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Thursday, 19 June 2014 00:23

About The Golden Widows

frameM IsoldeMartyn TheGoldenWidowsIn the winter of 1460–61, it would have been hard to predict who would triumph in the bloody encounters between the Houses of York and Lancaster. For the wives of the noble lords caught up in the struggle, wondering whether their menfolk would survive the battles, must have caused much anguish. For those women whose husbands died on the losing side, there was the likelihood of their children being disinherited.

In The Golden Widows, I wanted to explore the experiences of such women and focus on a real historical woman from either side. Young Kate Neville is the sister of Warwick the Kingmaker and her husband’s family, the Bonvilles of Devonshire, are all fighting for the Yorkists. She has a six month old daughter.

On the other side is Elysabeth Woodville, Lady Grey, who is in her early twenties with two young sons. Her husband is a supporter of the House of Lancaster. What will happen if she finds herself the widow of a traitor and her sons’ inheritance is seized by the victors?

Tucked away in the novel are several other older widows: Elysabeth’s materialistic mother-in-law, Lady Ferrers; Kate’s feisty aunt, a woman in her sixties who is looking for a fourth husband; Lady Bonville, Kate’s husband’s grandmother, who is determined to protect Kate and the baby, and Kate’s mother, who cannot overcome her grief.

For some of these women, marrying again was a solution to their predicament but that was possible if you had something to offer like important family copnnections or the guardianship of a wealthy heir. But if you did not have anything to offer, what man would want to take on the penniless wife of a traitor?

Readers may know Elysabeth already from reading other novels or watching the TV series The White Queen but The Golden Widows focuses on her years of struggle and underlies what an exceptional woman she was. What other queen in English history had such a rags to riches story?

I hope readers enjoy Kate and Elysabeth’s struggle to protect their children and find happiness during one of the most turbulent times in English history.

Thursday, 19 June 2014 00:05

The Golden Widows

Published by Harlequin Mira in Australia and New Zealand
ISBN 978 1 74 356874 3
Order from Harlequin, Bookworld or Booktopia; e-book from iBooks, Amazon or Kobo

 

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Two young women on opposing sides find their lives wrecked by battle ... can they be restored by love?

Kate

As sister to Warwick the Kingmaker and cousin to the new young King Edward IV, Kate Neville finds herself on the winning side of the latest bloody battle of the Wars of the Roses — and under pressure to marry again. Kate’s family want to ensure her new husband will be someone they control, but Kate is refusing. The nobleman they have in mind for her has a reputation as a womaniser and she wants a man who won’t betray her like her first husband did. But her new suitor is determined to win her heart. Can she thwart her brother’s plans for her?

Elysbeth

Elysabeth Woodville is a beautiful young woman, much adored by her husband, Sir John Grey. But when he is killed in battle on the losing side and named as a traitor, his estate is seized by the Yorkists and Elysabeth finds herself penniless and friendless. In her desperate struggle to restore her sons’ inheritance, she finds herself not only kneeling before her enemy but winning his heart. Is she is too proud to become his mistress? Or does the King of England love her enough to ignore his friends’ advice and make her his queen?

In the precarious peace of a bloody civil war, can love heal wounds?

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Extract 1 Kate Neville

Kate, the young sister of the Earl of Warwick, is married to twenty-year-old Will Bonville, Lord Harrington, and they have a six-month-old daughter, Cecily. In this excerpt from the opening section, it is January 1461 and Will is away fighting in the rebel army of the Duke of York. Kate is at home in Devon, sitting in the winter sunshine and gazing up at the wooded hillside that overlooks the manor of Shute.

… Stockton Wood made her afraid of the deep recesses of her soul, afraid that there was a reckoning to be paid.

That first leaf fall after their wedding, Will had spurred his horse through the great rutted puddles left by the woodsmen’s carts. She had been riding close behind, but the laughter had left her when he led her on foot deeper into the ancient grove of oaks that tonsured the hill. Everywhere, ivy snaked forth across the fallen logs, clawing upwards, tormenting the barks of the wizened trees. Less obvious, a few venomous greenish-white toadstools – death-caps – pierced through the rotting leaves, and the phallus of a single stinkhorn breathed its corrupt miasma out into the shadowy air.

‘This oak grove is haunted by the wraiths of pagan victims,’ Will had whispered. ‘Young virgins sacrificed on a stone altar to the sun god.’

‘Then we are trespassing,’ she had whispered, pulling free. Their presence seemed a sacrilege. ‘Let’s go back to the horses.’

He laughed, seeing he had upset her. ‘Pah, you are such an innocent, Kate Neville.’ His hands reached out to tether her but she guessed his intent and fled.

Whooping, he chased her around the oaks and then he deftly hooked his foot around her ankle, tripping her. She remembered screaming as she fell face down into the mess of ivy. Then he had turned her over, the merriment slipping from his face and she had recognised the silent intensity that always heralded his ardour.

‘I don’t want to,’ she said. ‘Not here.’

‘Hush, it’s your duty to obey me.’

Stifling her protests with kisses, he had fumbled beneath her petticotes, tossed her kirtle back and tumbled her as though she were some common shepherdess. Useless to be angry. Will was quite capable of sulking whenever she said no. Being ‘bloggy’, his father called it.

‘The Druids made love to the virgins before they sacrificed them,’ he lied with male authority afterwards, as he stood above her retying the points to his gypon. ‘It would have been a waste otherwise.’

‘But then they would not have been pure to sacrifice,’ she argued, hiding her resentment and tugging her skirts back over her garters and stockings. She pitied the pagan maidens; their ravishment an extra cruelty before slaughter.

He straightened the flap of his hose. ‘You are too clever, you Nevilles,’ he muttered. ‘Anyway, say your prayers, madame wife, that we have made a boy of this moment’s work.’ But there had been an uneasiness in his eyes, perhaps a fear that he could have provoked the primeval spirits of the grove – a desecration that might require punishment. But then his mood lifted, like a tossed caravel, swinging round to confidence again.

‘It looks to rain. I’d better get you home.’ He helped her scramble to her feet and then as he plucked away the leaves snared in her boisterous hair, the shadows about them seemed to shrink back, the gnarled trees became less ominous. With his arm about her waist, he had hastened her back to where the horses were contentedly cropping the moss. Maybe it was his new doublet that concerned him, whether the dye of the lining could run and ruin his shirt, or else he was afeared and too much the swaggerer to admit it. Yet they quit the wood with a new spirit planted inside her. It had been there that Cecily had been conceived and although the baby had been born free of any deformities, still Kate feared there was some curse attached to that coupling and that the skein of destiny for Will was tampered with that day. That fear still lay heavy behind her heart although it was fifteen months since the begetting.

Extract 2 Elysabeth Woodville, Lady Grey

It is Februay 1461 and Elysabeth’s twenty-nine year-old husband, John Grey, Lord Ferrers, is away fighting for the House of Lancaster. They have two sons, Thomas and Dickon. In this extract, the Ferrers household at Groby [pronounced Grooby] in Leicestershire is celebrating the news of Lancaster’s battle victory at St Albans. However, a messenger arrives desiring to have urgent speech with Elysabeth. Her mother-in-law, Lady Ferrers, joins her outside.

