Tag Archives: Historical fiction

A hard road… Prue Batten guest posts

The wonderful Prue Batten has agreed to guest on my blog. Here she talks about researching the 12th century (a period I am not familiar with…haha), and the beauty of online research resources! Enjoy:

The twelfth century

One of the best but potentially the most frustrating things about writing historical fiction is research. In my case, within the twelfth century, I am continually learning but I also have to make extensive executive decisions along the way. Academics disagree – it’s the fundamental core of academia, I suppose, that no academic will spontaneously support another’s view on a historical fact.

Medieval bathing

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

Medieval bathing

Take for example bathing in the Middle Ages. On the one hand, no – they were dirty folk with no plumbing, and filth was endemic. But then on the perverse other hand, yes – they did bathe. Often. It may perhaps have been in the river, lakes or in the sea (unless they lived in the few castles or priories that had an early form of plumbing), but they did wash and valued cleanliness because of the disease rife in the times. I like that particular view and so follow that line.

Medieval velvet?

Or perhaps take velvet. Sharon Penman was forced to apologise for using velvet in one of her books. She says,

In Here Be Dragons, I draped Joanna and other female characters in rich velvet gowns. I later found out that velvet was not known in the 12th century.’

I consider the fact that she felt obliged to apologise unfair, because she is one of our most learned fiction writers.

Non-‘academic’ research shows that velvet did indeed exist ‘…as early as 2000 BC in Egypt, where samples of exquisitely fine linen and silk fabrics have been unearthed. An inventory list from 809 AD, of treasures belonging to Caliph Haroun al-Rashid, includes five hundred bolts of velvet…Velvet production became firmly established as an industry in the Middle East and eastern Europe by about the tenth century…Moorish Spain was a second major centre of velvet production; it had been manufactured there since 948, and various velvet-weavers’ guilds and organisations served to ensure the industry’s prosperity…’ (http://artisanssquare.com – The History of Velvet.)

In my historical fiction books, my twelfth century trading house is based in Venice and its sources of cloth are along the Mediterranean (the Middle Sea) shores and further into Constantinople. Given that trade was not only alive but expanding rapidly, it is surely not a big step to assume that velvet was traded by Moors throughout the Middle Sea, perhaps from Al-Andalus. Basic common sense would indicate that it was entirely possible and indeed probable.

Tobias & The Triptych Chronicle

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Tobias | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

‘An atmospheric journey through the seedy underbelly of medieval Europe.’ SJA Turney, author of the bestselling Marius’s Mules

When I began writing Tobias, the first book in The Triptych Chronicle, I had planned for him to travel to Byzantium, to the great city of Constantinople. However there were enormous issues in establishing a setting with complete veracity. For one thing, much of the architecture of the twelfth century and earlier was destroyed in the Fourth Crusade and the later Ottoman Invasion.

So what to do?

I spoke with a friend who by chance had discovered a stellar online resource. The link became my lifeline, the images something akin to a favoured GPS. That link was www.byzantium1200.com.

Walking around Byzantium

In an instant, I was transported. The 3-D modelling is exceptional, and daily I would wander with Tobias, arm in arm, as we discovered scenes for the drama that would eventually unfold. It wasn’t hard then, to overlay my own sensory perception of crowded streets, cobbles, of watery smells and stone waterfronts slippery with seaweed upon the images I was seeing. Slowly, Constantinople in 1194 AD came alive.

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

Hagia Sophia

In one part of the novel, Tobias must climb the Valens Aqueduct and run along the top of it, at night and in the rain. This was something I hadn’t foreseen in the novel. It was one of those lightning moments when the story rushes along without you. I wondered what the top of that aqueduct was like and being in the far-flung southern hemisphere, couldn’t immediately hop on a plane to visit. But I had images of various aqueducts, along with an image of the extant aqueduct and I was able to put them all together and create what it may have been like in the twelfth century.

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

The Aqueduct of Valens

In addition, I have a very good friend who lives in Istanbul and armed with a list of various sites of twelfth century Constantinople, she would find the unfindable and in so doing, sent me videos and sensory comment, so that I could be as truthful to the geography as possible.

Most of it was indeed unfindable – one location being the Patriarch’s Palace, which was described as being loosely ‘south west of the Augusteon’. This was one of those moments when a writer of historical fiction has to take a leap of faith and draw a conclusion that may at some point in the future, be shot down by a dissenting academic.

But the point is, to date it has worked for any reader reading Tobias, and it definitely worked for me at the time (and probably for Tobias too).

