Category Archives: Guest Posts

Women in History: Mistresses of the French Court and Political Power

It’s time for a new Celebrating Women Series for 2017. March is Women in History month and so I’m featuring writers and authors who sent in guest articles surrouding women  In fact, it will extend way past March. You can find a main page for this with explanation and link to all articles here. I’ll add the article as I schedule or post them.

Next up is historical author Sally Christie who writes of mistresses of the French court in her novels. Here she writes how the best way for women to gain power in 18th century France was through the bed sheets. Without further ado, here is article #2 in the series.


Marquise de Pompadour, one of Louis XV Official Mistresses

Bedchamber Politics: Women and Political Power in 18th Century France

by Sally Christie, historical fiction author

For women, the path to political power in 18th century France was most definitely via the bedchamberand the back staircase.Louis XV, king for most of the 18th century (from 1715 to 1774), was perhaps the French king most ruled by his mistresses and his passions, and so it was a century where women wielded enormous (albeit unofficial) influence on the country and the course of history.

In the 18th century France was still an absolute monarchy, with none of the parliamentary checks and balances that were gradually coming to define life in other European courts. The king was the state, the state was the king, and his will was law. In order to influence that will, access was the main prerequisite for power – to have the king’s ear, you needed to be physically at his side. At Versailles, the “entrées” – literally, privileges to enter certain rooms, with the greatest entrées being the right to enter the king’s bedchamber – were hotly contested prerogatives of the high nobility. Much time and effort was spent in vying for improved access, or jealously guarding, for yourself and your descendants, access already attained.

With their daily access to the Queen, her ladies-in-waiting were in an important position and these were the highest official (paid and with an apartment in the palace) posts that could be obtained by women. In 1725, as soon as the king’s wife had been decided on, the next great question on everyone’s mind was who would be the new Queen’s attendants? These (typically) 12 women would be the Queen’s constant companions (generally serving one week a month), and each appointment was a political move; they were selected to carefully balance power in the Court, especially the rival families of the Bourbons and the Orléans. Behind each of the lucky 12 ladies selected was a whole army of family followers placing heavy expectations on the chosen protégées.

But the woman with the greatest access and therefore the greatest influence was of course the king’s main mistress, known as the Official Favorite (in many ways it was a real title, as well as an acknowledgement of her position and power). The Official Favorite was expected to be one of the main conduits for influence with the king, and was expected to participate in charity and patronage and style setting, etc. No matter her background, she was the most powerful woman at Court.

For women more than men, rank and influence were often separated. In precedence, the wife and daughters of the king were highest in rank, but often lowest in influence. This was especially true of Louis XV’s Polish wife: despite some initial devotion, Marie Leszcynskawas quickly sidelined politically, and then socially when the king ceased to share her bed after about 10 years of marriage.

The estrangement of the royal couple was an interesting and important inflection point in Louis’ life. The Cardinal Fleury was Louis’ chief advisor, and he would have been very aware that his young charge was rather malleable and weak-willed. Once the king’s eyes and thoughts started to stray from his wife, Fleury had a potential crisis on his hands: it was imperative to keep Louis in friendly hands, and not in the hands (literally!) of a female representative of an opposing faction.

The selection of Louise de Mailly Nesle as a malleable young mistress for the king really did happen the way I describe it in The Sisters of Versailles – Louise was selected because she was docile, shy, not terribly clever, and mostly uninterested in politics.


Or so they thought; they could not have foreseen the floodgates that her selection would open and the damage his eventual affairs with three of her sisters, over the course of the next decade, would have on the reputation of the monarchy.

In the wake of the departure of the last Mailly Nesle sister from the king’s bed there was a literal frenzy, with families pushing forward their daughters (and wives!) in the hopes of catching the king’s eye. Within hardly more than a month,Jeanne de Poisson, the future Marquise de Pompadour, who had essentially been groomed for the role since she was a little girl, was in the king’s bed, and kept her hands firmly on the reins of power for the next 20 years.

Later historians, writing about the largely disastrous reign of Louis XV, blame Pompadour for many of France’s missteps during the 18th century – accumulating debt, disastrous wars and lost colonies – and even Nancy Mitford writing from the 1950s, accused Pompadour of being as ineffective as most women are in politics! However, in a political system built off of patronage, nepotism and inherited key posts, most ministers were ineffectual and incompetent and mostly interested in their own advancement over the needs of the state. Jeanne at least was shrewd and intelligent, and it was she who recognized and supported the Duc de Choiseul, one of the only competent menin government.

The King’s last mistress, the Comtesse du Barry, was completely uninterested in politics, but she became a pawn for the power faction opposing the Duc de Choiseul, and sadly she was instrumental in his departure. With his departure the last statesman with any positive impact left the Court, with disastrous consequences for king and country.