Two men were waiting in the courtyard, facing the steps of the hall. Right behind them, still held by its leading rein, was a laden ass.

The grey-haired man – this must be Bart – bobbed in respect and stepped aside. Elysabeth recognised the youth who was with him – one of the stable lads who had left Groby last week as an excited horseboy and returned as … ?

The young man bowed and as he raised his head, sorrowful eyes, gritted with weariness and suffering, pierced hers. Elysabeth,  confused, skewed her gaze behind him to the pack ass – not one of theirs but a poor bony creature. Its load … was a body.

The corpse was slung across the horse’s back. It hung face down, wrists bound to bare ankles to prevent falling. A quilted brigadine, heavily and red-stained, had slid downwards to collar the man’s head.

Staring at Elysabeth, the lad reached out wordlessly and tugged the garment up so she was able to recognise the tousled, bloodied hair and the hands, ringless and tethered palm to palm.

'John!' she screamed and rushed forwards, falling on her knees. The ass was startled. The boy swiftly grabbed the reins.

‘How can this be?’ Elysabeth shrieked, twisting in anger to face the people behind her.

John’s mother’s face was as grey as ashes. ‘O Jesu,’ she whispered crossing herself in horror. ‘O Jesu, Jesu, Jesu!’

‘But it was a victory,’ protested someone.

‘What of Grey, my other son?’ Lady Ferrers was asking.

‘He be recovering from wounds, my lady,’ answered the boy. ‘That be why he could not come ’imself.’

Oh, if only John’s brother had died instead! Elysabeth wanted to shriek aloud in her wretchedness. How could God be so cruel? And she and John had parted in such anger!

‘No, no!’ she protested, her hands fists against the wrath of God.

‘My lady?’ Exclaiming and muttering, their people were all about them now, the women servants sobbing and the older men blaspheming in shock. And Elysabeth was reaching out in grief and pity to John’s brow as if her fingertips needed to assert what her mind refused to believe.

And then the voices halted, as though a knife had been thrust against each throat. She twisted round, dashing her own tears aside. The throng had parted to let Tom through. The chaplain was trying to hold him back but he jerked away the cleric’s hand.

‘No, no, don’t let him see!’ exclaimed Elysabeth. ‘Take him in! For the love of God, take him in!’ She stumbled to her feet, spreading her arms.

Ignoring her, his face like hewn stone, he came past her and halted, staring wide-eyed at the purple bruises that made his father’s profile almost beyond recognition. It was as if he was counting the wounds, forcing himself to register each one. Elysabeth, shaking with shock now, looked, too. There were so many. And the gash. The line of dried blood ribboning John’s throat.

‘Tom,’ she began but her son’s face was a mask of defiance.

‘This is victory, Mother? I do not think so.’

The servants parted in silence as he walked back through their midst into the house. For a moment no one moved and then his grandmother took charge. ‘Why do you stand in such idleness?’ Lady Ferrers cried, gesturing the servants towards John’s body. ‘Carry your master to the chapel at once! And you, sirrah,’ she demanded of the youth. ‘What of Lady Grey’s kinsmen and the rest of our men?’

Elysabeth clutched her fingers to her lips with a painful, guilty gasp. In her anguish, she had forgotten that her father and eldest brother were with the army, too.

‘They stay with the queen, my lady. She intends to march on to London. Two of the men from Astley were killed with the master but they’re like to be buried at St Albans and Nicholas Anstey had an arrow in his shoulder but the chirugeon got it out and reckons it’ll heal an—’

‘They will be in our prayers,’ cut in Lady Ferrers. ‘Come, Elysabeth! Let us to the chapel!’ But then rage and sorrow broke through her mask of briskness. ‘I’ll say this, though, lad, you could have brought your lord home with greater honour, not slung like a traitor!’

‘Beggin’ your pardon, my lady. It be not my fault nor Master Edward’s. Her highness would not spare the horses.’

‘No horse?’ Elysabeth exclaimed, her voice strange and shrill. ‘My lord husband died for the queen and she could not spare a horse?’ For an instant, her entire body shook with hatred, welcomed it, but the horror was overwhelming. She was conscious of the chaplain at her side, the murmur of concerned voices.

‘Pray go in, my lady,’ he was saying. ‘Your sons will need you.’ And then Lady Ferrers, with an arm about her shoulders, was turning her towards the steps. She could feel the same righteous anger pulsing through the older woman’s fingers.

‘Ahem! Please you, Lady Grey.’ They had forgotten the messenger who had brought his master home.

Both of them looked back. Elysabeth felt the words stick in her throat, but Lady Ferrers still had a stifler on her grief and nodded. ‘We thank you, boy. You shall be rewarded.’

He sniffed dismissively, waggling his lower jaw. ‘Not that, my lady.’ It seemed he had a speech for both of them but his gaze was for Elysabeth. ‘Master’s esquire, Andrew Chilvers, wanted me to say to you that the master fought bravely. He led the charge but it was them traps what did it.’

‘Traps?’ The word tasted raw, bitter as she turned and braced herself to listen.

‘Yes, Lady Grey, Lord Warwick hid traps – nets, caltraps and that ilk to wound the horses, see. That’s what brought the master down. His horse trod upon the caltraps and he fell upon the field and our enemy’s soldiers rushed forward with their halberds.’

‘Oh dear God! You saw this?’

‘Not I, my lady, but Master Chilvers did. And he bade me give you this.’ He thrust his hand inside his jacket and tugged out a crumpled piece of silk.

The St Valentine’s gift.

The youth was a blur beyond her tears as he tumbled to his knees at her feet like a penitent waiting for absolution. ‘An’ I crave you forgivene—

He broke off. Dickon had burst out of the hall and was pulling at her skirt.

‘Mama come, come! Tom is throwing the wooden soldiers that Father made us onto the fire.’

Elysabeth, torn, her heart breaking, caught the child to her side and set a trembling hand upon the messenger’s head. ‘God’s blessing on you for bringing your master home.’

‘An’ God be wi’ you, my lady,’ he said, with pity.

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It’s amazing what comes of giving author talks. In April after giving a PowerPoint presentation on researching Mistress to the Crown, one of the audience came up and introduce herself. She was the descendant of Margaret Woodville, the niece of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, King Edward IV’s queen. One of her other ancestors was Sir David Matthew of Glamorgan, who saved Edward’s life at the Battle of Towton. Definitely a man who changed the course of English history!

Margaret Woodville was the illegitimate daughter of the queen’s brother, Anthony Woodville and Gwentlian Stradling. When and where Anthony and Gwentlian had their affair, no one knows. Some historians reckon it was in the 1440s which would have been when they were both teenagers. The mid 1450s has also been suggested. Margaret married Robert Poyntz of iron Acton, who became a supporter of Henry Tudor. Their descendant, Nicholas Poyntz, was on very good terms king Henry VIII.

In The Devil in Ermine, I had a very feisty Margaret Woodville having an affair with my main character, Harry, Duke of Buckingham.

Coincidentally, back in the days when I was a university student, my father and I met Robert Poyntz’s descendant, Colonel Poyntz and his wife. Dad, who loved history, also took me to visit Iron Acton Hall, which is where the Poyntz family are reputed to have entertained King Henry VIII.

