinette was only eighteen years old and not yet Queen of France. Her husband Louis Auguste, then Dauphin, was in attendance along with his brothers and their wives, and the small circle of young royals seemed to approve of von Fersen. The Swedish count was invited to attend a few bals à la Dauphine, little informal dances given by Marie Antoinette in her personal apartments at Versailles. Although this may seem like the beginnings of a love affair, there was actually little opportunity for misbehavior, as the Dauphine would have been closely watched in her own rooms. A few months later, von Fersen left France to continue his Grand Tour of Europe, which included a visit to England where he would attempt to secure the hand of an heiress, Catherine Lyell.

Axel did not return to France for over four years. Marie Antoinette, by then Queen, immediately recognized von Fersen when he stopped in to pay court, even if the rest of the royals did not. A short while later, she invited him to one of her famous card parties, and despite the fact that she was pregnant at the time, von Fersen quickly became part of Marie Antoinette’s intimate circle, in fact, one of her favorites. He spent much time at Le Petit Trianon playing cards, lounging about, and engaging in meaningful discussions with the rest of the privileged few, whatever the queen’s whim demanded in the moment. This pleasant idyll lasted for nearly two years until he left in May of 1780 to aid the Americans in their fight for freedom.

Von Fersen had a long tradition of military service in his background and spent his formative years in military academies. He was a staunch idealist, and believed in the concept of freedom for all, although he came from a noble family and his father was one of the richest men in all of Sweden. His father served Louis XV of France in the Seven Years’ War, so there was a longtime connection to the French court, and it was as aide-de-camp to General Rochambeau that Axel the younger was assigned. A year after the arrival of l’Expédition Particulière, the unit marched south to join the Continental army under George Washington for their planned attack on New York.

Von Fersen’s duties encompassed many tasks for which he was well equipped. He filled the role of interpreter, secretary, and courier, and played a key role in organizing the objective at Yorktown that eventually led to the defeat of Cornwallis and ensured the American victory. Von Fersen was awarded the Order of Cincinnatus by Washington himself, although his own sovereign, King Gustavus III of Sweden, censured the wearing of an honor earned in a people’s revolt against their overlord.

From America, von Fersen returned to France in June of 1783, where he stayed until September before heading home to Sweden to serve King Gustavus. He spent nine months accompanying his king on a tour of Europe, eventually making their way back to Versailles to negotiate a treaty with Louis XVI. Axel then departed for his homeland once again on a mission of the utmost importance, to procure a puppy for Marie Antoinette. He brought this special breed, a Leonberger, back to her and maintained close contact through the next few years, being present for most of the major events leading up to the French Revolution.

He was in residence in the town of Versailles in October of 1789 when the Palace was stormed by a volatile mob. The royal family was taken and held at the Tuileries under strict guard, and von Fersen helped lay the groundwork to liberate them. With his military background and firsthand experience of covert operations, he was ultimately qualified to plot the escape and arranged the whole thing down to the smallest detail. At this point, he could have just played it safe and sent someone less recognizable to enact the plan, which might have been the wiser decision on his part. But due to his deep affection for Marie Antoinette, and in lesser part her husband, he refused to rely upon anyone else and drove the getaway carriage himself.

After the first leg of the journey, von Fersen unwillingly ceded control of the coach at Louis XVI’s insistence. The king did not want his people to believe he was attempting to leave France, especially aided by a foreign personage. After dismissing von Fersen, Louis was recognized when the party sought to change horses in Varennes, a mere forty miles from their destination, and the royal family was taken back to Paris.

In February 1792, von Fersen made his final visit to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at the Tuileries palace. In heavy disguise he sneaked in an unguarded side door and again urged them to escape, which Louis absolutely refused to do. He spent the night in their quarters, attempting to convince them, but left dejected the next morning unable to persuade Louis to change his mind. But the King’s refusal would not curtail his efforts. Von Fersen continued working to get Marie Antoinette out of France—one daring plan consisting of riding into the Conciergerie and taking her out on horseback—right up until she was executed in October of 1793. It is apparent that there was some extraordinary force at work behind the scenes. Spending so many years of his life to get Marie Antoinette to safety is the true testament to the devotion her bore her.

Because the verity of their relationship will never be proven, it will always hold the allure of the unsolved mystery. In my new release—Insatiable: A Macabre History of France ~ L’Amour: Marie Antoinette—I exploit the premise that Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen were indeed lovers. I even take their relationship one step further by adopting the assertions of the gossip of the time attributing the paternity of her second son, Louis-Charles—the eventual Dauphin of France—to von Fersen. As INSATIABLE is a work of alternate history, the love affair between Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen is the least of the liberties I take with the story. But in my defense, I am not the first to do so nor will I be the last.

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EXCERPT from INSATIABLE: A MACABRE HISTORY OF FRANCE ~ L’AMOUR: MARIE ANTOINETTE

After sipping a glass of punch, Marie Antoinette still felt winded by her exertions. She decided to observe for a bit before returning to the chaos. She spotted an open space above the ballroom floor with an unobstructed view of the dancers. She made her way to the landing and leaned up against the banister, snapping open her fan to circulate the air over her heated face and neck. The cool breeze on her skin felt heavenly. She relaxed but went suddenly rigid when a body bumped heavily into her from behind.

