Anna Belfrage

Step inside and steal some moments in another place, another time. Welcome to my world!

A long time to hang in the sky – of a recent visit to Denver

On June 18th, we set off from home for the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”. (IMO, that national anthem is probably the most challenging in the world to sing, which is neither here nor there…)
The ultimate goal with our visit to the US was to attend the Historical Novel Society’s (HNS) conference in Denver. Well – that was my goal. Hubby sort of came along on the ride.

The HNS has as its purpose to promote historical novels – it therefore comes as no surprise that most of the participants are a) history buffs and
b) writers.
There are quite a few readers around as well, but they are in obvious minority – although most historical writers I know are also historical readers, goes hand in hand, if you will.

IMG_6343After Las Vegas, the 30 degrees Celsius in Denver came as a relief. And that, dear peeps, is the extent of what I have to share about Denver as a place – beyond expressing my surprise at finding the mile-high city to be situated on a very flat, very huge, plain. The mountains were about as distant as Mount Doom is to Frodo when he decided to go it on his own, leaving Aragorn et al behind.

The Conference, however, is another matter – I did not walk about for two days with ears and eyes firmly closed. The chosen venue boasted friendly staff – many of whom, to my delight, I could speak Spanish with – good rooms and hints of high-tech, such as USB chargers in the rooms and an interactive TV that could be used as a computer.

The Conference itself was well-organised with a nice variation in panels. Of course, you throw 450 people together and attempt to feed them simultaneously, and the result can be a tad chaotic – but in a friendly way.

Fortunately, friendly was also a word I’d use for the sword-fighting session I went to. Put rapiers in the hands of enthusiastic historical novelists and there is a teensy weensy risk people may go all wild and crazy – because it is fun to grip a rapier, heft it in your hand. I am glad to report there were no accidents, just some friendly clashing of steel, some posturing and a hell of a lot of advance, retreat, passo avanti and passo in dietro, which essentially meant many of us had sore thighs the day after. Even a novelist can survive sore thighs…David Blixt, I suspect, heaved a sigh of relief once the sessions were done. Not one single injury!

Personally, I’m thinking of taking up a career as a bravo. I’d look good in boots and cape, with my rapier in its frog and a dagger tucked discreetly in my belt, somewhere mid-back. But however dashing, being a swordsman in this day and age leads to ridicule and titters rather than awe and fear. Besides, did I mention my thighs hurt?

Other than learning about the Bad, Great and Dangerous aspects of historical fiction, enjoying an excellent session about ”Historical Fiction without the famous” and in general taking notes, this was a conference in which a lot of time was spent meeting the real people behind the FB avatars.Plus, of course, it was an opportunity to catch up with friends, sit and discuss other things than books and writings, which is how some of us ended up talking about democracy, the situation in Syria, the cultural divides that still, to a large extent, cause so many dangerous misunderstandings in this world of ours. Discussions one should hold while surrounded with candles stuck in empty wine bottles, the erstwhile content in those bottles no more than a rusty residue in chipped glasses. Sorry: no candles, but we did well enough anyway.

I came to Denver a bundle of nerves. You see, I was one of four finalists for the Historical Novel Society’s 2015 Indie Award. I am a competitive sort – which is why I only play Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit with hubby, as in all other board games he tends to win. Well, in all other games, if we’re going to be correct. Unfortunately, when it comes to book awards, there’s nothing you can DO to ensure you win. You can only wait patiently, and, as some of you well know, Patience is not my middle name…

Being a writer is per definition creating in isolation and then throwing whatever you’ve created out into the world, eyes squished shut so as not to watch if the precious creation drowns rather than swims. It takes guts to publish books – if nothing else because all writers pour a substantial amount of self into their work. A negative reception is therefore not only a reflection on the book as such, but also, some authors feel, on themselves. Actually, most reviewers have no opinion about the author as a person – how can they, when they don’t know him or her? Nor do most reviewers want to express an opinion about the author – they want to talk about the novel as such. Easy to forget for the insecure writer – and most writers/artists are insecure when it comes to their work – which is why all writers need their supporting network.

First and foremost, such a network is built on family and close friends. Probably a useless network from a professional book business perspective, but essential to keep the writer’s ego relatively hale and hearty. Today, thanks to this thing called Internet, the network expands exponentially – assuming the writer is willing to put in the time needed.

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Helen and I – thanks to Cathy Helms

Through Internet, I have met some of my most stalwart supporters. People like Helen Hollick, writer of a devastating book about Harold (of 1066 fame) which I just can’t bear to finish, hoping that by not reading it, I help Harold evade his fate. Stupid, I know, but when authors write gripping books, they make you care, right? Other than Harold, Helen has introduced me to charmer pirate Jesamiah Acorne, for which I am very grateful, but first and foremost Helen encourages and promotes, is generous with advice and is always there to help you pull your socks up and get on with it. Plus she’s a great hugger, something I’ve known for some years now (And hubby was pleasantly surprised to be warmly hugged as well. He likes hugs – a lot!)

Other fantastic supporters include Amy Bruno – not only does she offer great virtual book tour packages, but she is generous in sharing, in yanking ”her” authors into whatever limelight she can find – the same goes for Stephanie Hopkins, who through her blog Layered Pages gives so many authors a chance to be seen and heard. Once again, these ladies know how to hug – and it was wonderful to finally get the opprtunity to do so when we met face to face in Denver. (Internet has a major drawback in the hugs deparment. I do hope someone is working on that specific issue)

All writers need reviewers, preferably reviewers who like your books. Such people are to be treated as precious pearls, and are often willing to act as sounding boards for new ideas and projects – assuming the writer has take the time to build a relationship with them. I have a number of reviewers out there who ”get me”(well, my books; hubby says ”getting me” is a lifetime project, and I’m assuming that’s a compliment.) Voracious readers all of them, they are generous enough to take the time to write a review, post it AND share it!I can’t mention them all, but I was so happy to finally meet people like Erin and Margaret at Denver. Once again – yup, they know how to hug.

All this hugging served the purpose of distracting me – slightly – from the upcoming Award ceremony. Wonderful writer friend Alison Morton was amused and supportive, her brisk British humour making me laugh – a lot. New friends such as Cathy Helms and Char Newcomb smiled and kept their fingers crossed. Nice ladies all three – and great huggers.

Geri Dunlap Clouston of IndieBRAG already KNEW who had won, but was as enigmatic as a sphinx, while being as lovely and gracious as she always is. For those of you that don’t know what IndieBRAG does, I suggest clicking here. In brief, IndieBRAG works towards making great Indie novels visible. And yes, there are great Indie novels – quite a few, in fact. Ahem: like mine. (So this is when, as a Swedish person, I expect God to strike me down on the spot for hubris. Us Swedes are taught never, ever to toot our own horn. But sometimes one has to…) Did I mention Geri is yet another great hugger?

I’m starting to see a theme here: good, supportive people very often are great huggers. It goes hand in hand with an open and embracing (;))personality.

Anyway: Saturday evening approached. I was beginning to go about with a constantly elevated pulse, damp patches behind my knees, and a slight humming in my head. I distracted myself by rehearsing my speech for the MM Bennetts Award which I was presenting – didn’t exactly lower my heart rate…

Dinner on my plate, but who could eat? My intestines knotted together. One award. Next award – the one I was presenting. Gulps of air, march up to the stage, speech – attempt at speech, initially, as I seemed to have forgotten how to breathe. Cleared that one up, presented the three finalists, announced the winner, got a big hug. Nice big hug. Men who are enthusiastic about hugging are fantastic huggers, and Greg Taylor was so happy with his win (for the excellent book Lusitania REX) he was very enthusiastic.
HNSWinnerDown to wait some more. I studied my nails and considered whether it would be bad taste to chew on them. Decided it would be. The runner-up was presented. Not me. I stared at the floor.
”…the winner is Anna Belfrage…” someone said. Me! I wanted to leap atop the table and do the hula-hula, but just like with the nails, I decided it wouldn’t be appropiate. But I did do some dancing on the spot – and guess what? Three more lovely warm hugs!

R&R webstampThe book I won with is Revenge & Retribution – the sixth in The Graham Saga, but fully readable as a stand-alone. The beautiful cover was designed by Olly Bennett at MoreVisual, and the book was produced by Silverwood Books – delivering yet another beautiful finished product.

Now it is almost 48 hours since that exhilirating moment in Denver and I’m back home in Sweden. And I smile and smile and smile. I am so happy, so honoured, so proud. I may not have seen much of Denver, but as of Saturday June 27th, that particular city has a very special place in my heart! To quote one of my favourite artists, ”It’s a long way from this place to Denver, a long time to hang in the sky” – but I would leap onto that jetplane in a flash, just to experience once again the sheer rush of joy that had me, for a moment, feeling very much on top of the world.

Mother Nature gives – and takes

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San Francisco

The first song I learnt to play on the piano was America the Beautiful. So what, some of you may think, having no interest whatsoever in my musical development – but bear with me, okay?

I probably need to rephrase that first sentence: the first song I learnt to play two-handed was America the Beautiful – my first musical conquest was ”twinkle, twinkle little star”, played with one finger…

So why would a Swedish woman learn to play an American song? Probably has to do with Mrs Miller, my dragon of a piano teacher. She was also my French teacher, and there was a time when I could conjugate avoir and être in my sleep, so thoroughly did she bang these verbs into my head. Mrs Miller was a woman one did not mess with.

