Friday, May 24, 2013

Exclusive Excerpt from THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido

I’m delighted to offer an exclusive excerpt from an upcoming historical novel out May 28. THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido is inspired by Song Cí, who was considered to be the founding father of CSI-style forensic science in thirteenth-century China. This historical thriller is drawing comparisons to The Hangman's Daughter for its absorbing details of another time and received the Zaragoza International Prize for best historical novel published in Spain in 2012.

In ancient China during the Song Dynasty only a select few ever reach the coveted title of "corpse reader," a forensic elite force which, even at the risk of their own lives, has a mandate that no death go unsolved and no crime go unpunished.  Cí Song is the first of those elite few.  Envied for his pioneering methods, and persecuted by his peers, he arouses the curiosity of the emperor himself, who assigns Ci to track a series of heinous crimes that threaten to destroy the imperial court.  But as Ci delves deeper into the mysterious deaths, there are those who will do anything to silence him—forever.

Excerpted from THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido
Copyright 2013. Published By AmazonCrossing.
Cí got up early that morning to avoid running into his brother Lu. He could barely pry his eyes open, but he knew that, like every morning, the paddy field would be awake and waiting.
He got up and began putting away his bedding, smelling the tea his mother was brewing in the main room. He entered the room and greeted her with a nod. She replied with a half-hidden smile that he noticed nonetheless, and he smiled in return.
He adored his mother almost as much as he did his little sister, whose name was Third. His other sisters, First and Second, had died very young from a genetic disease. Third was the only one who had managed to survive, though she remained sickly.
Before breakfast, he went over to the small altar the family had erected in memory of his grandfather. He opened the wooden shutters and inhaled deeply. Outside, the first rays of sun were filtering delicately through the fog. The breeze moved through the chrysanthemums in the offering jar and stirred the spirals of incense rising in the room. Cí closed his eyes to recite a prayer, but the only thought that came into his mind was this: Heavenly spirits, allow us to return to Lin’an.

He cast his mind back to when his grandparents were still alive. This backwater had been paradise to him then, and to his brother Lu, who was four years his elder, his hero. Any child would have worshipped Lu. Lu was like the great soldier in their father’s stories, always coming to Cí’s rescue when other children tried to steal his fruit rations, always there to deal with shameless men who tried to flirt with his sisters. Lu had even shown him how to win a fight using certain kicks and punches. He’d taken him down to the river to splash around among the boats and to fish for carp and trout, which they’d then carry home in jubilation. He had also shown Cí the best hiding places from which to spy on their neighbors.
As Lu got older, though, he became vain. At fifteen, he was stronger than ever, as well as boastful, and was unimpressed with anything other than a good right hook. Lu began organizing cat hunts so he could show off in front of the girls. He’d get drunk on stolen rice liquor and crow about how he was the strongest in the gang. He became so arrogant that even when girls were making fun of him he thought they just wanted his attention. Eventually, all the girls began avoiding Lu, and Cí gradually became indifferent to his former idol, too.

In spite of everything, Lu had generally managed to steer clear of any serious trouble, apart from the occasional black eye from fighting or from riding the community buffalo in the water races. But when their father announced his intention to move to the capital city of Lin’an, Lu, who was sixteen at the time, refused to go. Lu didn’t want to move to any city; he was happy in the countryside. In his eyes, the small village had everything: the paddy field, his braggart group of friends, even a few local prostitutes for his amusement. Although his father threatened to disown him, Lu refused to back down. So that year the family split up: Lu stayed in the village and the rest of them moved to the capital, in search of a better future.
Cí had found it difficult adjusting to Lin’an life, though he had a routine. He was up every morning with the sun to check on his sister. He’d make her breakfast and look after her until their mother came back from the market. Having wolfed down his bowl of rice, he’d go to classes until midday, and after that he would run all the way to the slaughterhouse to help his father in his job clearing away carcasses. In the evening, after cleaning the kitchen and praying to his ancestors, he studied the Confucian treatises for recitation in class the next morning. Month after month this was his life. But one day, everything changed. His father left the slaughterhouse and got a job as an accountant for the prefecture of Lin’an under Judge Feng, one of the wisest magistrates in the capital.