Our visit  was long before the property was restored. Back then it was a rundown building being used as  farm, and the floor of the great hall was a huge pile of stones and rubble. It would have taken a lot of effort and expense to repair it but it’s nice to know that has happened successfully.

Anyway, it’s lovely to be in email contact now with Margaret’s great-great-plus granddaughter and talk fifteenth century history, trying to fill in some of the knowledge gaps. I may not get wealthy writing historicals but these sort of spin-offs are a great delight.

It’s a small world!

It’s really exciting to come across more information about Mistress Shore. Of course, it’s nowhere near as exciting as finding the skeleton of a king but I’ve been delving into on-line Chancery cases as part of the research for the novel I’m writing at the moment.

An Elizabeth Lambard, gentlewoman, brought two cases for debt before John Brown, Mayor of the Staple of Westminster between March 1482 and March 1483.

The first case was against esquire John Bavantyne of Haseley in Oxfordshire for 500 marks, which was a lot of money back then.

The second case of debt was against Lady Margaret Clifford, the widow of John, Lord Clifford, and her son, Henry, for £100.

Assuming this is our Mistress Shore, then she reverted back to her maiden name and she was also wealthy enough to lend money.

The other cases of interest was John Agard, the brother-in-law of William Shore, Elizabeth’s divorced husband, bringing a case against, Thomas Lynom (and if you’ve read the novel, you’ll know who he is), for holding onto the deeds of a house and lands in Elmhurst, Staffordshire. Unfortunately, the date is not clear, either between 1486–93 or 1505–15.

John Agard was also a defendant in a case in 1504-15. It looks like William Fraunces of Little Chester married Agard’s daughter, Joan, and because she died (probably soon after the wedding), Agard did not pay her dowry.

I’ve done some sleuthing in the Victoria County History as a follow up on Haseley and Elmhurst but haven’t found anything else that is relevant.

Some readers may consider this rather dry stuff but all these bits and pieces are useful in fleshing out historical people, especially the lesser known ones. These Chancery cases get as close to the facts as is possible and are rather intriguing. It’s interesting to speculate why Bavantyne or Lady Clifford needed to borrow money off a king’s mistress.

John Agard is mentioned in William Shore’s will as his executor and he may have represented his business interests when William was overseas. Agard figured more in the original draft of Mistress to the Crown but the chapters on Elizabeth’s childhood and thirteen years of marriage to Shore needed to be cut. By the way, if anyone is interested in reading those, do let me know.

Thursday, 25 July 2013 01:15

The Devil in Ermine

ISBN 978 0 98 738460 7 print on demand and Amazon

e-book ISBN 978 0 98 738465 2 Amazon and Smashwords

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A real life 'game of thrones'!

1483: England has a new king – a mere boy – but who is to rule the kingdom until he comes of age? His ambitious mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, or his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester?

Into this impasse steps the eloquent and charming Harry, Duke of Buckingham, Richard’s cousin, but what are his true intentions? Here for the first time is his account of that fateful summer when Gloucester became King Richard III. But of the two, who is the statesman and who the villain?

In this novel, rich in intrigue, Isolde Martyn, author of Mistress to the Crown, draws Richard III and Buckingham, two of history’s most enigmatic men, out from the shadows.

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April 1483

Before the strange messenger arrived, I could have been struck by a lightning bolt and made no difference to England’s history. But in April 1483, the planets that favoured my birth sign moved into unparalleled amity. In one day, one hour almost, my fortune changed.

Instead of attending King Edward at Westminster Palace, I had taken leave and returned to my castle above the town of Brecknock – Aberhonddu as the local Welsh call it. I was weary of hanging about the royal heels like an idle dog. Being Duke of Buckingham and the last legal heir of the House of Lancaster might engender envy in some but they would be misguided. I hungered for the respect that comes with high office, the respect that had been accorded to my grandsire, the first duke, but Edward gave me no opportunity to prove myself. At twenty-eight years old, it was little wonder I was so discontent.

On the afternoon of the day the messenger rode into Wales, I admit to frolicking. My servants had done their best to alleviate my tedium by finding me two pert wenches in a hamlet south of the town. These twin girls were pretty as briar roses, fragrant, black-haired, blue-eyed, mischievous and, mercifully, clean. I was welcomed into their dwelling, where they blindfolded me and tormented me so exquisitely that I could not tell who nuzzled me or which one of them sat astride me first.

When I was sated, their sweet whispers and girlish laughter lapped around me – as gentle as perfumed bathwater after a day in the saddle. One of them slid from the bed to stoke the cottage fire. The other girl fetched sweetmeats and, while her sister fed me, she teased me to hardness once again. I might have stayed longer in their company but Sir William Knyvett, my uncle by marriage, rapped upon the cottage door and straightaway let himself in.

‘Harry, are you going to be much longer?’

‘You wish to join us?’ I asked, but something in his face made me toss aside my delightful rider and reach for my shirt.

‘And have your aunt strangle me with one of her garters? No, Harry, it’s John Shenmore – the bailiff you sent to Abergavenny, remember. He has just has been carted in with broken ribs. He was attacked down by Tretwr on his way back this morning.’

‘The Vaughans?’ I asked. It had to be the Vaughans, the greediest marauding whoresons this side of the Black Mountains.

‘Aye, who else?’

‘Excellent.’ I turned and gestured for my clothes. ‘We can ride down tomorrow and whack the hell out of them. It may not be as satisfying as sitting on the Royal Council, invading France or—’

‘Or risking the pox,’ Uncle Knyvett cut in. He moved aside to let the girl bring me my gipon and underdrawers. ‘Good, were they?’ His stare was appreciative

‘Very good, eh, cariad?’ I smiled down at the girl as she knelt to slide my feet into my woollen stockings. I thanked her in Welsh and carried her sister’s hand to my lips. ‘So, is Shenmore badly hurt?’ I asked Uncle Knyvett. No doubt extra payment would ease the fellow’s pain.

‘He’ll mend.’

‘Come, then, I am done here.’

I teased the wenches by striding to the door without giving them payment. But as I grabbed the latch, I turned, laughing, and paid them double their worth, amused to see their dismayed mouths tilt into merriment again.

It was a shock to leave the warm stew of the wenches’ abode. The chill wind scourged our backs. April still had the breath of winter. Last night’s toss of snow garlanded the hedgerows and the road was hard with frost beneath our horses’ hooves. As we neared the river, I glanced over my shoulder. The clouds above the ebbing sun had parted over the mountains in a splendour of gold and vermilion as if Christ’s return was due. Was it an omen?

I gave spur to my horse and hastened across the drawbridge of my castle with new heart. The murrey sandstone walls were blushed a deeper hue beneath that glorious light and the grisailled windows of the great hall were conjured into a hundred tiny, shining mirrors. I do not exaggerate. I had never beheld such an immodest configuration of clouds and I tossed my ambler’s reins to a stableboy, hurtled up the stone steps and stood gasping on the battlements. But already the beauty of that sky was fading. So soon? Did it mean nothing? Oh God, surely there had to be some worth to life instead of the constant yearning that obsessed my soul.