At the time, I thought her old like Methuselah, now I realise she was probably around fifty (gulp, gulp) and, however demanding, a great teacher. She loved French. She loved piano. She loved deportment. I loved French. I liked piano. I hated deportment. But hey, two out of three aint bad, so Mrs Miller and I rubbed along just fine – as long as I didn’t question what songs she taught me to play. (And as to deportment, I have had the dubious pleasure of entire afternoons spent walking about with books on my head, lessons in how to sit, how to cross my legs, how to exit a car, how to enter a car, how to walk up a staircase in high heels and long dresses, how to walk down that same staircase…)

Anyway, while I remember Mrs Miller with fondness, she is not the theme of today’s post. America the Beautiful is.
It started in San Francisco. I could move there tomorrow. Yes, the streets are a cardiovascular challenge, but so what? This is relatively young city (from a European perspective, it’s a toddler at most) but the tree lined streets, the gorgeous architecture and the ever present sea makes this beyond a doubt one of the most beautiful and welcoming cities I’ve visited. (My mother, however, could never live there on account of the wind – she hates it when her hair lifts out of place.)

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Not real mountains…

So, we were sort of sad when we left San Francisco behind and took the 580 east, making for Yosemite. I like road trips – even more so when hubby is driving and I can look about. Okay, so I was in charge of map reading, not all that onerous a task on this particular journey, and so I studied the passing landscape. (Well, to be honest, I spent quite some time studying cars. I like cars, preferably the growly type with dual exhaust pipes. Plenty of those in the bay area…)

Somewhat more inland, and we entered the realms of mono-culture. Apricots, apricots, apricots, cherries, cherries, cherries, apricots, apricots, almonds and look, a grove of walnut trees. I am doubtful about this form of agriculture – monocultures come at the expense of diversity. However, it all looked very neat and tidy – settled, if you will. Not so that it qualified as an “America the beautiful” moment, though – despite the gorgeous oleanders, huge drifts of white and pink that bordered roads and fences.

We passed Oakland. The Sierra Nevada began to be discernible as foggy shapes in the distance. I entertained hubby by singing “Desde la Sierra Nevada viene bajando, cielito lindo…” Hubby, being a smart man, merely smiled. We entered the foothills, and I fell silent. Around me, a carpet of tawny high grasses gilded the rolling hills, here and there dotted with the odd black oak, a couple of cows or a horse.

We travelled onwards. Foothills became respectable ski slopes, steep if rounded, and hubby’s hands tightened on the steering wheel as we spiralled our way upwards. We made it over the first set of hills and entered a landscape of valleys and ever-growing hills.
“Not much in the way of mountains,” hubby commented.
“What?” I gazed at the slopes towering above us.
“Well, you know: they lack in harshness, somehow.”
This, dear people, was said BEFORE he saw Yosemite valley, with Half-dome in the distance. After that, he shut up regarding “real mountains”…

IMG_6263I don’t have words to describe Yosemite – suffice it to say I spent the entire day singing “America the beautiful” under my breath, repeating over and over “for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain” (See how neatly I tie it all together?)

The valley of Yosemite is like a green jewel set in purple-grey stone. Yosemite is granite cliffs that rise to touch the skies, waterfalls that thunder downwards, boulders smoothed by tons of ice into soft shapes so at odds with the stone itself. And trees – everywhere trees! It’s not as if we don’t have pine trees in Sweden – we have plenty – but in comparison with the specimens that tower above us in Yosemite, Swedish pines resemble chopsticks – fragile and puny. As a side comment, EVERYTHING is much bigger in America: the trees, the moose, the wolves, the lynx – even the warning cones used to designate road works. (And let’s not get started on the portions…)

IMG_6240What struck me most about Yosemite was that it was a place imbued with benevolence. That sounds silly, I know, but there was something about the silence among the giant sequoias, the way the sunlight filtered through tree crowns so high overhead I had to crane my head back just to see them, that filled me with a sensation of peace – and, in a way, of insignificance. These towering cliffs have stood like sentinels for thousands of years, they’ve seen generations of humans come and go, will see many more generations come and go, and ultimately it is possible they will still be here when we are gone. Is that a frightening thought? Maybe.

After Yosemite, we set out for Death Valley. And yes, this evoked images of bleached bones at dry waterholes, of vultures circling like vigilant specks high up above, waiting for whatever fool had been stupid enough to enter this wasteland to die, thereby giving the carrion eaters an unexpected feast.

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Death Valley

If Yosemite is an expression of the Creator’s/Mother Nature’s bountiful and fertile generosity, Death Valley brings home the message that Mother Nature can paint the most vibrant of pictures without stopping to consider such inconsequential aspects as our need for water to survive. In this harsh environment life is eerily absent – at least to the eye of the casual observer. But beauty is present everywhere, the rock and earth of the hillsides exploding in purple, in red and orange, in yellow and grey. The valley floor shimmers with heat, creating the impression that there might be water at the bottom, when in fact it is all sand and dirt, an arid wasteland where the heat is such it sucks your wits out. Once again, I felt inconsequential. Once again, I was humbled by the beauty that surrounded me. But this time, there was no benevolence. This was Nature showing its teeth.

IMG_6282After the heat of Death Valley it came as something as a relief to end up in an air-conditioned room, with cold water in the shower and a magnificent waterworks display outside our window. Las Vegas with all its lights, all its pulse is at the opposite end of the scale of places such as Death Valley (even if the heat was similar). And yes, the Bellagio fountain is indeed a marvel in itself, proving that man can create impressive beauty – but does it rival the wonders of places like Yosemite and Death Valley? Nope. Not even close.

America, a land that stretches from ocean to ocean (or shining sea, as the lyrics say). America, a land in which Nature shows itself in all its glory, from the tenacious cacti that survive the punishing heat in the desert, to the bright green lichen that decorate the ancient sequoias. America, truly a beautiful, beautiful land which I hope to revisit many more times. After all, there is so much more to explore!

Foreswearing your faith – the smart thing to do for a 17th century English Catholic

MLWhen Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to that church door in Wittenberg, he had no idea what he was unleashing on the world. Or maybe he had, hoping that his actions would cause an incendiary debate and reform in all things religious. Well, he succeeded in creating debate, all right, and when he died close to thirty years later, he was still under excommunication by the pope. By then, Martin Luther no longer recognised the pope’s authority – and neither did a growing number of people throughout Europe.

At a distance of five hundred years, we can’t comprehend just how cataclysmic the Reformation was. Over a couple of decades, God-given truths were turned upside down, one of the more controversial aspects being that the true believer had no need of priests in his communication with God. It sufficed to study the Bible and meditate on God’s truth as expressed in the Holy Book.

LutherbibelWhere before the Bible was printed in Latin, now it was being translated into vernacular, making God’s word available to anyone who could read. Literacy exploded in Protestant regions, and these newly literate soon discovered other reading matter than the Bible, thereby starting an educational process that would culminate in our present day democratic society.

The Holy Roman Church responded forcefully to this new threat to its hegemony (and finances). Not only was there an impressive out-pouring of art and literature defending the true faith plus an increase in efforts to bring the lost sheep back to the fold – such as the installation of the Society of Jesus under Loyola, an order whose main purpose was to defend and bolster the faith- the Counter Reformation also applied other methods: heretics were persecuted, arrested, tortured and burnt at the stake – nothing new, really.

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The Last Judgement

As the Protestant factions grew stronger, they resorted to their own persecution, torture and execution – but of Catholics. A sort of tit for tat, one could say. In general, the assumption was that all Catholics were loyal to the pope, not to their king or queen. That, I would think, was in general a correct assumption. For people who still believed in the afterlife and for whom heaven and hell were realities rather than metaphors, protecting their eternal souls came first. But from there to assume all Catholics were nefarious traitors – well, it’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it?

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James I

In England, the authorities were taking no chances. James I introduced legislation aimed at Catholics who aspired to public office whereby any higher official should regularly receive communion as per the Church of England rites – anathema to a Catholic – but initially no one seems to have bothered with upholding it. In fact, James had several capable Catholic men in positions of trust. Things became somewhat trickier as per the reinforced Corporation Act of 1661, making it mandatory to partake of the sacraments as per the Church of England. However, not all Catholics were subject to the law – Catholic peers were generally exempt.

In 1673, Parliament in its wisdom passed the Test Act. It no longer sufficed to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as per Anglican rites, now anyone aspiring to serve as officers of the court, parliament or the military, also had to reject the concept of transubstantiation (a central tenet in the Catholic faith). Further to this, any person aspiring to public office had to take an Oath of Supremacy and Allegiance, in effect placing their loyalty to the king of England before that to, for example, the pope.

Clearly all these measures were not enough. In 1678, Titus Oates revealed the so called Popish Plot to the shocked authorities, describing detailed plans to rid England of its present monarch. There was no Popish Plot – Titus was a narrow-minded worm of a man who saw his chance to fame and grabbed it, titillating his audience with one invented detail after the other. His ridiculous construction of lies could (and should) have been exposed immediately by the members of Parliament, but certain members were utterly thrilled by this development as it gave them an opportunity to further tighten up the Anti-Catholic legislation.

