QAB Round Table Chat With Historical Fiction Writer Christy English

Historical Fiction Writer Christy English

Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers is pleased to host an internet round table discussion with historical fiction writer Christy English, author of  To Be a Queen; A Novel of the Early Life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Queen’s Pawn and How to Tame a Willful Wife. Christy is joining QAB’s court administrators to discuss the remarkable lives of some of England’s early queens, whose strength and determination helped pave the way to England’s future world dominance. Today’s discussion will focus on Holy Roman Empress Matilda; Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and England; Catalina de’ Aragon, Queen of England; and Anne Boleyn, Queen of England. Welcome to QAB, Christy.

Christy English: “I am very excited to talk with the group about these strong women. I am completely obsessed by Eleanor of Aquitaine, but I have been a fan of Matilda, Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I for years. I’ve even come to admire Queen Catherine of Aragon. So this is going to be an amazing time.”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Christy, it really is a shame, but Empress Matilda seems all but forgotten in English history, despite her huge impact. What would you like to share with QAB readers about this remarkable woman?”

Christy English: “Matilda, or Empress Maude, as she was also known, was the rightful heir to the English throne. When her father Henry I died, she was not in England but in her holdings in France. She did not rush to London to be crowned, and her usurping cousin, Stephen leaped in to fill the gap.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Even though he swore to uphold Matilda’s claim to the throne.”

Empress Matilda (Maude)

Christy English: “Can you tell I am no fan of Stephen’s? I love the historical novel about that time period by Sharon Kay Penman, When Christ and His Saints Slept. The war between Matilda and Stephen raged for decades, and the English peasants were caught between them like wheat between mill stones. Just bloody awful…literally. Ah yes, Stephen did take an oath, but as was mentioned in the BBC She Wolves documentary by historian Helen Canter, he probably didn’t think anyone would hold him to it. During Eleanor’s life, some churchmen suggested that an oath to a woman held no power. God would give you a do over, so to speak.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “This was also shown beautifully is Pillars of the Earth.

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Who would hold any man to an oath of a female monarch?”

Christy English: “Elizabeth and her sister Mary were the first women who really managed to hold men in their sway. I make it sound so nefarious. Elizabeth I just wanted to rule as a prince as she called it, and she pulled it off.”

Mary I (left), Elizabeth I (right)

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Yes, she was the ultimate CEO, also surrounding herself with an excellent group of privy counselors whom she remained loyal to.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Why do you think the people accepted Mary?”

Christy English: “I think they were tired of the new religion and wanted their church back. An over simplification, no doubt. And she was the daughter of a queen and king, both from the Spanish line and the English. Though I wonder if a peasant or burgher would really care about that?”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Are we off topic?” <laughs>

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Yes we are.” <laughs> Back to King Stephen and Empress Matilda now. Did they jockey for power to gain control of the crown?”

Christy English: “They fought tooth and nail, killing a lot of people in the process. It took almost two decades of civil war before Stephen surrendered and accepted Matilda’s son, Henry, as his heir.”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “There was only one Stephen for a reason. How did a woman manage to lead an army of supporters for nearly 20 years in 12th century England?”

Christy English: “She had right on her side, for one thing, and she was a powerful woman with a powerful husband. She had supporters as far away as Aquitaine. Eleanor of Aquitaine’s father, Duke William X, fought to help her hold onto Normandy for example. There were some men who chose not to break their oaths to her.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Christy, if Matilda was allowed to rule, what kind of queen would she have made?”

Christy English: “I suppose there is no way to know what kind of queen Matilda would have made. From her bid to the throne we can see that she was ruthless, that she would trample over villages and crops to fight a battle to win territory. This is no different from any man during her time, but I do wonder if she would have been so fond of establishing a rule of law, the king’s peace, as her son Henry II was.”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Remarkable, what was her influence if any on her daughter-in-law Eleanor of Aquitaine?”

Christy English: “Eleanor of Aquitaine, my hero, became Queen of England in 1154. I often wonder if anyone other than her father ever had influence over Eleanor. To me, she seems like a woman who lived by her own rules. That said I like to think that she and Matilda got along once Henry married her. No doubt they saw the world in much the same way, and shared the same goal: of keeping Henry II in power. As long as he stayed in power, so did they. Both women served as Regent for him in his holdings on the Continent from time to time when he had to be in England, but as far as I know, Eleanor was the only one to rule for him in England when he was dealing with his barons in Normandy and Anjou. Henry and Eleanor had a very strong political marriage for the first ten years at least.”