After Louis’ death, the “era of the mistress” came to an end with the (shocking for the time) faithful Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette. For the first time in almost seven decades, the queen was first in precedence, but also first in political and social influence. Arriving as a young girl of 14, Marie Antoinette got off to a bad start with the old guard of Versailles, and once constraints on her behavior were lifted when she became queen at 19, she surrounded herself withfriends she liked, some of whom were not from the senior nobility, and elevated them and their families above high aristocracy. Mistresses were perhaps expected to act like that, but a Queen was expected in appearance be neutral and spread favors (acknowledgements, inclusion) evenly amongst the old families with their jealously guarded entrées.

Marie Antoinette took to hiding out at her little retreats in the ground of Versailles, where the palace entrées were meaningless. The high nobility were cut off from this channel of influence and came toresent the Queen; they hated Marie Antoinette almost as much as everyone else seemed to do! What they didn’t realize, and what I think is a really interesting point, is that by complaining about her and undermining her, they were actually helping to undermine the royal family in general.

It all ended badly for Marie Antoinette,and after the revolution, with Napoleon and then with the Restoration, queens and / or mistresses gradually lost much of their power as the monarchy ceased to be absolute and parliamentary checks and balances were solidified. It would not be until our own era that women would once again have the impact and influence they did in the 18th century.

Sally Christie, Biography

03_Sally Christie_AuthorSally Christie is the author of The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, about the many (!) mistresses of King Louis XV of France: The Sisters of Versailles, about the Mailly Nesle sisters; The Rivals of Versailles, about Madame de Pompadour; and The Enemies of Versailles, about the Comtesse du Barry. She was born in England and grew up around the world, attending eight schools in three different languages. She spent most of her career working in international development, and currently lives in Toronto. A life-long history buff, she wishes time travel was a reality: she’d be off to the 18th century in a flash!

Visit to find out more about Sally and the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy. You can also find her on FacebookGoodreads, and Amazon.

02_The Enemies of VersaillesThe Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

Publication Date: March 21, 2017
Atria Books
eBook & Paperback; 416 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: The Mistresses of Versailles, Book Three

In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.

“That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute is quite another kettle of fish.”

After decades of suffering the King’s endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.

Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches irrevocable change.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Kobo

Praise for The Sisters of Versailles (book one)

“Such an extraordinary tale makes for compelling reading and, as the lead book in a planned trilogy, will draw in readers who are interested in royal lives before the French Revolution….historical fiction fans, unfamiliar with the history of the Nesle sisters, will be intrigued.” (Library Journal)

“Sally Christie’s The Sisters of Versailles is an intriguing romp through Louis XV’s France. Filled with lush backdrops, rich detail, and colorful characters, fans of historical fiction will enjoy this glimpse into the lost golden era of the French monarchy.” (Allison Pataki, author of THE ACCIDENTAL EMPRESS )


Thank you for joining us for this series!

Women in History

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Filed under Guest Posts, women in history

Article: The Dark Lady of Devon by Catherine Cavendish

Catherine Cavendish is one of my most loved authors and a great writer friend. She’s one of the most talented women gothic and horror writers working today and she’s extremely supportive of other authors and her writing friends. She lives in the UK and always offers me the best essays for my site featuring haunts from there (though she has featured some in the states too), which I always love. Enjoy her article today on a very interesting ghost, and check out all her gothic titles, recently re-released. Linden Manor, and some of her other books, are some of my favorite reads.

The Dark Lady of Devon

by Catherine Cavendish, author of Linden Manor


“My ladye hath a sable coach,

And horses two and four;

My ladye hath a black blood-hound

That runneth on before.

My ladye’s coach hath nodding plumes,

The driver hath no head;

My ladye is an ashen white,

As one that long is dead.”

My novella – Linden Manor – features the ghost of Lady Celia Fitzmichael, about whom a scary nursery rhyme was written, which haunted my main character, Lesley Carpenter. In it, Lady Celia is never mentioned by name. Instead, she is referred to as ‘The Scottish Bride.’ And woe betide you if you laid eyes on her ‘blackened face.’

This made me research other notable hauntings by tormented brides (and women generally) and, inevitably, my path led to Devon, home of so many wonderful hauntings and folklore. Here, I found a tale which has all the hallmarks of a Daphne du Maurier dark story (OK, I know she wrote in neighbouring Cornwall, but you get my drift.) The tale of Lady Mary Howard is a dark and tragic one. Every night, her ghostly carriage and massive black dog, regularly travel sixteen miles from Okehampton Castle to Fitzford House and back again. Each time, the purpose of their journey appears to be to transport a single blade of grass.