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Duke of York

The reinforced Test Act required all peers and members of Parliament to declare against transubstantiation, the existence of saints and the sacraments of Mass, thereby effectively ousting all Catholics from Parliament. The Catholic lords fought back as well as they could and succeeded in delaying the act plus managed to weaken it substantially by sneaking in an exception for the Duke of York – that most Catholic heir to the English throne.

A consequence of all this legislation and badmouthing was to make life very difficult for Catholics in general. When Edmund Godfrey, a Protestant magistrate, was found dead, the anti-papists went wild. London seethed with anger, Catholics were beaten and hounded, and people were warned to be on their guard: there were evil Jesuits everywhere, there were nasty recusants hiding throughout the country, horrible Catholic people that wanted to overthrow the Anglican Church and reinstate the hegemony of the Pope in England. What can I say? A crowd gone wild is a hotbed of fevered imaginations – even more so when people in authority foment the flames of lunacy.

England’s anti-Catholic legislation was to remain in place until 1829, when it was repealed by George IV. By then, the Test Act had long since played out its role, but for a number of decades in the 17th century, Catholics did best in keeping a very low profile. Very low. Especially if you were a Catholic priest.

R&R webstamp smallReligion plays an important part in my series The Graham Saga. In Revenge and Retribution, the sixth instalment of the series, Matthew and Alex welcome an injured Catholic priest into their home. Well; Alex welcomes. For Matthew, this is not an entirely easy thing to do, seeing as he is more than aware of the spiritual deficiency that characterises a papist. Alex doesn’t agree: to her the differences between a Catholic and a Protestant are very minor – probably reflecting the fact that she is a modern day woman. In the excerpt below, the Graham household has been augmented with yet another person, a Presbyterian minister, making things rather interesting.

Conversation became somewhat livelier with two men of God in the house – maybe a bit too lively, Alex sighed, when Father Muñoz and Minister Allerton settled down for yet another intense religious debate, the minister seconded by Daniel, the priest fighting his corner alone.

Father Muñoz sat up straighter and looked at Minister Allerton.

“No.” He shook his head. “Absolutely not. God allows our actions to speak for us.”

“Of course,” Minister Allerton said, “if we belong to the chosen few.” He gave the young priest a challenging look.

“Hmph!” Father Muñoz drank deeply from his mug of beer. “God is not that fickle. We live on this earth a short while, and it’s in many ways a testing ground for eternal life that comes later. God is merciful and forgives us our trespasses on behalf of His Son. He sees us labour and strive to be good, and He is pleased. He sees us fall into a life of evil, and He decides if the stay in purgatory will be long and painful or if we go to hell directly. But it’s the quality of our sins and the genuineness of our repentance that ultimately decide our eternal fate.”

Too right, Alex agreed, even if she sincerely hoped God was somewhat selective when it came to deathbed repentance. If not, heaven would be chock-full of some rather nasty types.

“Purgatory!” Minister Allerton waved dismissively. “Nowhere in the scriptures is that mentioned. It’s nothing but a figment of imagination that allows the dying sinners to hope they may still be saved.”

“Not to me,” Father Muñoz said, looking quite mulish. “To me, God is more prone to forgive than damn, and as such He has created one last opportunity for the lost soul to gain entry to heaven.”

The argument went on and on, the churchmen plunging deeper and deeper into the scriptures and the history of the Christian Church.

“Why be good?” Father Muñoz argued. “Why should we strive to lead exemplary lives if God has already preordained who goes to Heaven?”

“Why be good?” Minister Allerton replied mockingly. “Why strive to lead exemplary lives if all you have to do is beg forgiveness for your sins before you die?”

Most of the adults around the table nodded in agreement.

“Lewd and sinful,” Mrs Parson muttered to Alex. “All papists are, more or less. And then, on their deathbed, they recant. Not that it helps the misguided souls, bound for hell as they are. Pity on the wee priest who seems a good enough man – just like his father.”

“Hmm,” Alex said as neutrally as she could, and then brought the whole discussion to a halt by plonking down the pudding dish in the middle of the table.

The Danish Lion – of Christian IV

Christian_IV_(Abraham_Wuchters)Okay, so as you all know by now, I am Swedish. If I may say so myself, a relatively international Swede, having lived and worked in various parts of the world, but when things come to a crunch I’m as Swedish as IKEA’s meatballs and pickled herring (although the Dutch would probably argue pickled herring is as Dutch as it is Swedish, and those IKEA meatballs, well…) Never mind: the point is that I’m Swedish, I’m a history nut and I have a particular fondness for the 17th century, a time at which Sweden and Denmark were constantly at war – in truth very much ”same old, same old” compared to previous centuries – and in which Sweden forced Denmark to a couple of very humiliating treaties. One could say that the Swedish Empire expanded at the expense of the Danes. And some of that expansion has remained under Swedish control ever since, notably the region I live in, Skåne (or Scania).

Anyway, despite my nationality, I have a lot of admiration for various Danish kings. One such king is the larger-than-life Christian IV, a man who lived life to the full, constantly bit off more than he could chew, and still managed to somehow swallow and get on with things. Plus, the man knew how to wear ear-rings, hair-braids and bucket-topped boots, having an instinctive flair that must have had women melting like butter atop a newly baked scone. (Which is probably why this king left behind an impressive number of children – more than two dozen, all told)

Christian IV was born in the 16th century, the result of the very happy union between his mother and father – this despite an age difference of 21 years. Unfortunately, his parents weren’t destined to live for all that long together – his father died in 1588, leaving the eleven-year-old Christian to become king. As an aside, while I have plenty of time for Christian IV, I have very, very little for his father. I simply can’t forgive Fredrik II for what he did to the Earl of Bothwell (see here). I know, I know; by now water under the bridge, but to chain a big, strong handsome man to a post and leave him to live out his days in the dark like some tethered beast – no, not done.

Boys are rarely allowed to rule their kingdoms – and as the proud mother of three boys I must express just how happy that makes me. Christian was guided by his father’s excellent counsellors, and in general his minority was a reasonably stable period. By the time our young king turned nineteen, he was considered capable to rule all on his own, and was therefore crowned in 1596.

Coronation_of_Christian_IV_in_1596Young and personable, newly crowned, he now set about fulfilling his royal duties by wedding Anne Catherine of Brandenburg. In difference to the uxorious bliss of his parents, Christian found little contentment with his wife, albeit that she dutifully presented him with seven children, of which three would live beyond childhood.

Anne Catherine was very devout. She was also a quiet woman who handled her husband’s infidelities with silence – such a handsome, virile king could not be blamed for leaping happily from bed to bed – and instead invested her time and energies in her children and her faith.

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Christian, in his mid-thirties.

Christian IV was an energetic king, burning with desire to reform his country, making it better, richer and preferably larger. A true Renaissance prince, he thought big, had an interest in a number of matters, and in general attempted to pull his people up by their bootstraps and introduce them to Modern Time. His court rang with music –  the king himself danced like a god – he was passionate and creative, intelligent and determined. Like all kings of his time, he was mostly about Number One, setting his own best interests first at all times.

Christian was also obsessed with witches – a little hobby he shared with his brother-in-law, James VI of Scotland (and soon to be James I of England). It is interesting to note that here we have two young kings, well-educated men with more than air between their ears, and yet it sufficed to say the word “witch” and any common sense they had flew out the window, leaving them superstitious – and cruel.

Denmark did a lot of witch-burning in the 17th century. Many of those poor witches met their death due to their king’s avid interest in all things supernatural. In some cases, the king advocated torture, being of the opinion that witches had to be contained – no matter with what means. Once the poor wretch had admitted her sins, she (because it was almost always a she) was burned – thou shalt not suffer a witch to live and all that. The unfortunate woman would be tied to a ladder, offered a stiff drink or two, and, if lucky, someone would tie a bag of gunpowder to her back, ensuring she exploded before she burned. Ugh. Our Christian, however, insisted he was merely doing his Christian duty…

Other than with witches, Christian was also busy with warfare. In 1611, he declared war on that hereditary scum of an enemy, Sweden. A modernised fleet, a modernised army, and Christian carried the day against Sweden’s boy-king, Gustavus Adolphus, at the time no more than seventeen. I’m betting Gustavus Adolphus gnashed his teeth and promised revenge, but for the time being the ambitious Swedish king had no choice but to accept terms. With this feather in his cap, Christian could return to more pleasurable pastimes.

While zealous regarding his duties when it came to witches, Christian had a substantially more relaxed attitude when it came to such minor sins as fornication. Other than his long-suffering wife, he had at least three named mistresses, who gave him a number of illegitimate children. But when Anne Catherine died in 1612, the king was genuinely distressed – mostly because he hadn’t been a good enough husband to this loyal and devoted spouse. It is said that when the time came to close Anne Catherine’s coffin, someone suggested that the queen’s jewellery be removed first – the dead woman was adorned with the equivalent of a minor fortune. Christian shook his head. “They were hers. They stay with her.” (And to this day, they still do)

Henry VIII of England had his great matter with Anne Boleyn. Christian IV of Denmark was equally robbed of his senses when he first clapped eyes on Kirsten Munk in 1615. By all accounts, the young girl was lovely – and equipped with an impressive mother, Ellen Marsvin, who had no intention of sacrificing Kirsten’s virtue without adequate payment. After all, Ellen Marsvin came from one of the oldest – and finest – lineages in Denmark. An extended period of negotiation ended with Ellen made all the richer and Kirsten in a morganatic marriage with the king.

