I am so excited, because today, the amazing author and actress Leslie Carroll is stopping by for a chat about her new non-fiction title about 500 years of mismatched Royal marriages! You’ll not want to miss this one! Consider it your weekend entertainment!
A frequent commentator on royal romances and relationships, Leslie has been interviewed by numerous publications, including MSNBC.com, USA Today, the Australian Broadcasting Company, and NPR, and she was a featured royalty historian on CBS nightly news in London during the royal wedding coverage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. She is the expert on the love life of many famous women in history and appears on television often in this role, that is, when she isn’t performing as an actress!
I am honored to have her here with us today, so sit back and enjoy! But first, let’s take a peek at the cover of her newest book…
Hi Leslie, and welcome today to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Readers might remember you’ve been here before as Juliet Grey to talk about your Marie Antoinette series. As quite the accomplished historian, actress, novelist, and writer, you keep busy with all things history. I wasn’t surprised that you’d written another non-fiction book detailing the lives of some of history’s notorious monarchs and aristocracy.
Congratulations on publishing Inglorious Royal Marriages: A Demi-Millennium of Unholy Mismatrimony. Did you have as much fun writing it as we are having reading it?
Leslie: Yes, I did—and thank you for hosting me! I’m a history geek and a royalty aficionado, so let me just say, I love my job!
Erin: Me too, I love history and writing and I couldn’t think of anything better, except maybe chocolate! And so far, I haven’t found a job eating chocolate for a living! lol! Please do come into the library/study and have a seat in the red leather chair. It’s quite comfortable and we’ll be able to talk over tea. Would you prefer hot or iced tea? It’s not quite cool here yet in Ohio, so I’ll be having some peach iced tea. Say your pleasure and I’ll pour!
Leslie: Oooh, peach iced tea, please—unless you happen to have some super-strong, extra-leaded black iced coffee (my usual drug of choice, except for champagne, which is for birthdays and publication days).
Erin: Oh, let’s have the iced coffee. I’ll make yours black and mine with milk and sugar, and maybe a shot of chocolate syrup. Now that we’re set, let’s get started!
Q: You’ve done a tremendous amount of research in your career. Are your non-fiction titles such as Inglorious Royal Marriages and Royal Romances the culmination of things you’ve stumbled upon during other work or are you fascinated and go in search of? How do certain couples illuminate enough to make the cut?
A:Yes and yes? Everything I do tends to feed everything else. Researching Marie Antoinette’s marriage for an earlier book on royal marriages spurred me to write an entire historical fiction trilogy on her life. I have researched royals for one book and stumbled upon someone fascinating that I hadn’t known much about, or had known about but had no book to feature them in, and have stored their lives for future inclusion. For a couple to make the cut there has to be enough verifiable juicy information (readily available in English) on their lives. Nonfiction can’t be written on rumor. For example, if an author wanted to write a novel on the premise that King Richard the Lionheart was gay (there were rumors), they could write whatever they wanted with impunity. I had initially wanted to feature his marriage to Berengaria, but there’s not enough “there there” for a really gripping chapter. And absolutely NO verifiable evidence that he was gay. And I read 3 biographies of one of Queen Victoria’s daughters (Louise) and her husband because I had always imagined there was a juicy story to their marriage, but came away with nothing I could use that would make a fun enough chapter and I had so many other more exciting couples to feature, where I had many more interesting details to share with my readers. So some of the couples from my initial brainstorming table of contents got bumped during the research process.
Q: In that vein, how did your first non-fiction title come to light and what propels you to write them, besides that they must be highly successful due to historical readers having an obsession with royalty? I mean, who doesn’t like juicy gossip, sometimes you can’t make this stuff up it’s so good!
A:That’s what I’m always telling people: even though I am also a novelist, that the truth is often so much juicier and sexier than anything a novelist or screenwriter can invent! I mean, the REAL Mary Boleyn was such a slut that the King of France called her his “hackney” because “he loved to ride her” and the truth is that she got herself kicked out of the French court and sent back to her parents for screwing too many courtiers! That’s the REAL other Boleyn girl! I’d rather read about HER!