I can only say how grateful I am to those at www.byzantium1200.com for the licence they have given me to imagine. And I hope by the existence of the wonderful images, they are allowing readers to imagine as well.

By Prue Batten

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

Prue Batten, author of historical fiction including Tobias of The Triptych Chronicles, The Gisborne Saga & the fantasy series The Chronicles of Eirie

A former journalist from Australia who graduated with majors in history and politics, Prue is now an award-winning cross genre writer who enjoys creating fiction from history and fantasy.

Her eighth novel, Tobias, has been short-listed as a semi-finalist in the 2016 M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction.

She is also a farmer, dog owner, gardener, embroiderer, swimmer and kayaker.

Direct links to purchase Prue’s books are on her website. See below:

http://www.pruebatten.com

http://www.facebook.com/prue.batten.writer

http://www.pinterest.com/pruebatten

3rd novel Fool Me Twice – a Georgian romance – to be published!

I’m so pleased to announce that my 3rd novel Fool Me Twice is now under contract with Madison Street Publishing and should be emerging into the public light by the end of 2016!

 Fool Me Twice | Historical Georgian Romance | Philippa Jane Keyworth

I signed the contract last week and am really looking forward to the publishing journey again. Now the fun begins, the cover designs, the polishing, the preparing and the final exposure – it’s enough to make me shiver in anticipation. My characters are excited too. Tobias Felton is feeling particularly mischievous as he thinks about the worldwide public observing his antics, whilst Caro Worth hides her face behind her fan, embarrassed to be so scrutinised, a factor which her good friend Lady Rebecca Fairing is looking forward to. It’s all go, and soon the world of Fool Me Twice will be laid before readers’ hungry eyes to be devoured and enjoyed.

The blurb…

I’m sure I will have more to share with you about the book over the coming weeks and months, including being properly introduced to my characters; Lady Etheridge is particularly pleasing to those of us who enjoy cutting humour and people who do not suffer fools lightly. In the mean time, if you cannot bear the agony of waiting for the next morsel of news, why not read the blurb of Fool Me Twice here.

A Georgian romance…

I feel hugely blessed and chuffed to be in this position, and excited by the departure of period from my previous novels (you really will have to read my blurb to find out what I’m talking about…unless you’re an historical fiction buff).

Here’s to the next book!

A Faithful Confidant…

That is, I believe, a just description of Peter Highsmith. No title to bear his name high, but a fortune large enough to compliment any young woman who would bear his name herself, Highsmith is a very amiable gentleman. He has an attractive masculine frame and a pleasant manner which has led to more than one lady in London setting their cap at him.

He however, set his cap in a different direction, but upon finding no reciprocal feeling, he contented himself with becoming Miss Julia Rotherham’s confidant.

Highsmith’s mischievous humour and Julia’s sharp wit rub well together. However, if Highsmith were to pick fault, it would be Julia’s impetuosity as in The Unexpected Earl she seems to have a knack of embroiling him in several schemes.

Highsmith, though game for all sorts of designs, does like to be in charge of all the facts before agreeing to play a part, which we will see in the excerpt below. However, the more he sees of the Earl, and the more upset his Julia gets, the more his feelings rise up in defence making everything far more complicated…

 

“Now, dear lady, I am sure that you must have felt ill this morning? Am I right in assuming the ill effects of your alcohol consumption?”

“Oh, you are a horrible tease,” replied Julia without the least discomposure. She flicked a stray embroidery thread from her lap.

“Yes, I am.” He paused. “And I fear I shall have to tease you some more before I depart. You made me a promise last night, and I am come to redeem it.”

“Must you?” Julia recollected which story she had promised to share, but she was in no mood to recount her dealings with Lucius Wolversley. She had awoken at an unearthly hour, feeling wretchedly ill and remembering afresh the man who had broken her heart six years ago. She would rather embroider every morning for a month than talk about the Earl who had come upon her so unexpectedly at her sister’s ball.

“Yes.” Highsmith’s voice became gentler. “You are unhappy, my dear—I can see it in your eyes, and you would be better to tell a friend. You yourself told me last night that I have been a good friend to you—let me continue to be so now.” His handsome face leaned in to her, his soft brown eyes comfortingly sweet.

She did not reply. He waited a few minutes and then, realizing she had no intention of telling him what she had promised, took a different route.

“In truth, Mrs. Rotherham,” he called, turning to his hostess, “other than thanking you for a delightful evening yesterday, I had another design in calling today.”