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Kirsten and some of her babies

The pretty, plump Kirsten was to give Christian twelve children (well, eleven for sure; the twelfth was always considered a cuckoo by Christian). Kirsten was not the nicest – or smartest – of people. Besides, she had the bad taste of being jealous when Christian now and then went for variation in his bed. When upset, Kirsten screamed and yelled, she threw things, kicked things, tore things. She taunted the king for being old – and he was, compared to her. Plus, of course, he had other matters to deal with, principally the total disaster of his participation in the Thirty Years’ War.

This devastating, bloody conflict is often portrayed as being a fight between Protestants and Catholics. To some extent it was, but things weren’t that simple. Instead, one could argue this was a war in which the Holy Roman Empire, as represented by Emperor Ferdinand II, was attempting to take advantage of the political instability resulting from the Reformation of the previous century to expand its power base – and reclaim land lost to the heretics. This was something no one liked: neither the Protestant principalities and kingdoms, nor the very Catholic France. (Spain, of course, supported Ferdinand – if nothing else because the Emperor and the Spanish Hapsburg king were “like that”, related every which way.) Not that Ferdinand cared about public opinion, especially not initially, when his troops smashed through the opponents’ armies.

Catholic forces moved north, coming uncomfortably close to Denmark. Already in 1623, the Danish council proposed action. Christian procrastinated, worried that if he went to war, Gustavus Adolphus might stab him in the back. No longer a boy of seventeen, the king Christian had slapped down in 1611 was becoming something of a military celebrity. The Swedish king missed no opportunities to advance himself as a champion of the Protestant cause, and it was the fear of being overshadowed by this Swedish pest that ultimately tipped the scales for Christian. In 1625, he went to war, leading his 20 000 men or so south.

In August of 1626, the Danish army hit the dust, routed by John Tilly, loyal general of the Emperor, at the battle of Luttern. Even worse, that mad if brilliant general Wallenstein joined forces with Tilly, and suddenly half of Denmark had been invaded. Oh dear: Christian IV risked having no kingdom to be king of. No wonder he had little time for Kirsten’s tantrums. Christian IV had to swallow his pride and beg Gustavus Adolphus for help.

Together, the Swedes and the Danes managed to put Wallenstein on the back foot, and in 1629 Christian signed a treaty with the Holy Roman Empire. It gave him back Denmark – but it also explicitly forbade Christian to participate in the ongoing Thirty Years’ War. The hitherto so proud and successful Danish king returned to Copenhagen with his pride in shambles. It didn’t exactly help when he heard the rumours…

You see, Kirsten remained dissatisfied. Dangerously, Kirsten started to look elsewhere for bedsport, wanting someone younger and fitter and preferably entirely dazzled by her. (By now, she’d had eleven children over thirteen years, but this does not seem to have detracted from her attraction) She found what she was looking for in Otto – and when the king found out, he went spectacularly ballistic. Kirsten’s marriage hung by a thread. More importantly – at least from Ellen’s perspective – her mother risked losing her fat landholdings. Kirsten didn’t care as long as she could keep Otto in her bed – or so she said.

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Ellen when young

Ellen decided to implement some damage control, so she invited the king to dine with her. What follows is decidedly weird. The king was not entirely happy visiting his mother-in-law, but was gratified by the fact that she so clearly sided with him, bemoaning the fact that she had a slut for a daughter. So Ellen served food and wine, she prepared her best bedchamber for her royal guest – and on top of this, she acted the procurer, presenting the king with the innocent Vibeke Kruse, previously one of Kirsten’s maids, but dismissed from her service because jealous Kirsten did not like how the king looked at her servant.

The king, apparently, had need of comfort. Vibeke was willing to offer him that. Kirsten was sent off to Jutland where she was kept under strict confinement. Vibeke had a couple of babies – but by now the novelty of babies had worn off for Christian, as he had well over twenty sons and daughters.

Instead, he concentrated on restoring Denmark’s financial strength after the debacle in the war. Being a smart man, he decided to do this by raising the Sound Dues (all ships wanting to enter the Baltic Sea had to go through Öresund, the Sound, controlled by Denmark. An excellent source of income, as per Christian). This measure made Christian very popular at home. Money came pouring in, the empty Danish coffers filled up neatly, and everyone was happy. Not. The Swedes were pissed off, as were the Dutch. Our elderly king (because by now Christian was fast approaching his sixty-fifth birthday) had a new war on his hands.

Christian_IV_by_Vilhelm_MarstrandUnder the command of the brilliant Swedish Field Marshal Torstensson, the Swedes invaded most of Denmark. All, it seemed, was lost. Christian IV was not about to roll over that easily. The king rallied his men, raised his armies, repaired his ships, and in general succeeded in stopping Torstensson from advancing any further. At the battle of Colberger Heide, the king himself was present when his Danish fleet intercepted Torstensson’s attempts to penetrate deeper into Denmark. Despite being wounded when a cannon exploded just beside him, the king refused to leave the deck until the Danes had won the day, thereby setting an example to his frightened and tired men.

Ultimately, it didn’t help. The Swedes emerged victorious, and Christian had to sign away substantial parts of his kingdom in the Treaty of Brömsebro in 1645. The last years of his life were clouded by constant conflicts with his son-in-laws, especially Corfitz Ulfeldt (For more about him,his spirited wife, Leonore Christine, and their adventurous life, see here). Familial harmony eluded him, his children by various women locked in constant feuds. Interestingly enough, when Christian lay on his deathbed, he asked to see Kirsten Munk, a woman he hadn’t clapped eyes on for close to twenty years. She did come, hurrying as best as she could, but by the time she arrived, her former husband was dead, and so the man who had been king of Denmark for fifty-nine years was laid to rest at Roskilde Cathedral (as have all Danish kings, more or less) in early 1648.

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Christian – still with his braid

When he began his reign, Denmark controlled the Baltic Sea, when he died, that position of power had passed to Sweden. Christian’s son inherited a smaller kingdom, but he also inherited a veritable treasure chest of beautiful buildings, of art and culture. And, of course, there was Christian IV himself: larger than life, passionate and intelligent, he lived his life to the full. As should we all, IMO – every day, every moment. This, I think, is why I like him so much. Or maybe it’s that little braid of his – who knows.

Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experiences

Anna Belfrage:

I visit with Stephanie of Layered Pages

Originally posted on Layered Pages:

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I am pleased and honored to welcome back one of my favorite writers, B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Anna Belfrage. Whom I will have the honor of meeting soon at the Historical Fiction Society in Denver at the end of this month. She always has a kind word, gives great advice and is so supportive of her readers and fellow authors. She is a treasure. Not only that, her stories will touch your heart and change your life. I can’t thank Anna enough for bringing such wonderful stories to us all and I am waiting calmly as best as I can for her new stories to come.

When she isn’t writing a novel, she is probably working on a post or catching up on her reading. Or standing about on a crossroads and wondering why time isn’t unravelling at her feet… Other than work and writing, Anna finds time to bake and…

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Indentured servants – an alternative to slavery

smithvirginiamaplargeLet’s face it; the first English attempts to set up a successful colony in the New World failed dismally. That first outpost of English culture, Roanoke, mysteriously disappeared. The proud little settlement of Jamestown suffered through starvation and indigenous attacks. In general, people who went to the colonies in search of a better life ended up dead, and for some odd reason this made it difficult to recruit new colonists.

Without people to work the land and expand the English dominion, the Colony of Virginia was pretty much doomed, so I suspect the directors of the Virginia Company perked up substantially when someone came up with the bright idea to use indentured servants to populate their land

The practise of indenture had been around for centuries. In essence it was a contract whereby one person voluntarily entered the service of another person for a stipulated period of time. In general, any payments for the service were paid out in arrears, which meant an indentured servant who absconded could not claim on his back pay.

The system set up in Virginia was somewhat different. Someone had to assume the cost of transporting the servant across the sea, and so rules were set in place whereby landowners in the colony could bring over servants at their own expense and receive up to 50 acres in compensation for their efforts. The indentured servant was compelled by contract to work off his debt for transportation and would at the end of his period of service receive some further compensation – plus some land. The problem with this little set up was that the need for indentured labour exceeded the demand – most people were reluctant to cross the sea to an unknown wilderness from which they might never return.

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Virginia, a land of promised wealth…

If people didn’t queue up for the fantastic opportunity of expanding their horizons at no cost but their hard toil, maybe some light coercion would help, and what better way to achieve this than by snatching people off the street and have them set their cross to a document they didn’t understand? Quite a number of people were carried overseas against their will, and once on the other side, there was very little they could do but submit to the inevitable and work off their years.

To further swell the ranks of available labour, the powers that were quickly realised that deporting people was an excellent way of delivering able bodied men to the struggling colonies while ridding the kingdom of such undesirables as protesters in general and criminals. During the first eighty years of its existence, the Colony of Virginia received regular complements of deported people, very many of whom were Scots who clung to the Scottish Kirk, refusing to kowtow to the Anglican faith.

Whether forced or voluntary, the life of an indentured servant was no walk in the park. For a woman, there was the constant risk of being raped – these were societies with a chronic shortage of women – and should she become pregnant her term of service would be extended. The men ended up in the fields, disposable beasts of burden that were often worked until they dropped.