So who was Lady Mary? And why does she perform this repetitive ritual?

She was born Mary Fitz in 1596, only legitimate child of Sir John Fitz, a man whose inherited wealth made him too rich, too young (at age 21). He spent his money, sinking into depravity and degeneracy to Dorian Gray proportions. His wickedness eventually alienated him from the whole of Tavistock – the town near his home of Fitzford House. Then, two men were killed on the steps of his house. They included his best friend. John Fitz slid into insanity and committed suicide at the age of 30, leaving nine year old Mary alone. She was sold by King James I to the Earl of Northumberland. He married her off to his brother, Sir Allan Percy, to ensure her fortune passed to their family when Mary was just twelve years old. Her new husband was 31.


The enforced marriage was shortlived as Percy caught a chill while on a hunting trip and died in 1611. Soon after, Mary eloped with her true love, Thomas Darcy. Tragically though, he died just a few months later. Mary had yet to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, so she was technically still the Earl’s ward. He married her off to husband number three – Sir Charles Howard, fourth son of the Earl of Suffolk. They had two children who both appear to have died in infancy. Then he too succumbed and died – of unknown causes – leaving Mary a widow for the third time at the age of just 26.

By now, tongues were wagging. That’s a lot of husbands to lose in rapid succession. Had the father lived on in his daughter? After all, didn’t Sir John Fitz become mixed up in murder at one time?

By now, perhaps as a result of her experiences at the hands of unscrupulous men, Mary had learned a little about keeping her hands firmly on her own purse-strings. She was now a wealthy and desirable widow and married husband number four – Sir Richard Grenville – who no doubt thought he was onto a good thing. He soon found out his new wife wasn’t to be taken advantage of. He didn’t like it and vented his wrath cruelly on her. Mary refused to relent, and kept her money safe.


In the end, Sir Richard’s cruelty became too much for Mary and she sued for divorce, between 1631-32. From then on, a series of extraordinary events saw Sir Richard imprisoned for debt, his subsequent disappearance for seven years and terrible injustice heaped on Mary when he returned and a court ordered that he could seize Fitzford House and her possessions. When Mary eventually turned up there (she had been living in London), she found the mansion wrecked.

Her marriage to Grenville was the only one to produce children – a son, Richard, who died young, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary – neither of whom Mary had anything to do with as they served as a constant reminder of their father. She did keep one child with her though. Her son, George, born around 1634 and whose father is unknown (possibly Theophilus, Earl of Suffolk).


As she grew older and remained, with her son, at the restored Fitzford House, Lady Mary became noted around Tavistock for her strong will and imperious temper. When her son died unexpectedly in 1671, she never recovered and died soon after. Then the legendary hauntings began.

It is said that, at dead of night, the gates of Fitzford House creak open and a massive black hound, with flaming red eyes bounds forward. Behind it rattles a coach made of bones, driven by a headless coachman. Its single passenger is a ghostly lady. Sixteen miles up the road, the coach stops at Okehampton Castle where the dog picks a single blade of grass. Back at Fitzford House, the dog lays this carefully down on a stone. Legend has it that when all the grass has been thus transported from Okehampton Castle, Lady Mary will finally be at rest.


Now, here’s a flavour of Linden Manor:

Have you ever been so scared your soul left your body?

All her life, Lesley Carpenter has been haunted by a gruesome nursery rhyme—“The Scottish Bride”—sung to her by her great grandmother. To find out more about its origins, Lesley visits the mysterious Isobel Warrender, the current hereditary owner of Linden Manor, a grand house with centuries of murky history surrounding it.

But her visit transforms into a nightmare when Lesley sees the ghost of the Scottish bride herself, a sight that, according to the rhyme, means certain death. The secrets of the house slowly reveal themselves to Lesley, terrible secrets of murder, evil and a curse that soaks the very earth on which Linden Manor now stands. But Linden Manor has saved its most chilling secret for last.

Linden Manor has just been reissued by Crossroad Press and is available from:


Barnes and Noble


Other books by Catherine Cavendish include:


And are currently available – or soon will be – from:

Catherine Cavendish Amazon page

Catherine Cavendish Amazon page


Catherine Cavendish lives with a long-suffering husband and ‘trainee’ black cat in North Wales. Her home is in a building dating back to the mid-18th century, which is haunted by a friendly ghost, who announces her presence by footsteps, switching lights on and strange phenomena involving the washing machine and the TV. Cat has written a number of published horror novellas, short stories, and novels, frequently reflecting her twin loves of history and horror and often containing more than a dash of the dark and Gothic. When not slaving over a hot computer, she enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.