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Excellent point. He certainly had the support of two very strong and influential women.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Maude reminds me a bit of Margaret Beaufort. They both secured the throne for their sons.

Christy English: “So true! They were a lot alike. Two fabulous women!”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Margaret Beaufort… I would never mess with her. <laughs> Now back to Matilda, Henry and Eleanor…”

Margaret Beaufort

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “What do you think Eleanor thought of Matilda?”

Christy English: “There is no way to know for certain, but I think the two women worked well together. They were a lot a like, but that is not always a bad thing. They both served as regent for Henry II on the continent at different times, though Eleanor was the only one to serve as Regent for him in England. But as Henry in my novel at least is fond of saying, there can be only one king. I think Matilda understood this, but Eleanor never truly accepted it. She always wanted power of her own even while they were married. She did not really gain that power until her favorite son left her as Regent when he went to the Holy Land on the Third Crusade.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “I have a hard time seeing Eleanor let Maude dictate to her.”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Well fortunately Maude did not live forever, and Eleanor lived a long life. Do tell us Christy, was Eleanor effective as England’s regent? After all, she was basically queen in all but name for both her husband and her son at different times.”

Christy English: “I believe Eleanor was tired of England after spending 15 years under lock and key there for rebelling against her husband. She did find England useful when it came time to raise the ransom for Richard I’s release from a German prison. Richard got kidnapped by one of his ‘brother kings’ on his way back from the Third Crusade.”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Did she not rule while regent as Cataline De’Aragon did while Henry VIII left England to fight in battle? Or did she basically hold things in status while her son was out of the country?”

Christy English: “As far as I know, she was officially Regent while her son was away.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: <speaking of Eleanor’s first husband King Louis VII of France> “Christy, why do you feel Eleanor abhorred Louis so much?”

Christy English: “I don’t think Eleanor hated Louis. I think she wanted to love him in the beginning, or at least to have a working political marriage, But the problem was Louis really was more monk than man, and he did not want to go to bed with her. It took eight years and an alliance between Abbot Suger and Bernard de Clairvaux to get him into bed with her so that she could get pregnant with their first daughter. The second daughter did not come until the Pope himself put them to bed together when they were in Roam on their way back from the Second Crusade. Amazing! You really can’t make this stuff up… it’s just too wild. Truth really is stranger than fiction.”

King Louis VII of France

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Amazing. In an age where heirs were everything, the man was a monk. Truth is always stranger than fiction, which makes historical fiction such a wonderful genre.”

Christy English: “Louis was raised to be a monk. Only when his older brother was killed was he brought out of the church school and made to be heir to the throne. I have always felt sorry for him. I have a theory that Louis VII was a good man, but as Henry II says in The Queen’s Pawn, a good man rarely makes a good king.”

King Henry II of England

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “True. George VI is the only one I can think of, and he was just a constitutional monarch with no real power.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “T’is better to be feared than loved.”

Christy English: “Henry II would absolutely agree with that.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Machiavelli would have loved Henry II.”

Christy English: <laughs> “I tend to put words in Henry’s mouth, since I write fiction about him, but my sense is that he was politically savvy while also wanting to maintain a rule of law. He never wanted to return to the times of civil war thatEngland has seen when his mother was trying to take back the throne. If you’ll notice, Henry has hijacked this conversation that is supposed to be about Eleanor and Matilda. <laughs> I wonder if Eleanor and Anne Boleyn would have liked each other.”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “I predict a cat fight. <laughs> Anne Boleyn did not shine a candle to Eleanor. I say that with every respect of Anne, but come on.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “I agree. I think Catherine of Aragon was more like Eleanor and Matilda. Look how Catherine defeated King James VI.”

Christy English: “I suppose it is hard to include Anne Boleyn in a discussion of women born to rule. She just didn’t have the advantages of being raised in a royal court. She served in France as a courtier, but being a courtier is very different from a ruling queen. Of course with Henry VIII on the throne, a queen had trouble keeping her head, much less ruling.