Antonio Garrido
Life improved rapidly. The salary his father was now earning meant that Cí, too, could give up the slaughterhouse and dedicate himself to his studies. Thanks to excellent grades, after four years in school Cí was given a junior position in Judge Feng’s department. To begin with, he was given straightforward administrative tasks, but his dedication and attention to detail set him apart, and the judge himself decided to take the now seventeen-year-old under his wing.

Cí showed himself worthy of Judge Feng’s confidence. After just a few months he began assisting in taking statements, interviewing suspects, and preparing and cleaning the corpses of anybody who died under suspicious circumstances. It wasn’t long before his meticulousness, combined with his obvious talents, made him a key employee, and the judge gave him more responsibility. Cí ended up helping with criminal investigations and legal disputes, and thus learned both the fundamentals of law and the basics of anatomy.
Cí also attended university part time, and in his second year Judge Feng encouraged him to take a preparatory course in medicine. According to the judge, the clues to a great many crimes lay hidden in wounds. To solve them you had to develop not a magistrate’s but rather a surgeon’s understanding of trauma. Everything was going well until, one night, Cí’s grandfather suddenly fell ill and died. After the funeral, as was dictated by Chinese custom, his father was obliged to give up his job as well as the house they had been living in, since the owner, Cí’s grandfather, was dead. Without a home or work, the family had to return to the village, the last thing Cí wanted to do.

They came back to a very different Lu. He had built a house on a plot of land he’d acquired, and he was the boss of a small crew of laborers. When his father came knocking at his door, the first thing Lu did, before he would allow him to cross the threshold, was make him get down on his knees and apologize. He made their father sleep in one of the tiny bedrooms, rather than give up his own, and treated Cí with the same disinterest. Soon after, when Lu realized his younger brother no longer worshipped him and cared only for books, Cí became the target of all Lu’s anger. A man showed his true value out in the fields, Lu maintained. That was where your daily rice came from, not from books, not from studying. In Lu’s eyes, his younger brother was a twenty-year-old good-for-nothing, just one more mouth to feed. Cí’s life became little more than a series of criticisms, and he quickly came to hate the village…

A gust of wind brought Cí back to the present.
Going back into the main room, he ran into Lu, who was at the table beside their mother, slurping his tea. Seeing Cí, he spat on the floor and banged his cup down on the table. Without waiting for their father to wake up, he grabbed his bundle of work things and headed out.
“No manners,” muttered Cí, taking a cloth and wiping up the tea his brother had just spilled.
“And you should learn some respect,” said his mother. “We’re living in his home, after all. The strong home—”
“I know, I know. ‘The strong home supports a brave father, prudent mother, obedient son, and obliging brother.’” He didn’t need to be reminded of the saying. Lu was quite fond of it.
Cí laid the table with the bamboo place mats and bowls; this was supposed to be Third’s job, but recently her chest illness had been getting worse. Cí didn’t mind filling in for her. According to ritual, he lined up the bowls, making sure there was an even number of them, and he turned the teapot so that its spout pointed toward the window. He placed the rice wine, porridge, and carp meatballs in the center of the table. He cast his eyes over the kitchen and the cracked sink all black with carbon. It looked more like a dilapidated forge than a home.
Soon, his father hobbled in. Cí felt a stab of sadness.
How he’s aged.
Cí frowned and tensed his jaw. His father’s health was deteriorating: He moved shakily; his gaze was lowered and his sparse beard looked like some unpicked tapestry. There was barely a shred left of the meticulous official he had been, the man who had bred in Cí such a love of method and perseverance. Cí noticed that his father’s hands, which he used to take such care of, were anemic looking, rough and callused. He imagined his father must miss the time when his hands had to be immaculate—the days he’d spent examining judicial dossiers, doing proper work.
Cí’s father sat at the head of the table, motioning for Cí and his mother to sit as well. Cí went to his place, and his mother took her seat on the side closest to the kitchen. She served the rice wine. Third didn’t join them because of her fever.
“Will you be eating with us this evening, Cí?” his mother asked.
“After all this time, Judge Feng will be delighted to see you again.”
Cí wouldn’t have missed it for anything. He didn’t know why exactly, but his father had decided to curtail the mourning period and return to Lin’an. Cí was hoping Judge Feng would agree to take him back into the department.
“Lu said I have to take the buffalo up to the new plot, and after that I was thinking of stopping in on Cherry, but I’ll be back in time for dinner.”
“Twenty years old and still so naive,” said his father. “That girl has you wrapped around her finger. You’ll get bored of her if you carry on seeing so much of each other.”
“Cherry’s the only good thing about this village,” said Cí, eating his last mouthful of food. “Anyway, you were the ones who arranged the marriage.”
“Take the sweets I made with you,” said his mother.
Cí got up and put the sweets in his bag. Before leaving the house, he went into Third’s quarters, kissed her feverish cheeks, and tucked her hair back. She blinked. Cí took out the sweets and hid them under her blanket.
“Not a word!” he whispered.
She smiled, too weak to say anything.
Excerpted from THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido, Copyright 2013. Published By AmazonCrossing.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Guest Post and Giveaway from Ben Kane, author of SPARTACUS: REBELLION