You can connect with her here:

Catherine Cavendish





Filed under Guest Posts, Uncategorized

Evangeline: Guest Article by Catherine Cavendish – Did You Have an Invisible Friend? Spooky!

This evening I have a spooky guest article from one of my favorite gothic, scary writers who has also become a good friend, Cat Cavendish. She writes some of the favorite articles I feature here on this site. I always appreciate her dropping by. Yesterday was the release of her latest work, The Devil’s Serenade. Stay around after the post and spend a few bucks to enjoy the book yourself. You won’t be sorry!


by Catherine Cavendish, Author of The Devil’s Serenade

pic 1

When you were growing up, did you have an imaginary friend? Did they seem real to you? Maybe sort-of-real. You could talk to them, imagine their responses, play with them but you probably kept the ‘relationship’ within certain boundaries – however young you were. In my case, I invented an entire family of siblings – three sisters (two older, one a few years younger) and an older brother who looked out for us girls. Being an only child, I found them comforting, and fun, but I never imagined them to be real. They, in turn, kept themselves firmly lodged in my own mind and never attempted to cross any boundary into the real world.

In my new novel, The Devil’s Serenade, my central character also had an imaginary family when she was a child. Scarily for her, they now start to appear in her real adult world.

Of course, my story is fiction, but there have been a number of accounts of small children making ‘friends’ with most unsuitable imaginary friends – who then cross the line. They can do this, of course, because they are not really imaginary at all – just invisible, at least to all except the child itself.

Take the case of a couple called Mark and Sarah. They had a young pre-school age daughter – Sophia – and, in order to give her a better life, moved from London to a sizeable country house dating back a couple of hundred years. At first, they were delighted with their new home and the peace and tranquility of an English village really appealed to them. But that was before things started to go badly wrong.

pic 2

It all started one day in summer when Sophia went missing. She had been playing in her room but, when her mother went up to check on her, she wasn’t there. Mark had gone out, taking the family dog – Daisy –  for a walk. Suddenly there was a mighty crash from the floor above and Sarah raced up the stairs. She threw open the door of a room that had formerly been a nursery and still contained Victorian and Edwardian children’s toys. There was no sign either of the cause of the crash or of Sophia and, puzzled, Sarah turned to leave the room. She jumped when she saw Sophia in the doorway.

The two went downstairs to the kitchen and Sarah poured her daughter a glass of milk. Sophia looked thoughtful for a few moments and then spoke. “Mummy, I want to play with the dolls’ house upstairs but Evangeline told me it was her sister’s and I can’t.”

“Who’s Evangeline?” her mother asked.

“My new friend.”

Sarah remembered that she too had had an imaginary friend when she was around Sophia’s age and thought no more of it. Then Mark returned with Daisy. Sophia had gone back to her room to play with her new ‘friend’. As soon as Mark opened the front door, Daisy bounded up the stairs, barking her head off. She raced into Sophia’s room and the little girl screamed.

“Evangeline’s scared of dogs! Get Daisy away!”

The little girl’s eyes were wide, her face blanched. Sarah felt a chill of fear race through her body. Something wasn’t right. This imaginary friend seemed far more real to her than her own had been. Mark pulled Daisy out of the room and Sarah comforted her sobbing child.

“I’m sorry, Mummy, but dogs really scare Evangeline.”

pic 3

The next few days were fairly uneventful. Sophia constantly chattered about her new friend. “Evangeline let me play with the dolls’ house. She’s very nice.”

“Good,” her mother replied, going along with what she believed to be her child’s fantasy, but still unable to reconcile the trepidation she felt.

Then, over the next few days, Evangeline seemed to misbehave. Sophia complained that she wouldn’t share her toys anymore.

One evening, when Mark was away on business, Sarah’s fears became a terrifying encounter.

Sophia had fallen asleep on the sofa in the living room and her mother hadn’t the heart to wake her. The grandfather clock began to chime midnight when the lights flickered and then went out. Sarah stumbled out of the kitchen with a flashlight in her hand and opened the living room door. A scream caught in her throat at the sight that greeted her in the beam from her torch.

pic 4

 A young girl, no more than thirteen or fourteen, wearing a long, frilly white dress in late Victorian style, was kneeling on the floor next to Sophia, stroking the child’s hair and softly singing a lullaby. Evangeline. It had to be. But why was she here?

“Get away from her!” Sarah yelled. Suddenly Daisy bounded past her and started barking. Clearly the dog was seeing what she was. Sophia woke and burst into tears.

The apparition was on her feet and backing away from Daisy, a look of frozen terror on her face.

“Who are you? What do you want from my daughter?” Sarah cried.