‘Your grace?’

Pershall, my bodyservant, had come to find me. His dark blue eyes were concerned. He had reason; I do not usually behave as though stung by a gadfly.

‘Observing me for signs of fever, Pershall? I came to see the sky.’

‘Not like you, my lord.’ Impertinent, disbelieving, he stared across the rooftops of the town to where the hills reared like an angry sea, and instantly dismissed the fading clouds. ‘Were the girls not to your liking, your grace?’

‘Most satisfactory, Pershall. Quite imaginative.’ I guessed the blindfold had been his suggestion.

‘Thank the saints for that. Well, I should stay up here a bit longer if I were you, my lord. Your youngest is bawling fit to wake the dead.’

I narrowed my eyes against the rising wind as I looked towards the great ridge of Pen-y-Fan, the inevitable horizon of Brecknock. It was dark and brooding now, its green-gold collar lost in the half-light. Maybe I believed in far too gracious a god. No gentle hand had clawed out those valleys and slapped those crags against the sky.

‘Should be good fishing on Llyn Safaddan soon, my lord.’

I shrugged sourly.

‘What about the Myddffai girl for you tonight? You remember, my lord, the red-haired wench with duckies to die for.’

Was that my reputation? Naught but a horny Plantagenet? Sweet Christ, any lord can have a warm-thighed woman who by night willingly creases the sheets she has so lovingly laundered by day. I would have given my soul to be useful instead of rutting in Wales.

Pershall would have earned a terse answer had not the barking of dogs and the trumpeting from the river gatehouse proclaimed the monthly arrival of the messenger from the Queen, my sister-in-law.

‘Shall you go down, my lord?’ Pershall looked hopeful.

‘What for, Pershall? News of the latest royal runny nose can wait until suppertime. Go and make ready my bath.’ I kept walking, the black dog of despair following behind my spurred heels like a shadow.

‘Harry! Harry, where in Hell are you?’

Uncle Knyvett emerged from the upper floor of the nearest tower. For a man in his forties he was very fit but the stairs had made him breathless. ‘Th…the messenger that has just come from Westminster, Harry, he’s a strange one. I think you should go down. He’s not from the Queen and he will speak only with you.’ I shrugged, but Uncle Knvyett had the bit between his teeth. ‘He’s poorly clad and yet he rode in on one of the King’s post-horses. Something’s up, lad. Something’s definitely up.’

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I set out originally some years ago to write a novel about Margaret Beaufort but a hand kept going up: 'What about me, miss? Write a novel about me.' The voice was Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham's.

I hope you will enjoy his story and it has been good to write a Wars of the Roses novel from a male viewpoint for a change. When I first began this book, I set out to create an absolute anti-hero. Trouble is authors have to keep the reader's empathy for the main character so he had to have a lot of likeable qualities, too, and the more I researched him, the more I could see why he made the decisions he did. Not always the right ones, I'm afraid.

If you think about it, all great men have flaws that can bring about their downfall. Consider Shakespeare's tragedies, and we only have to look at a lot of world leaders today. So many are corrupted by power that they haven't the greatness to step aside when they start failing to fulfil their people's hopes.

So here is political intrigue in abundance and I hope this novel may lift a candle to the events of 1483 and how Richard III became king. We may only conjecture what really happened back then and the jury are still out on who were the villains. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, 01 January 2013 00:00

Mistress to the Crown

I thought it might be fun to imagine how a modern day reporter might handle the rumours about the gorgeous Mistress Shore in the 1470s before she met the king.

London citizen's wife sues for a divorce

The Mercers’ Guild was shocked today by the news that the wife of guild member, William Shore, is asking for a separation on the grounds that he is impotent, frigid and unable to give her children.

‘I am prepared to take this case to Rome,’ she told our reporter this morning. ‘I have been married to him since my early teens but it was not my choice and I should like our marriage to be annulled.’

‘Utterly disgraceful,’ ‘It will create unwelcome precedents’, and ‘Unless she has friends in high places, how is she going to pay for it?’ are some of the comments from concerned guildsmen.

A spokesman for the Court of Arches, where matrimonial cases are heard with the consent of his Holiness in Rome, told our reporter that such cases are rarely allowed to proceed. ‘If the wife has been beaten by a drunken husband for eight years or more then there is a chance that His Holiness will appoint a tribunal for the hearing. Mistress Shore, however, has suffered no such abuse. She has vexatiously tried to bring a case several times already and her chances of succeeding this time are futile.’

When we raised this with Mistress Shore, she was undeterred. ‘I shall find the funds somehow.’

If Rome does give permission for proceedings against William Shore, he will need to undergo tests to disprove his impotence in the presence of several scantily-clad ‘cherrylips’ from Southwark.

Master Shore has refused to be interviewed but one of his fellow liverymen told us, ‘William is a God-fearing, hardworking guild member. He shouldn’t have married such an educated girl.’

Shore’s wife is the daughter of former London Sheriff, mercer John Lambard, Alderman of Farringdon ward and former member of the Council of Aldermen. Lambard has declined to give comment.

Does Mistress Shore have friends in ‘high places’? Read tomorrow’s London Chronicle

Click here for reviews, a blurb and to read an extract. For more about the real historical Mistress Shore, go to Inspiration for a New Novel.

Monday, 14 January 2013 00:28

Mistress to the Crown

Published by Harlequin Mira in Australia and New Zealand

  • trade paperback ISBN 978 1 74 356021 1
  • B-format ISBN 978 1 74 356833 0
  • e-book worldwide
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UK edition Harlequin Mills & Boon ISBN 978 0 26 391012 4
German edition Mätresse der Krone published by Cora

  • About the book
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Wed at thirteen to William Shore, beautiful and resourceful Elizabeth Lambard is determined to free herself from a loveless marriage and manage her own destiny. But freedom means persuading the Pope in Rome to hear her case, a costly enterprise, so when the King’s friend, Lord Hastings, visits her husband’s shop and they see each other again, Elizabeth offers him an irresistible bargain.

But it’s not just Hastings who is hungry for the delectable Mistress Shore, King Edward IV is determined to have her, too.

So long as these great men protect her, she is safe from public scorn and the Queen’s enmity, but when the king eventually falls ill and his brother, Richard of Gloucester, comes south to take control of the realm, Elizabeth finds herself charged as a traitor.

Under the new regime of Richard III, is there anyone left for Elizabeth to trust? Or will help and love come from the most unexpected quarter as she faces a humiliating penance as a whore and a cruel death for treason?

For more information about the historical Elizabeth Lambard's life, read Inspiration for a new novel.

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The thought of being married at 13 to someone twice your age without any say in the matter could make you determined to escape somehow. The more I researched Elizabeth Lambard aka Jane Shore, the educated daughter of high-ranking John Lambard, the more I admired her. If you think about the problem Henry VIII had in obtaining a divorce, for a housewife to achieve that half a century earlier was pretty magnificent.

Sir Thomas More says people thought very highly of Mistress Shore and she was known for her kindness and wit. I wanted to have a heroine who was at the heart of the court so she was just perfect – a royal mistress who could wittily put men down without giving offence and who suffered adversity as well as success.