“You did?” Mrs. Rotherham was brought out of her pleasant recollections of the ball, and away from the thread which had knotted under her unskilled hands.

“Yes, I came to see Miss Rotherham for, as I was enjoying your eldest daughter’s company last night, she dropped something which I wish to return.”

“Oh, my eldest daughter is forever losing things—the housekeeper found a reticule beneath a pile of books in the library just last week.” Mrs. Rotherham was shaking her head, though her gaze was directed once again towards the embroidery, her interest in her daughter’s carelessness clearly fading.

“Well, Mr. Highsmith, and what, pray tell, did my scatterbrained self misplace last night?” Julia cocked her head to one side in curiosity and addressed Mr. Highsmith with a flicker of defiance in her eyes. What was he planning? “Come now, I grow impatient—what is it?”

“Yes, yes—I know patience is not one of your virtues.” He stopped and looked at her strangely. “Would you be so kind as to please stop looking at me like some inquisitive owl?”

Julia gaped. She had been attempting to disguise her tiredness from last night by opening her eyes wider than usual. Now she felt ridiculous. “I am not an owl, you odious man! Now where is my lost item?”

“Julia, my dear, stop insulting Mr. Highsmith. I am sure you are grateful that he had the wit to pick up whatever it is!” Mrs. Rotherham apologized for her daughter’s behavior. “But now my curiosity is piqued,” she said in calmer tones, peering over at the couple. “What is this object?”

“Alas, it is not something I can freely speak of. A trinket or keepsake, I suppose, but perhaps not something Miss Rotherham will want made public.”

Now he was being thoroughly exasperating! Despite his attempt at seriousness, Julia could see the corners of his mouth twitching. It was all a game to him. She would not tell him what he wished and so he was making up some scandalous falsehood to get her into her mother’s black books. The worst of it was his charming countenance, which had won over so many ladies before, would not fail to do the same with Julia’s mother. How dare he blackmail her!

But Mrs. Rotherham was in an indulgent mood. “Something I do not know about, I see,” she said, and instead of demanding an explanation, she smiled and went back to untangling her embroidery. If Julia had glanced over at her mother, she would have seen her thoughts as plain as day—the faint flicker of hope that perhaps her daughter and Mr. Highsmith were courting.

Ah, the good-natured teasing of friendship! And there you have it, the main characters of my second novel, though I suppose I have a few more I could introduce you to, or should I just make you wait and read…?

 

 

 

A University Friend…

When I began writing (now I have mentioned this before but bear with me), I have to be honest, my hero and heroine were the characters I concerned myself most with and to be honest, the ones I liked the most. As I’ve continued to write however, I have found my peripheral characters become far from boring. No longer the inanimate objects used to move the plot along, but rather characters in their own right, they really are rather interesting.

You may recall a mention of Courtenay? Well, let me introduce you to him. A large peacock of a man, his waistcoat buttons constantly under pressure, his delight in beautiful women and Society remain unquenched despite more than several Seasons under his belt and his estate horribly insufficient for supporting his taste for lavish living.

Despite their very disparate characters, soon after meeting at University, Courtenay and Wolversley became fast friends. Courtenay is probably only one of a handful of people Wolversley would claim as friend, the peacock being the chief among them. This loyalty seems at odds with Courtenay’s perception of Wolverlsey as being unnaturally interested in his country estate rather than the beauties in Town.

But perhaps it is this attraction of opposites that holds the friendship together through the unfavourable weathers of youth and the complexities of adulthood. Whatever it is, Courtenay and Wolversley’s friendship threads throughout The Unexpected Earl.

For a taste of just how humorous and saucy Courtenay can be, read this excerpt:

 

“Ah, I do apologize, my poor Miss Rotherham. Lord Courtenay, may I present Miss Rotherham, eldest daughter of our hosts this evening.” He backed away slightly to allow the two to see each other properly.

“Indeed? I know your father. It was he who invited me this evening.” With a flourish of his rings, Courtenay grasped her hand and laid a rather ravenous kiss upon it. “And may I say, you are a beauty just like your sister.” His plump lips curved into a satisfied smile.

“Oh, I would not say that to her, if I were you.” A third man’s voice broke in on the conversation.

After six years, Julia could still recognize Wolversley’s smooth voice the moment he spoke. The Earl came up behind Courtenay and took his own place in the gathering.

