The Countess of Carlisle

This article was originally posted on the English Historical Fiction Authors (EHFA) site on May 4th, 2017. For more in-depth articles on British history, visit the EHFA. You won’t be disappointed.


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Photo credit: xelaba via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

One of the most intriguing characters in historical fiction is Milady de Winter of the Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas depicted her as a lethal spy whose loyalties were sold to the highest bidder, notably the Cardinal Richelieu.

The inspiration for Milady was a socialite and renowned beauty of her day, Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle. Though Lucy was not an agent of Cardinal Richelieu, she held court at a time of social upheaval when men were drawing battle lines against King Charles I. The real woman was even more fascinating than the fictional one.

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Lucy Percy, by Anthony van Deck [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Lucy Hay was born Lucy Percy in 1599 to Lady Dorothy Devereux and Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland. Lady Devereux was the daughter of the Earl of Essex and Lettice Knollys whose second husband, Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester, had once been a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, that is until he and Lettice married without the Queen’s permission. Through her maternal line, Lucy was the great, great granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, sister to Anne Boleyn.

On Lucy’s father’s side, the Percys were an old and respected bloodline having first arrived with William the Conqueror, and later, descendants of King Henry III. The family stood for centuries as the bulwark against Scottish and Welsh invasion of England. Given Lucy’s stellar connections, she was well poised to be a courtly influence.

Unfortunately, her early years were marked by notoriety and not the favourable kind. When Lucy had been six years old, her father had been implicated in the Gunpowder Plot (to blow up Parliament and murder King James I) due to his kinship with one of the leading conspirators, Thomas Percy. For the next seventeen years, Lucy’s father was a prisoner of the Tower of London (along with famous prisoner Sir Walter Raleigh) and during this time Percy indulged his interest in alchemy and chemistry. He was committed to his experiments (even lost the hearing of one ear) and everyone called him the “Wizard Earl.”

While Henry languished in the Tower, Lucy’s mother tried to secure her husband’s release. She appealed to her friend Queen Anne, who put in a good word with her husband, King James I, but unfortunately the King levied a crippling fine that the Percys couldn’t afford and they found their estates seized. This was Lucy’s early introduction to the influence women could yield in politics as well as the fickleness of royal prerogative [1].

Sometime around 1617, Lucy Percy caught the eye of James Hay, who would become the 1st Earl of Carlisle. At the time he was a baron and a widower. Her father was furious. His imprisonment put him at a disadvantage to squelch his daughter’s choice, particularly since his wife favoured the match. Henry Percy did not have a high opinion of the Scottish faction at court, the courtiers who had followed King James to England upon his ascension of the English throne, and James Hay was one of the King’s more extravagent favourites. Henry Percy had been reputed to say, “I am a Percy and I cannot endure that my daughter should dance any Scottish jig.”

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James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle, by Unknown National Portrait Gallery: NPG 5210 [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

James Hay was not considered a handsome man, but he was suave, charismatic and knew how to entertain in style. He introduced Lucy to a sophisticated set, lavished her with courtly masques, fine music and theatre. For an ambitious woman like Lucy, James Hay was irresistible. More importantly, he pulled her from the shadow of her father’s disgrace straight into the royal limelight.

In November 1617, Lucy became James Hay’s second wife. Her wedding was attended by the fashionable and the powerful, including Charles, Prince of Wales and George Villiers (later the Duke of Buckingham).

In the early days of Lucy’s marriage, her husband served as a Privy Councillor and a Groom of the Stool. Between 1618 and 1622, Hay travelled to foreign courts on behalf of the King, counselled the King on the growing troubles in Germany and recommended England’s support for the Protestants in Bohemia and the Palatinate. He was a voice for the Huguenots in France though not a successful one. In 1622, the King made him the 1st Earl of Carlisle and Lucy became a Countess.

Lucy flourished in the years to come, greatly celebrated for her  beauty and accomplishments. She had a gift for politics and intrigues, enjoyed poetry and theatre, and cultivated admirers by the score. In later years when she contracted small pox, the entire court feared that she would be disfigured. For a time, she wore masks to hide her healing face and managed to turn them into a fashion statement. Fortunately for Lucy, the disease did not leave lasting scars.