It's an honor to welcome back my friend and fellow author Ben Kane, as he celebrates the release of the second book in his dramatic account of Spartacus, the slave who led a massive rebellion and changed history. In SPARTACUS: REBELLION, Spartacus has already done the impossible—escaped from slavery, created a mighty army that has challenged Rome and defeated the armies of three praetors, two consuls, and one proconsul. Now the road home lies before them but danger gathers on the horizon. One of Spartacus's most powerful generals has defected, taking his men with him, and in Rome, an immense force is being gathered against him. Spartacus wants to lead his men over the Alps but others have a different plan. They want to march on Rome and bring the Republic to its knees. Rebellion has become a war to the death.
As with his first installment Spartacus: The Gladiator, Ben has created a pulse-pounding adventure that is rich with detail and characterization. The Daily Express says, "Burly prose highlights the pain, brutality and chaos of ancient combat" and the Historical Novel Reviews says, "Kane succeeds in drawing a convincing picture of how it might have been, which is what a good historical novel should do."

Please join me in welcoming Ben Kane, who offers us this guest post about how he came to write about this iconic figure as well as a giveaway of ONE copy of each of his Spartacus books. This giveaway is open to US and Canada only. To enter, please comment below. A winner will be drawn at random on May 30.

How I Came To Write About Spartacus
Ben Kane

 It’s a funny thing, but the idea for writing about Spartacus came about by chance. In March 2009, I was talking with my agent about ideas for books. I had already set my mind upon a series set during the second (Punic) war between Carthage and Rome, but we were talking about other possibilities as well. I won’t mention them, because I haven’t written the books yet, but Spartacus came up. It sounds naive but in that moment it was as if someone had switched a light bulb on in my head. I had watched the famous Kubrick movie once as a boy, and it had made a great impression on me. (I should add that we didn't have a TV when I was growing up, or I am sure that I would have seen it more than once!) I had had cause to read about Spartacus in the previous few years. As many of you know, Marcus Licinius Crassus was the man who put down Spartacus’ rebellion in 71 BC. He is also a character in my first novel, The Forgotten Legion. That day, the plan for a set of novels about Carthage and Rome won out, but the idea didn't go away.