But Evangeline ignored her. It seemed her only concern was to get away from the dog. She dashed across the room, turned, screamed and disappeared. The lights instantly came back on.

Sarah called Mark who came home straightaway. The couple called in the local priest, who knew something of the history of the house. He listened to their story, his expression increasingly amazed at what they told him. It transpired that a family with a young daughter had lived in the house a hundred or more years earlier and there had been a terrible tragedy. The family dog, normally placid and good with children, inexplicably turned on the girl and savaged her. She died from her injuries.

The girl’s name was Evangeline.

The priest blessed the house and the family never saw or heard the ghost girl again. They have never been able to find a rational explanation for their experience and it seems Sophia has forgotten she ever had a friend who couldn’t be there.

pic 5.jpg

Now, to give you a taste of The Devil’s Serenade, here’s the blurb:

Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…

“Madeleine Chambers of Hargest House” has a certain grandeur to it. But as Maddie enters the Gothic mansion she inherited from her aunt, she wonders if its walls remember what she’s blocked out of the summer she turned sixteen.

She’s barely settled in before a series of bizarre events drive her to question her sanity. Aunt Charlotte’s favorite song shouldn’t echo down the halls. The roots of a faraway willow shouldn’t reach into the cellar. And there definitely shouldn’t be a child skipping from room to room.

As the barriers in her mind begin to crumble, Maddie recalls the long-ago summer she looked into the face of evil. Now, she faces something worse. The mansion’s long-dead builder, who has unfinished business—and a demon that hungers for her very soul.

Here’s an extract:

A large flashlight rested on the bottom stair and I switched it on, shining it into the dark corners. There wasn’t a lot to see. A few broken bits of furniture, old fashioned kitchen chairs, some of which looked vaguely familiar, jam jars, crates that may once have held bottles of beer.

The beam caught the clump of gnarled and twisted roots that intertwined with each other, like Medusa’s snakes. I edged closer to it, my heart thumping more than it should. It was only a tree, for heaven’s sake! The nearest one was probably the willow. Surely, that was too far away? I knew little about trees, but I was pretty certain their roots couldn’t extend that far.

I examined the growth from every angle in that silent cellar. The roots were definitely spreading along the floor and, judging by the thickness and appearance of them, had been there for many years. Gray, like thick woody tendrils, they reached around six feet along and possibly four feet across at their widest point. I bent down. Close up, the smell that arose from them was cloyingly sweet. Sickeningly so. I put one hand over my nose, rested the flashlight on the steps and reached out with the fingers of my free hand to touch the nearest root. It wriggled against my palm.

I cried out, staggered backward and fell against the stairs. The flashlight clattered to the floor and went out. Only the overhead bulb provided any light, and it didn’t reach this darkest corner. Something rustled. I struggled to my feet, grabbed the torch and ran up the stairs. I slammed the door shut and locked it, leaned against it and tried to slow down my breathing. A marathon runner couldn’t have panted more.

I tapped the flashlight and it flickered into life, seemingly none the worse for its accident. I switched it off and set it on the floor by the cellar door. Whoever came to fix those roots was going to need it.

You can find The Devil’s Serenade here:

 Samhain Publishing


Barnes and Noble


And other online retailers

About the author:

Catherine Cavendish

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories.

She was the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits in the Shadows.

Other titles include: The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine, Dark Avenging Angel, The Second Wife, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, The Devil Inside Her, Cold Revenge and In My Lady’s Chamber.

You can connect with Cat here:

Catherine Cavendish







Filed under Feature Articles, Guest Posts, Uncategorized

Author Nancy Bilyeau Speaks: Taking History Seriously When Writing Novels, What Makes a Historian?

Taking History Seriously When Writing Novels: What Makes a Historian?
by Nancy Bilyeau, Author of The Tapestry

02_Nancy BilyeauI AM NOT A HISTORIAN

There. I said it.

I’m still alive. 😀

More and more, it appears that historical novelists are positioning themselves as historians. Readers demand accuracy in their fiction set in the past—authors certified in history can supply it.

Philippa Gregory’s website begins with this statement:  “Philippa Gregory was an established historian and writer when she discovered her interest in the Tudor period and wrote the novel The Other Boleyn Girl which was made into a TV drama and a major film.”

I’ve seen other websites and interviews and book jackets in which the novelists either proudly proclaim it or weave the word into their background: “historian.” It’s become something of a magical word, and not just because it was the title of one of my favorite books: Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.  (That book mixed digging for obscure historical facts in quiet libraries with…Dracula!)

I’ve never made this claim for myself because I believe I lack the necessary credentials…don’t I?

Let’s take a look at the description in Merriam Webster: 1. “a student or writer of history; especially: one who produces a scholarly synthesis. 2.: a writer of compiler of a chronicle.”