A disobedient (or “wilful”) servant was punished – in some cases so severely as to permanently maim the servant.  Trying to run away was a serious offence that could lead to beating so brutal the person in question died, and on top of this the reluctant immigrants had to cope with food shortages and unknown ailments. On average, four out of ten indentured servants died in Virginia during the seventeenth century. No wonder the colony had problems recruiting them!

Life in the colonies – both as an indentured servant and as a settler – play an important part in my series The Graham Saga. My male protagonist, Matthew Graham, is a devout Presbyterian, a veteran of the Commonwealth armies and a man who initially at least tends to see the world as black or white. (Which is why I gifted him with Alex Lind, an opinionated modern woman who had the misfortune (or not)  of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thereby being dragged three centuries back in time to land concussed and badly singed at an astounded Matthew’s feet.)

In the second instalment of The Graham Saga, Like Chaff in the Wind, Matthew is one of the unfortunates who are sold as indentured servants to Virginia. The experience leaves him scarred for life, and some aspects of his life as a slave come back to haunt him in future installments of the series. However; first things first, so below is an excerpt from Like Chaff in the Wind, giving some insight into Matthew’s experiences in Virginia. I hope you enjoy it!

9781781321690-Cover.inddFive unbearable days, and on the afternoon of the sixth day he was so tired that he accidentally upended the sled, tipping the load of tobacco plants into the dirt. Jones flew at him.
“Fool! Look at what you’ve done!”
Matthew got to his feet, an effort involving far too many protesting muscles. His shoulders were permanently on fire, the harness had left broad, bleeding sores on his skin, and no matter how he tried to use his worn shirt as padding, the sores deepened and widened, a constant, flaming pain.
“I’ll just load them back.” He bent to pick up an armful. His arms were clumsy with weariness, and it took far too long to reload the sled, with Jones an irate, vociferous spectator. Matthew leaned forward into the straps, bunching his thighs. Dear Lord! He couldn’t budge the load, the leather cutting even deeper into his lacerated skin. He tried again, and still the sled wouldn’t move. Matthew looked back across his shoulder to find Jones sitting on the sled.
“Go on,” Jones sneered, “get a move on.”
“You’re too heavy,” Matthew said, “you can walk.”
Jones raised a brow. “Of course I can. But now I want you to pull.”
Matthew felt his pulse begin to thud. Wafting curtains of red clouded his vision.
“I’m a man, aye? I’ll work as you tell me to, but you can move of your own accord, fat though you may be. I won’t be your yoked beast, I’m a man.” There was absolute silence around him, his companions staring at him with a mixture of admiration and exasperation.

Jones stood up and moved towards him. “That’s where you’re wrong, Graham. You’re no man, not here, not now. You’re a slave, a beast to be worked until you’re no use.” He looked at Matthew expectantly, his hand tightening on the handle of his crop.
Matthew knew he should back down, grovel and mumble, but inside of him the fire grew, red hot rage at the man in front of him, at his traitorous brother, and the injustice of it all.
“I told you. I’ve never done anything wrong. I’m a free man.”
Jones laughed. “Free? Then why are you still here? Why aren’t you on a ship back home?”
“You know why! I have no money.”
“And we own you, until you can pay yourself free, we own you.”
“Nay, no one owns me. I’m a free man.”
“And I tell you you’re but a slave,” Jones hissed.

Matthew punched him straight into the face, having the distinct pleasure of hearing the cartilage in Jones’ nose crack. That was really the last thing he observed clearly, then it was all hands and feet, and the sting of the leather crop. He heard Jones call men to him and Matthew had the shirt torn from his back, he was thrown face down onto the ground and then there was the snap of leather that came down time and time again on his bared skin. One of his arms was twisted up behind his back, and in his ear he heard Jones’ heavy breathing.
“So, what are you?”
“A free man,” Matthew gasped. The pressure on his arm was tearing at his tendons.
“What are you?”
Bend! Alex shrieked in his head, for God’s sake Matthew, bend. But he didn’t want to, he had to salvage some pride, and the pain in his shoulder increased to the point where he knew it would soon be dislocated.
“What are you?” Jones hissed again, throwing his considerable weight against Matthew’s trapped arm. Matthew groaned. Please! Alex cried, please, Matthew, for me. Don’t let him maim you for life, my love, please! In his fuddled state Matthew wasn’t sure if she was here for real, or if it was a hallucination, but the despair in her voice rang through his head.
“I’m a slave,” Matthew mumbled, closing his eyes so that he might still see Alex, not the red earth an inch from his nose.
“What? I didn’t hear you.”
“I’m a slave,” Matthew mumbled again.
“Say it out loud.” Jones heaved Matthew to his feet. “Look at all the men before you and say it.” To his everlasting shame, Matthew did as he was told.
“I am a slave,” he said, repeating it time and time again until Jones released him to tumble to the ground.

He lay where he had fallen, and around him he heard the sound of people moving off, leaving him to lie unaided. No one dared to touch him, lest Jones should vent his anger on them as well, and Matthew found himself staring at his hand, so close to his face. He didn’t want to move. He no longer wanted to live.
“Please let me die. Sweetest Lord, just let me die.” He closed his eyes, and in his mind he saw Hillview, he saw a wee lad running up the lane to meet him, and there she was, laughing and crying at the same time, her skirts bunched high as she flew towards him, and he knew that of course he couldn’t die. He owed it to Alex to stay alive; he owed it to himself.

The loyal bastard – of James FitzJames Stuart

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James FitzJames, Duke of Berwick

In November of last year, that most famous of Spanish grandees, the Duchess of Alba, died. At the time of her death, this the most titled of all aristocrats in Europe was 88 years old, leaving behind six children, nine grandchildren and a couple of great grandchildren. And, of course, the ancient duchy of Alba, the Jacobite title Duke of Berwick and the duchies of Liria and Xérica, in her family since the 17th century. Plus a lineage tracing all the way back to the hereditary High Stewards of Scotland.

This is where my interest was tweaked. The Spanish Duchess’ full name was María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva (a mouthful I bet her mother NEVER used when she was calling for her daughter), and it is in particular the Fitz-James Stuart that I was aiming to talk about today. You see, the late duchess (and now, of course, her son) are descendants to the last Stuart king of England, James II.

Like his older brother, James liked the ladies. He was especially fond of Arabella Churchill, a lady with whom he had a long-standing relationship. Arabella was considered plain, and it was with great joy her relatives – including her father, Sir Winston Churchill, not to be confused with the Winston Churchill – received the news that this tall, pale young lady had attracted the interest of the flamboyant (and married) Duke of York, a.k.a. James Stuart, soon to be James II. At the time, the Churchill family fortunes were at something of an ebb, so maybe Arabella was considered a stepping stone upwards. Whatever the case, Arabella was given a position as lady in waiting to Anne, Duchess of York, thereby ensuring she was on hand to satisfy her lover’s whims.

I’m not so sure how poor wife Anne felt about this arrangement – especially not when Arabella went on to present James with a healthy son, something Anne had failed at doing. Maybe Anne was counting on James tiring of Arabella, but he seems to have been quite fond of his plain mistress – if nothing else he stayed around long enough to leave her with four children over seven years. (but by then Anne was dead, having given birth to eight children of which “only” two girls survived)

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James II

James Sr, Duke of York, may have had many faults – and while I am of the opinion that he has been much maligned, I’m not sure this post will benefit from an in-depth perusal into James II as king (if interested in my opinions on this matter, why not visit here?) – but he seems to have been a good father, genuinely fond of his children. Like his brother, he also recognised and cared for his bastards, and little James, siblings Henrietta, Henry and Arabella, grew up in material comfort.

Little James was born in 1670 in France. His mother had apparently been sent off to birth her child somewhat discreetly, although why there should be any need for secrecy at this point is beyond me. After all, everyone knew the Duke of York enjoyed Arabella’s B & B (body & bed) on a regular basis, just as everyone knew he also had other ladies he kept happy.

Whatever the case, James Jr was born, and things were a bit sticky for a while, seeing as James Sr was presently wrestling with his conscience – he had recently converted to the Catholic faith, but at Charles II’s behest he had not gone public with his change of faith.

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Arabella

In 1673, the Duke of York’s conversion became public knowledge, and in that same year James Sr married a Catholic princess, Mary of Modena. What Arabella might have thought is not recorded, but despite his new wife James still visited her regularly, as evidenced by their last child born in 1674. After this, Arabella went on to marry elsewhere and have more babies. James was also to have many, many more babies with his new wife – sadly, of all these infants (ten or so) only two survived beyond early childhood.

It was James’ wish that his children with Arabella be raised as Catholics, which was why little James and his younger brother Henry were educated in France, seeing their father only intermittently. Not only did James Sr want a Catholic son, he wanted a son educated in the fine art of warfare – James himself was a capable leader of men – and so a very young James Jr accompanied the Duke of Lorraine to Hungary, there to besiege Buda. At the time, the lad was only sixteen, but his age did not inure him from action, so he ended up wounded. He was also present when Buda finally fell, and took part in the resulting sacking, returning to France somewhat richer than he’d set out.

By now, James Jr was the eldest bastard son of a crowned king, his father having succeeded to the crown of England in 1685. To do right by his son, James II created him Duke of Berwick, and also gave him a senior command in his army – a position John Churchill, the future Earl of Marlborough and James Jr’s maternal uncle, had his eyes on.