In early 2010, I started hearing a lot of news about an upcoming TV miniseries called Spartacus: Blood and Sand, starring a then little-known Australian actor called Andy Whitfield*.This set me to thinking about Spartacus’ story all over again. I did some more research on the man, and became even more enamored of his achievements, and amazed by how close he had come to getting away. He was someone who was subjected to a great injustice, and he didn't take it lying down. Instead, he fought back ― in the process shaking the mighty Roman Republic to its core. Although the reasons for Spartacus’ fame have quite modern roots (he was resurrected as a symbol of the small man’s fight against oppression in the 18th and 19th centuries), his name is one of the most well-known from ancient times. Thrilled, I went as far as writing the plotline for a novel and submitting it to my UK publishers. Sadly, but perhaps sensibly, they were keen that I concentrate on my other novels.
I went back to work, finishing the novel Hannibal: Enemy of Rome. The itch to write Spartacus became a lot worse over the subsequent months, however, and I kept badgering my publishers. I am pleased to say that eventually, they gave in! I started writing Spartacus’ story in mid-December 2010, and I had it finished by mid-June 2011. The story just burst out of me. At about 100,000 words (the normal length of my novels is about 145,000 words) I knew there was no way this amazing man’s story would fit into one volume. Cap in hand, I went back to my publisher. This time, they were quick to agree to a second book. The first volume immediately became Spartacus: The Gladiator, while I named the second Spartacus: Rebellion. That book also took me little more than 6 months to write. In all, I lived, breathed and dreamed Spartacus for more than a year. It was the most amazing experience, and I was very sad to end the story. I actually dreaded writing the final battle (most everyone knows what happens, but I won’t mention it just in case), but when the time came, the writing flowed so well. Working up to 16 hours a day, I wrote more than 15,000 words in 8 days. By the end, I was totally drained, but it had been a fantastic experience. It is my sincere hope that readers will get as much enjoyment out of reading the books as I did in writing them.

*Andy was a mesmeric actor, who totally made the role of Spartacus his. Tragically, he died before the rest of the series could be made. His role was taken over by the actor Liam McIntyre.

Thank you, Ben! Best of success with the book. To follow Ben on his virtual tour, please go here. To find out more about Ben and his work, visit his website. And don't forget to comment below to enter the giveaway.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Q&A with James Forrester, author of ROOTS OF BETRAYAL

I'm delighted to welcome back James Forrester, whose second novel ROOTS OF BETRAYAL was published this week. Following the harrowing adventures detailed in Sacred Treason, Forrester's first installment of this exciting series set in the reign of Elizabeth I, Catholic herald William Clarenceaux is now the custodian of a highly dangerous document. When it is stolen, Clarenceaux suspects a group of Catholic sympathizers and soon enters a nightmare of suspicion, deception and conspiracy. Conflict and fear, compounded by the religious doubts of the time, conceal a persistent mystery. Where has the document gone? Who has it and who really took it? And why? The roots of betrayal are deep and shocking: and Clarenceaux's journey towards the truth entails not just the discovery of clues and signs, but also the discovery of himself.

Please join me in welcoming James Forrester.

You are well known for your non-fiction work. What inspired you to turn to historical fiction? What can you tell us about your reasons for writing THE ROOTS OF BETRAYAL?
At the most fundamental level, it has to do with the messages we send out when writing history, and the limitations of non-fiction. I play around with non-fiction more than most people. I devise new ways of analysing historical evidence, and I find new ways of disproving myths. I also come up with new theories and forms of how to write history – from treating the past as a ‘foreign country’ that we can visit to writing an objective diary of a year, day by day. BUT – but, but, but – no historical form or theory allows you to say what you want to say about humanity as you see it through your own eyes. Non-fiction history is always primarily about someone else, someone in the past. If you want to write history that expresses something in your heart, you have to turn to fiction, plays or poetry. And plays and poetry don’t sell.

The first book in the trilogy, Sacred Treason, was partly inspired by some documents I came across in the course of doing some historical research for the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts in the nineties. More important, however, was a woman who… How shall I put this? Well, to be honest, she encouraged me to think of her in romantic ways. I am a happily married man, so it created problems. However, the problems that arose for me in the modern world weren’t half as bad as those I’d have had to deal with in Elizabethan or Puritan times.

