Thursday, August 18, 2011

A blog on publication day.

Today sees the official publication of TO DEFY A KING in paperback.  Previously published in hardcover and also available on Kindle and audio it is now to be had in glorious paberback.  The cover has been revamped from the hardcover to make it brighter and give it more standout appeal on the supermarket and chain store bookshelf.  It has also been stickered as the very proud winner of the RNA award for historical fiction 2011.  I'm having a small celebratory prize draw.  See the foot of the blog for details.

So what exactly is the RNA award?

 The RNA is the UK's Romantic Novelists Association. It's a broad church open to published authors across the wide spectrum of romantic fiction genres.  It embraces mainstream fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, romantic comedy, contemporary and historical sagas, and even some crime fiction.  It also champions category romance including the rich and varied seam belonging to Mills & Boon.  The RNA also has an associate membership for industry professionals such as authors, editors and agents.  The association has an annual scheme to assist new writers coming through - the New Writers Scheme.  This is immensely popular and always over-subscribed.  It is responsible for the discovery of new talent, brings new blood regularly into the RNA and has kick started many a stellar career.  As well as conferences, famed London parties and seminars, the RNA also has an award for the best romantic novel of the year with sub categories for the best historical novel, the best romantic comedy and the best love story, the latter geared towards category romances where the romance is fully up front. Although the award rulings are subject to change, the above is the gist.
What is terrific about these awards is that the longlist is chosen by ordinary readers.  The publishers enter the books for the award (usually several hundred contenders) and they are parcelled up and sent out to volunteers who are not members of the RNA but who are passionate about reading.  They score the books according to various criteria based on plot, characterisation, content etc.  Each book receives 2 reads and the scores are added up. Top scores go onto the longlist which is then read by RNA members not connected with the award and without novels of their own involved.  The books are whittled down to a shortlist of 6 and these are then judged by a panel of industry professionals and a winner announced. Previous judges have included Tim Waterstone, Jenny Murray, Richard Lee, founder of the Historical Novel Society, Janine Cook, head buyer for Waterstones, and novelist Amanda Craig. Previous winners include Rosamund Pilcher, Philippa Gregory, Susan Kay, Freya North, Cathy Kelly and JoJo Moyes. Shortlistees have included Dorothy Dunnett, Joanne Harris and Nicholas Sparks.

This year's awards were announced at champagne reception and canapes event at Number One Whitehall, London - and a brilliant day out it was too.  TO DEFY A KING was on two shortlists, and although it didn't win the all categories, was named the winner of the Historical Novel prize - see the sidebar of the blog.

I credit the RNA with keeping me in a job earlier in my career during some very difficult times.  Historical fiction was in the doldrums and I was one of the endangered midlist authors.  I saw many of my historical novelist colleagues lose their place in publishing. However, the readers kept putting my books through to the shortlist of the RNA awards and this showed my publisher that there was an appetite out there for what I was producing and also, through publicity, it raised reader awareness that bit higher and helped build my platform.  TO DEFY A KING is my fifth shortlisting.  Since it's out today, I'd like to raise a toast to my publishers, to the novel, to the readers, and to the RNA.  Salute!

These are my other, reader-chosen shortlisted novels from previous years.

To celebrate today's publication, I am offering a giveaway of a copy of To Defy a King plus a novel of your choice to one UK reader and one overseas reader.  Just drop an e-mail to, stating clearly whether you are a UK or overseas entry.

NB. If you've tried and it hasn't worked, I'm sorry.  I wrote my address wrong the first time - I put a dot in where there wasn't one (sigh). Anyway, it's fixed now.  However, Live can be sensitive, so if you can't get through, leave a message on the blog, or contact me through Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, August 15, 2011


NB This is NOT Petronella (fitting given the contents below) but just a suggestive image to brighten the blog!
Nothing is ever simple when it comes to researching Eleanor of Aquitaine, her family and her affiliations. Having wrestled with the problem of her half brothers and having proven that Joscelin was actually the brother of Queen Adeliza of Louvain, I now find myself with several puzzles concerning Eleanor’s younger sister Petronella. Except sometimes she's not call Petronella, she is called Aelith.  Already I'm beginning to suspect that I am going to wind up banging my head on the table in frustration.

There is no birth date for Petronella. We now know that Eleanor was born in 1124 not 1122. Petronella was a younger sibling.  We know their mother died in 1130 and that Petronella was old enough to be involved in a sexual relationship by 1141, and that she bore a child circa 1143 or 1144.  It is therefore likely that she was born fairly close to Eleanor, perhaps in 1125 or 1126. Having said that we have no birth date for the brother William Aigret, who died around the same time as their mother in 1130. Some biographers say he was first born, some that Eleanor was first born. No one seems to know, and William’s birth order may have affected the dating of Petronella's birth.  In the great scheme of things, it’s really just a minor puzzle though.