As we all know, James II’s reign was destined to be short and troubled. His faith was a constant cause for controversy, and when his wife was brought to bed of a healthy son, a future Catholic heir to the crown, the powerful Protestant lords were less than pleased and decided it was time to act.

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Mary of Modena and her precious son

Personally, I think the birth of James Francis Edward Stuart was an excuse – opposition to James II’s policies had been brewing for quite some time, and many were those who’d lost loved ones in the brutal aftermath of the Monmouth Rebellion, a foiled attempt by Charles II’s bastard (but Protestant) son to claim the throne.

In 1688, James Jr was in England at his father’s side when things started to go seriously pear-shaped. Baby James Francis Edward had been born in June, and some weeks later those (in) famous seven Protestant Lords had sent a letter to William III, Prince of Orange and ruler of the United Provinces (present day Netherlands, more or less), inviting him to come to England and replace James II.

Hmm, one might think. Hmm, William III probably thought, seeing as not only was he James II’s nephew, he was also married to James II’s daughter. Problem was, until the birth of little James Francis Edward, William III had been quite comfortable in the knowledge that at some point the crown of England would come to him – well, to his obedient wife – thereby giving him the power base he required to keep Catholic France under control.

William III decided to invade England, and was welcomed by his supporters. James Jr stood by his father – watched him struggle with despair, no doubt – but late in 1688 James FitzJames fled to France, as did his father. The bastard son of a king was reduced to being the bastard son of an exile – not the best of career developments.

James FitzJames did his best for his father, playing an important role in the failed attempt to regain James II’s throne through Ireland in 1690. He was wounded and almost killed at The Battle of the Boyne, and in 1691 he was back in France, determined to make a life for himself the only way he could – by his sword.

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James FitzJames

Over the coming years, James FitzJames built a reputation as a good officer, a fearless leader of men. Fighting for the French, he had occasion to stand on opposing sides to his maternal kin, was at some point even captured by one of his Churchill uncles, but was quickly exchanged for an English Duke. By 1695, James FitzJames had been formally attainted, his English titles stripped from him. He retaliated by sneaking into England in 1696, where he attempted to foment a rebellion against William III. Didn’t work.

Europe at the time was at war – well, a more or less constant state for this poor continent. In the first decade of the 18th century, the Spanish War of Succession broke out, with on the one side, the Dutch and English teaming up to support the Austrian candidate to the Spanish throne, while on the other side the French allied with the Spanish Bourbon king.

James FitzJames saw plenty of action, and in 1706 he led the French army to a decisive victory over the allied English-Dutch forces (ironically lead by a Frenchman). By then, James was a French Field Marshal. The victory at the Battle of Alamanza elevated him to the peerage, both in France, where he was given the title of Duc de Fitz-James, but also in Spain, where he was awarded two duchies, thenceforth to be known as the Duque de Liria y Xérica. The bastard-born boy had made good, so to say, heaped with honours and riches that far exceeded those English titles stripped from him by William III.

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Honora de Burgh

James had not only been busy on the battle field. He’d married twice, first Honora de Burgh, the pretty widow of his Irish friend and comrade-in-arms, Patrick Sarsfield, then Anne Bulkeley, daughter to fellow English exile (and former Master of the Household to both Charles II and James II) Henry Bulkeley. Where his father had been singularly unlucky when it came to the fertility of his wives, James FitzJames was father to close to a dozen legitimate children, of which six were boys.

The Battle of Alamanza determined the Spanish war, but generals and kings being what they are, the war ground on a further number of years until our James stormed Barcelona in 1714. With the exception of some skirmish in 1718, James was now free to sit about and enjoy his wife and family – and riches. Not everyone agreed. In fact, one angry young man felt entitled to demand FitzJames’ services.

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The Old Pretender, James Francis Edward, when young

Had James’ younger half-brother and namesake had his way, James FitzJames would have led the Jacobite Rising in 1715, his fame as a military leader ensuring the disgruntled Scotsmen flocked to his banner. FitzJames refused. Far too pragmatic to see any possibility of victory, he told his young brother to forget the venture. James Francis Edward would ever after blame the failure of the rising on his half-brother, a convenient way of exonerating himself, I believe.

Men who live by the sword have a tendency to die by the sword, and FitzJames was to be no exception. In 1733, he was requested to lead the Army of the Rhine in the War of Polish Succession. At the time, he was sixty-three, too old, one would have thought, to clamber atop a horse and set off to do battle so far from home. The powers that were thought differently, so off James went, and in keeping with his track record he was just as successful here as he’d been in Spain. Until that June day in 1734 when he decided to inspect the siege works and was decapitated by a cannon ball, that is.

Upon FitzJames’ abrupt death, his sons took over his titles. His eldest son, by Honora de Burgh, took over the Spanish titles, as well as FitzJames’ original style of Duke of Berwick. His second son, firstborn in his marriage to Anne Bulkeley, took over the French title, which lived on well into the 20th century before it became extinct. The Spanish branch, however, lives on, as hale as ever.

By the time of his death, James FitzJames had more than overcome the stigma of his illegitimate birth. A respected soldier, a wealthy man, he was first and foremost a man of honour, the son who stuck with his father through thick and thin. Not a quality he shared with his two older half-sisters, both of whom contributed to James II’s fall. Ironically, neither of those sisters would leave a living heir (divine retribution?), and as to James Francis Edward, his line died out with his sons. And so, just like with Charles II, James II’s present day descendants all come from the wrong side of the blanket. I’m thinking that if James FitzJames was sitting atop my particular branch of the family tree, I’d be proud – very proud, even. I guess the Duke of Alba is.

Love is king!

R&R webstamp smallI am a sucker for love. As a consequence, I cannot imagine writing a book that does not contain a sizeable portion of love – albeit that I generally avoid the mandatory complications of a romance as it drives me CRAZY when he and she are torn apart, both of them believing the other no longer cares for them. (This is when I will peek at the ending, needing reassurance. Idiotic, I know, as a romance also should have a happy ending, but just in case I check) My characters are often torn away from each other, but at least they have the comfort of knowing that somewhere their man/woman still loves them, will do anything to see them safe.

When I began writing The Graham Saga – years ago – I had in my head a laughing young woman named Alex Lind with short curly hair and deep blue eyes. She was wearing jeans and red Converse – which was a major problem, as my novel was set in the 17th century. Hmm. Maybe I should save this apparition for another book. The shadowy man who was to be the protagonist of the series, Matthew Graham, shook his head. His eyes were glued to the laughing woman, at present dancing on the spot to “It’s Raining Men.
“I want her,” he said.
“But she’s not from your time,” I protested, looking at him.
Matthew leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. His hitherto so vague form was suddenly fleshing out, bright hazel eyes meeting mine as he jerked his dark head in the direction of the woman.
“It’s her or no one.” He went back to staring at her, a smile tugging at his long mouth. No matter that his linen shirt was worn and dirty, that his breeches had seen far better days, and that he was in serious need of a bath and a shave, he looked quite mouth-watering – but unfortunately (or not: after all, I am happily married and Matthew Graham doesn’t exist – or maybe he does) his attention was riveted on her, this as yet unknown Alex.
“But…”
“You heard me,” he said, beginning to fade away, all six feet and plus of him.
“Stop!” I yelled. “I’ll think of something.”
“You do that.” He gave me an encouraging smile.

Obviously, Matthew was smitten. A serious case of what the French call a coup de foudre, love at first sight. Some people scoff at the idea of something as ridiculous as immediate love, but personally I am not that sure. I believe some of us are lucky enough to meet the one and only, and the moment our eyes connect, we are done for.

As all of us know, there’s a major difference between saying “I’m in love with you” and saying “I love you”. The first statement describes a heady phase, no more, but if we’re lucky it morphs into the permanence exuded by the last statement, a commitment that extends – potentially – over a lifetime. It requires guts to love with all your heart. It leaves you very vulnerable, which is why wounds to the heart take such a long time to heal. But there is nothing as wonderful, as empowering and as liberating as to love someone unconditionally. It gives us strength when we need it the most, it gives us wings and allows us to soar. No wonder I’m a sucker for love…

One day, Alex-in-my-head caught sight of Matthew. He was presently fleeing for his life, scrambling up a dilapidated ladder to hide behind a crumbling chimney. Dogs bayed, horses snorted, and the loud voice of the officer called his men to order, instructing them to find the fugitive and apprehend him.
“Fugitive?” Alex whispered, leaning forward.
“He’s just escaped from prison,” I explained, throwing a worried look at one of the soldiers who was studying the ladder.
“Is he a criminal?” She didn’t seem too bothered by the notion, incapable of tearing her eyes away from Matthew’s crouched body.
“No. But I’ll let him explain it to you in person.”
“You will?” She gave me a brilliant smile. “Now?”
“He’s sort of busy at present,” I pointed out. To my horror, the roof gave way, and a surprised Matthew was sucked into the house.
“Fix it,” Alex told me. “Make sure he makes it out okay.” Blue eyes hovered uncomfortably close to mine. “It’s him or no one.”
“He’s in the 17th century!” I protested.
“Well, then put me there as well. He needs me!” Her face softened. “And I need him,” she added in an undertone, “I’ve needed him since well before I was born.”

