As readers of my books will know, I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of lost treasure. I think I first featured a treasure trove in my Bluestocking Brides series in The Notorious Lord, where the hero Cory was an antiquarian and keen archaeologist. That book, set in Suffolk, was inspired by the mysterious and fascinating ship burial at Sutton Hoo. Meanwhile House of Shadows also has at its core a story of treasures lost and the spell they cast three hundred and fifty years later.
It was therefore a huge thrill to be invited to contribute to an article for publication that was all about treasures from different parts of the world. You can read the article here. From Spanish treasure fleets to The Amber Room, from the 13th century to the 20th, there are plenty of stories of lost treasure out there. My own fascination was piqued by the tale of King John’s lost treasure. Firstly it was the location that appealed to me, the vast bleak stretches of The Wash with their treacherous tides and their isolation. It is all too easy to imagine the King’s baggage train hurrying to cross the tidal flats and being sucked down into the quicksand. The chronicles are vague about how much was lost but it must have been a deeply traumatic experience. It’s astonishing to think that out there somewhere, under layers of peat and sand and mud, still lies King John’s royal treasure waiting to be discovered.
Between 4th and 11th July, 50 fantastic authors are teaming up to give away a huge selection of historical romance novels, plus a Kindle Fire to one lucky winner! I’m offering a copy of my Scottish-set Regency The Lady and the Laird as part of the celebration! Click here to participate!
There is a new film called Love and Friendship starring Kate Beckinsale, which brings Jane’s Austen’s novella Lady Susan to our screens. But who was the real Lady Susan on whom the story is based? Read my piece on the UK Regency Authors Blog to hear about “The Cruel Mrs C” another member of the Craven family who acted as character inspiration for Miss Austen!
I feel very fortunate to have been invited to take part in the Goldsboro Books Romance in the Court event this Thursday 26th May in London. It’s particularly special as my latest book, House of Shadows, features a man who was famous in his time for being a London hero.
William Craven may not have a name that is well known these days but in his own time he was both very well known and much loved by the populace. Craven was the son of a London merchant, a “fils populis,” to quote one contemporary commentator. When he took the King’s side during the English Civil War the City was both disappointed and angry.
However, after the Restoration of King Charles II, William Craven managed to regain his popularity through a steadfast devotion to the city of his birth. Like his father he was a great philanthropist and continued the Craven family’s charitable giving. As Colonel of the Coldstream Guards he stayed in the city to keep order during both the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London of 1666. Many nobles deserted London at the first sign of sickness or danger and Craven was given great credit for refusing to flee to his country estates. He was also instrumental in helping to put out the Great Fire through the creation of fire breaks. There is a wonderful anecdote that springs from this time which is that his horse was so highly trained that ever after, if it smelt the scent of smoke it would gallop off in the direction of the fire!
In recognition of Craven’s devotion to the City of London, the populace painted a 50 foot high mural of him on the side of Craven Buildings in Drury Lane (pictures). It depicted him on the famous horse, with his marshal’s baton in one hand and his sword in the other. The mural stood until the early 20th century when the building was demolished but even today, when his deeds are almost forgotten, there are a number of streets in London with the name Craven in them in recognition of his connection to the city. The picture shows Craven Hill near Paddington – in the days when it looked far different!
For those readers who would like to find our more about the historical background to House of Shadows, there is a blog site dedicated to Ashdown House, with articles, photos, news and views, from the history of the Craven family to the secrets of the mystical sarsen stones, from Elizabethan armada warning beacons to Iron age artefacts. if you would like to step into Ashdown’s story and learn more, click here!
Or perhaps this should be entitled “puppy news”! Here is one of the major reasons I haven’t been as active online recently as I might have liked. Meet Ethel, our new sponsored Guide Dog Puppy! Ethel is 4 months old now, bright as a button and very cute. She has been keeping us all busy and enjoying her training. I’ll keep you posted on her progress!
Meanwhile here is some writing news (not as cute as puppies, I know!) I am totally thrilled that House of Shadows has hit the number 1 spot on Amazon’s Kindle UK Regency fiction chart and is riding high in other lists as well. You know how special this book is to me and to hear that people are enjoying it has been wonderful.
I am also extremely happy to report that House of Shadows will be coming out in the US in 2017! Watch this space for more details!
And finally, I am currently revising my next timeslip book which will be out in the autumn. The Phantom Tree is a Tudor and present day set historical mystery based on the true story of Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour.
Ashdown House, the setting for House of Shadows, opens today! I can’t wait to show our visitors around. We are selling copies of House of Shadows, or bring your own, so that we can take and post up photos of readers with the book in the very place it’s set. Time Travel!
The House of Stuart seem to have been particularly prone to making secret marriages, but they were hardly the first royals to do so. Catherine of Valois, the French Princess who married the famous warrior king Henry V of England chose as her second husband Owen Tudor, a Welsh squire whom she allegedly met when he fell into her lap during a dance at court. The pair became lovers, married secretly around 1430, and founded a dynasty.
When we get to the 17th century, however, it feels as though there is a positive plethora of royal family members indulging in clandestine romantic relationships. King Charles II was obliged to issue a formal declaration that he did not marry Lucy Walter, the mother of his son James, Duke of Monmouth, because the rumours that such a match took place were so pervasive and dangerous to the royal succession. Charles’ cousin Prince Rupert of the Rhine also denied that he had married a lady called Frances Bard, the mother of his son Dudley. He did not deny that he was Dudley’s father; the boy was often known as Dudley Rupert and was sent to Eton college, but poor Frances’ claims that she and Rupert had married in 1664 were dismissed.