Another definition: “historian: an expert in or student of history, especially that of a particular period, geographical region, or social phenomenon.”

  1. I studied history for my bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. After I “broke the curve” of a test given in the early 20th century American history class taught by Professor Sidney Fine, himself a nationally known historian and a Guggenheim Fellow, Professor Fine invited me to his Ann Arbor house. He offered me lemonade and we drank it on his elegant wooden porch as he suggested that I pursue a master’s degree in history. I realize now that this was it: the secret handshake, the door opening to the chamber in which dwelled historians.

But I didn’t pass through the door. I was eager to launch myself on the world of work, not remain at the university, pursuing another degree. (I know: Nuts!)

Without advanced degrees in history, one cannot claim to be a historian. At least, that’s what I’ve always assumed. If you read those definitions above one more time, they don’t specify any sort of degree. Still, I shy away from putting this word on my website, bio, book jacket or facebook page. Just doesn’t seem right.

01_The Tapestry

Here’s the experience I do offer readers of my work:

Journalist—at newspapers and then at magazines, I learned on the job how to assess facts, assimilate information and structure a story. I’ve always had an image in my mind of being trained by a historian—a distinguished older man, bearded of course (looking like Professor Fine!), leans over a student at work on the thick table, chiding, “No! Can’t you tell that those are discredited documents? What am I going to do with you??” But I do seek accuracy and practice skepticism. In my years in media, if I made a mistake it did more than earn the disfavor of the bearded professor. It could lead to a printed correction and maybe the boot!

Working as a reporter also made me rather…assertive. When I was frustrated with my research on The Crown, trying to find elusive details about being confined in the 1530s in the Tower of London, I decided to go to the source. I used the “contact” email on the website for the Tower and didn’t stop bothering them until they referred me to someone with access to documents. I’ve since worked my way through two curatorial interns. One emailed me a PDF of Edward Seymour’s diet sheet while he was imprisoned, another pulled together every contemporary fact about the beheading on Tower Hill of Thomas Cromwell. (Don’t let anyone tell you he died at Tyburn!)

History lover—I did like my study of history at the University of Michigan. But since I was 11 years old I have loved reading on my own about centuries past, primarily stories set in Europe and, of course, Tudor England. I pored over every biography I could find on Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Mary I and Elizabeth I. The historical fiction that first captured my heart was written by Norah Lofts, Jean Plaidy, Mary Stewart and Anya Seton. Later on, I devoured Mary Renault, Robert Graves, Margaret George, Bernard Cornwell, C.W. Gortner, Kate Quinn, Patricia Bracewell and Mary Sharratt.

Storyteller – As a writer of narrative nonfiction for 20 years, I learned a great deal from my editors on clarity, pacing and the need for the right descriptive detail. I’ve tried to pass these lessons on to the writers I edit too. I also wrote three screenplays before beginning The Crown, and learned from teachers such as screenwriter Max Adams how to write visually and describe characters with the right evocative phrase.

I always wonder what other historical novelists feel about the “historian” question. For this blog post, I decided to ask a few. (Remember, I am assertive 😀 )



Erika Robuck, author of fantastic historical fiction like Hemingway’s Girl and the soon-to-be-published The House of Hawthorne, says, “”I think a historian is an expert in a time period or culture, and holds a degree to support that level of expertise. I am an enthusiast, not an historian.”


Eva Stachniak, who has written two of my favorite historical novels, The Winter Palace and Empress of the Night, says, “As a writer of historical novels, I have to know my history, in and out, understand it on many levels, political, social, cultural. I have to be able to imagine how everyday life was lived at the time when my novel is set. For my two Catherine the Great novels, I studied the life of the Russian court, not just its politics, but also its everyday routines. I researched spies and spying, dressmaking, bookbinding, medical procedures and the ins and outs of 18th century renovations. Does it make me a historian? I am not convinced. But it makes me a student of history. It makes me re-imagine the exiting research in a creative way. However, even if I make no claims to being a historian, I claim my passion for history and my ability to make it seem alive for my readers.”


My friend Sophie Perinot, author of Sister Queens and Medicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois (pub date: December 2015), has thought about this question even more than I have. She had some fascinating things to say:

“I am not a historian, despite having a BA in history–at least when I have my novelist hat on–because my work isn’t driven by history, or entirely limited by it.

“I’ve had to give serious thought to the line between what I call “H”istory (academic history) and history as portrayed by novelists. I’ve discussed the subject in a pair of lectures given to university history students during their unit on the uses of undergraduate history degrees after graduation.  And I think most historical novelists grapple with the “who is a historian” question because Historical Fiction is undeniably a pop culture way that people today consume history, and those of us who write it are keenly aware that lots of  fans blur the line between NON-FICTION HISTORY and the FICTIONALIZED HISTORY OF HISTORICAL NOVELS.