Men waxed poetic over Lucy’s charms. One admirer, John Suckling, wrote a risqué poem about the bewitching Countess of Carlisle in the form of a dialogue between himself and another admirer of hers, Thomas Carew. The poem was entitled, Upon My Lady Carlisle’s Walking in Hampton Court Gardens. Here is one of the stanzas:

“Twas well for thee she left the place;
There is great danger in that face.
But hadst thou viewed her leg and thigh,
And upon that discovery
Searched after parts that are more dear”

Lucy and James Hay’s star continued to rise after the ascension of the new king, Charles I, and the growing influence of his favourite, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. Lucy was rumoured to have been Buckingham’s mistress, and through Buckingham’s influence, she was appointed Lady of Queen Henrietta’s Bedchamber, while her husband received a similar honour for the King.

It suited Buckingham to install Lucy as a companion to Queen Henrietta Maria, in order to be informed of the Queen’s visitors and activities. The Queen was passionately against Lucy’s appointment. After all, Lucy was beautiful, witty and entirely Buckingham’s creature, and as her duties brought her in close contact with the King, Henrietta feared that Buckingham worked to install Lucy as the King’s mistress. Charles was not so easily led astray and resisted Lucy’s charms; he even refused the Queen’s petition to get rid of her. Over time, Lucy overcame the Henrietta’s suspicions and became a close confident to her. Through her proximity to the Queen, Lucy became the centre of fashionable society, gathering poets and politicians within her circle.

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George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham By Michiel van Mierevelt [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

It was around this time when the story of the French Queen’s diamonds surfaced, made famous by Alexandre Dumas in The Three Musketeers. A 17th century French diarist, Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld (Prince de Marcillac) wrote in his memoirs that Lucy stole the diamond studs that Anne of Austria, Queen of France, had given to her admirer Buckingham. Lucy’s motives were reputed to be revenge for having been jilted by Buckingham by his obsession with the Queen. Dumas borrowed heavily from Rochefoucauld’s memoirs and created the  character of Milady de Winter in Lucy’s image.

James Hay meanwhile continued his diplomatic service for Charles I, engaging in intrigues against Cardinal Richelieu of France and was even named Governor of the Caribbees. Eventually his health failed, and he died in 1636.

Now Lucy found herself a wealthy widow, and it gave her a degree of freedom that she had never previously enjoyed before. Though she would not be shy of male companionship, she never remarried and so maintained her independence. During this chapter of her life, she fell in love with Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford. Intense, serious and ambitious, Strafford was the exact opposite of Lucy’s late husband.

Strafford had at one point been a vocal supporter for the rights of Parliament against royal prerogative, but he eventually switched sides to become one of the King’s most ardent supporters. As discontent against the King grew and the country headed toward civil war, Strafford became a scapegoat for the country’s ills, and Parliament called for his impeachment. The impeachment failed but a bill of attainder was passed against him, and Charles I had no choice than to sign the attainder and seal Strafford’s death. To read more about Strafford’s trial, see Strafford Must Die by Annie Whitehead.

Politically astute, Lucy managed to distance herself from Strafford so she was not brought low by his ruin. Lucy Hay was a survivor, after all. She switched sides and started passing information to one of Parliament’s most ardent advocates, John Pym. Some even said she became his mistress. Perhaps one of the most important pieces of information that she passed to Pym, and which was credited with igniting the spark of civil war, was a warning that the King was planning to arrest Pym and four of his companions. Pym managed to escape, and a week later, he returned triumphant to Parliament to resume his crusade against the King.

When the English Civil War broke out in 1642, Lucy favoured Parliament, though she took care to not entirely burn her bridges on the other side. She had a growing aversion to royal prerogative. Lucy favoured moderation, where the nobility retained their privilege instead of being irrelevant by the whims of the king. By the end of the 1st civil war, when it became apparent that Parliament was being circumvented by a fanatic Puritan faction, moderate Lucy switched sides to help spy for the Royalists.

During the second civil war (1647-1648), Lucy raised funds for the king and acted as a go-between the Royalists in the north and Queen Henrietta. In the end, all her efforts were for naught. The King was captured and in January 1649, executed.