She heard a deep voice mumble, “Excuse me, Madame,” but she could not help but feel he had jostled her on purpose. Some impertinent courtier come to make sport with the Dauphine, perhaps? Well, she knew how to put paid to that. She squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, and adopted the most imperious attitude she could muster. She turned with a haughty swish of her skirts, glowered at her harasser, and ceased to breathe.

She had raised her chin in order to look down upon the intruder, but in doing so, her initial gaze only reached to the center of his broad chest. When she lifted her eyes to his face, she encountered the most striking looking man she had ever beheld in her life. He was dressed in the same fashion as the others in the room—tricorn hat, powdered wig, frock coat, and breeches—but nothing he could ever do would make him look like the rest.

The shape of his face was a study in masculinity with its angular planes, straight nose, clearly defined jawline, and square chin. He had heavy eyebrows set above a pair of piercing dark eyes the color of the sky at midnight. He was athletically slender with wide shoulders, narrow hips, and well turned legs, and he bore himself regally. And tall, so tall. His whole person gave off an imposing air that did little to diminish her attraction to him but, in fact, increased it.

Marie Antoinette’s heart pounded in her chest, and her breath came in little hitching gasps, which she desperately hoped he would not notice. Any thought she had previously entertained about quashing his advances flew immediately out of her head, and she stood there, unspeaking, knowing that the pause was becoming more conspicuous by the second but helpless to break the spell. She racked her brain, trying regain her composure while he stood there looking down at her with his brooding eyes and an amused but decidedly insolent upturn to the corners of his prim mouth.

“I’m sorry, but you have caught me off-guard, Monsieur,” she finally got out, praying that her voice sounded normal.

“Yes,” he said, the maddeningly arrogant expression never leaving his face. “It seems so,” he added, not bothering to introduce himself—which would have been the polite thing to do—and letting her squirm.

She should have been put out by his flippant response, but being in his presence had the distinct effect of discombobulating her. She took a deep breath—hoping that he would not notice her flustered state—and took a moment to reflect.

They were at a bal masqué. The entire point of going incognito was to discard the strictures of etiquette for a time and just have fun. And although most of the partygoers knew the identities behind the masks, it was expected to act somewhat out of the norm and not be held accountable afterward. Artois and Provence were masters at it!

The Dauphine could not act too outrageously with her husband in attendance—besides, she was not inclined toward wild behavior—but her disguise did afford her a small measure of anonymity. With this comforting thought in mind, she allowed her natural charm and flirtatiousness to bubble to the surface and engaged in a bit of playful banter with the stranger.

“Well, I suppose I should beware then,” she replied saucily. “Your reluctance to reveal your identity may be an attempt to hide malicious intent or a disreputable past. Next thing I know you will have abducted me and held me for ransom … or worse. Should I be alarmed?”

He chuckled to himself at the scandalous picture she painted of him as a potential criminal. The upstanding Axel von Fersen, adherent to etiquette and slave to propriety, a kidnapper? It was laughable. She certainly had a vivid imagination and a quick wit, to boot. If he had caught her off-guard at first, she was fully recovered now.

“The thought had not crossed my mind until you mentioned it, although now that you have, it’s not a bad idea.”

“I suppose it’s only fair to warn you. I am a very high-ranking Lady, and your actions would launch a massive manhunt to the farthest corners of France.”

“Well then, it’s a good thing that I have the fastest horse in all of Europe.”

“Yes, but he would be burdened with the two of us,” she pointed out, placing a finger on her dimpled chin and looking up out of the corner of her eyes at him. Her long lashes veiled the big round orbs alluringly in a captivating expression that stunned him into momentary silence.

The better part of her face was covered by her mask, but he could still clearly distinguish her charms. Her skin was white and luminous, her face a lovely pale oval flushed pink by her excitement. She had a slightly aquiline nose, although small and feminine, and an adorable pouty mouth. The one thing the mask did to enhance her natural beauty was to set off her eyes to their best advantage, and he had never seen a more bewitching pair in his life.

Her eyes, her beautiful silvery blue eyes, held him mesmerized. Although he could listen to her chatter merrily on about nothing and never tire of the display—her porcelain skin and plump red lips exceedingly attractive and her delicate white hands in constant motion—he found himself drowning in her eyes. He tore his gaze away and tried to regain the thread of his concentration.

“You are quite petite,” he said, giving an appreciative once over of her shapely figure. “My horse would hardly notice the extra load. Even if he did, I’m sure he would gladly bear it.”

It was her turn to be struck speechless. She didn’t know whether to be incensed that he had inspected her in such a blatantly assessing manner or flattered that he had noticed. She struggled with her natural prudishness for a moment, wondering if it would do more harm than good to reveal her identity. She was rendered acutely conscious by his comment, but still, she did not want her time with him to end, not just yet. What to do?

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*This post was originally run on the website of Anna Belfrage.