Well, I am delighted to say that I have FINALLY handed in LADY OF THE ENGLISH to my agent and editor. It's due for publication in UK hardcover in June 2011 and and by Sourcebooks USA in September 2011.
As many regular readers of the blog know, it's about the Empress Matilda and her young stepmother Adeliza of Louvain and their lives as they weave in and out of each other's spheres between the turbulent years 1125-1148. Both women held the title of 'Lady of the English' for parts of their lives, but neither of them ended their days in England. Their characters were very different, particularly in the way they dealt with trouble, yet there were similarites too. They shared a lot of common ground and knew each other well.
Matilda has something of a reputation for being a difficult, bad-tempered cow. The Gesta Stephani calls her headstrong in all that she did’ and says that she insulted and threatened men who came to submit to her. She did not rise to acknowledge men who bowed to her, and she refused to listen to their advice. ‘rebuffing them by an arrogant answer and refusing to hearken to their words…she no longer relied on their advice as she should have and had promised them, but arranged everything as she herself thought fit and according to her own arbitrary will.’ However, the monk Stephen of Rouen, praised her greatly, saying that she was much loved by the poor and the nobility alike. She was ‘wise and pious, merciful to the poor, generous to monks, the refuge of the wretched.' The Cistercian monks of le Valasse remembered her as ‘a woman of intelligence and sense.’ So while there may be no smoke without fire, perhaps history has served to exaggerate certain characteristics by concentrating on them rather than considering all facets, and perhaps has not looked closely enough at possible underlying reasons - something that an author of historical fiction can freely explore.
Lady of the English particularly looks at aspects of the important relationships that Adeliza and Matilda had with certain men in their lives.
King Henry I - Matilda's father and Adeliza's husband. His actions and behaviour had a massive and lasting impact on both women - much of it not to the good.
Geoffrey le Bel, count of Anjou - aged just 14 when he and Matilda, (more than 10 years older than him), were forced to marry in order to fulfil parental dynastic ambitions. What did she think of her adolescent husband? What did he think of his strong-willed much older wife? What actually happened behind closed doors?
Brian FitzCount - Matilda's right hand man and lord of Wallingford. But was he more to her than just a valued civil servant? He was interesting to research and not exactly as I expected to find. There's an article I wrote about him here in the blog archive. http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.com/2010/07/enigmatic-brian-fitzcount.html
William D'Albini - Lord of Buckenham in Norfolk and hereditary butler in the royal household. Adeliza's second husband. What was Adeliza's married life like with a much younger man who gave her her heart's desire, and yet opposed her support for Matilda? What kind of friction did it create?
Young Henry II, one day to become one of the greatest kings in Christendom. What was Matilda's relationship like with him as a child and a youth?
The above are the main relationships explored in the novel, but others are involved, including King Stephen, who as far as Matilda was concerned had usurped her throne, Robert of Gloucester, her loyal half-brother and commander of her forces, and Henry of Blois Bishop of Winchester, Papal Legate, Stephen's brother and a player of power games extraordinaire.
I love the cover, which I think really gives a feel for Matilda in one of her impatient moods.
It's as if she's been called from some important business and has swished aside a curtain to say 'Yes, what do you want then?' We tried the cover with two woman on it, but it didn't work half as well, and I am really pleased with this look. We also tried out different colours, but this was the one that evoked the best response. I hope to have it up at my website in the early New Year.