“Let me start by saying that I have a background in history having graduated with a BA in that subject—but I don’t write BIG “H” history, nor, in my opinion does any other writer in my genre.  Professors write BIG “H” academic history ( I have a sister who is a professor of history so I have tremendous respect for academic historians).

“Why do I say this?  Well first and foremost a novelist’s work is not driven by the overt goal of educating readers on a particular period or by presenting an overview of a historical issue or time. The historical novelist’s work is driven by considerations of plot and theme—by the desire to tell a universal story that is set in the past but transcends it.

“So, I am not a historian, at least when I have my novelist hat on, because my work isn’t driven by history, or entirely limited by it. BUT if I write first rate historical fiction – and I’d like to think I do – then in telling my story I want to be true to historical facts as we know them.  Good historical novelists use the same sorts of resources that students of history would use to write an academic paper—JSTOR, scholarly journal articles, primary sources, and secondary sources (biographies, prior histories).”


I hope that when you read my historical thrillers, or the fiction by Erika Robuck, Eva Stachniak or Sophie Perinot, you’ll relish not just the story but the awareness that we take our history very seriously—even if we don’t call ourselves historians.

Of that, I think, even Professor Fine would approve.

Check out Nancy’s newest book, The Tapestry, which is the third in her Joanna Stafford Historical Mystery Series! If you haven’t ready any of Nancy’s trilogy, The Crown is book one and The Chalice is book two. 

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The Tapestry, Synopsis and Info~

US Publication Date: March 24, 2015
UK Publication Date: April 24, 2015

Touchstone Publishing
Formats: eBook, Hardcover
Pages: 390

Series: Joanna Stafford, Book Three
Genre: Historical Mystery


In THE CROWN, Sister Joanna Stafford searched for a Dark Ages relic that could save her priory from Cromwell’s advancing army of destruction. In THE CHALICE, Joanna was drawn

into an international conspiracy against Henry VIII himself as she struggled to learn the truth behind a prophecy of his destruction.

Now, in THE TAPESTRY, Joanna Stafford finally chooses her own destiny.

After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.

Praise for The Tapestry~

“Nancy Bilyeau’s passion for history infuses her books and transports us back to the dangerous world of Tudor England. Vivid characters and gripping plots are at the heart of this wonderful trilogy, and this third book will not fail to thrill readers. Warmly recommended!” – Bestselling Author Alison Weir

“Illuminated by Bilyeau’s vivid prose, minor players of Tudor England emerge from the shadows.” —Kirkus Reviews

“In THE TAPESTRY, Nancy Bilyeau brilliantly captures both the white-hot religious passions and the brutal politics of Tudor England. It is a rare book that does both so well.” —Sam Thomas, author of The Midwife’s Tale

“In spite of murderous plots, volatile kings, and a divided heart, Joanna Stafford manages to stay true to her noble character. Fans of Ken Follett will devour Nancy Bilyeau’s novel of political treachery and courageous love, set amid the endlessly fascinating Tudor landscape.” —Erika Robuck, author of Hemingway’s Girl

“These aren’t your mother’s nuns! Nancy Bilyeau has done it again, giving us a compelling and wonderfully realized portrait of Tudor life in all its complexity and wonder. A nun, a tapestry, a page-turning tale of suspense: this is historical mystery at its finest.” —Bruce Holsinger, author of A Burnable Book and The Invention of Fire

“A supremely deft, clever and pacy entertainment. This is Nancy Bilyeau’s most thrilling—and enlightening—novel in the Joanna Stafford series yet.” —Andrew Pyper, author of The Demonologist and The Damned

“A master of atmosphere, Nancy Bilyeau imbues her novel with a sense of dread and oppression lurking behind the royal glamour; in her descriptions and characterizations… Bilyeau breathes life into history.” —Laura Andersen, author of The Boleyn King

Purchase The Tapestry~

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Author Nancy Bilyeau, Biography~

02_Nancy BilyeauNancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine.

Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza.

A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013. THE TAPESTRY released March 24, 2015.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Stay in touch with her on Twitter at @tudorscribe. For more information or to sign up for Nancy’s Newsletter please visit her official website.


To enter to win one of three signed hardcover copies of The Tapestry, please complete the giveaway form below.

Direct Link to ENTER:


  • Giveaway starts on March 16th at 12:01 a.m. EST and ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on April 3rd.
  • Giveaway is open to residents in North American and the UK.
  • You must be 18 or older to enter.
  • Winners will be chosen via GLEAM on April 4th and notified via email.
  • Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
  • Please email Amy @ with any questions.