SO: the first nonfiction book, Royal Affairs, came about because my historical fiction editor at NAL wanted a book to compete with another Penguin imprint (Michael Farquahar’s Royal Scandals). NAL chose the title of my first book and because my editor loved the way I humanized such scandalous women as Emma Hamilton and Mary Robinson, who were the glamorous lovers of powerful 18th c. men (Admiral Nelson and the Prince of Wales, respectively), she felt I could also humanize the royals and give readers juicy stories about their lives while still presenting the historical facts in an engaging manner.
That style is typically known as “narrative nonfiction.” NAL wanted that, plus an easy, breezy tone, which, ultimately, the Chicago Tribune (reviewing my second “royal” title, Notorious Royal Marriages), dubbed, “an irresistible combination of People magazine and the History Channel.”
Q: What is your own favorite marriage union gone wrong from your new book Inglorious Royal Marriages? Why?
A: Researching the intermarriages of the two Medici cousins (Isabella Romola de Medici to Paolo d’Orsini; and Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo to Pietro de Medici) stopped me in my tracks. I don’t want to give too much away, but we think of the Italian Renaissance as a time of sophistication and progress, a flourishing of art and culture. And it was all that, but beneath the glitz and glamour, the families that governed the city-states had some seriously twisted men in them. Nowadays, when we read about so-called “honor killings,” we don’t equate them with anything that has ever occurred in Western culture or with Christian (let alone Catholic) behavior; and we fail to comprehend what sort of mentality it would take to legitimize the murder of one’s spouse (particularly when the husband-murderer himself commits adultery with impunity). Yet Catholic men during the Italian Renaissance—a time of great enlightenment—got away with it
Q: Which marriage did you really wish would have worked if other variables had aligned correctly for them? Who did you feel the most sorry for in terms of their marriage? Why?
A:I found myself crying as I wrote the end of the chapter on the marriage of Marie of Edinburgh (a granddaughter of Queen Victoria) to her cousin Ferdinand of Roumania. Because they were married, fairly unhappily and rockily for thirty-four years; her mother had pushed her into it. Both Marie and Ferdinand were unfaithful. Neither understood the other or appreciated the other’s better qualities. They couldn’t even take joy in their children, like some of the other royal couples. They were outspoken about the fact that they disliked their kids (and with reason: the older ones, in particular, were selfish, greedy jerks). And yet, after Ferdinand was diagnosed with cancer, as he was dying, Marie began to acknowledge everything they had been through together (including the agony of WWI). As I wrote in their chapter, In January 1927, realizing that she and Ferdinand were about to celebrate their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, Marie wrote in her diary, “May God allow that it not be our last . . . we have lived to become firm and faithful friends, two wildly different characters that have managed to produce harmony out of what might have been something quite else . . . we have lived for the country & for our children and always knew how to keep passion sufficiently under so as never to harm these two loves of our lives.” If only both of them had been more open to each other from the start. But Victorians didn’t do that. And Ferdinand was a native German; and, playing right into that stereotype, was very rigid in his thinking and was not brought up to be sensitive to the needs of his wife. Men weren’t like that back then!
Of all the couples that I profiled in Inglorious Royal Marriages I felt the most sorry for Mary Tudor (Mary I) with her marriage to Philip of Spain. She was so passionately, hopelessly in love with him and he, half a generation younger than her, regarded her as his aunt (he’d thought of her that way before their marriage) and viewed their union purely as a business deal. You would think that Mary, being a Tudor, would have had their pragmatism, and in many ways she did. But when it came to love and romance, in many ways she was also her father’s [Henry VIII’s] daughter and wanted to marry for love. I just felt so terrible for her, dressing up to please Philip, thinking she looked young and chic, when his courters were snickering behind their backs, and she really looked like mutton dressed as lamb. And thinking Philip was paying such special attention to her when it was really only common chivalry for the era and he was just waiting for his father’s word to leave England.