Two months later, Parliament arrested Lucy and sent her to the Tower of London for questioning. They threatened her with torture but could not break her. Lucy remained in the Tower for eighteen months, ironically not far from where her father had been kept all those years. Eventually she was paroled and released.

In the final years of Cromwell’s Protectorate, Lucy became a Royalist agent, joining others who worked to restore Charles II to his father’s throne. A few short months after the Restoration, on November 5, 1660, Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle quietly passed away.

Femme fatale, informant, spy, Lucy Hay was a fascinating character. Alexandre Dumas obviously agreed.


Further reading:

Court Lady and Country Wife: Royal Privilege and Civil War (Two Noble Sisters in 17th century England), by Lita-Rose Betcherman.

[1] The English Civil War: A People’s History, by Diane Purkiss

Poem of the week: Upon My Lady Carlisle’s Walking in Hampton Court Gardens by John Suckling.

 

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Cover wars winner!

After a long, gruelling week of constant campaigning (sorry about that), Traitor’s Knot has won Author Shout’s Cover Wars! I couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support.

Thank you! 

Let the celebration begin…

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Traitor’s Knot: Discovered Diamond

Traitor’s Knot has been awarded a Discovered Diamond, and in particular, a “highly recommended” rating! And in a surprising twist, two reviews from two readers!

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Discovering Diamonds is a review blog started by Helen Hollick to showcase quality historical fiction. Here is some information from their blog:

“We only publish reviews of the best books, so we also take note of correct presentation and formatting as well as the quality of writing – and when space and time are limited we may only select a few books a month to review on this blog. This will mean that if your book is selected to be reviewed then you know it is of an elite status, especially if it receives the accolade of Book Of The Month – or better still, Book Of The Year.”

And now for the review of Traitor’s Knot

“It is evident in everything just how well Ms Bazos knows her period. Clothes, food, one herbal remedy after the other, jostle for space with the political drama of the time. The very young new king Charles II (well, he’s plain Charles Stuart to the Parliamentarian rulers of England) lands in Scotland, and soon enough he has mustered an army, determined to march south and reclaim the kingdom his father lost. Ms Bazos is a more than capable guide through all this upheaval, all the way down to Worcester and the battle that officially ended the English Civil War.” © Anna Belfrage

And from the other reviewer…

“Ms Bazos’s debut has received quite some attention, and rightly so. It is accomplished and well-written, and there is, it appears, more to come, which will please her growing readership.” © Nicky Galliers

I couldn’t resist leaving you with this little teaser…

“The other single element that lifts this into something more than usual is a small cameo towards the end where Ms Bazos pulls off a wonderful twist perfectly. Beautifully weighted, it works like a dream. To say more would serve only to spoil the story, so read it for yourself. A very good debut, I look forward to more from this author.” © Nicky Galliers

For the full review, click here.

If you want to read Traitor’s Knot for yourself, click here to be connected to Amazon.

Thank you to Helen Hollick and both reviewers of Discovering Diamonds for taking the time to read my book and for spreading the word!

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Cover Wars: The Battle is ON!

 

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In this corner, weighing in at 718 KB….Traitor’s Knot! And in the other corner… the Contenders (aka other novels).

Traitor’s Knot is battling it out this week on Cover Wars against 14 contenders. The cover at the end of the week with the most votes becomes Author Shout’s Book of the Week!

I really need your help, and I’m not above a bit of pleading and grovelling. The competition has started now!

This is how it works: Vote for Traitor’s Knot… ahem…your favourite cover and then share (tweet, like, etc) Cover Wars so others can come and show their support. Vote once a day for a week! Easy peasy!

Why should you do it? Here are 5 reasons why you should vote for my cover:

  1. Traitor’s Knot will become Book of the Week and Author Shout will promote it for that week!
  2. You’d have an award winning cover in your Kindle!
  3. You’ll make the hard working graphic artist who designed my cover very pleased! If you don’t want to do it for me, think of the artist!
  4. Because it really is a gorgeous cover!
  5. Take pity on my family. I don’t sulk well, and there will be no living with me otherwise.