With regard to Petronella's alternative name, I do wonder if she was baptised Aelith but known as Petronella, perhaps because her birth date was close to the feast of St. Petronella on the 31st of May, and perhaps because St. Petronella had associations with Charlemagne from whom she and Eleanor claimed descent.  It may also be telling that the cathedral in Poitiers is dedicated to St Peter, who seems to have loomed large in the lives of the Dukes of Aquitaine,  Petronella being  the feminine form of Peter. 
Or of course, she could have been baptised  Petronella.and called Ailith.  Or Eleanor may have had two sisters – perhaps Aelith was illegitimate. The mention of Ailith comes from existing documentation concerned with the Abbey of St Mary of Saintes.  Perhaps Aelith was a nun?  I don’t know.  I feel probably not, but it is still there as a consideration when pondering all the possibilities. 

Here is a letter from 1140 naming the sister known as Aelith.  It’s also interesting to see ‘Eleanor’ rendered in Medieval Latin.  I have bolded Aelith’s name in the text.

1140, December 28
Original letter:
Ego Helienordis, Francorum regina, et Willelmi ducis Aquitanici filia, hoc donum, sicut rex vir meus concessit Beate Marie Xancton[ensi] ecclesie, sic concessi et hujus [sign of cross] impressione confirmavi, et in perpetuo habendum Sancte Marie et Agneti amite mee ejusdem loci abbatisse, et omnibus ejus successoribus in eadem die, non in eodem loco, confirmavi; videntibus Aienrico de Niela, Aelith, sorore mea, Maengo de Bono Occulo, Arveo panetario, et pluribus aliis.
Translated letter:
I Eleanor, queen of the Franks, and daughter of William duke of Aquitaine, have granted and confirmed by this stamp* the gift as the king my husband granted it to the church of Blessed Mary of Saintes, to be held in perpetuity by St. Mary and Agnes, my aunt, abbess of that place, and all her successors, I confirmed it on the same day not in the same place: with witnesses Aienric (Henry?) of Niela, Aelith my sister, Maengo of Bono Occulo, Arveo my steward, and many others.
We do know that in 1142, Petronella, then in her early or mid teens, began an affair with King Louis’ much older, war-scarred second cousin, Ralph of Vermandois.  He had lost an eye in a siege, when struck by an arrow, but as well as being a warrior, he was a valued and experienced courtier.  He also liked the ladies.  Chronicler John of Salisbury tells us that even when ordered to abstain from intercourse by his doctors, he paid them no heed because he was ‘very uxorius’.  He was married to Leonora – some say niece of Count Theobald of Blois (Ralph Turner, Douglas Boyd, Marion Meade, Desmond Seward, Marjorie Chibnall, Amy Kelly)  some say sister of (Alison Weir, Wikipedia) and some say first cousin (Ivan Goubry). You see what I’m up against when researching?!  Anyway, the couple were keen to wed and three bishops – including Ralph’s brother, Simon Bishop of Noyon, annulled Ralph’s first marriage. The Pope, on receiving a complaint from Theobald of Champagne on his disparaged sister’s/niece’s/cousin’s/take your pick behalf, immediately reversed the annulment and put Ralph and Petronella under interdict.  Without going into masses of political detail at this stage, it caused tremendous political upheaval and was partly the cause of a war between France and Champagne.
Ralph and Petronella weathered the storm and Petronella bore Ralph either two or (here we go again) 3 children. Some time in the early 1150’s she died…. Or did she?  Off I go to bang my head on the table.
UK Wikipedia says: However, Petronilla and Raoul divorced in 1151, as he remarried the next year. Petronilla remained a member of the French royal court and a constant companion to her sister Eleanor while she was imprisoned by her husband King Henry II in England and Wales. After Henry's death, Eleanor was freed, and Petronilla planned on returning to France. Yet, records of Petronilla after 1189 are scarce. It is believed that she came down with a fever on her voyage from England back to France and died in early 1190 before her arrival at port.  
There are no sources given for this bit of information, although the entire article is quoted as sourced from a French work by Patrick van Kerrebrouck (2000). Les Capétiens 987–1328. Since I have no access to this work, I can’t check the veracity or whether Petronella’s death is mentioned in it.  Records of Petronella before 1189 are hardly leaping out of the woodwork, and I suspect that here ‘scarce’ is a euphemism for ‘non existent.’
 French Wikipedia says she died after 1151 and that Ralph was widowed. ‘devenu veuf’  In 1152 he married his 3rd wife Lauretta of Alsace.
Chronicler John of Salisbury writing circa 1164 saysShe did not survive for long; and though she bore a son and two daughters  before her death.’…’ ‘As for Count Ralph, he married his 3rd wife, a daughter of Thierry count of Flanders called Laura.’This being from primary source it’s more promising.
Then I came across this url.
ELIS [Petronille] d'Aquitaine ([1125]-after 24 Oct 1151, bur St Arnould in Crépy).  The Chronicle of Alberic de Trois-Fontaines specifies that "Alienor Guilielmi filia comits Pictavorum et Aquitanie ducis" had two sisters one of whom married "Radulfus…comes Perone et Veromandie", although he does not name them[562].  The Historiæ Tornacenses record the wife of "Radulfem comitem" as "germanam Alienore regine Francorum" but also do not name her[563].  Robert of Torigny refers to the mother of the infant children of "Radulfus de Perrona comes Viromandorum" as "iuniore filia Willelmi ducis Aquitanorum" but he does not name her either[564].  The Chronique de Guillaume de Nangis names "Eléonore et Pétronille" as the two daughters of "Guillaume comte de Poitou et prince d'Aquitaine", recording in 1142 that Pétronille married "Raoul comte de Vermandois" after he repudiated his first wife[565]m (1142) as his second wife, RAOUL I "le Vaillant" Comte de Vermandois, son of HUGUES "le Maisné" de France Comte de Vermandois & his wife Adelais Ctss de Vermandois, de Valois et de Crépy ([1094]-13 Oct 1152, bur Priory of Saint-Arnoul de Crépy). 
The above source has Petronella buried at the Priory of Saint Arnould de Crepy. Note the mention of two sisters in the above source details.  Which brings us back to Aelith and Petronella as separate individuals rather than the same person.
Now, to further muddy the waters, the English Pipe Rolls of 1155 to 1158 carry at least a strong suggestion that Petronella was still alive after Ralph’s remarriage to Laura of Flanders and hadn’t died as John of Salisbury says. There is a reference to a Petronille in close proximity to mention of the Queen with reference to payment of Danegeld in the Pipe Roll for Essex of l155, and chances are highly likely that it is her sister.   In that of 1158, there is a reference to a payment for the passage of the Queen’s sister (it doesn’t name her and the wording just might possibly refer to the King’s sister – in which case it would be an illegitimate one).
Look at the last word on the 3rd long line down and just above it the word 'Regine
Alison Weir states: ‘During the period 1154-58, there are regular payments of generous sums for wine for Petronilla.’
 Having trawled these same pipe rolls, I can find only one such entry and it involves bread as well as wine and does not name Petronella herself and is therefore ambiguous.   There is only one mention of a Petronella ( see above full paragraph and photo).  The other un-named mentions of a sister might or might not be Petronella.  The entries could as easily refer to Henry II’s illegitimate sister Emma, later to marry Dafydd ap Owain Gwynedd, prince of North Wales.  It’s not clear enough to say for certain, as ‘Reg’ or 'R' could be short for ‘Regis’ as well as ‘Regine.’