Originally, the manuscript contained a lot more chapters on Elizabeth’s married life as she was with William Shore for at least ten years before she became a royal mistress. These chapters were deleted from the published edition. However, writing them helped me get to know my character better and see her in the context of London life, especially the hierarchy of the guilds. Whenever I am researching real people, I like to look at their childhood and adolescence as it helps me understand the decisions they took later.

My agent asked me to bring out what it must have been really like to be a royal mistress – the negative side as well as the good life. I imagine it would have been very lonely for Elizabeth when the king was on progress. It is highly likely that neighbours, family friends and the guilds would have initially ostracised her because of the scandal.

Elizabeth’s father got into great trouble over a house he rented from the Goldsmiths’ Guild. They accused him of removing a lot of expensive fittings. In trying to make sense of it (the guild records do not give his motives), I supposed it was possible that he had rented the house for a mistress and she had carried away stuff in retaliation when he broke the arrangement off. It explains one reason why he might condone his daughter’s relationship with the king.

I’ve been reading more about Edward IV’s death recently and there are theories that he may have died from diabetes. When you think about it, here must have been plenty of cases among the rich and well-fed, so it is quite possible that is what carried the poor fellow off. That’s the beauty of research; it’s on-going, always more discoveries and some new light bulb moments!

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Soper’s Lane, the city of London, 1463

At fourteen, we make mistakes. I had been a fool to come to this old man’s chamber on my own but I was desperate for legal advice on how to annul my marriage. He had told me he was a former proctor, a church lawyer – exactly what I needed – and he had seemed as friendly as a kindly grandfather when I spoke to him after Mass on Sunday. But now he was tonguing his cheek as he eyed my body and dancing his fingers slowly on the table between us. Behind him, in the corner, I could see his half-made bed.

I would not scream, I decided, slowly rising to my feet. Shrieking for help would mean my name would be all over the city by suppertime. No, I had to deal with this on my own.

‘Thank you, sir, I shall pass your counsel on to my friend, but now I have to go.’ My voice emerged creakily. I had meant to sound brisk.

He smiled, nastily now, no longer bothering to mask his purpose. Both of us had been lying. In truth, I was ‘the friend’ who desired advice, and his legal counsel was not ‘free’; it came with a fee that was still to be exacted.

‘If you are desperate, Mistress Shore,’ he declared, rising heavily to his feet, ‘you’ll be willing to please me.’

Yes, I was desperate for an annulment, but I had rather be hanged than ‘please’ this revolting old goat. My maidenhead was intact and I intended to keep it that way.

‘I made no such bargain,’ I said, fisting my hands within the folds of my skirts, cursing I had not brought a bodkin to defend myself.

‘We won’t go all the way because that would spoil the evidence,’ he wheezed, fumbling at the ties beneath his tunic. ‘Some fondling will do. For now.’

‘Oh, just fondling,’ I said with a pretend smile of relief. ‘I thought you meant—’

I rushed to the door but the latch tongue stuck. He grabbed my left forearm, dragging me back.

This was the moment, or never. I swung my right fist with all the fury I possessed into his face. I heard something crunch. He went staggering back and crashed against the table, the bright blood spurting from his nostrils. That and the toppling inkpots would spoil his clothes or so I hoped as I ran down the stairs.

It was realising the enormity of my folly that rearranged the contents of my stomach once I reached the street. I did manage to hide my face as I retched and the moment I could stand upright, I ran past the tenements up to Cheapside and with a gasp of relief, plunged into the chaos of carts, pigs and people. My mind was still in panic. What if the old man threatened to blab to my husband or to my wealthy father?

My slow progress through the crowd calmed my shakiness. Being small, I felt concealed. Outsiders might be afraid of London cutpurses but this wonderful, raucous hub of noise was my neighbourhood, safer to me than any quieter lane. I pushed further along to where a tight press of people was clogging the thoroughfare and wriggled in amongst them. In their midst, a hosier’s apprentice was standing on a barrow. I had heard his silver-tongued babble before. He was good.

‘The best price in Cheapside,’ the lad was yelling, waving a pair of frothy scarlet garters. ‘Just imagine your wife’s legs in these, sir.’ Laughter rumbled around me. His gaze scanned our faces. ‘And what about the jays and robin redbreasts among you sparrows?’ he challenged, flourishing a pair of men’s hose – one leg pea green, the other violet, and then his cheeky stare sauntered back to my face and slid lower.

Lordy! Squinting downwards at the gap in my cloak, I realised what the proctor had glimpsed as well – a woman’s breasts straining against an outgrown gown. And it was not just on the outside my body was changing. I knew that. Dear God, that was why I needed the urgent annulment. I was an apple almost ripe for plucking and my husband Shore was watching – waiting – like a hungry orchard thief.

I gave the apprentice a hands-off glare, tugged my cloak tightly across my front and, aware that the proctor’s neighbours might still raise the alarm, I determined to stay where I was with every sense alert.

No hue-and-cry was coming from the direction of Soper’s Lane and I said a silent prayer of thanks for that. Maybe the foul old fellow was as fearful for his reputation as I was for mine. That welcome thought made my shoulders relax. And, apart from learning that men of all ages were not to be trusted, I had at least gleaned one piece of useful advice. The proctor had told me that ‘my friend’ needed to have her case heard by the Court of Arches, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s especial court for hearing divorce petitions. St Mary-le-Bow, the church, which housed the court on weekdays, was just a few moments’ walk back along Cheapside. Perhaps the Almighty was watching over me, after all. If I went to St Mary’s straight away…

‘Pretty mistress? Hey? Anybody home?’ Lapis-blue garters pranced before my eyes. The glib-tongued apprentice had singled me out again. ‘Pet, you’re not listening,’ he declared with feigned dismay, reaching out to tweak my nose. ‘Come, give your husband a surp––’

‘Exactly my thoughts!’ I exclaimed fervently and elbowed my way out.

One of St Anthony’s wretched sows blundered along in front of me, as though she had some similar mission. At least she cleared my path.
St Mary-le-Bow lay almost a stone’s throw from the alley off Bow Lane where I now lived. Richard Lambard, my grandfather, was buried beneath the church’s nave so that was why my family sometimes worshipped there to pray for his soul. My brothers used to tease me that the steeple was haunted and if you stood in the churchyard for long enough, you were sure to see a chunk of masonry fall from the roof and that was Grandfather’s ghost making mischief.

To my relief, the doors of St Mary’s stood open. I crossed myself and prayed to Our Lady the Virgin to give me strength. After all, Our Lady’s marriage had been arranged, too, and I doubt she had cared for St Joseph at first, especially when he was so angry about the Angel Gabriel.

I could, would, do this now – go in, swear on the Gospels that I had been wed against my will and that the marriage had not been consummated. They might insist upon a midwife to examine me but my body’s evidence would prove I was no liar. Of course, I’d need to move back to my parents’ house and I could not be sure Father would take me in; but first things first. With a deep breath I grabbed up my skirts. Freedom was just steps away.

But I was wrong. A pikestaff dropped obliquely across my path. I had not noticed the sergeant on duty.

‘I have business inside, sir,’ I announced, imitating my mother’s tone when she addressed the household. ‘It’s a matter of urgency.’