Ready to cast your vote? Click here for Cover Wars.

Thank you for your support!

 

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Giving voice to women of the past

A recent interview by Dame Hilary Mantel, of Wolf Hall fame, has generated a number of discussions in the historical fiction community on how women have been portrayed in the past. Dame Mantel went on to say women writers who write about women in the past “can’t resist retrospectively empowering them.”

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The discussion got me thinking about Æthelflæd, daughter of King Albert of Wessex, who led an army of Mercians into Wales. I first learned about Æthelflæd by reading the novel To Be a Queen, written by Annie Whitehead. I loved her portrayal of Æthelflæd and found her to possess leadership and a natural strength.

I’ve asked Annie to drop by and talk to us about Æthelflæd and how she gave her a voice. Welcome Annie…

 


cropped-thank-you-8In her speech, Dame Mantel also said, “Many writers of historical fiction feel drawn to the untold tale. They want to give a voice to those who have been silenced.” How have you given Æthelflæd a voice?

Annie: As I’ll explain later, I wasn’t initially drawn to her as a subject, but I soon realised that here was a remarkable woman whose story has seldom been told, certainly not in a full-length novel. She had been silenced, but only because of the bias of what little documentary evidence we have for her. Thus, simply by writing her story, I gave her a voice. I didn’t set out deliberately to empower a woman from history, more to write a story about a period which has been overlooked. The fact that she was a de facto queen at a time when women were not usually permitted to be rulers, was such an interesting story that it needed to be told.


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Æthelflæd led an army of Mercians so it’s hard not to see her as a warrior queen, and yet is she? Would you consider her empowered and if not why/why not?

Annie: It’s a really interesting question. It’s easy, I suppose, for historians to imagine what life was like in the past. We know about the politics, and about the costumes, cutlery, crockery, diet, and mode of transport for most eras. However, do we always consider the prevalent mindset of the day? As novelists, we have to flesh out the characters, make them whole, give them emotions – these things don’t jump out at us from the chronicles, so that’s where our imagination is best utilised. In so doing, though, do we project our own sensibilities onto our characters?

Writing historical fiction gives us licence to read between the lines, and fill in the gaps. But we must be mindful of those gaps: do we have any direct evidence that Æthelflæd wielded a sword? She led an army into Wales, yes, and we infer that she defended Chester from Viking siege, but I suspect that she was, in truth, a nominal leader, a figurehead. I doubt that she was ever taught to fight, (hence the reluctance: mine to show her fighting, and hers in having to do it!) and it is probably best to view her as a peace-weaver, that is to say a woman of extreme political importance, yes, but a woman of her time, nevertheless.


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What were women’s roles like in Saxon England? Did they have a voice? What power if any did they wield? How did that shape your Æthelflæd?

Annie: Most women had a fair say in what happened to them. There were written laws which protected the rights of women – widows in particular – and a document which we think dates from around this period states that “If a man wishes to betroth a maiden or a widow, and it so pleases her and her kinsmen…” suggesting that the woman herself had to accept the suitor before the betrothal could proceed. Women owned land, and were free to dispose of it in any manner they saw fit. Yes, this applies only to the nobility, but female servants and/or slaves were mentioned, and to an extent protected, in the law codes.

Æthelflæd’s situation was unusual, of course, in that she was the daughter of a king. But I think that I knew, when writing about her, that she was far from the down-trodden, ‘chattel’ that we perhaps have become used to when thinking about early medieval women. The main difference for her, of course, was that she was destined for a diplomatic marriage. I knew, as she did, that duty would have to come first.


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What inspired you to write about Æthelflæd?

Annie: I was initially more interested in her enigmatic husband, introduced to me by my university tutor, who told me that ‘nobody knows exactly where he came from.’ And it’s true. He wasn’t royalty, and yet the Mercians were happy to be led by him and Alfred was happy to treat with him. He must have been possessed of some very unusual qualities. When it came to writing historical fiction, however, the story of his wife just jumped up, begging to be told. The daughter of a king, a queen in all but name, yet virtually erased from the history books? I simply couldn’t not write it. And I was amazed that no-one else had! CB: I have to say, I really enjoyed the depth you gave to  Æthelred.