Erin Comments: I felt sorry for Mary Tudor too! I wasn’t partial to her previously, but I was left almost weeping by the time I was done reading your segment on her!
Q: You write with such flair, with sentences seeped in details, a vocabulary that is above par, and wit. How did you perfect your craft to this level? What is your advice for writing non-fiction and how is it different (or the same) from fiction?
A: Oh, thank you for not saying that I use too many big words (you know, I’ve heard that). I love words. I like to play with them in the air, like bubbles. I like the sounds they make when you string them together in a certain order. My maternal grandfather Carroll Carroll (yes, that was his name) was a poet and a humorist and I learned how to craft poems at his knee when I was a little girl. He also taught me how to be critical and analytical as a writer, back when I was that young as well. I was thirsty for all that knowledge.
The difference between writing fiction and nonfiction is that in nonfiction, you can’t make stuff up! Some people wonder where I get my sources (and the books are all listed at the back of each volume). But my publisher has not budgeted my books for footnotes (evidently they are costly to typeset). However, in my original manuscript I DO indicate the sources of every quote I use for THEM, so they can check it (and I have to provide a hard copy of the pages where I sourced my quotes when I submit my manuscript to my editor.
There are similarities between writing fiction and nonfiction: the author should tell a good story. Keep the reader engaged. She should care about the characters, whether they are actual historical figures or completely made up. The story should have an arc with a beginning, middle, and end. And I believe that there should be a “voice” to nonfiction that keeps the text engaging. Sometimes the material is fascinating enough on its own; but that most often applies to whoever’s field it is.
My touchstone for historical nonfiction is my sister. She hates history and was never a good student in it. I love history, so I’m bound to love any book with history in it, fact or fiction. And if the nonfiction is a bit academic, if I am interested in the subject, I’ll put up with it. But my sister will tune out. So my nonfiction books about historical subject matter have to keep my sister turning the pages! And the “voice” I found to do that for my “royal” books is the “People magazine meets History Channel” voice.
Erin Comment: I love your big words and your elegant sentences! You absolutely do have a voice for non-fiction and it is more narrative. That makes it easier to read, for almost everyone, even academia! And why not, I say? History is fascinating, no need to numb it down!
Q: As noted before, you’ve done a great amount of historical research, how do you keep it all straight with all the misinformation out there that also send people running from story to story to see which one might be most plausible?
A:My grandfather loved this saying: “When three people tell you you’re drunk—lie down.” So, I try to get at least three sources that provide the same information on a given event or subject. I was amazed when I first started writing nonfiction back in 2007, that various very eminent biographers could present very different “facts” from each other. I’m not even so sure that they “disagree” with each other because I don’t know if they have read each other’s books like I have.
But during the course of years of research I have encountered historians who have given different dates for a major event (like, oh, a wedding, for example). Well, I’m writing a book on marriages, so I can’t very well get a wedding date wrong. I certainly don’t want to do so. I don’t mean to do that. So, in situations like that example, I delve a little deeper. I start looking up calendars for that year. I’ll come across a source that says the couple was, hypothetically married on Whitsunday. But further research proves that the date given by one conflicting historian as a wedding date was a Tuesday, let’s say. So how could that historian have gotten it right if the couple were married on Whitsunday. But what calendar were they following? It’s easy to get lost down rabbit holes.
Erin Comments: A good point, and good rule of thumb. Thanks for that tip!
Q: If you could attend a party at the home of one of the couples of whom you featured in Inglorious Royal Marriages, who would it be and why? What would you take them as a thank you gift?