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Guest Article by Peni Jo Renner: Researching How They Did Things in History

How did they do it? The Best Thing about Writing Historical Fiction

by Peni Jo Renner, author of The Puritan Chronicles Series

Ever since I was a child, I always loved history, and what intrigued me most was discovering how people did everyday things before modern conveniences. How did they start fires before matches were invented in 1805? How did they preserve food? What did they do for entertainment?

Growing up, I used to beg my parents for an encyclopedia set that was printed in my lifetime (the only encyclopedia set in the house was printed during the Eisenhower administration), but I never got it. L It became too much of a pain to try to research things (I have a very short attention span) by books alone, and so my love of writing (and thus dream of writing historical fiction) lay dormant for over 20 years.

And then—wonder of wonders!— along comes THE INTERNET!  If it had existed in the 1970’s, I would have NEVER stopped writing! Even if I am not working on a story, I love to fire up Google and type in some random question like, “When were saltines invented?” and like magic, article after article will come up for my perusal.  Because heaven forbid, I can’t have a character eating a soda cracker before they were invented yet, can I ?(FYI; according to Wikipedia, saltines were invented in 1876).

Another reason I enjoy learning how things were done “in the olden days” is that I like to try them myself. For example, I took up yarn spinning a few years ago. I started out using a simple spindle, one of the oldest tools known to man (dates back to the Stone Age, in fact!). I like to think that on some molecular level, when I spin yarn, I am connecting with generations deep into my own past.

There’s lots of different kinds of writing, but my favorite genre of course is historical fiction. My family’s past in particular intrigues me, and I encourage anyone with a desire to write historical fiction to look within the branches of their own family tree. You’ll learn and discover some fantastic things!


Letters to Kezia, Synopsis~

Publication Date: January 14, 2015
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 208

Series: Book Two, The Puritan Chronicles
Genre: Historical Fiction

It is 1693 in Hereford, Connecticut, when Mary Case, the spinster daughter of a Puritan minister, finds herself hopelessly smitten by the roguish thief, Daniel Eames. Betrothed to a man she does not like or love, she is soon compelled to help Daniel escape from jail. Suddenly, she finds herself on the run, not only accused of being Daniel’s accomplice, but also of murder.

The fugitive pair soon finds solace-and a mutual attraction-among the escapee’s Algonquin friends until two men from Daniel’s dark past hunt them down. After Mary is captured and returned home to await trial, a tragedy takes the life of her younger sister, revealing a dark secret Mary’s father has kept for months. But just as Mary learns she is pregnant, she makes a horrifying discovery about Daniel that changes everything and prompts her to develop an unlikely bond with his mother, Rebecca, who soon saves Mary from a shocking fate. It is not until years later that her daughter, Kezia, finally learns the truth about her biological father and family.

Letters to Kezia shares a courageous woman’s journey through a Puritan life and beyond as she struggles with adversity and betrayal, and discovers that loyalty can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

Praise for Letters to Kezia~

“In the tradition of author Peni Jo Renner’s gripping debut novel, Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames, Letters to Kezia recounts the tale of courageous, compassionate, and relatable Mary, whose connection to Rebecca and her family is unforeseen and profound. The reader is captivated at the very first page, as Letters to Kezia is a story of forbidden love, deep family secrets, intrigue, murder, and atonement. Another beautifully written triumph for this author, whose immense gift for story-telling transports the reader into each scene so deftly, one can almost smell the wood smoke and hear the crackling of the fire in the hearth.” – Kelly Z. Conrad, award-winning author of Shaman

“Peni Jo Renner enthralled readers with Puritan Witch, the ordeal of Rebecca Eames, who was condemned to hang from Salem’s gallows as a witch. Now the Eames saga continues as Peni uses her special brand of witchery to bring Mary Case and Daniel Eames to vivid life, and shows us just how much a young woman will risk for love. Letters to Kezia is a poignant, true-life tale from colonial New England’s heartland which will captivate you, and keep you guessing until the end.” -JoAnn Butler, author of Rebel Puritan and The Reputed Wife

Buy the Book

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About the Author

03_Author Peni Jo RennerPENI JO RENNER is the author of the IPPY award-winning novel, Puritan Witch: the Redemption of Rebecca Eames.

Originally from North Dakota, Peni now lives with her husband in Maryland where she is currently researching for the third book in the Puritan Chronicles series.

For more information please visit the Puritan Witch Website and Facebook Page. You can also follow Peni Jo Renner on Twitter.

Tour Schedule:

Hashtags: #LetterstoKeziaBlogTour #Historical

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @PeniJoRenner

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