Friday, 16 December 2016

The Jacobite Chronicles - Review, Interview, and More ...

I'm delighted to welcome author Julia Brannan back to the blog to announce the release of the fourth book in the Jacobite Chronicles. But first, a round-up of the story so far:

The Mask of Duplicity
Beth’s hopes of a quiet life are dashed when her brother Richard, dissatisfied with his meagre inheritance and desperate for promotion, decides to force her into a marriage for his military gain. And he will stop at nothing to get his way. A chance encounter with a gang of Jacobites led by the Highlander Alex McGregor, seems to be a dangerous but brief interlude in her life, but will have consequences she cannot foresee. Beth is thrown into the glittering social whirl of Georgian high society and struggles to conform. The effeminate but witty socialite Sir Anthony Peters offers to ease her passage into society but she finds herself plunged into a world where nothing is as it seems and everyone hides behind a mask... 

The Mask Revealed
Britain moves ever closer to the 1745 rebellion and the impending attempt to restore the Stuarts to the British throne. With no other options available to her, Beth marries, but the ink on the marriage contract is hardly dry when she makes a shocking discovery. Will she opt for the safe but dreary life her husband wishes her to lead, or will she fight for a life of passion, adventure and excitement, knowing that in doing so, she risks not only her own life, but the lives of those she loves?

The Gathering Storm
The year is 1744, and Prince Charles Edward Stuart is stranded in France, his hopes temporarily frustrated, as the planned French invasion to restore his father to the British throne has had to be abandoned. The prince, frustrated beyond endurance, makes an impulsive decision that will change  the lives of the MacGregor family. Alex MacGregor is in Scotland, introducing his new wife to her new clan. In London, events take an unexpected turn, as a good deed by Beth has repercussions that she could never have envisaged, proving that the past is not easily forgiven or forgotten...

I've read all three of these books, and I have to say that I am eagerly awaiting Episode Four. Beth is an intelligent heroine; high-spirited, but not 'feisty' - her character is more nuanced. If I tell you that it's difficult to review the Jacobite Chronicles without peppering the page with spoilers, then you will get some idea of how intricately plotted these books are. In Sir Anthony, Julia has created a marvellous character who could have easily become a caricature, but doesn't. We are allowed to see inside his world, to see the face behind the clown's make-up, and it endears us to him. In Alex MacGregor, too, Julia gives us a man who has everything to fight for, and much to lose, and yet is so much more than a cardboard cut-out heroic figure. As readers we are permitted to know his thoughts, and this adds context and texture which fleshes out the story and makes us feel that we are not witnessing, but actually going along with him on his journey. Julia has the ability to whisk her readers from scene to scene, country to country, and not leave us feeling breathless. There is an immediacy which allows us to feel that we are not watching, but in the room with these very real people. 

I put some questions to Julia:~

What was the inspiration for the series?

I was inspired to write the series when researching my family history. I came to a dead end with my Gordon ancestors, who appear to have moved to Ireland for a time and then back to Scotland in the 1830s. I found this a little odd, as the part of Ireland they came from was very poor, so they certainly didn’t emigrate for economic reasons. I started to research the period in an attempt to discover why, and then became obsessed with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, and the period in general. I’d never realised how fascinating the 18th Century was until then! I initially wrote out a flimsy plot for one short novel, and the series developed from there.

You obviously spend a great deal of time with these characters; do you listen to particular music tracks when you are writing? Or is there any music which is particularly associated with the period in which the books are set?
I don’t listen to music at all when I’m actually at the computer writing. I find it distracting at that time. But when I’m in the research process I immerse myself in the period as much as I can, and so listen to a lot of baroque music; composers such as Handel ( a great favourite of the Hanoverian king) Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Bach, etc when I’m writing about the aristocracy. I listened to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos several times, because this is the music that Beth is listening to in Chapter 12 of The Mask Revealed when Lord Winter drives her to distraction! If you want to listen to it, here’s a pretty good rendition on YouTube

When preparing to write about the Highlanders, I listen to Scottish folk music of the time, or Celtic folk music in general. Most of the songs I mention, including the ones that the MacGregors listen to and sing along with are real songs of the time (yes, including ‘Piss on the Grass’).

A particularly lovely album of songs about the ’45, is Glenfinnan, Songs of the ’45 by Capercaillie. This is absolutely gorgeous, and includes what has to be one of the most heartrending songs I’ve ever heard, Mo Run Geal Og (My fair young love), which was written by a woman whose husband was killed at Culloden. I can’t find an online version of it by Capercaillie, but here’s an instrumental

As for inspiration in general, an album I listen to regularly is actually by an extremely talented friend of mine, Rob Carroll, and is titled The Celtic Mirror. I particularly love his version of Christy Moore’s, The Fishermen Coneely.