This is what got me thinking about the whole historical fiction thing. Using the past as a magnifying glass, we can expose aspects of our daily lives in different ways. Adultery in the modern world is today unworthy of a newspaper column inch (unless you’re royal) but in the 1650s you could be hanged for it. Treason today is almost laughable – but you could be tortured to death for it in the 1580s. And heresy, which today no one blinks an eye about, could result in your being burnt at the stake in the sixteenth century. The backdrop of the past can be used to say things about humanity in a bigger and more vibrant way – and historical fiction can be used to say things about your own life that are true. Put those two things together, and there you have it. There were truths that that I was keen to explore that could never have been fitted into a non-fiction history book, and they were important and dramatic enough to warrant them being set in dramatic times.

As for The Roots of Betrayal in particular,I wanted to create an atheistic character to set as a foil against my religious hero, known as Clarenceux. One night I went round the corner to my local pub and there was a good friend of mine in the bar. The way he was standing, legs slightly apart, reminded me of a pirate standing on the deck of a ship – and as I looked at him and he smiled back, the character of Raw Carew was born. Just as Clarenceux is loosely based on me, then Raw Carew is loosely based on my friend. And plenty of other people from this village are to be found behind the masks of the faces of his pirate crew.

Tell us about the time period in which your book is set. What drew you to this particular era? What are some of the challenges and/or delights about writing about this time?
The Roots of Betrayal is set in 1564. The doubts about the religious change in England – from Catholicism to Protestantism (but not as far as Puritanism) allow the historian to talk about a wide spectrum of things that really mattered to people, about the challenges of the world and how people understood their place in existence. At the same time people were just about becoming able to think that there is no god, and so atheism is something we can stir into the mix.

There were some great historical characters too. I loved writing the dialogue between Sir William Cecil and Francis Walsingham, in which each is trying to outwit the other.
In my day job as a historian I research and write about England in many time periods, over the last thousand years. The attractions of the 16th century are that it is sufficiently familiar that people can visualize the period easily (portraits, TV shows), and they can pretty well understand the English of the time when you want to quote it (it’s much harder for the medieval period - Latin and French). There are many more things that can be safely taken for granted about life in the sixteenth century (for example, widespread ability to read (25% men in 1600, 10% women), or to communicate with someone by letter). These things are very difficult to keep out of a medieval novel because you have to explain to the reader, who automatically assumes that literate people could and would write a letter, that they normally would not even think of doing it (because they could read but not write, or they did not have vellum or ink, or did not have the means to send the letter, etc). It’s also a period in which I did a PhD, so I’m very happy writing about anything to do with medicine, nursing and ill-health for the period.

What process did you use to transport yourself and your readers to another era? How do you go about your research and incorporating it into fiction?
I don’t do any research. With four history degrees, years working in archives, and a lifetime engaged in historical enquiry, it’s more important for me to LOSE facts rather than gain them. I need to get rid of the bits of the past that are unnecessary to my storytelling. This is the main thing: the books are not about the past; they are about us now. They are set in the past but they are about me and the people I know, and the things I feel, and the ambitions and desires I have (for myself and for others). If I wanted to write about the 1560s, I would write a history book (and I have – The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England). My novels, in contrast, are rather are about me expressing myself, not about the past, or recreating the past. You know yourself: the passions we write about are our passions and (in the broadest sense), what turns us on. We don’t try to recreate the enormous fun and amusement had by the masses of people who flocked to see people hanged or to bet on the cockfights, or rushed to see the dogs and bulls killed at a bull baiting. What matters in historical fiction is what matters to us in the here and now. When I am writing fiction, I don’t want to be a slave to a period in which cruelty, hierarchy, misogyny and racism were all seen as justified in the eyes of man and god. I have to deal with that quite enough in my non-fiction!