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What were some of your challenges in writing Æthelflæd?

Annie: What I said before, really – that she was virtually erased from the history books. Generally as one goes through the Anglo-Saxon period, the body of extant material grows larger. A king in the 6th or 7th century will be mentioned in very few texts and charters. As we move towards the time of the Conquest, the written material expands. Yet there is very little about Æthelflæd, less still about her husband. Why? A lot of it will have been burned; the Viking armies damaged Mercia more so than Wessex and we will never know how much was lost. Another factor is that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, our main source of information, was commissioned by Alfred the Great and written by monks from Wessex. Their job was to ‘big-up’ Alfred, not his allies…

The other challenge might have been that which lies at the heart of this discussion, I suppose: how to portray a woman who was exceptional for her time, and yet keep her firmly in her time? I have to admit that it actually wasn’t a huge challenge. It never occurred to me to paint her as anything but an Anglo-Saxon lady, and I simply told her story as best I could. I do think she was remarkable; she must have been, in order to inspire an erstwhile kingdom to follow her and allow her to be their leader. Yet she was always going to be restricted by the world in which she lived, and I pictured her as a dignified woman, rather than a feisty one. She was a princess – not that they used that word – and I simply never saw her as any kind of ‘tomboy’. I think all her strength and spirit came from within, and manifested itself in a quiet resolve. What little we do know about her life reveals her to be brave, dutiful, and resourceful. Knowing this, I was able to write her as a strong character without artificially ‘empowering’ her.


I think this is why I was drawn to Æthelflæd right from the opening pages–she had inner strength and put her duty before her own desires.

Thank you, Annie, for dropping by and sharing your thoughts of this great lady. For those who are interested in the Anglo Saxon era, I highly recommend To Be A Queen.


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Annie Whitehead is an author and historical, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. As well as To Be A Queen, the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, she has written Alvar the Kingmaker, which begins with a tenth century royal scandal and ends with regicide. She contributed to an anthology of alternative stories, 1066 Turned Upside Down, and her third novel, also set in Mercia, is scheduled for release later this year. She is a contributor for a forthcoming anthology for Pen & Sword Books, and she is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018.

Her books are sold through Amazon. For more information about her work, visit Annie’s Website and Blog.

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Special Giveaway: Traitor’s Knot

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To celebrate the release of my debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, I’m offering 6 chances to win a paperback copy of the book! Here’s how you can enter:

  • Pop on over to the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog (EHFA) and enter a comment with your contact details for a chance to win one paperback copy. The Giveaway starts on Monday July 3rd and runs until midnight Pacific Time on Sunday July 9, 2017. Click here to enter.
  • Enter the Goodreads Giveaway for one of 5 paperback copies! This giveaway runs from July 5th to August 5, 2017. Here’s how to enter.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Traitor's Knot by Cryssa Bazos

Traitor’s Knot

by Cryssa Bazos

Giveaway ends August 05, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

Share, share, share with your reader friends! Let everyone know. Who doesn’t love getting a free book, after all? 

And since I’ve got your ear, here’s a sample of some of the reviews Traitor’s Knot has received:

“A hugely satisfying read that will appeal to historical fiction fans who demand authenticity, and who enjoy a combination of suspense, action, and a very believable love story. Five stars.” Elizabeth St. John, bestselling author of The Lady of the Tower

“A thrilling historical adventure expertly told.” – Carol McGrath, bestselling author of The Handfasted Wife

 “Cryssa Bazos is equally at home writing battle scenes as writing romance, and the pace keeps the reader turning the pages.” – Deborah Swift, bestselling author of The Gilded Lily.

 “I loved the characters who were so finely portrayed, especially Elizabeth and the fact that Ms Bazos made her so feisty and strong. The battle scenes and romantic episodes were equally well written. Excellent. Well recommended.” Julia Ibbotson, author of Drumbeats.

“A well put together debut novel which I am happy to recommend to readers who like their romance with a good dose of realistic historical fiction.” Rosie Amber of Rosie Amber Reviews.


Good luck to everyone entering the contest! Hope to hear from you.

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Love & History with Charlene Newcomb

Love

I’m continuing my discussion with historical fiction authors about how they’ve incorporated romance into their work.