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Let’s turn to Catalina De’Aragon. She was an amazing queen consort. Princess Mary Rose and Christy, please share your thoughts.”

Catalina de’ Aragon

Christy English:  “Touching on the subject of Catherine of Aragon, I love the mention you <Mary Rose> make of her defeat of James VI in battle. Of course, she had fighting men to wage this war for her, but she was the ruler, the regent for Henry VIII at that time. Truly an amazing woman. ”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Oh yes, the daughter of Isabella she surely showed plain.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “She was her mother’s daughter, no doubt. Catherine always fought for England to ally herself with Spain. She knew how to handle Henry back then.”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Catalina was a remarkable woman and a survivor.”

Christy English: “Catalina did handle Henry VIII well early on. And she had a lot of help from Wolsey, at least for most of her marriage. I love how Catalina held her ground and made it possible for Mary to take the throne one day. She never blinked and never backed down. Isabella would have been proud, though Isabella also might have said, “Why don’t you have someone poison that Anne Boleyn?” <laughs>

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “How tragic that she never saw Mary again.”

Christy English: “That really breaks my heart. It amazes me how truly hard hearted Henry VIII could be. Self-centered I suppose.”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Well, a male heir was essential in the minds of the day. No one believed a woman could rule in her own right. Catalina was an outstanding queen consort, and her ability to survive under both Henry VII and Henry VIII was remarkable.”

Christy English: “She really did an amazing job of hanging on during the worst of circumstances. The way she survived Henry VII was truly impressive, and she was a young woman then – alone in a hostile country and friendless.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Can you imagine if Henry VII married her?”

Christy English: “It would have been interesting. She would have been taken off the table of history altogether, truly a dowager queen.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Yes, think of poor Mary Rose.”

Anne Boleyn

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Well she won over Henry VIII, and had she born him a living son, Anne Boleyn would never have come to power.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Henry would have easily gotten his way if Charles V did not invade Rome.”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Maybe, maybe not. In my mind, Anne was the result of her father and Norfolk’s ambition.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Look at Louis XII and Joan. What man would in his right mind pursue Anne knowing the king wanted her? Did Anne have a choice at all?”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “No she did not. Her success came in holding Henry off for seven years. That took some doing, no doubt.”

Christy English: “That is an interesting question. I guess we’ll never know the answer. Was Anne Boleyn a pawn? Or was she a political animal? Or a pawn who decided to get in the game and make her own plays?”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Great discussion point. I believe she was both pawn and political animal. She wanted the crown.”

Christy English: “I think so too. I think she made the best of a bad situation, but it got away from her.”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “And she did hold influence over Henry, which helped the rise of both Cromwell and Cranmer. Cromwell may have rose without her. Cranmer clearly would not have.”

Mary Rose Tudor Uk Z: “Henry took her youth and the ability to marry another. Maybe she saw the crown as her right.”

Christy English: “Once more, her power depended on having a son, the same as Catherine of Aragon, the same as Eleanor of Aquitaine when she was in France. But you make a great point, Anne did a great deal for the Reformation in England.

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Yes, agreed. The ability to have a son was everything. Regarding the reformation, her contribution was just enough to get into power those who did <a great deal>.”

Christy English: “Maybe we should end on that note?”

Elizabeth, Gloriana: “Christy, we both would like thank your for your generous time in discussing some of England’s remarkable early queens with us. Before you leave us, please do tell our members about your new novel How to Tame a Willful Wife which will be released in the United States on November 6th.”

Christy English: “Ah yes…what does the re-telling of a Shakespearean comedy have to do with Eleanor of Aquitaine? Like Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew and a bit like Eleanor herself, my heroine Caroline Montague is a woman to be reckoned with. She rides astride her war horse Hercules, fences, throws knives, and can best any man she has ever met with a bow and arrow. When she meets the handsome and domineering Anthony Carrington, the man her father has chosen for her to marry, she does not shirk her duty. She marries him, but she refuses to obey him. Anthony, a man of strength, is certain that he can tame her and make her a biddable, demure bride. They have a lively battle of wits and wills even as they indulge in their attraction for each other. The question that remains is: who is taming whom? Thank you for indulging me with mentioning the new book. I do love our discussion. Your review copy went in the mail yesterday so I hope you get it soon. I am so excited to be a part of your site.”






Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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