Current conclusion. Until more evidence turns up, my personal belief, based on the seriously muddled and  contradictory evidence is that Eleanor definitely had a sister called Petronella and that she married Ralph of Vermandois.  They divorced, and Petronella came to live with her sister Eleanor, and died some time after 1155 but before 1164.  I am not entirely satisfied with this conclusion, but it’s the most I can go on at the moment.  What I need to find out is where the UK Wikipedia got its statement from that Petronella was still alive in 1189.  It may well be from a novel, but without references, I can go no further, and as everyone knows, while Wikipedia is a good starting point, it’s never to be trusted.  My inner jury is also out on the Aelith business. Two sisters, or one with dual names?  It’s in the balance…and there are dints in my table!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

WILLIAM MARSHAL TRAVEL TOUR - and other business!

I have an exciting announcement to make! Academic Travel Abroad who recently organised a tour dedicated to the life and times of Eleanor of Aquitaine with author Sharon Kay Penman as a guest traveller and 'author on board' are now looking to do the same with William Marshal - with me as the resident author and all things Marshal enthusiast!
To get things going, they have posted a simple questionnaire about preferences here for anyone who would like to consider taking the tour. I think it's wonderful! I could visit with William Marshal and his family forever and a day!  Here's the url to the questionnaire.

In other news.  Regia Anglorum is 25 years old this year and to celebrate the fact, they've put together this smashing video.   I'm not on it, as I wasn't at the shows involved, but lots of my friends are. I think this shows why I consider living history such an important part of my writing. Vivat Regia Anglorum!

In even more news, watch out for a competition to celebrate the paperback publication of To Defy A King.  Sphere are preparing it at the moment.  More when it's official.

I will also be on blog tour with Sourcebooks for Lady of the English and will add the dates before September 1st.

Onwards and upwards!