A: Oh, I like this question! I adore Charles II and I think his court would have been a fascinating experience. And I have always had a soft spot for Catherine of Braganza, his queen, whom he paid so little attention to, yet during the Popish Plot, he stuck by her; and even before that, refused to send her back to Portugal just because she could not conceive a healthy child (she did become pregnant but miscarried several times). If it were in my power, I would bestow upon them a healthy heir as a thank-you gift (as long as we’re in the realm of the imagination, here). I’d give her that baby; and even Charles might not mind if it were a girl (after all, both of his nieces reigned, in turn, though I suppose he’d have been more comfortable with a son, for the security of the realm). Failing that, I would give Catherine an ensemble that would dazzle the hell out of her husband. She was a terrific dancer; it was one of the few things in which she excelled his mistresses. She deserved a moment in the sun so that he would notice her and they could have the possibility of a truly wonderful royal marriage, instead of an inglorious one.
Q: You have written two other books in this non-fiction series, Notorious Royal Marriages and Royal Romances. What are the differences between each book? How did you choose which couples would go into which book?
A: Four, actually. Royal Affairs was the first book and Royal Pains was the third in the series. With Notorious Royal Marriages, I was going for some of the most famous ones, with a few lesser-known ones thrown in. The series was sold one book at a time, so I never knew when there was going to be another title or what angle it would focus on. Royal Romances exclusively featured love stories, whether they were marital or extramarital, ending with the courtship and marriage of William and Kate (my husband and I went to London for the royal wedding).So after I did a book on happy royal couples, whether they were married or not, I decided to return to the married ones, because most royal marriages were arranged, and to focus on some of the greatest mismatches, because it was a complete 180 from Royal Romances. I chose the word “Inglorious” as a theme because it rhymed with “Notorious,” which is the theme of the first book on royal marriages. And when I showed my editor my draft table of contents she wanted me to make sure that in every chapter I explain why that particular marriage is “inglorious,” meaning, bringing shame or dishonor to one or both partners. So all the marriages I chose for this new book had to fit that parameter.
Q: If there is one woman out of all three books that you feel deserves a second shot at a good marriage, or a long-lasting romance, who would she be?
A: I’ve spent more years with this woman than I have with some of my friends: Marie Antoinette. She deserves a second shot at a happy marriage with a husband who isn’t afraid to consummate it for more than seven years, turning them both into national laughingstocks and caricatures. She deserves a husband who will love her for her blithe spirit (she was married at the age of 14!) and generous nature and who will give her what she (and France) want more than anything else: babies. If Marie Antoinette and Louis had popped out some kids right from the start, she would have occupied her time with motherhood, raising her children in the newfangled hands-on-parenting style that Rousseau propounded. She would have been out of the limelight and done her duty as a queen, and not found the need to spend her energy elsewhere (shopping, gambling, out till all hours of the night with friends) because her needs weren’t being fulfilled with motherhood. And I’m betting that if all that had taken place, there might not have been a French Revolution.
Erin Comments: I had a feeling you’d say her, and I love your Marie historical fiction series!
Q: I know you’ve been featured as a historian on many television shows and newscasts. Who is the most talked about woman in history and why?
A:I think it may go in cycles, depending on who is fashionable or what sort of milestone (centenary or bicentennial, for example) is being celebrated. Whenever there’s something newly discovered about a famous historical figure, it’s all the rage for a news cycle or two and then we’re on to the next thing. Our culture has the attention span of a flea. And there may be women who, to some of us history nerds, may seem incredibly famous (e.g. Anne Boleyn. Without her there is no English Reformation and no Elizabeth I); but I’ll bet that there are many people in many countries (and even in many American cities and towns) who have never heard of her. They have heard of Kim Kardashian or Rihanna because of all the online media we are bombarded with in our western culture. But Anne Boleyn? Jeez—I’d hate to think that someone like Kim Kardashian is (currently, at least) the most talked about woman in history; and why; because she keeps putting herself in our faces every day so it’s almost impossible not to know who she is! But all kidding aside, this week, the Duchess of Cambridge will be the most talked about because she is once again with child. For some people, Jane Austen seems to be the most talked about woman in history because the past few years have seen the bicentennial celebrations of the publication of her first four novels.
Q: Of course, you write fiction as well. What is the next book you are working on in fiction and also, do you have another non-fiction planned?