Two marriages that were more credible, though, involved two royal ladies of impeccable reputation. The first was Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I. Henrietta and Charles were famously devoted to one another and yet there were persistent rumours that she had had a long affair with her Master of the Horse, Henry Jermyn, and married him after Charles’ death. Certainly Jermyn was very close to Henrietta Maria for a number of years. He probably originally came to her attention because of his ability to speak French and he remained her friend and confidant for the rest of her life. He went into exile with her, helped her to raise an army and rose to prominence through her influence. Gossip suggested that he was the father of at least two of her children, although in the febrile political climate of the English Civil War such slander would not have been uncommon.
When I was researching House of Shadows, my new historical mystery that focuses on the story of Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, I was very struck by the parallels between Henrietta Maria’s story and that of my heroine Elizabeth Stuart. Elizabeth was the sister of Charles I who had married a German prince when she was 16 and gone to live in Heidelberg. Her husband’s rule as King of Bohemia ended in battle and exile after only a year and Elizabeth lived in The Hague for 40 years whilst fighting to regain her husband’s patrimony for her son. Elizabeth and her husband Frederick were also famously devoted to one another and when he died in 1632 she was said to be inconsolable.
In Frederick’s entourage was a young man (12 years younger than Elizabeth) called William, Lord Craven, the son of a fabulously wealthy cloth merchant. Craven became utterly dedicated to Elizabeth’s cause, saving the life of her son Rupert in battle, financing her exile, providing her with a house in London when she finally returned to England in 1660 and starting a building programme of palaces and houses for her on his estates. Like Henry Jermyn he was rewarded with an earldom from Charles II. Londoners celebrated his romantic association with Elizabeth and he was hugely popular.
Of course no convenient marriage certificate exists – or has been found – in either of these cases to confirm the existence of a marriage and we are left to draw on circumstantial evidence as well as historical rumour. In the case of William and Elizabeth there is one particularly beautiful piece of evidence in the form of a painting called The Allegory of Love by Sir Peter Lely, which shows the two of them joined by cupids and features many other symbols of devotion. There is also the incomparable Ashdown House, the hunting lodge Craven built for Elizabeth, that still stands like a little white palace on the Berkshire Downs.
I wonder what it is about the time slip novel that so intrigues me. Beneath the pleasure of reading about history there is something more – perhaps the idea that I, too, would love to step through a portal into another world and see with my own eyes what life was really like in the past. There is a magic about it.
Today on her blog, Midi Berry interviews me about House of Shadows and it seems a good opportunity to mention her lovely time slip book Nights of the Road which draws on the history of Frances Coke, another fascinating 17th century character whom I came across when researching Ashdown House and its history.
So that is my recommendation – Do you have any time slip suggestions for me?
The first thing I would like to say is a huge thank you to everyone who has bought, reviewed, tweeted, commented on or emailed me about House of Shadows and given me so much support and encouragement with this, my debut historical romantic mystery. It’s been a very exciting and emotional time for me and I’m very grateful for all the feedback I’ve received from both readers and my fellow authors (who of course can be readers as well!) You are the best!
Secondly, I acknowledge the frustration of readers in the US who have tried to get hold of the book but not been able to. I’m very sorry for this. I hope to have positive news for you soon. Please hang on in there and I appreciate your support!
The mirror and the pearl that feature in House of Shadows are imaginary historical artefacts but like so many aspects of the book they are inspired by historical fact. The idea of the pearl came from the Craven portrait collection on display at Ashdown House. This features a number of 17th century paintings that Elizabeth of Bohemia bequeathed to William Craven on her death, including portraits of four of her daughters, Princes Elizabeth, Princess Louise Hollandine, Princess Sophie and Princess Henrietta Maria. In all of these pictures and in the portrait of Elizabeth herself, the ladies wear a pearl necklace.
A jewellery historian who came to Ashdown specifically to see the pearls told me that they were part of a necklace of seven strings that belonged to Elizabeth and had originally been Medici pearls inherited by Mary, Queen of Scots and passed down to Elizabeth via her father James I. Elizabeth would pawn this necklace and indeed her other jewellery, furniture and anything else she could lay hands on when she was particularly short of money during her exile, and then buy the items back if she had a special state occasion to attend.
On her death she left one strand of pearls to each of her daughters. In the nineteenth century there was a long-running dispute between the British Royal family and the house of Hanover over possession of the pearls. The English crown claimed the necklace but only six strands were reassembled. The seventh strand had been given to Elizabeth’s daughter Princess Henrietta Maria. She had died only six months after her wedding to Prince Sigismond of Transylvania and was buried in her wedding dress – wearing the string of pearls. Her descendents declined to open her tomb to retrieve the necklace!
This picture shows Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, also called Elizabeth, wearing her strand. This Elizabeth was considered one of the greatest beauties of the age and was known as “The Star of the North.” She was also a great philosopher and correspondent of Descartes. It is said that the large drop pearl in this portrait is “The Bretheren” a famous pearl that brings bad luck to the wearer. Elizabeth of Bohemia was, arguably, a very unlucky Queen but it is easy to attribute this to her poor choice of jewellery with the benefit of hindsight.
Cursed pearls are not unusual (indeed one might say almost obligatory in pirate stories!) and range from the tale of the Roseate Pearl, said to have caused the sinking of the ship Koombana off Australia in 1912 to “La Peregrina”, which was discovered in the 16th century, belonged to Mary I of England and was bought in 1969 by Richard Burton for Elizabeth Taylor. Whether or not there is any truth in the stories of bad luck that cling to these famous jewels they are certainly great inspiration for a writer.