Does your historical fiction convey a message or theme relevant to our world today? If so, what do you think it is? If not, how do you think readers can find common ground with the characters in your story?
Oh, this is a good question, especially now that I’ve expressed where I’m coming from in my fiction. Yes, there are moral, sexual and relig

ious dilemmas through the book – throughout all three books. I suppose the big story in my historical fiction is this: there is only one true virtue and that is loyalty - but everything in life conspires to make people stray from the path of loyalty. In this book, enmity does, love does, desire does, fear does, sadness and loss do, the state does, vengeance does, protective instincts towards a child do, a refusal to accept responsibility does. Loyalty to one person/thing forces you to be disloyal to another. And yet any disloyalty is to alienate yourself from part of your earlier world. In my opinion, making these difficult decisions is what makes us human. That is what my fiction is about.
I could set my stories in any period and say much the same things. But because of the public reactions to disloyalty in an age which saw loyalties tested to the extreme, the second half of the 16th century is the best.

Can you tell us about your next project?
The Clarenceux Trilogy is finished. The third and final volume, entitled The Final Sacrament, came out in the UK last year and will be published by Sourcebooks in the USA in Fall 2013. My current project is a 3-part TV series based on my second Time Traveller's Guide (Elizabethan England), which will be aired in the UK in April, and then I hope will be shown elsewhere in the world. My next non-fiction book is entitled ‘Centuries of Change. Basically it asks which century of the last ten saw the most change, in the Western World. My next novel is going to be completely off-the-wall, utterly different from anything I’ve ever written  - or ever read , for that matter. It covers one man's life - but over 600 years. More than that I can’t say at the moment. It’s a secret. But I’ll tell you over a pint when next you visit England!

Thank you, James! We wish you the best success with The Roots of Betrayal. To find out more about James Forrester and his work, please visit his website.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Guest post by M.J. Rose, author of SEDUCTION

I'm honored to have M.J. Rose as my guest today. In addition to being my good friend, M.J. is the author of  SEDUCTION, her haunting new novel about Victor Hugo's desperate search to contact his dead daughter and the frightening effects that his quest exerts on a modern-day young woman who travels to Jersey Island to seek refuge from her grief. This is one of my favorite novels of the year; long known for her mastery of paranormal suspense in such novels as The Reincarnationist and The Book of Lost Fragrances, M.J. has crafted a vivid, exquisitely Gothic tale about immortality, passion, and the lengths we all might go to for love.

Please join me in welcoming M.J. Rose, who offers us this post about the writing of her new book:

When Seduction comes out on Tuesday, readers who buy the hardcover and open it will find, what I hope, will be a surprise. The endpapers show my hand written manuscript of the book along with the pen and the ink I wrote it with.Why did I write 122,833 words in ink?

M.J. Rose's hand-written manuscript
I love challenges, but to tell the story of Victor Hugo’s experiments with séances in his own voice? What kind of crazy idea had I come up with? Surely it was lunacy to even attempt it.I don’t have literary illusions. I had just fallen in love with Hugo’s story and wanted to tell it. What fascinated me was how much had been written about his life as a statesman, poet and author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, but how little had been written about a certain part of his personal life: his dabbling with hashish, his preoccupation with reincarnation and the more than100 séances he’d conducted during a two year period while he lived on the Isle of Jersey.

During my research, I hadn’t once stopped to think that in order to tell the story of Hugo’s seduction by the spirit world, I would have to find his voice.But there I was. Finally ready to write, sitting at a computer in a very 21st century world trying to conjure a mid 19th genius. For weeks I was stumped.

Then I had a revelation. I didn’t need to invoke the genius, just the man. I had read Hugo’s letters. I knew that the eloquence and brilliance of his poetry and prose didn’t always exhibit itself when he was writing to people close to him. Sometimes he was an extraordinary man saying ordinary things to his family.That was the Hugo I needed to find try to find. The one who was relating a tale to an intimate. Not writing for the ages. Not trying to be brilliant – just attempting to reason out an unreasonable time in his life that had disturbed him. But I still couldn’t do it. The cold keyboard, the sound of the mechanical clicking, the icons at the top of the page, the spell check. All of it was a gulf between me and the man I needed to channel. I decided it was hubris to even attempt to write this novel. Absurd to try. And yet, I couldn’t give up.