“Speak of the devil and he will appear.” Courtenay’s smile changed to a grin and he nodded his head towards the newcomer. He moved back a little to allow Wolversley access to the inner circle, and the dark-haired Earl came to stand beside the fair-haired Highsmith. “But Wolversley, why do you warn me not to say to Miss Rotherham what is only the truth?”

Courtenay’s syrupy words were well practiced but Julia, as Highsmith had said earlier, was a seasoned seasoner. She would have written off Courtenay’s flattery entirely, but the appearance of the loathsome Earl put an idea into her head.

“No. Trust me, old friend,” said Wolversley with a gleam in his eyes, “she would rather hear lies.”

Julia fumed inwardly at the Earl’s audacity, at his presumption of knowing what she would and would not like to hear from other gentlemen. Worse than that, she could see that look in his eyes and she remembered exactly what it meant—he was having amusement at her expense. Well, that simply was not allowed! “Oh! Lord Courtenay, I beg you, pay no attention to the Earl. We knew each other as children, and I am afraid he still thinks me an angel of eight and quite as stupid! But really,”—she arched an eyebrow at Wolversley—“are you not the fool, my lord, to assume a lady does not find pleasure in compliments?”

“Yes, man, that is a trifle dim!” Courtenay exclaimed.

“Exactly my feelings,” Julia corroborated. “He even thinks I cannot dance like a lady!” She attempted a giggle, though it was more like hissing from behind her open fan, and cast a flirtatious glance at Courtenay. Both Highsmith and Wolversley could see their portly friend lapping up the attention like a basset hound.

“I am shocked—shocked I tell you, Miss Rotherham! My only suggestion is that we prove him wrong. Let us dance and show him.” There was that ring-clad hand again and—much to the other gentlemen’s surprise and aggravation—Julia took it with enthusiasm. Courtenay and Julia left the supper room side by side, gliding off in search of the ballroom and an exuberant dance.

I am sure Courtenay would be happy to continue flirting with Miss Rotherham, especially as she has such a handsome dowry that would pull his estate out of dun territory, but we shall see…

Next week, I’ll be introducing you to Julia’s confident and friend, in truth, a most unlikely ally.

 

An Impetuous Heroine…

As promised, I am here again to introduce you to my heroine. I know, I’m as surprised as you, my blogging habits are shockingly irregular normally, but this perhaps shows you of my anticipation surrounding The Unexpected Earl coming out on the 20th of September.

So, who is the impetuous heroine who I’ve been going on about these past months?

Well, it is, Miss Julia Rotherham. What can I say about this heroine? I’ve gone on about her impetuosity, which leads to much comedy-gone-wrong in the novel, but what else? Well, in the words of Jane Austen on her heroine Emma Woodhouse, I must say that I’m not quite sure everyone will like Miss Julia Rotherham quite as much as I.

Truth be told, the reason I find her so diverting a character is probably because she and I share quite a few of the same traits. Miss Rotherham is headstrong, tempestuous and worryingly impetuous! Now for those who know me, you might say I am rather boringly predictable sometimes, however, for those who know me a little better, you might well agree with the tempestuous description of my character. NOT a trait I readily revel in, trust me.

I’m a nought to a hundred sort of person. I’m cruising along quite happily on the river of relaxation and casualness when suddenly BAM! Something annoys me, a switch is flipped and the waters begin to boil as I proceed to get my knickers thoroughly in a twist! This is, I’ve been told by my husband, sometimes very amusing. It can also get me into quite a lot of trouble – the tales of which I will be keeping to myself under lock and key 😉

Now you may see why I like my heroine so much in The Unexpected Earl. You see, as I wrote her and the many events that take place in the story, my heart increasingly went out to her. Her temper just gets her into one scrape after another and, in between giggling and smiling I think, ‘Oh, that is exactly what I would do.’ I feel like she’s quite real, making mistakes, having to apologise and, hopefully, learning along the way.

I’m hoping, that if you’re anything like me and you make countless mistakes in life and get yourself into a tangle, that you will like Julia Rotherham, and just to give you an example of what she’s like, here’s an excerpt 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.”

Oooooooo! The tension, the unresolved emotions!!! So delicious. And next week you will find out just who Wolversley turns to for advice in this situation.

An Unexpected Hero…

Well, being as my second novel is due to come out in just a little over a month I thought it was high time I started to introduce you properly to some of my characters. I know I’ve put excerpts up here before, but the truth is, characters are peculiar things to an author and you get to know them rather well for fictional beings, so proper introductions seem necessary…

Therefore, today I am introducing from my second historical romance, The Unexpected Earl, a most Unexpected Hero:

Unexpected? But the hero is always expected is he not? Well, by you the reader, perhaps, but I hasten to add that he is, at least in The Unexpected Earl, most unexpected by the heroine.

