Today is the release date of Elizabeth Chadwick’s newest, and hugely enjoyable as usual, historical fiction novel, Lady of the English. I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to ask her a few questions in honor of the book’s release!
1. The settings in this novel are so well described. Have you been to many of the locations featured in your books?
Indeed yes. I try to get out and about to locations for every novel. It’s not possible to go everywhere; there wouldn’t be time, but I tryto cover a broad selection. I am familiar with the gem that is Castle Rising which William D’Albini built for his wife, complete with his and hers toilets! I didn’t go to Normandy this time, but I have been there in the past, and also the Loire Valley. London has changed massively, but I have still stood on the same sites even if they look very different now. I didn’t go to Lincoln this time around, but I’ve been on research visits before. For the rest I use guidebooks and online resources – the latter are invaluable providing you are cautious about their content. Obviously imagination and educated guesswork have their place to play as well.
2. Have you ever wanted to write a novel set outside the Middle Ages?
I’ve written contemporary short stories for magazines, but although I can do it, to be honest I don’t get that same buzz. At the start of my career I toyed with the idea of writing Regency, but then fellin love the Middle Ages and that was that. If I did write a Regency now I would have so much research to do to bring myself to a level that would satisfy my integrity. With the Middle Ages I have decades of research under my belt. I have occasionally pondered going to a slightly earlier or slightly later time, where some of my researchwould still be valid, but really the 11th through 13th centuries are my stamping ground
3. I’ve noticed that you are very active on social network sites like Twitter and you run your own blogs – which fans like me love – but how do you manage to find time for writing?
That is indeed a dilemma. Sometimes it gets very hectic I admit, most of the time it’s a case of having the ability to multi-task quickly combined with being able to dip in and out of the writing at will. So I’ll write a couple of paragraphs, check twitter and e-mail andFacebook, dash something off, and then go back to novel for another couple of paragraphs. I really do enjoy interacting with people and listening to their stories. I’m not one of those authors who is forced into social networking with a cattle prod by their publishers,but there is still only so much time in a day, and it is a balancing act to keep everything in motion.
4. What made you choose to juxtapose Adeliza’s story with the more famous Matilda’s?
Empress Matilda is well known in history and whenever a story is told about her by writers, King Stephen and his wife also called Matilda are generally the other big players – for obvious reasons. However no author has ever explored the dynamic between Matilda and Adeliza. No one has told Adeliza’s story which is a fascinating one. She has been pretty much forgotten or at best marginalised. But the relationship between her and the Empress Matilda was probably the most important woman to woman one of Matilda’s adult life. When Matilda returned to her father’s court following the death of her first husband, shewould have spent several years in Adeliza’s company. When Matilda and her second husband Geoffrey Anjou split up for 18 months, she and Adeliza again spent time together, and it was Adeliza who allowed Matilda into England to begin her campaign for the English Crown.
That must have taken a lot of guts on Adeliza’s behalf, and must also have indicated how strong the relationship was between the women. Somehow Adeliza persuaded her husband, who was on Stephen’s side, to allow the Empress to land at Arundel. Adeliza’s contribution to the future reign of Henry II should not be overlooked. If you’ll pardon the pun she was a kingpin. Both women left England never to retur naround the same time – 1148, and so it gave me a good cut-off point and helped me to structure the novel.
5. Moving into theoretical territory here, do you think there was anything Matilda could have done to get and keep her throne?
This is a difficult one. Matilda would always have had a hard row to hoe as a woman in a man’s world. If one searches around one can find examples of women who ruled in their own right, but they were the exception and in the 12th century the rules were becoming more rigid and women were becoming increasingly pinned down. If Matilda had been more conciliatory at crucial times in her bid for the Crown – such as in London where she blew it by being haughty towards the citizens who were natural supporters of Stephen, or if she had handled Stephen’s brother Henry of Winchester with kid gloves, she might indeed havecarried the day. But even if she had been crowned, I wonder if she would have kept the throne. I don’t think for one minute it would have been the end of matters. Whether she was a Queen or not, the fighting would have continued. Having looked at Matilda’s life, I think she wasn’t an easy person to get on with. She could be haughty and proud and cold; but she was honest and direct and expected others to be the same. And she had a warm and generous side that can still be traced via some of the Chronicles outside the scope of the war in England. I also think -and this is the theory not something I can prove, that she was a martyr to premenstrual tension. It’s something that is never factored into the historical record, but it must have played its part among all women known to history. Add the wrong time of the month into a difficult situation that calls for patience and diplomacy, and I can see how things might have gone pear shaped very fast. I think also that Matilda was filled with a vast amount of hurt and anger that people had rejected her, that they had gone back on their word, and I do not believe she forgave easily. When the time came that she was in command, she let herself be ruled by some of that hurt and anger, and it was part of her downfall.
Many thanks to Elizabeth Chadwick for answering all of my questions! Please come back tomorrow for my review of Lady of the English!
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