Have you pinpointed a moment in your characters' futures when you, and we the readers, will leave them - in other words, do you know at which point you will end the story?
I have. I’ve always known how the series ends, but I’m now starting to think my readers won’t be happy if I leave my characters at that point in their lives, so I may continue the story past my original ending point. I’ll see how things unfold, and what my readers want.

Tell us about the upcoming instalment?
The Storm Breaks deals with the actual ’45 as it’s called, from the time when Prince Charles Stuart landed in Scotland to the end of the rebellion itself. Books Five and Six will deal with the aftermath of the uprising. I can’t really say any more without giving away the plot!

Thanks Julia - I can't wait to read the Storm Breaks.
Find Julia via the links below, and please come back to the blog in the New Year, when I will be posting more review/interviews, and inviting fellow authors to share their musical inspirations.

Find Julia On Amazon
On Twitter
And Pinterest

The Storm Breaks will be released on 6th January, but is available for pre-order HERE (in the UK) or HERE (in the US)

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Marriages of Margaret Beaufort - Judith Arnopp Casts Light

I'm delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp back to the blog, and to hear what she has to say about Margaret Beaufort, who is the subject of Judith's new trilogy and perhaps an often misunderstood woman. 

Over to you, Judith:~

Margaret Beaufort’s life was not one of romance, and her main passion seems to have been for her only child, Henry Tudor. She is remembered for the battle to help her son become king of England, for her piety, and for her charitable work. For Margaret, marriage was a matter of politics, security and a stable position in a wildly insecure world.

Margaret’s son became the first Tudor king, Henry VII, yet his early life was spent in obscurity, much of it in exile overseas, separated from his mother, his family and his lands and property. Henry was born at Pembroke Castle when the recently widowed Margaret was just thirteen years old. Her situation immediately makes our modern-day hackles rise and, although childhood marriage was the norm, it was unusual, even in in the 15th century for a marriage to be consummated so young. [1]
Edmund Tudor

It is believed that Henry’s birth caused such physical damage to Margaret that it was impossible for her to conceive another child. No further pregnancies are recorded, but this did not deter her from marrying twice more.  Her youthful marriage to Edmund Tudor is made more remarkable by the fact that this was not Margaret’s first experience of the married state. At six-years-old a marriage was arrange with the eight-year-old, John de la Pole; the eldest son of the Duke of Suffolk, a union that was quickly annulled when the duke fell into disfavour with the king. As a mark of favour toward Margaret, she was subsequently betrothed to the king’s brother, Edmund Tudor.

Both historians and fiction authors often assume Margaret’s marriage to Edmund Tudor was unhappy, yet there is no evidence for this. Although there was a disparity in age, and he took her straight from the nursery at her mother’s home at Bletsoe castle to the wilds of Wales, she never spoke ill of Edmund. Much later in life, despite remarrying, she made her wishes clear that she should be buried with Edmund at Carmarthen; a wish that was ignored. She was, instead, interred at Westminster Abbey close to Henry VII, while Edmund lies at St David’s, his body moved from Carmarthen during the dissolution of the monasteries.

Edmund died at Carmarthen in 1456, either from the plague or wounds received in battle, or possibly a mixture of both. Margaret was left a vulnerable widow, six months pregnant and far away from the court of her cousin, King Henry VI. She turned for protection to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor, who took her to his fortress at Pembroke to await the birth. Shortly after she was churched, seeking security as the country descended into civil war, Jasper assisted her in forming an alliance with Henry Stafford, a younger son of the Duke of Buckingham.

Henry Stafford was Margaret’s senior by twenty years but they appear to have been happy, making their home at Woking and, despite the distance and the inconveniences of 15th century travel, travelling several times a year to visit her son at Pembroke where he remained under the care of his uncle, Jasper Tudor.

Stafford suffered from a chronic ailment known as St Anthony’s Fire, which subjected the sufferer to sore skin and recurrent attacks of fever. However, when the wars broke out in earnest, he was not ill enough to escape playing his part. When Edward IV came to power, Stafford sought the favour of the new king, and Margaret fretted about the fate of her son, now the ward of Edmund Tudor’s old enemy, William Herbert at Raglan Castle in Wales. 

File:Unknown woman, formerly known as Lady Margaret Beaufort from NPG.jpg
Unknown Woman formerly known as Margaret Beaufort

With the fall of the house of Lancaster, Stafford and Margaret sought the favour of Edward IV, possibly in the hope of regaining custody of young Henry. Stafford attended Edward at court until the Earl of Warwick, disillusioned with his slipping influence over the young king, turned his coat and allied himself with Margaret of Anjou. 