The soldier jerked a thumb at a parchment nailed on the door. ‘Plaintiff or defendant, mistress? What time is your hearing?’

‘I…ah…er.’

He propped the pikestaff against the wall and shook his head at me. ‘The rule is you cannot go in unless you are on today’s list.’

‘But I need a marriage annulment, sir. By the end of this week. Today, if possible.’

‘Bless me, young woman,’ he clucked. ‘Have you been sleeping in some toadstool ring? Don’t you know it takes months, sometimes years, to get a hearing?’

Months? Years? My first monthly flow might be only days away.

‘They’ll understand the matter is urgent,’ I assured him, wondering if I could duck beneath his arm, but he was no fool.

‘Listen, first you find a proctor to write your petition, then it has to go all the way to Rome and the Pope himself must be told of it. His Holiness may say you have a case to be heard or he may not.’

‘But I do. Oh, please, let me through.’

‘How old are you?’

‘Almost fifteen, sir.’

‘Fourteen, then. Well, pardon me for asking but does this husband of yours cuff you around when he’s had a bellyful of ale?’ He peered down, inspecting my face for bruises. ‘Is he unkind to you?’

‘No, sir.’ This was becoming embarrassing. Next he would ask whether Shore had lain with me. Instead he said, ‘Does your father know you’ve come here?’ And that angered me.

‘No, sir, this is my business. I am quite capable of handling it.’

‘I can see that.’ I could tell he was trying not to laugh. ‘So, who is to pay the legal fees?’ He cocked his head towards the door. ‘None of the carrion crows in there will take your part unless you pay ’em. They can’t live on air, you know. It’s business, see.’

How naïve of me. I thought it a matter of justice.

Dismayed, I stared down into the churchyard, biting back my tears, looking so forlorn, I daresay, that the soldier creaked down upon his haunches and took my gloved hands. ‘Give your marriage time,’ he advised, with a kindly tug on the end of my blonde  plait that must have been showing beneath my coif. ‘Lovely girl like you can twirl your husband round your little finger if you play it right. Now you go home and make him his supper, eh?’

Someone cleared his throat impatiently behind me. Three churchmen were waiting to pass. My self-appointed counsel snapped up to standing, his chin turning a dull red beneath his stubble. ‘Go home an’ forget all about this, eh?’ he muttered after he had waved them through.

Forget? The rest of my life is staked out unless I cut the ropes.

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Sunday, 09 December 2012 06:15

Fleur de Lis

Published by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

  • trade paperback ISBN 1 405 03569 2
  • B format ISBN 0 330 42134 4
  • e-book published by Momentum

  • Read an excerpt
  • About the book
  • Author's notes

January 1789

Since the stable behind the Clef d'Or was where he had been initiated into making love some seven years earlier, Raoul de Villaret rode into the town of Clerville in the January twilight, wondering whether he should just pass through, or halt and revisit the generous ‘magdalene’ who had provided such a delightful tutorial. Not for an anniversary encore, of course – Bibi must be prodding forty by now, and at twenty-two, he had become choosy – but perhaps to say a thank you for the only decent memory he had of the place.

His stomach complained of hunger and he frowned against the knife-edged wind as he rode towards the town square, knowing he would be unlikely to find a decent supper before he reached Rennes. The rivers were frozen over, the grindstones of the watermills were locked in ice and there was little flour. He had seen desperate hunger in the haggard faces of the migrating workers he had passed on the road. He doubted they would find labour in Clerville or anywhere else in the region; he doubted also that the King's call for every parish to submit a written list of grievances would make much difference. The incidents were growing and it looked as though he was encountering one now.

The place Saint-Denis was still crammed with the poorer people who had come in for market day and there was great deal of angry shouting going on. They had snared a grain transport. The carters, pulled from the running board, were struggling within the crowd, and the four-dragoon escort had foolishly let themselves be isolated in front of the market cross. Astride on top of the grain sacks, defying the soldiers' muskets, a gaunt workman was addressing the crowd.

‘The King does not wish our children to starve, patriots!’ he exclaimed, his dialect proclaiming him a local man. ‘It is his evil counsellors and that Austrian bitch who are trying to squeeze every last sou from us. Take the grain to feed your children, mes braves, and you,’ he snarled at the dragoons, ‘shoot us if you dare!’

Another man sprang up onto the cart and jabbed a finger in the air. ‘Go and observe the fine English lawns, mes amis , the strutting peacocks, the mulberry trees. Why should we labour while the Duc de Montbuillou leads a life of idleness? We're not even allowed to shoot his doves for eating our peas. Has he done anything to keep us from starvation? No! Break open his barns, I say! Allons! Let us seize the grain and feed our children!’

‘To the chateau!’ a woman bawled. ‘Burn it down!’

‘And be broken on the wheel?’ scoffed someone.

‘Starve then!’ The second orator exclaimed. ‘The only difference between us and the noblesse is in the ledgers! I say burn the records which make slaves of us! To arms!’

One of the dragoons fired above the head of the speaker, merely to frighten him, but the crowd erupted in bitter fury.

Raoul reined his horse Nostradamus round. The chateau ? For years, he had tried to forget the Chateau de Clerville, vowing never to set foot within its detestable proximity, but the painting was there. Jacques-Louis David's painting! He could not let David's work be destroyed, even though he loathed every oiled pore of the canvas; even though to see its brilliance again would make him remember that humiliating month at Clerville when he had been David's apprentice.

With hatred burning anew, he circumnavigated the square through the back streets and spurred out of the town ahead of the mob to that loveless chateau. It was not just David's impatient snarl Raoul recalled, but the sting of the Duc de Montbulliou's horsewhip across his shoulders and the sniggers of the duke's daughters. Their hateful laughter whirled around his temples as he rode, so infecting his senses that he grew hot with shame beneath his greatcoat, remembering the ripe, pointing breasts flaunted to torment him.

He drew rein at the gates of the chateau, smiting his riding crop against the ironwork, gratified that the old gatekeeper hobbled forward in his sabots with a respectful touch of forelock. Thank God for that! So no ghost of a thin gauche, sixteen-year-old was recognisable any more.

‘There is a mob on the way,’ Raoul exclaimed, but the ancient cupped his ear and grinned. ‘Open the gate, damn you! Holà, you!’ Raoul snatched off his tricorne hat and gestured frantically to a boy loitering in the doorway of the gatekeeper's cottage. ‘Run to the servants' quarters as quick as you can and warn them. There's a rabble coming to burn the chateau. And you, man, for Christ's sake, let me through!'

He swung the horse round impatiently. The torches flaring behind him on the road were distant enough. The old fellow, fumbling now with sudden fear, unlocked the gates to let him in. Instead of following the carriage drive, Raoul turned into the basse-cour. His memory served him well; beyond the clipped hedges that hemmed in the lawns and en broderie flowerbeds was a copse sheltering an English grotto. Little had changed in six years. The old, artificial cave was as he remembered it, large enough to tether Nostradamus out of sight. He listened again but the winter dusk was quiet. Even on foot, the rioters would not take long to reach the chateau, for it lay but one mile from the outskirts of the dirty, impoverished town like a pendant jewel around a beggar's neck.

