Monday, 12 June 2017

Is Writing Author Notes Necessary for Historical Romance Fiction?





Is the writing of author notes necessary for historical fiction, more especially romance fiction? The straight answer is, yes, if characters lives are set against specific historical events and real persons of note. It's far too easy to say, but it's only fictional romance when in fact as soon as a real-time great battle is featured, a political storm, or a king loses his head, the novel is no longer mere fiction it has crossed the line into a recorded historical moment in time. Therefore the author is obliged to enlighten with at least a summary of events prior to and post the featured event/s, There will of course be readers who are cognisant to that period in history whilst many readers will be far from knowledgeable of your chosen subject matter, and likewise many readers have idealistic impressions of times past garnered from historical fiction novels. 

Sometimes short author notes suffice. At other times the story requires no enlightenment, the obvious is there, but on occasion there are times when long notes seem wise. I really did ponder the following notes for the above book, and then I remembered an American reader having said in a discussion that she knew little about the period of the ECWs, and although she had read one of the other books in The Royal Series, and albeit regional in content, as much as the entertainment and romantic value of the story she also valued the learning aspect, the desire to read more ECWs novels. A coup? Damn it yes, because I'd got her interested in a period she had never read before. And but a week past I received a lovely email from another reader who had indeed purchased the above novel (English male) and he was so impressed by the story and my author notes he purchased and read all the presently published Royal Series novels and awaits the next in the series with enthusiasm. This was from a man who wouldn't ordinarily have read a romance novel quote: ...never judge a book by its cover is the saying and as war novels go it was excellent and on a par with Bernard Cornwell with added spice worth reading. Not a word was skipped Ms Howarth, not a single word. You have yourself a convert and one who will look more closely at novels with romance headers... He went on and praised the author notes, so I thought I would post them here, for it's so hard to write author notes that don't sound too damnably tutorial in tone...                

There is no disputing the fact the 17th century – for the United Kingdoms’ of Scotland, England, and the Principality of Wales, and the former Commonwealth Protectorates – paid witness to a bloody period in history. There are many theories as to why the first Civil War (1642) erupted and all have merit in their own right of reasoned analysis. Unfortunately, few historians venture to the greatest impact on the populous such as that of the legacy bestowed by James I to his people. At a time when Bishops, priests and pastors held power of religious intellect, the preaching and teachings of the holy-scriptures were delivered in verbal context from the church to the people. Thus, when King James (VI Scotland) was declared by Queen Elizabeth I, as her successor on her death, it was he James (I England) who afforded new purpose to the people with his translation of the Bible from Latin to plain speak English. His great feat duly awakened aspiration within his subjects to read the scriptures in their own homes, hence his literary endeavour as good as opened the lid of Pandora’s Box.
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The people, the greater by no means simpletons, a great majority were multi-lingual in English and French let alone Welsh, Gaelic et al. But James translation of the Bible was suddenly theirs’ to behold, to turn the pages, and of those who were illiterate in the written word, suddenly this wondrous book willed incentive to learn the words as writ. James I had provided a means for the people, in simple terms of religious beliefs, to communicate directly with “God” and they did. Once they were educated in one medium, a whole new world of the written word was available to the masses via pamphlets and documents. James I by selfless literary intellect effectively spawned a literary revolution within the masses.

(Of course I am aware James didn’t translate the ruddy bible himself. That he delegated the job to numerous translators, and I also know others had translated the bible beforehand, but it has to be said the KJ bible was put into mass print at his instigation!)
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As this book has nothing to do with James I in terms of story, nor directly to do with his son Charles I, a brief pass through history is nonetheless a means of understanding the religious differences at the time of Cromwell’s rise to fame (or infamy) during the years of the first English Civil Wars, and how those differences impact within the Royal Series of novels as a whole. For in truth, differing religions had a smaller part to play at the time of the first Civil War than did the fact the general populous could no longer be manipulated by church teachings. More than half the peoples were beginning to refuse to accept the divine right of a monarch to rule as that of God’s edict. Any further right to impose taxes and levies upon his people at will without recourse to the Commons Parliament, a body elected by the people to represent the people and protect their rights to at least subsistence living – before taxes could be levied against them – added further fuel to seething discontent. What is more, wealthy merchants and merchant guilds were equally incensed by proposed increased levies against imported goods by royal command, thereby cutting their profit margins. Thus the earlier Civil Wars were only in part stirred by religious bent.
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However, the Monmouth Rebellion was indeed a religiously motivated rebellion against a Catholic monarch who became the King of a Protestant nation. Fear had prior arisen during the reign of Charles II, that if his brother became king, then James would in a short while bring about the dissolution of the Protestant Church of England and re-instate the Catholic Church of France, if not the Holy Roman Church, the very same Henry VIII had rid the country of for personal reasons. Thus throughout the reign of Charles II, many aristocrats, parliamentary figures, ecclesiastical clergy inclusive bishops, and ordinary folk had foreseen the grave issue of no male heir come the death of Charles II, and many strongly believed, and a few had indeed claimed to have witnessed marriage papers declaring Charles II (when Prince of Wales) had married the Duke of Monmouth’s mother Lucy Walter, not once, but twice. There is far too much about this particular period in history to venture into in great detail here, but a few questionable notions arose throughout in my research project, and that is why I never take history as writ, and indeed look to the reasons why history becomes distorted and why with a detective mind-set, events, times, dates declared within memoirs (James II), and others’ diaries, private letters, and state papers, even names, simply don’t always add up. In order to evaluate some nuance of the truth of what really occurred, one should remember the victor, in any dispute, war, whatever, holds sway on how that event is recorded.
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Further to the general mystery, “there must have been some truth in the matter of a marriage/s between Lucy and Charles (?)” else why at the time of Lucy’s “so-called disgrace” was great effort made to retrieve “papers” that were detrimental to his majesty and to any subsequent marriage proposals to European princesses, and all whilst the royal court was in exile on the Continent? The greater question, if Charles was not married to Lucy Walter, what possible threat as his mere mistress could she pose to a future contracted marriage? Scandal and rumour were part and parcel of court life, some true, some false, and some created for nefarious purposes. At the same time, Queen Henrietta Maria, (Charles mother) dispatched a trusted agent to the County of Pembrokeshire to retrieve church papers (marriage record) at Rhos Church (Rosemarket), though unfortunately for Mr Proger (agent) – at that time – Lucy’s brother Richard Walter was High Sheriff of Pembrokeshire.
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There are many strange coincidences (sad fate) regarding people who had direct connections with Lucy, for as you know from having read this novel, there is mention of William Lord Russell, who was headed for treason. Here I now present you with a piece garnered from Lord George Scott, a descendent of the Duke of Monmouth, which clearly provides a little background to Lord Russell’s deeper insight to Monmouth as the legitimate son of Charles II, in that, the Earl of Shaftesbury was the prime instigator in the parliamentary exclusion bill crisis, and was indeed a friend of William Lord Russell (married to Lady Rachel Vaughan, this lady prior married to Lucy Walter’s cousin), who knew Lucy well. No wonder then Lord Russell was viewed as a dire threat to James Stuart’s desire to become King of England. Aside from all that, twenty years after Lucy’s death calumnies against her name persisted, and were cast from James Stuart’s suite. Therefore, is it pure speculation to suppose James’ sole purpose for denigrating Lucy and the King’s son for so long, the only son (illegitimate or otherwise) from amongst Charles’ offspring, whom he treated in the manner of a royal blood prince, thus viewed by James as a serious rival for the crown?