Carl Jung said that often coincidences aren’t coincidences at all.
One day in fit of frustration I got up from my desk in a huff and managed to  tip over a jar of pens. One was an old fountain pen. It rolled and fell on the computer. I stared at it for a moment.
What if…

I found a bottle of ink. Filled the pen. Then pulled out a simple notebook and started to write. Not the way I write, on a computer, but the way Victor Hugo would have written over one hundred and fifty years ago. Pen on paper. I began. And as the ink flowed… the words flowed.  

I don’t remember writing this book. Each day when I sat down and uncapped my pen I disappeared into the world of the novel. Three notebooks and 122,833 words later, I finished Seduction

Seduction is the first novel I have written by hand. Perhaps the last. Definitely one of the most fascinating journeys that I’ve ever taken.

I do very much hope it proves fascinating for you as well.

Thank you so much, M.J. We wish you all the success in the world with Seduction. To find out more about M.J. and her novel, or enter her special  giveaway, please visit her website. And tomorrow, May 8 at 3:30 Eastern time, MJ will be chatting about her novel and offering a giveaway on Booktrib.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Guest post by Anne Easter Smith, author of ROYAL MISTRESS

I'm delighted to welcome Anne Easter Smith, whose novel ROYAL MISTRESS was published this week.
Set in the ever-popular Plantagenet era, Anne offers us the rarely told story of Jane Shore, mistress to Edward IV, the daughter of a goldsmith who rose to fame and danger in the king's volatile court. Romance Reviews Today says the novel is a "Perfect 10": Beautifully written . . . entertaining and informative."

Please join me in welcoming Anne Easter Smith, who brings us this fascinating guest post about Edward IV’s Women.

I know we are all mesmerized by Richard III at the moment, but as a king, his brother Edward IV was far more influential, being that he reigned for more than 20 years from 1461-1483 (give or take the 10 months he was in exile), and Richard reigned for only two (1483-1485). So, I set out to make Edward more prominent when I chose Jane Shore as my protagonist in Royal Mistress. Of course, he had appeared in three of my other four books, and I had formed a pretty good idea of who he was after all those years of researching the York family during the Wars of the Roses. It’s astonishing how much larger than life he became as I wrote about him. Had he lived today, he would probably have been a celebrated professional athlete or maybe a movie star--with the requisite trophy girlfriend on his arm.

He brought England out of a hundred plus years of war--first with France and then with his cousins, the Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets. Finally, in the 1470s and early ‘80s, England was able to concentrate on building up its economy at home, while the merchant class was thriving. Trouble was, Edward was really better sitting on a horse and leading his men to battle than sitting on his throne leading politicians, and I think he got bored. By the time he was in his mid-thirties he was overweight and indolent. However, he never lost his lust for the opposite sex. Although the names that have come down to us of his known mistresses number a mere five, Edward and his chamberlain were reputed to enjoy the pleasures of unsuitable young ladies on occasion during their forays into the city of London.

Sir George Buck, in his “History of the Life and Reign of Richard III” published in 1646 and who was the first historian to try and rectify the bad reputation the Tudors had foisted on Richard, mentions a little known first mistress of Edward, Catharine de Claringdon, but he is the only one who has. However, the other four women are well documented. I shall skip over his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, as for most of Edward’s reign she was his acknowledged wife, although he did fall hook, line and sinker for her and thus marry her in secret to get her into bed, knowing she was really not a suitable consort for the king of England.

Edward IV
So who were the three mistresses of whom Edward himself remarked that one “was the wiliest, another the merriest, and the third the holiest harlot in the land.” We are not sure which order the first two (and let’s throw Elizabeth Woodville in that timeline, too) came, but they were written about in 1460s, the early part of Edward’s reign.