Turns out Matthew and Alex were right. They were born three centuries apart, they should never have met, and yet they are each other’s missing half. Without her, he would be diminished. Without him, she wouldn’t quite know how to breathe. And no matter that by now they are well past their youth, the fire between them still burns, still scorches their hearts – as can be proved by the excerpt below from Revenge and Retribution, the sixth book in The Graham Saga.

(As the excerpt opens, Alex is struggling with nightmares – has been doing so for days – in which the son she left behind in the future is taunting her, telling her everything in her 17th century life is nothing but a dream…)

No, Alex moaned, no, it isn’t a dream! Not my Matthew, not my sons and daughters. A dream, Isaac repeated, his dark eyes suddenly cold and hard. A dream, your life is a dream, he whispered, laughing gratingly.
“No!” Alex shrieked out loud, was awake for a moment with her heart in her mouth and then was dragged inexorably back under.

“Alex?” Hands holding, shaking gently, lips that brushed her forehead. “Alex, my heart.”
A dream, a dream, nothing but a dream. He doesn’t exist, this man of yours. Isaac giggled maliciously.
But he did. Alex struggled back into the light, and the man holding her was solid under her hands, his concerned eyes a gold-flecked green in the light of the candle he had lit.
“Matthew?”
“Aye, Matthew, that’s me, lass.”

Alex struggled to sit, her sweat-drenched shift sticking to her skin. Matthew handed her a mug of cider, helping her to hold it steady. She blinked, trying to clear her mind of the fragmented images of Isaac. Jesus, I’m going insane, she thought. She drained the mug and with trembling hands began to undo the laces of her chemise.
“Let me,” Matthew said. He got her out of the sopping garment, and found a towel to pat her dry with, sitting with her shivering, naked body on his lap. She curled into him, her arms tight around his neck, and he ran his warm hands up and down her bare skin, crooning her name in a hoarse, breaking voice.
“I’m not sure,” she groaned. “Are you for real? Or are you the dream?”
“I’m no dream,” he whispered back, “nor am I a ghost. I’m here, now, and so are you. It’s the others that don’t exist, Alex. It is them that are the dream.”
“A nightmare,” she said against his chest, “not a dream, never a dream. A black hole of loneliness. An absolute freezing emptiness.”
“Ah, lass.” Matthew kissed the top of her head and gathered her to him. Alex needed him even closer, pulling at his shirt, his breeches in a frenzied attempt to get at his skin, his warmth. Yes, oh yes, he was real, and Alex sighed when he laid her back naked against the pillows.

Her skin sizzled under his hands. A long, strong finger followed the curve of her hip, and she imagined she could see the blisters popping up in its wake as searing heat flew like a shadow behind his digit. Beneath her skin, blood called to blood, and when his fingers manacled her wrist, she was entirely taken over by his beat. Strong it flowed into her, demanding it drove her pulse before it, and Alex no longer knew where she ended and he began.

The candle on the chest gasped, shrinking down to a weak blue glow before it flared back into life, this time a long, dancing flame that backlit them against the wainscoting that adorned the walls. At a remove, she could feel the stubble on his unshaven cheek against the tender skin of her thighs, her belly. He dragged his face across her, and she arched herself against him, because he was hers and she was his and she was very much alive. The soft warmth of his lips; his hot breath in her ear, down her neck, on her chest; his hands with those long, dexterous fingers…Her breasts in his grip, and when he slid down to kiss her, she sank her fingers into his hair and called his name.

“Matthew,” she said to the night air. “My Matthew.” Of course she would die if she were dragged back in time – how could she survive with half of her yanked out? And he, she saw in his eyes, he would dwindle and die as well. Bit by bit, the fire in him would falter and go out, and he would float away like top soil in a drought.

He cupped her buttocks and lifted her closer to his mouth, and she no longer thought, she simply was, awash with colours and sensations that flowed from her curled toes to the tip of her ears.
“Oh God,” she groaned, and her hands gripped at his head, his hair. “Ah!” she said, and Matthew’s muffled laughter ran like a vibration up her spine.
He raised himself up, used his knees to widen her thighs, and leaned forward to kiss her as he thrust himself into her. “Mine,” he said into her ear. “Only and forever mine.”

She clenched herself around him in response, her legs coming up to hold him in place. He kissed her again, and she tasted herself on his lips and the skin round his mouth. She clung to him, refusing to release him. Glued from hip to chest bone they lay, scarcely moving, and in the wavering candlelight, his eyes were black as they stared down at her. She made a demanding movement with her hips. With tantalising slowness, he moved, and she groaned out loud.
“I burn,” she said hoarsely. “All of me is burning.” And she was, consumed alive by a fire that he expertly stoked and throttled, fed, banked and finally let go, riding her until she cried his name out loud and sank her teeth into his shoulder.

They lay face to face, knees against knees, and noses almost touching. Matthew smoothed back the hair that lay stuck to her damp cheek and tugged gently at her bared ear.
“Alright then?”
Alex nodded. God, she was tired – in a way she hadn’t been since well before the incidents down at the meeting house. For the first time in days, her brain was free of any images but those of him, the pictures and people of a long gone future receding grumbling to slither down her brainstem and pop into non-existence.

“Hold me,” she whispered, and he rolled her over to fit against him. His hand came round to cup her breast, and Alex relaxed in his warmth. She yawned, wide enough to crack her jaws, and with a little grunt closed her eyes.
“I love you,” she said through yet another yawn. She covered his hand with her own, one finger on his wrist to feel his reassuring pulse.
“I adore you,” he replied.
Alex didn’t hear. She was already drifting into sleep. But she knew all the same.

Mr Fancy-pants and the silver throne – the life of a Swedish nobleman

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Ebba Brahe

Once upon a time there was a young king who fell in love with a pretty little lady named Ebba. The king was over the moon, little Ebba was dazzled, and the Queen Mother was having none of it. Her precious son, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, needed a dynastic marriage, not some sort of tender love match with insignificant Ebba Brahe.
Gustavus Adolphus was adamant: he loved Ebba. The Queen Mother, turned her attention on poor Ebba.
“He can’t marry you,” she told Ebba brusquely. “And besides, you’d be terribly unhappy as queen.”
“I would?” said little Ebba who loved her dashing young king to bits.
“You would.” The Queen Mother leaned closer. “You’d have me to deal with – every day.” She smiled – a rather terrifying sight displaying most of her teeth and no warmth whatsoever.

Even the strongest of resolve crumbles under the unrelenting attack of a woman as determined as the Queen Mother. Soon enough, Ebba was quilling Gustavus Adolphus a long letter in which she told him she could not be the recipient of all his love – she was unworthy and he needed a better wife. I can imagine just how much Gustavus Adolphus cursed his mother, but this time Ebba would not be budged: she had been made to see reason.

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Jacob De la Gardie

A love story crushed in the bud, and Gustavus Adolphus went on to marry Maria Eleonora – and a rather unhappy marriage that was – while Ebba Brahe was rewarded for listening to the Queen Mother by being married off to up-and-coming Jacob De la Gardie. I wonder, at times, if the Queen Mother did not come to regret her meddling. Gustavus Adolphus’ wife never gave him a son. Ebba bore Jacob fourteen children, many of them boys. Several of these childen died young, but one of them, Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, grew up to be one of Queen Kristina’s favourite courtiers, which led to riches and extensive land-holdings and a fancy marriage and… In brief, Magnus Gabriel took the silver spoon he was born with and converted it into a full set of silver cutlery.

To start at the beginning, little Magnus Gabriel was born in 1622 in Reval (present day Tallinn). His father was the Governor of the region, a most able royal servant that along the way added estates and further riches to his wealth. Magnus Gabriel was the eldest, the heir, and as such he was subjected to an extensive and thorough education. Expectations were that Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie would not only follow in his proud father’s footsteps, but preferably make his own imprints bigger and deeper.

Success was important for the De la Gardie family: Jacob’s father had been a French mercenary who through a fluke of luck – and considerable skill – built himself quite the career in Sweden. These relatively unimpressive roots made both Jacob – and later on Magnus Gabriel – somewhat sensitive regarding the issue of their ancestry.

Anyway; our young lordling was not only extremely handsome, he was also a gifted young man, eager to study and learn. In this he resembled Sweden’s young queen, Christina, who was much taken with this dashing young courtier of hers, only four years older and in no way related to her by blood, ergo a potential husband.

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Maria Eufrosyne

There has been much speculation whether Christina ever had any deeper feelings for Magnus Gabriel. She seems to have had something of a crush on Carl Gustav, her cousin, but in general Christina’s relationship with men never went beyond the odd flirtation, and when it comes to Magnus Gabriel, we know from letters he wrote that very early on he fell in love elsewhere – with Christina’s cousin no less, the elegant Maria Eufrosyne (sister to the flighty Eleanor, heroine of this post).

Magnus de la Gardie

Magnus Gabriel

Whatever the case, Christina made Magnus Gabriel her own special favourite – even more so when he returned after four years on the continent, brimming with newly acquired knowledge and cultural finesse. De la Gardie had spent considerable time in France, and could therefore not only regale Christina with stories about Paris, but also came with various suggestions as to how to modernize Christina’s court, make it more dazzling, more fun, more erudite, more…French. His fellow courtiers groaned – especially when Christina went all wild and crazy about ballets, roping them all in to caper about in one production after the other.