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While I shall hope and pray I have conveyed the Catholic perspective by way of Henry Gantry, who early on in the book, as you know, allies himself to James Duke of York, later James II. So too, the perspective of Protestants are reflected through the eyes of the Thornton family, Henry’s parents and his brother.
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The greatest tragedy post-Battle of Sedgemoor was not only the dreadful botched heading of Monmouth on Tower Hill July 15th 1685 – deliberate butchery or otherwise – it was the Bloody Assizes presided over by Judge Jeffreys, which culminated in a blood bath greater than that encountered on the battle field. So gruesome are the official accounts of the gross injustice inflicted upon those who were tried and sentenced, truly sickens one. Of those who were hung drawn and quartered, as noted by honourable ecclesiastical witnesses, many were butchered whilst still alive before their bodies were left hanging from every available tree alongside the highway from Glastonbury to Bridgewater, from trees elsewhere, and from gibbets in town squares across Somerset and Dorset. Of the most noted rebels, their private parts were lopped off, packaged up, and dispatched to their loved ones as a salutary warning to never again rebel against the King. It was a terrible revenge enacted in the name of James II, and as Justine said: “The name Monmouth is now engraved on the West Country. We are his headstone, the mark of his loss and ours.”
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Some accounts claim 400 rebel soldiers were killed on the battlefield, and only 24 royalist soldiers perished. The latter figure is considered iffy, and merely an exercise in propaganda, for in greater consideration of 80 royalist soldiers killed during a previous skirmish at Philips Norton (Norton St Philip), the rebel soldiers had thoroughly thrashed the hides of the royalist forces on that occasion. But, of the rebels who were captured at the Langmoor Rhyne (rhine), and chased through the surrounding corn fields, 1,200 were taken prisoner. Others were hunted down further afield, routed and rounded-up, and they too were later brought before Judge Jeffreys. The figure of 3,000 horse and foot making up the total of Monmouth’s army on that fatal day gives rise to how many of them succeeded in evading capture? Further to all that, one has to remember of the I,000 + rebels who were known to have deserted Monmouth’s army a few days beforehand on written promise of merciful pardon by James II – so long as they provided their names to local militia upon dispersal – the majority were dragged from their homes, arrested and the “lucky ones” were deported to the colonies. That was the true fact of the King’s merciful promise, barring exceptions where rebels turned informer and thereby retained their heads and body parts. Amongst the escapees from the battlefield was that of Daniel Defoe, who escaped to the Scilly Isles, he who became a novelist, his most famous works: Robinson Crusoe & Moll Flanders.
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To the novel:
Albeit the novel is in part Henry’s story, it is also part of a greater tapestry set against the backdrop of two main family estates, and the royal court. The whole series duly spans the years from the first English Civil War beginning the year of 1642 through to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. True to his nature, and due to elements of his past, the Hon Henry Gantry has traversed a troubled path to and throughout his early adulthood – perhaps more evident within previous books, and through his perspective I have endeavoured to portray the Catholic aspect of James rise to power as that of a Catholic monarch within a Protestant nation. As for the Protestant perspective, it could not be otherwise, than through the thoughts and actions of the Thornton and Gantry families, barring Henry who had converted to Catholicism before the story begins.
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Had he met his grandmother, the Lady Arabella Gantry, a woman of strong religious bent, she may well have encouraged him to look to the priesthood when he was young and troubled, as opposed to seeking his destiny within the royal court. For me, Henry is a complex character, a love-hate bond existing between us, but in the next book “Lady of the Tower” an honourable gesture enacted by Henry, whilst on the Sedgemoor battlefield, post-battle, strengthens his resolve to build on family loyalty afore that of the King.