Jamming his hat firmly down and with his neckerchief back to front so he might draw it up to hide his face, Raoul made stealthily for the rear terrace and tested the second window of the billiard room. The frame slid up easily as it always had. He adroitly climbed over the sill into the cold gloom of the unlit room, and skirting the billiard table, he softly opened the door to the grande salon. Despite the heavy odour of lavender polish, the faint hint of mustiness spoiled the elegant room like the whiff of sweat from beneath a nobleman's expensive waistcoat.

Only the candelabra on the harpsichord had been lit. Raoul's gaze slid round the walls and halted at the artwork which hung beside the opposite door. Not David's, but a more recent portrait of Montbulliou and his son. Both faces mocked Raoul with their supercilious expressions just as they had done in real life. The duke's eyes bore smugly into his, forcing him to remember the shame and the violence, the raised whip beating him painfully to his knees. Merde , it was tempting to drive his knife into that smirking, canvas mouth. Raoul dragged his stare away with an iron will and, pulling his neckerchief up over his mouth and nose, let himself into the vestibule. David's painting did not hang there either. Time was running out. The tick-tock of the grandfather clock echoed up the great staircase and he could hear raised voices in the common room.

Could the painting be in one of the bedchambers? The sound of breaking glass drove him to take the quickest way – up the backstairs – to Montbulliou's dressing-room. A startled footman collided with him in the hall and thrusting the man roughly aside with a warning to save himself, he hurtled up the stairs to the duke's apartments. Glad of the scant lighting, he edged cautiously forward. The upper floor was chill and silent. The family was not in evidence. Just as well. It would have been a unique pleasure to scar the duke's face; anunwise pleasure that might send him to the galleys or the Bastille.

Orangeflower water and pomade! The dressing room stank of the duke, but there above the shining, polished sidetable hung his quarry – David's masterpiece, a greater work than any of the artist's more heroic paintings. Or so Raoul thought. He stared at it for a moment, reabsorbing its magnificent sensual power. Gauzy, lascivious and heartless, the duke's three oldest daughters –the goddesses, Venus, Minerva and Juno – watched from their frame as he came closer.

The fourth daughter in the painting was not looking at him. She had been nine years old and too fat to play a beauteous goddess. Instead, she had been coerced to model as the chubby Cupid offering a golden apple as a prize. A fruit so real and luscious that Raoul could have snatched it from the canvas; the apple that the youth Paris was to award to the goddess he judged to be the loveliest. But Paris was not in the painting; David had made the beholder of the painting Paris. No , you judge, he had said to the world.

The sound of splintering wood and shouting jolted Raoul back to reality. Swiftly, he dragged a Louis Quinze chair across to the wall, laughing softly as he sprang with mudded soles onto its fine brocade. Then he drew his knife from its sheaf.

‘Get down!’

A young girl stood in the inner doorway, pointing a pair of duelling pistols at him. The weapons wobbled but there was determination in the plump young face. Cupid! He had no trouble in recognising her. Long brown hair, loose, save for a band that held it free of her forehead, tumbled down to an undiscernible waist clad in tawny velvet. About fifteen now, but still round as an English pudding!

‘Shoot me then.’ He challenged, and turned his back to her.

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Excerpt by permission of Pan Macmillan Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Read More

A novel of survival, courage and love in a world turned upside down.

When Fleur, the hunted daughter of a hated duke, interrupts a murderous attack on an elderly traveller, she doesn't expect the dying man to generously offer her marriage and the chance of a new identity. Famished and weary of hiding from her enemies, she accepts, even if it means risking the dangers of revolutionary Paris to claim her new property – Le Chat Rouge, a theatre-café in the Marais.

Intrigued by the lovely new widow and suspicious that he has encountered her before, Raoul de Villaret, a deputy and member of the Committee for General Security, becomes Fleur's greatest danger. Is he determined to destroy every member of her family or will he compromise his loyalty to the Revolution for her sake?

As political unrest plunges Paris yet more deeply into chaos, Fleur discovers even those she trust have secrets. In a glittering, dangerous world where anything can happen, can love survive?

Read More

I 've always wanted to set a novel in Paris during the French Revolution without the usual cliche of aristocrats tumbriled to the guillotine.

Why did things go wrong, I wondered? After all, when the Bastille prison fell, it must have been a time of great hope (just like when the Berlin Wall came down). So I began the story in 1793 a year before Robespierre's 'reign of terror'.

For my heroine, I chose a young aristocrat in hiding, a resourceful young woman who had acted in lots of plays in her father's chateau. For my hero, I created Raoul, a young man who has become a deputy in the new republic – a man who sees things starting to go wrong. In the supporting cast is Charlotte Corday (Marie-Anne as she called herself back then) and the infamous Marat, a clever doctor who has learned how to manipulate the mob and turn it on the inexperienced government. Then there's a python called Machiavelli and a very strange lodger!

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  • About the book
  • Read an excerpt
  • Author's notes

A novel of survival, courage and love in a world turned upside down.

When Fleur, the hunted daughter of a hated duke, interrupts a murderous attack on an elderly traveller, she doesn't expect the dying man to generously offer her marriage and the chance of a new identity. Famished and weary of hiding from her enemies, she accepts, even if it means risking the dangers of revolutionary Paris to claim her new property – Le Chat Rouge, a theatre-café in the Marais.

Intrigued by the lovely new widow and suspicious that he has encountered her before, Raoul de Villaret, a deputy and member of the Committee for General Security, becomes Fleur's greatest danger. Is he determined to destroy every member of her family or will he compromise his loyalty to the Revolution for her sake?

As political unrest plunges Paris yet more deeply into chaos, Fleur discovers even those she trust have secrets. In a glittering, dangerous world where anything can happen, can love survive?

Read More

January 1789

Since the stable behind the Clef d'Or was where he had been initiated into making love some seven years earlier, Raoul de Villaret rode into the town of Clerville in the January twilight, wondering whether he should just pass through, or halt and revisit the generous ‘magdalene’ who had provided such a delightful tutorial. Not for an anniversary encore, of course – Bibi must be prodding forty by now, and at twenty-two, he had become choosy – but perhaps to say a thank you for the only decent memory he had of the place.

His stomach complained of hunger and he frowned against the knife-edged wind as he rode towards the town square, knowing he would be unlikely to find a decent supper before he reached Rennes. The rivers were frozen over, the grindstones of the watermills were locked in ice and there was little flour. He had seen desperate hunger in the haggard faces of the migrating workers he had passed on the road. He doubted they would find labour in Clerville or anywhere else in the region; he doubted also that the King's call for every parish to submit a written list of grievances would make much difference. The incidents were growing and it looked as though he was encountering one now.

The place Saint-Denis was still crammed with the poorer people who had come in for market day and there was great deal of angry shouting going on. They had snared a grain transport. The carters, pulled from the running board, were struggling within the crowd, and the four-dragoon escort had foolishly let themselves be isolated in front of the market cross. Astride on top of the grain sacks, defying the soldiers' muskets, a gaunt workman was addressing the crowd.