Today, it’s my pleasure to welcome Charlene Newcomb, author of the Battle Scars series: Men of the Cross and For King and Country. Charlene writes historical fiction with a m/m romance set during the Crusades. Both novels have page turning action, rich historical detail, with a well-developed romance. I appreciate how Charlene has thrown her lovers, Henry and Stephan, in the middle of conflict. Not only do they need to survive battles and a grueling campaign, they also need to come to terms with their feelings for one another at a time when love is a luxury.

Let’s charge into the Crusades!

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cropped-thank-you-8What made you decide to include a m/m romance in your story?

Charlene: Stories must have conflict – as if fighting a war isn’t enough, right? Writers are told to challenge themselves, to be bold, and write from the heart. The journey to war and the war itself made an excellent backdrop for a story about knights who served King Richard, the Lionheart. The story could just have been about their friendship, but adding the m/m romantic element quadrupled the conflict.

I could have had a more typical “forbidden” romance. Henry is, after all, a knight, the son of a baron, and expected to marry – an arranged marriage, of course, a business arrangement. He is betrothed to a 14 year-old girl back in Lincolnshire, but she doesn’t stir any passion in him. He could be tempted by women beneath his class – camp whores accompany the army, at least until the march towards Jerusalem begins. There are Sicilian beauties, Muslim servants, even laundresses. But any of those options sounded too cliche to me. And it never crossed my mind that Queen Joanna, the Lionheart’s sister, might fall in love with the hero of story. Readers knowledgeable of the era would have thrown the book across the room if I’d gone that route. [CB: I would have been one of them. So very glad you didn’t!]

Men of the Cross is about a friendship between soldiers, men who have already have a special bond as they struggle to survive against brutal enemies and harsh conditions. It is unfathomable to me, given human nature, in an army of 15,000 or more men, that some men would not have fallen in love.

The challenge was making the developing relationship between Henry and Stephan feel real. Honestly, I wasn’t even certain I could write a believable story of any relationship. Could I find the emotion, the passion, between two men? Apparently I have, and I am thrilled when I hear from gay readers who tell me the relationship feels authentic. I also love to hear from readers who only read war stories or only want a romance, but tell me they gave Men a chance.

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Can you tell us about some of the challenges Henry and Stephen faced in their relationship?

Charlene: On the war front, the challenge is staying alive. Death at the hands of the Saracens isn’t the only obstacle – raging rivers, illness, starvation, the weather, other Christian enemies – too many give their lives in service for God and country. But I think you’re looking for the love angle. 🙂

The relationship is borne of the friendship between two knights who meet in Southampton prior to sailing across the sea to join up with King Richard’s crusader army. And though they both answered the call and took the Cross for slightly different reasons – Stephan for his loyalty to the king; Henry for God, king, and country and a desire to prove himself to his father – they find mutual respect and admiration.

The challenge for these two men is accepting they can love each other. Stephan, who had been filling his lustful desires for men since he was a mid-teen, is certain there will never be love in his life. He has no intention of marrying and no compulsion to as the third (and poor and landless) son of baron. He is completely satisfied bed-hopping with other handsome knights. Henry, on the other hand, has been steeped in Church teachings – sex outside marriage, whether with a man or a woman, is a sin. And not just a sin, but a mortal sin. Henry is extremely torn by the feelings he develops for Stephan, and his inner turmoil drives the conflict and could be a rift between the men that cannot be healed.

At times it makes it difficult for them to be around each other – and because the knights tend to march and camp with their divisions, it isn’t easy to escape from each other. Their closest friends, who know the two men should be together, finagle ways to make that happen and encourage the relationship.

In the second book of the series, For King and Country, Henry returns home knowing he must keep his love for Stephan secret from his family. His father expects that he will marry and produce an heir and is in matchmaking mode. The pressure is on, including from Henry’s sister, and the question is how will Henry avoid marriage when his heart belongs to Stephan. The knights face months of separation when Stephan’s orders from the queen mother send him on missions that Henry isn’t privy. There are darker forces at work, too, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers! [CB: No spoilers from me, but you could say that what awaits them at home may be more challenging than the Crusades!]