A: As for my next fiction project, my lips are sealed. Sorry. Not even black iced coffee can pry them open. Hopefully, soon I will have an announcement for everyone. As for the nonfiction—I have an idea that I have to run by my editor. So that, too, is up in the air.
Q: What is your favorite midnight snack that you recommend to readers who buy your book and read each juicy page long into the night?
A:Healthy or non-healthy? Raspberries are my favorite food; so decadent and velvety, and hardly any calories: you can eat an entire box and not feel guilty. On the other hand, you can never go wrong with a really good cupcake. And hot cocoa. With an ounce or so of Kahlua in it. Or Amaretto.
Erin: Let me pass you some chocolate cupcakes then, and we’ll spend the afternoon writing. Thank you so much Leslie for stopping by to discuss love and marriage in history today. Your book was a pleasure to sink into one lonely evening when everyone else had gone to bed! It should be a mini-series on the history channel (I say this in my REVIEW too). Take care and look forward to seeing you back here again.
Leslie: Bye, Erin! Thank you SO much for inviting me to chat with your readers. I’m loving this comfy red leather chair, by the way. And your mini-series idea. Do I seriously have to leave?
Erin Comments: Nope, you just sit right there with your chocolate cupcake, coffee, and we’ll write the afternoon away.
Inglorious Royal Marriages, Synopsis~
Why does it seem that the marriages of so many monarchs are often made in hell? And yet we can’t stop reading about them! To satisfy your schadenfreude, INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES offers a panoply of the most spectacular mismatches in five hundred years of royal history….some of which are mentioned below.
When her monkish husband, England’s Lancastrian Henry VI, became completely catatonic, the unpopular French-born Margaret of Anjou led his army against the troops of their enemy, the Duke of York.
Margaret Tudor, her niece Mary I, and Catherine of Braganza were desperately in love with chronically unfaithful husbands—but at least they weren’t murdered by them, as were two of the Medici princesses.
King Charles II’s beautiful, high-spirited sister “Minette” wed Louis XIV’s younger brother, who wore more makeup and perfume than she did.
Compelled by her mother to wed her boring, jug-eared cousin Ferdinand, Marie of Roumania—a granddaughter of Queen Victoria—emerged as a heroine of World War I by using her prodigious personal charm to regain massive amounts of land during the peace talks at Versailles. Marie’s younger sister Victoria Melita wed two of her first-cousins: both marriages ultimately scandalized the courts of Europe.
Brimming with outrageous real-life stories of royal marriages gone wrong, this is an entertaining, unforgettable book of dubious matches doomed from the start.
Praise for Leslie Carroll’s Royal Books~
“An irresistible combination of People magazine and the History Channel.”—Chicago Tribune (5 Stars)
“For those who tackled Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and can’t get enough of the scandal surrounding Henry VIII’s wives, [Notorious Royal Marriages is] the perfect companion book.”—NewYorker.com
Other books in the series:
Notorious Royal Marriages
Purchase the Book, Inglorious Royal Marriages~
Leslie Carroll, Biography~
Leslie Carroll is the author of several works of historical non-fiction, women’s fiction, and, under the pen names Juliet Grey and Amanda Elyot, is a multipublished author of historical fiction. Her non-fiction titles include Royal Romances, Royal Pains, Royal Affairs, and Notorious Royal Marriages. She is also a classically trained professional actress with numerous portrayals of virgins, vixens, and villainesses to her credit, and is an award-winning audio book narrator.
A frequent commentator on royal romances and relationships, Leslie has been interviewed by numerous publications, including MSNBC.com, USA Today, the Australian Broadcasting Company, and NPR, and she was a featured royalty historian on CBS nightly news in London during the royal wedding coverage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
She also appears as an expert on the love lives of Queen Victoria, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great, and Napoleon on the television series “The Secret Life of [fill in the name of famous figure]” for Canada’s History Channel. Leslie and her husband, Scott, divide their time between New York City and Washington, D.C.
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Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @lcarrollauthor @penguinusa