‘The King does not wish our children to starve, patriots!’ he exclaimed, his dialect proclaiming him a local man. ‘It is his evil counsellors and that Austrian bitch who are trying to squeeze every last sou from us. Take the grain to feed your children, mes braves, and you,’ he snarled at the dragoons, ‘shoot us if you dare!’

Another man sprang up onto the cart and jabbed a finger in the air. ‘Go and observe the fine English lawns, mes amis , the strutting peacocks, the mulberry trees. Why should we labour while the Duc de Montbuillou leads a life of idleness? We're not even allowed to shoot his doves for eating our peas. Has he done anything to keep us from starvation? No! Break open his barns, I say! Allons! Let us seize the grain and feed our children!’

‘To the chateau!’ a woman bawled. ‘Burn it down!’

‘And be broken on the wheel?’ scoffed someone.

‘Starve then!’ The second orator exclaimed. ‘The only difference between us and the noblesse is in the ledgers! I say burn the records which make slaves of us! To arms!’

One of the dragoons fired above the head of the speaker, merely to frighten him, but the crowd erupted in bitter fury.

Raoul reined his horse Nostradamus round. The chateau ? For years, he had tried to forget the Chateau de Clerville, vowing never to set foot within its detestable proximity, but the painting was there. Jacques-Louis David's painting! He could not let David's work be destroyed, even though he loathed every oiled pore of the canvas; even though to see its brilliance again would make him remember that humiliating month at Clerville when he had been David's apprentice.

With hatred burning anew, he circumnavigated the square through the back streets and spurred out of the town ahead of the mob to that loveless chateau. It was not just David's impatient snarl Raoul recalled, but the sting of the Duc de Montbulliou's horsewhip across his shoulders and the sniggers of the duke's daughters. Their hateful laughter whirled around his temples as he rode, so infecting his senses that he grew hot with shame beneath his greatcoat, remembering the ripe, pointing breasts flaunted to torment him.

He drew rein at the gates of the chateau, smiting his riding crop against the ironwork, gratified that the old gatekeeper hobbled forward in his sabots with a respectful touch of forelock. Thank God for that! So no ghost of a thin gauche, sixteen-year-old was recognisable any more.

‘There is a mob on the way,’ Raoul exclaimed, but the ancient cupped his ear and grinned. ‘Open the gate, damn you! Holà, you!’ Raoul snatched off his tricorne hat and gestured frantically to a boy loitering in the doorway of the gatekeeper's cottage. ‘Run to the servants' quarters as quick as you can and warn them. There's a rabble coming to burn the chateau. And you, man, for Christ's sake, let me through!'

He swung the horse round impatiently. The torches flaring behind him on the road were distant enough. The old fellow, fumbling now with sudden fear, unlocked the gates to let him in. Instead of following the carriage drive, Raoul turned into the basse-cour. His memory served him well; beyond the clipped hedges that hemmed in the lawns and en broderie flowerbeds was a copse sheltering an English grotto. Little had changed in six years. The old, artificial cave was as he remembered it, large enough to tether Nostradamus out of sight. He listened again but the winter dusk was quiet. Even on foot, the rioters would not take long to reach the chateau, for it lay but one mile from the outskirts of the dirty, impoverished town like a pendant jewel around a beggar's neck.

Jamming his hat firmly down and with his neckerchief back to front so he might draw it up to hide his face, Raoul made stealthily for the rear terrace and tested the second window of the billiard room. The frame slid up easily as it always had. He adroitly climbed over the sill into the cold gloom of the unlit room, and skirting the billiard table, he softly opened the door to the grande salon. Despite the heavy odour of lavender polish, the faint hint of mustiness spoiled the elegant room like the whiff of sweat from beneath a nobleman's expensive waistcoat.

Only the candelabra on the harpsichord had been lit. Raoul's gaze slid round the walls and halted at the artwork which hung beside the opposite door. Not David's, but a more recent portrait of Montbulliou and his son. Both faces mocked Raoul with their supercilious expressions just as they had done in real life. The duke's eyes bore smugly into his, forcing him to remember the shame and the violence, the raised whip beating him painfully to his knees. Merde , it was tempting to drive his knife into that smirking, canvas mouth. Raoul dragged his stare away with an iron will and, pulling his neckerchief up over his mouth and nose, let himself into the vestibule. David's painting did not hang there either. Time was running out. The tick-tock of the grandfather clock echoed up the great staircase and he could hear raised voices in the common room.

Could the painting be in one of the bedchambers? The sound of breaking glass drove him to take the quickest way – up the backstairs – to Montbulliou's dressing-room. A startled footman collided with him in the hall and thrusting the man roughly aside with a warning to save himself, he hurtled up the stairs to the duke's apartments. Glad of the scant lighting, he edged cautiously forward. The upper floor was chill and silent. The family was not in evidence. Just as well. It would have been a unique pleasure to scar the duke's face; anunwise pleasure that might send him to the galleys or the Bastille.

Orangeflower water and pomade! The dressing room stank of the duke, but there above the shining, polished sidetable hung his quarry – David's masterpiece, a greater work than any of the artist's more heroic paintings. Or so Raoul thought. He stared at it for a moment, reabsorbing its magnificent sensual power. Gauzy, lascivious and heartless, the duke's three oldest daughters –the goddesses, Venus, Minerva and Juno – watched from their frame as he came closer.

The fourth daughter in the painting was not looking at him. She had been nine years old and too fat to play a beauteous goddess. Instead, she had been coerced to model as the chubby Cupid offering a golden apple as a prize. A fruit so real and luscious that Raoul could have snatched it from the canvas; the apple that the youth Paris was to award to the goddess he judged to be the loveliest. But Paris was not in the painting; David had made the beholder of the painting Paris. No , you judge, he had said to the world.

The sound of splintering wood and shouting jolted Raoul back to reality. Swiftly, he dragged a Louis Quinze chair across to the wall, laughing softly as he sprang with mudded soles onto its fine brocade. Then he drew his knife from its sheaf.

‘Get down!’

A young girl stood in the inner doorway, pointing a pair of duelling pistols at him. The weapons wobbled but there was determination in the plump young face. Cupid! He had no trouble in recognising her. Long brown hair, loose, save for a band that held it free of her forehead, tumbled down to an undiscernible waist clad in tawny velvet. About fifteen now, but still round as an English pudding!

‘Shoot me then.’ He challenged, and turned his back to her.

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Excerpt by permission of Pan Macmillan Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Read More

I 've always wanted to set a novel in Paris during the French Revolution without the usual cliche of aristocrats tumbriled to the guillotine.

Why did things go wrong, I wondered? After all, when the Bastille prison fell, it must have been a time of great hope (just like when the Berlin Wall came down). So I began the story in 1793 a year before Robespierre's 'reign of terror'.

For my heroine, I chose a young aristocrat in hiding, a resourceful young woman who had acted in lots of plays in her father's chateau. For my hero, I created Raoul, a young man who has become a deputy in the new republic – a man who sees things starting to go wrong. In the supporting cast is Charlotte Corday (Marie-Anne as she called herself back then) and the infamous Marat, a clever doctor who has learned how to manipulate the mob and turn it on the inexperienced government. Then there's a python called Machiavelli and a very strange lodger!

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