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How does Henry and Stephan’s same-sex relationship reflect the historical times?

Charlene: The Church considered same-sex relationships unnatural. Priests had penitentials – guidelines – on what penance to dole out for a variety of sexual sins. If these penitentials were needed, then obviously there was some sinning going on. (See a broader discussion of this in a post on my blog.) Henry and Stephan weren’t alone. But this isn’t something one flaunts. Enemies might use it against you. The knights’ relationship is not overt – no public displays of affection, beyond what would have been normal at the time. From Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others:

 “…medieval society celebrated a type of deep, passionate friendship between men that modern society does not. Men today who expressed their feelings for each other in the same way medieval men did would be universally believed to be sexually involved with each other. Medieval people either did not believe that they were, or did not think it noteworthy if they were, because there is no comment about it.” (Mazo Karras, 2017.)

While there might not have been specific accusations, medieval chroniclers did write about the rich and famous. One noted the “immodest love” between Edward II (14th century) and his favorite Piers Gaveston; and it is suspected that William II (aka William Rufus, 11th century) may have been “gay.” (I use gay in quotes because that term and the concept of homosexuality as a sexual identity don’t appear until the second half of the 19th century.)

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By Marcus Stone (Kunst für Alle) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps there were loving, long-term relationships between men that went deeper than friendship, but like the examples above we don’t have definitive proof. As an incurable romantic, I want to believe there were some Henrys and Stephans out there.

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How have you kept Stephan and Henry’s relationship central across multiple books without it getting stale for the reader.

Charlene: Battle Scars doesn’t fit a typical category. Is it a romance, historical fiction, a military adventure, a gay romance? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Purists may have a hard time with it. I like to say it’s historical fiction with a romance element that features gay characters. The romance may be central, but the story is much larger, with the historical aspects driving it through bloody battles, tedious army life, and the politics and intrigue of the reign of Richard the Lionheart. It is based in a fascinating time and place with real people and actual events that my two fictional characters witness. You know the adage: “truth is stranger than fiction.” It really is true. I think all those elements plus the adventure keeps the knights’ story fresh and believable. Henry and Stephan are two young men shaped by their times and I place them in interesting situations hoping to keep the reader emotionally involved. Sure there is sexual tension – that romance element, remember – but there are many obstacles in their path. Their lives and the lives of those they care about, including each other, are at risk. I hope this makes the reader worry about them, root for them. How will the knights get out of this mess? Take a breath, turn the page…

I know I’ve done my job when a reader tells me they didn’t want the story to end.


I can attest that I didn’t want either story to end. After devouring Men of the Cross, I immediately dove into For King and Country. Now I’m eagerly awaiting Book 3! I know I’m not alone.

As a final note, we should all applaud blended genres. They can bring the best of both genres into one exciting read. Also, read outside your genre as often as you can, no matter where that takes you. Stories, after all, are universal.

Your turn. I want to hear from you. Do finish this sentence: if I was not reading historical fiction [substitute any genre], I would be reading….


me1medCharlene Newcomb, aka Char, is currently working on Book III of her Battle Scars series. Men of the Cross and For King and Country, Books I & II, are B.R.A.G Medallion honorees that vividly portray the impact of love and war on a young knight serving Richard the Lionheart. Book II is an Editor’s Choice of the Historical Novel Society and a finalist in the Chaucer Awards for pre-1750 Historical Fiction.

Char is a contributor and blog editor for English Historical Fiction Authors and a member of the Historical Novel Society. She lives, works, and writes in Kansas. She is an academic librarian by trade, a U.S. Navy veteran, and has three grown children, one grand kitty and three grandpuppies.

Connect with Char through Twitter (@charnewcomb), Facebook and Pinterest.

Char’s books are available in print and eBook through Amazon. Men of the Cross is also available through Barnes & Noble (eBook).

** Time sensitive** Kindle Countdown for U.S and U.K readers: For King and Country will be on sale beginning June 19th at a special price of $1.99/£1.99, rising incrementally through June 22, 2017. Be sure to grab your copy early!

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Featured header image: Photo credit Dun.can via Visual Hunt / CC BY

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