Now do you see how the title works? Clever isn’t it?

Enough silliness! Clearly I am far too excited about this novel coming out. Let’s get back to the matter at hand, I wish to introduce my hero, Earl Lucius Wolversley, to you.

Wolverlsey is a tall, dark-haired man commanding a fine set of grey eyes. His parents died when he and his sister were young and so being past the age of twenty-one, he has attained his majority. Though he spends much of his time in the country managing his estates, a task at which he is most proficient, at the opening of The Unexpected Earl he is lately come to Town.

Wolversley is a man perhaps best described, not as serious, but reserved. Life has taught him to watch and measure before making judgements, but he is by no means without a sense of humour. On closer acquaintance, one might attribute the description ‘dry’ to his sense of humour, and indeed he is most amused by other’s folly, something which is not in short supply in The Unexpected Earl.

With a man reserved and appraising, friendships are hard to come by, but when they do they are enduring, and in this excerpt we find him with his good friend Courtenay:

“A coming-out ball, you said?” Wolversley called, descending the carriage steps. He glanced up at the house, not waiting to listen to Courtenay’s response. He was too intent on stifling the unpleasant memories that his friend had dredged up. As he caught sight of the building, however, a sickly feeling began to invade his body. He glanced up and down the street, trying to ascertain if they were in fact standing where he suspected—and feared—they might be.

“It is indeed, and in honor of a beautiful young girl I’m told.” Courtenay slapped a hand on the Earl’s athletic shoulders, ignoring the unsettled look that had painted itself across his face.    “I am jolly glad you’re back in Town. It’s been dashed dull without you, believe it or not. Despite your moods, you do make a man much better company than these jumped-up young scamps running about the clubs and balls these days.”

Wolversley neither felt umbrage at the insult nor gratitude at the compliment. It was all quite lost on him as he kept looking up at the house, determined to believe he was anywhere other than where his mind told him he must be.

“Where are we exactly?” he managed at last.

“Wiltshire Square.”

Wolversley cursed.

“I say!” exclaimed Courtenay, looking around uncomfortably. “Bad form, old man.”

Fortunately, there were no ladies in earshot, but two young bucks who had just alighted from a nearby carriage ceased their jocular conversation to raise eyebrows at Wolversley’s uncouth remark. One of them looked the Earl up and down and snorted unfavorably.

The Earl, who took no pleasure in being so brazenly measured, felt a stab of annoyance as the young man’s appraising gaze fell fearfully short of impressed. It was not just the crude language the Earl had used that caused his disdain; it was the Earl’s jacket. Wolversley could feel the young man’s eyes on his shoulders and lapels as his lips curled up in scorn.

Wolversley had been in the country too long. His jacket was outdated—he had known that when he had put it on this evening, having already seen several gentlemen walking the streets of Town in far more modish creations. He enjoyed a well-cut jacket, though he would not claim the careful eye of a dandy where his appearance was concerned, but his extended trip to the country had left him no opportunity to ensure that his wardrobe was full of the current fashions, nor to cut his hair for that matter. The luxuriously dark lengths were tickling his collar, unlike Courtenay’s sandy locks which were swept up into a form of the Brutus, a style far too ostentatious to be attractive. Wolversley looked back to the young men. Those scrutinizing eyes that would not forgive his outdated clothing were one reason he disliked Society gatherings so much, and yet, thanks to the cajoling—and chicanery—of a particular friend, he was back.

The Earl glared at the young buck who did not approve of him, but it seemed that he had already forgotten the Earl’s existence as he turned to go up the stairs to the house. Wolversley looked back at his friend. His jacket was a very minor problem compared to the one presented by his location.

He knew exactly where he was. He knew exactly whose house this was. And if his exacting knowledge was correct, he was in quite a deal of hot water.

Oh my! I wrote the thing and still, I find myself rather excited by that cliff-hanger…

Do tune in next week and meet my heroine.

 

Marie Antoinette: Queen of French Fashion

I am delighted to welcome Ginger Myrick onto my blog for a guest post and excerpt from her latest historical fiction novel exploring the life of the enigmatic Maria Antoinette – enjoy:

 

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. The eBook editions of INSATIABLE (Kindle and Nook) are currently on sale for an introductory price of $2.99 and are available at:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes&Noble

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