This uncomfortable alliance culminated in success and during Henry VI’s brief readeption, Margaret and Stafford attended his court along with Jasper and Henry who followed the Lancastrian king home. The Staffords enjoyed a short holiday with Henry at Woking but it was a short-lived respite, and Edward returned with an invasion fleet a short time later. This time, when Jasper and young Henry fled overseas Margaret was unaware that fourteen years would pass before she would see her son again.

Margaret had placed all her hopes on Henry VI’s reinstatement, and his defeat must have been made worse when Stafford suddenly changed allegiance. He switched sides and rode out alongside Edward IV to the battle of Barnet where he was wounded, never to recover from the injuries he sustained. 

While King Edward rode to victory at Tewkesbury, Margaret was once again left widowed, and vulnerable. The Battle of Tewkesbury saw an end to Lancaster’s hopes; Henry VI’s heir, Prince Edward, was killed, and the old king put to death soon after. Margaret’s son now moved a few steps closer to becoming heir to the Lancastrian claim but few were left to support him. He was an exile and she, widowed once again, was powerless.

Margaret wasted little time in looking about for another husband. This time she selected Thomas Stanley, a wealthy landowner, and an ambitious man with the knack of keeping out of trouble.

It is difficult to assess the relationship between Margaret and Thomas; as his services to the king increased, the couple were often at court where Margaret served the queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret’s ambition to have Henry restored to his lands and titles never waned and she worked quietly to secure his pardon; a dream that was all set to reach fruition when the king died suddenly in April 1483.

The subsequent announcement that the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous and their offspring bastards, launched one of the most debated period of events in English history. Until then, it seems Margaret had resigned herself to York’s rule and was loyal to the king. It is unlikely that she harboured any real hope of securing the crown for her own son. 

For a while, she served Richard III loyally, carrying the queen’s train at the coronation and serving her at the banquet afterwards. But, once rumours began to circulate of the princes’ disappearance from the Tower, and dissent for the new king grew, her ambition seems to have been stirred.
Henry Tudor

She probably kept Stanley in ignorance when she began to plot with Elizabeth Woodville against the king, but when her part in Buckingham’s rebellion was revealed, she escaped the scaffold by a whisker. With puzzling leniency, Richard III placed Margaret under house arrest, in the custody of her husband. This severed Margaret’s contact with the outside world, and with no other choice than to involve Stanley in the intrigue.

Her marriage to Stanley was a business arrangement from the start, and the pair were probably never romantically close.  But her enforced house arrest made him her only hope and somehow, she persuaded Stanley to throw in his lot and support her son in his desperate bid for the throne. It is clear that someone acted as go-between, for we know letters and money passed between Margaret and Henry. Stanley seems the obvious candidate. When the time came, Henry and Jasper were well-funded enough to raise an army and ships to sail for the Welsh coast in August 1485.

Richard III’s suspicions of Stanley’s disloyalty prompted him to hold his son, George, as hostage to Thomas Stanley’s support but, as had been his habit throughout the wars of the roses, Stanley did not commit himself to either side; it was his brother, William, who saved the day by rushing in at the last to defeat the Plantagenet king.

Legend says it was Thomas Stanley who plucked the coronet of England from a thorn bush and placed it on the head of Henry Tudor, an act surely designed to place him in the good graces of the new king and, of course, the king’s mother. 

Shortly after Henry’s accession, an unprecedented act was passed in Parliament which effectively gave Margaret the power to act as a widow, freed from male constraint. Stanley died in 1504, four years before Margaret but this time she had no need of male protection. Her union with Stanley seems to have been one of respect and affection, although physical relations, if there were any at all, were dispensed with when Stanley agreed to Margaret taking a vow of chastity.

Although the couple lived separately for much of the time, there is no suggestion of animosity. Margaret provided chambers for Stanley in her many houses, and the pair visited each other regularly. After the struggles of her early life, Margaret entered a time of peace. Secure in her exalted position, she dedicated her remaining years to charitable works, advising her son on matters of state, and overseeing the raising of her grandchildren. 

She was an independent woman, and when she died, two months after Henry VII, on the twenty-ninth day of June, 1509, she was in charge of her own affairs, her own destiny, and no longer in need of a husband to protect her, or champion her cause. 

With the Tudor dynasty securely on the throne, she died content, secure in the knowledge that she was leaving England in the charge of her grandson, King Henry VIII.  It is as well she never lived to witness what was to follow.

[1] Discussed in deeper detail HERE


The Beaufort Woman is available for pre-order HERE