We do know that Jane Shore was Edward’s last mistress, beginning in the mid 1470s and still in favor when he died, and the one Edward described as the “merriest.” Poor Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot, ended her life in a nunnery, which might suggest why Edward nicknamed her his “holiest” concubine. By process of elimination, the “wiliest” must have been Elizabeth Lucy, nee Wayte, often called the elusive mistress. We think she was born in 1445, three years after Edward, and was the daughter of a landowning family from Hampshire. She became the wife of a knight named Lucy and was widowed young. She gave birth to two of Edward’s known bastards: Elizabeth, born circa 1463, who ended up marrying a Thomas Lumley; and Arthur “Wayte” in 1465 or 1467, who was finally recognized at court, surprisingly by King Henry VII, and rose to become Viscount Lisle. Why Elizabeth was wily, we aren’t sure, but she was never mentioned after 1467, giving rise to the supposition she may have died giving birth to Arthur.

The more interesting of the early mistresses is Lady Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury. This was no commoner, and her sister was the duchess of Norfolk, and both were known for their beauty. She married Sir Thomas Butler, heir to Lord Sudeley, at age fourteen or thereabouts, whose pedigree had connections to royalty. Sir Thomas died in 1461 leaving her childless and a wealthy widow. It was when she appealed the Crown’s confiscating her inheritance that she petitioned the lusty Edward in person and was soon being pursued by the handsome young king. But did he or did he not promise her marriage in order to get her into his bed--commonly known as a pre-contract? That is the question that had enormous ramifications for Edward’s son and heir at the time of his death in 1483. Let me explain.

Today, there is nothing binding between a man and a woman promising to marry. We call it an engagement and is usually the precursor to the actual binding of the couple in matrimony. In medieval times, the promise of marriage followed by intercourse was tantamount to a binding commitment or marriage and recognized by the church. After Edward’s death, his brother Richard of Gloucester became Protector of his nephew, the boy king Edward V, who was awaiting his coronation. During those precarious weeks in May and June 1483, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, one Robert Stillington, stepped forward and declared he had been witness to a pre-contract between Edward and Eleanor BEFORE Edward secretly married Queen Elizabeth Woodville, making Edward’s marriage with the queen was bigamous and thus bastardizing all the offspring of that union.

Ah, you say, but Richard of Gloucester had designs on the throne and probably paid the bishop to come forward with this preposterous story. Why did he wait until Edward was dead to announce his information to the world? Why didn’t Eleanor Butler come forward at the time of Edward’s announcement of his marriage to Elizabeth in 1464; surely she had a better claim to that marriage certificate? We have to remember that this was in medieval times and women had no power, especially a woman like Eleanor who had no father or husband or brother to step forward for her. It would be her word against Edward’s and Edward was the king. What about the good Stillington? He knew how to feather his nest: Was it coincidence that at the beginning of the year of Edward and Eleanor’s pre-contract, Stillington held only a couple of minor ecclesiastical appointments and was keeper of the Privy Seal, but later that same year he was given a handsome annual salary, and when the marriage of Edward and Elizabeth was revealed, Stillington became Bishop of Bath and Wells. Hmmm, a possible reward for keeping his mouth shut?
Anne Easter Smith

When all hope was lost to Eleanor by the marriage of the king to Elizabeth, she retired into a convent and died there in 1468. Poor “jilted” Eleanor. Edward managed to ignore the whole episode until it came back to bite him in his posterior--posthumously. Edward’s final--and he is said to have declared favorite--mistress was Jane Shore, the subject of Royal Mistress. Unfortunately, for Jane she was still in favor when Edward suddenly died, leaving our heroine without a protector. She had left her husband and been ostracized by her father, and she could have been reduced to penury and ridicule had Edward’s chamberlain and friend Will Hastings not taken her under his wing.

But I don’t want to spoil the drama that was Jane Shore’s rise and fall. You’ll have to read Royal Mistress discover that for yourself! All I will say is that she was witness to some of the most compelling events in 15th century English history, the lover of three powerful men, and the unfortunate scapegoat of my favorite king, Richard III. Jane’s story has inspired plays, poems, ballads and prose down the centuries, and her nickname was always The Rose of London.

Thank you, Anne. We wish you the best of success with this new novel! To discover more about Anne and her work, please visit her website.