Everything Magnus Gabriel did, he did with style. His clothes were the most elegant, his boots the best polished, his servants the cleanest, his gifts the most lavish. His family had the wherewithal to fund all these excesses, and it didn’t exactly hurt that Christina heaped him with more land, more possessions. As icing on De la Gardie’s cake, in 1647, Christina arranged a wedding between Magnus Gabriel and his beloved Maria Eufrosyne, and the grandson of a French mercenary had thereby hit the jackpot, marrying into the royal family.

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The happy couple

Needless to say, the wedding was a grand – and stylish – affair. The groom was ardently in love, the bride – to judge from her future correspondence – was pretty taken with her new husband, but despite all this initial attraction the marriage was not destined to be an entirely happy one. Poor Maria Eufrosyne was destined to birth eleven children, of which only three survived.

Magnus Gabriel was made a Privy Councillor and was called away to serve with his new brother-in-law, Karl Gustav, in the final years of the Thirty Years’ War. In 1648, Magnus was made general, and it was as a general he took part in the conquest of Prague – and the sacking that followed. Magnus was generously rewarded for his participation.

In 1650, Queen Christina decided it was about time she was crowned. Interestingly enough, she was already toying with the idea of abdicating, being of the opinion that women were not cut out to be rulers, but apparently Christina felt entitled to a major party first. She planned a grand affair, with interminable processions, wine spouting from fountains, innumerable roasted animals to be served to the celebrating populace, fantastic clothes and pageantry.

Magnus Gabriel was entrusted to carry the royal banner before his queen, and so enthused was he by the whole occasion that he decided it required something special, a je-ne-sais-quoi, which was why he commissioned a throne in silver to be presented to his queen. Christina was delighted. The throne was elegant and ostentatious at the same time, an indication of just how rich our Magnus was – richer, even, than the queen, some said.

So the lady was crowned, all the while considering just how to arrange her abdication. There may have been days when she regretted expressing her intention to her Council, but Christina had passed beyond the point of no return when she secretly arranged for a Portuguese Jesuit in disguise, a certain Macedo, to carry a personal letter from her to the Pope regarding her planned conversion to the Catholic faith.

Stop, stop, stop! A Swedish Queen, head of the Swedish protestant Church, colluding with a cloak-and-dagger Jesuit? Major scandal – potentially devastating scandal, even for a reigning queen. And why this desire to convert to begin with? Well, the answer to that we will never know, but we know for a fact that Christina was educated by a very open-minded gentleman named Johannes Matteus, who, contrary to most of his contemporaries, preached tolerance among the Christian faiths.

And then there was the charming French ambassador Chanut, who introduced Christina to Catholic thinkers such as Descartes, and who very early on began fanning her interest in the Catholic faith. Plus, of course, the Pope did his thing, sending yet another undercover Jesuit to discuss Christina’s conversion. In actual fact, most of the important potentates within Catholic Europe seemed aware of her interest in the old faith, with Felipe IV of Spain sending a dashing ambassador to further the cause of the righteous.

Antonio_Pimentel

Don Antonio Pimentel

Don Antonio Pimentel de Prado arrived in Stockholm in 1652. He was witty, he was educated, he was charming and bright, and he buzzed round the queen as eagerly as a happy bumblebee circles a stand of clover. Long, secret discussions about Catholicism, about what future role Christina would play, took place. Endless musings about the relative benefits of Catholicism vs Protestantism, accompanied, I’m thinking, by excellent Spanish wife (except that Christina didn’t drink – she stuck to water).

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Christina

For a woman in love with culture, with the fine arts, with opulence and pageantry, the orthodox Swedish Lutheran Church must have felt like a gigantic yoke. For a woman who loved being admired and complimented on her intellect, all these charming Catholic ambassadors were quite the intoxicant. And when charming, libertine Pierre Bourdelot arrived to take up the role of the queen’s physician, things became even livelier. It didn’t help that Magnus Gabriel – her peacock in residence – had been taken seriously ill, thereby spending several months away from court. Without flamboyant Magnus Gabriel to balance the attraction of these Catholic Don Juans, Christina became even more determined not only to abdicate, but also to convert.

Magnus Gabriel returned to court to find his previous position as favourite usurped by a Spanish ambassador dandy and a French doctor. He was not happy, muttering something about Catholic sycophants. He sulked, he whined, and after a rather embarrassing situation in which he told the queen “someone” had told him she suspected him of treason – a pack of lies – the queen sent him home, refusing to have any further contact with him. Magnus Gabriel was devastated. He begged, he wheedled, he sent his wife and mother to the queen, he beseeched Karl Gustav to speak on his behalf, and all this had zero effect. Christina was royally pissed off with her former favourite – and all too aware that there were very many among her nobles who, just like Magnus Gabriel, distrusted her Catholic friends.

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Karl X Gustav

Fortunately for Magnus Gabriel, in 1654 Christina pushed her abdication through and left Sweden. In her stead, Magnus Gabriel’s brother-in-law Karl Gustav ascended the throne, having been hastily crowned immediately upon Christina’s formal abdication. Magnus Gabriel was in the clover, a boon companion to the king, holder of so many offices he’d have needed like ten modern-day business cards to present them all. However, Karl X Gustav was not quite as generous when it came to handing over estates to his favourites, and the state of the Swedish finances was dire – Christina had little interest in numbers – so Magnus Gabriel’s purse did not exactly grow fatter.

Not that Magnus Gabriel seemed to care overmuch about balancing his books. His expenses constantly exceeded his incomes – a feat in itself as this man was loaded with estates. But Magnus Gabriel believed in noblesse oblige – well, at least when it came to appearances – and besides, he was married to the king’s sister, and of course that meant he had to live in style. Magnificent style. Exorbitant style, with over 1 000 people employed to see to his mansions and palaces, his farms and towns, his food and clothes.

To be fair to Magnus Gabriel, he didn’t only invest in his own luxurious lifestyle. He gave generously to such institutions as Uppsala University, promoted architects and artists, initiated the World’s first National Heritage organization (17th century Swedes were very eager to promote their illustrious ancient roots, trying to link us back to Noah and the ancient isle of Atlantis) and he personally paid to bring back treasures such as the Silver Bible, which Christina had carried with her abroad and sold. (And yes, the Silver Bible, or Codex Argentus, really belongs in Prague, from which the rampaging Swedish soldiers stole it back in 1648, but this is an infected debate I prefer to side-step)

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Karl XI

Karl X Gustav died most unexpectedly in 1660. Sweden was left in shock – the king who had led his army across the frozen straits to defeat the Danes, who had covered the Swedish Army in glory (well…) in the final years of the Thirty Years’ War was killed by pneumonia, and the crown now passed to a child, little Karl XI.

Magnus Gabriel was named Lord High Chancellor in Karl X Gustav’s will and as such was a member of the council which ruled Sweden under Karl XI’s minority. A dog fight ensued among the powerful nobles that sat on the council – and their wives, as represented by the rather tasteless shoving match between Maria Eufrosyne and another lady at Karl X Gustav’s funeral. The ladies had different opinions as to who was the most important…

The regency period was fraught, with the council divided by those who supported Magnus Gabriel, and those who opposed his policy of waging more wars and always siding with France. Plus there was the sensitive matter of Magnus Gabriel’s overextended finances and his tendency to now and then stick his hand in the till and award himself a royal donation or two to tide him over a personal financial crisis.

Karl XI came of age, and Magnus Gabriel remained at his side, a valued counsellor as per the king. Hmm. Not everyone agreed, and when Magnus Gabriel’s aggressive policy exploded into yet another war with Denmark, there were mutterings of High Treason – accusations that were dismissed as unfounded.

No, Magnus Gabriel was not a traitor – but he was a wastrel, a man who borrowed money everywhere and never repaid his debts. Unfortunately, his relaxed attitude to finances had led to an almost bankrupt kingdom, and the war with Denmark was the final nail in the coffin. Something had to be done – and quickly – to save Karl XIs kingdom.

The answer was simple – and so painful for the Swedish nobility that to this day The Reduction is remembered as one of the more drastic measures ever implemented by a king. What Karl XI did was simply to reclaim all lands the Crown had gifted to the nobles. All. Personal fortunes disappeared with the stroke of a quill, and in Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie’s case, he lost more or less everything he had – including the lands he’d inherited from his father and grandfather, seeing as these had also been gifts from the Crown.

The richest man in Sweden, proud owner of a number of castles and palaces, benefactor of the arts, was sent off to live out the rest of his life on one of his smaller manors, where he died in 1686, substantially poorer than when he was born. Those footsteps he was destined to fill and make bigger, had if anything shrunk, and the De la Gardie family was never to regain its former glory. Easy come, easy go, one could say: once upon a time a French mercenary landed in Sweden and made it good. Two generations later it was all gone.

ThroneSwedenSo ends the story of Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, that flashiest of Swedish noblemen. His castles are gone, his bloodline extinct, but that silver throne – well, it still exists! These days, however, it is too fragile to do more than decorative duty while our monarch sits on another chair beside it. Me, when I stand before it, I see a man with a blond mane down to his shoulders, his bucket-topped boots polished to perfection, his breeches and short padded jacket an orgy in gold-embroidered velvet. He is smiling at his queen, bowing deeply as she sits on the chair he made for her – only for her.

Meet my main character

I have been tagged by the talented M.J.Logue in a Meet My Main Character bloghop, giving me a golden opportunity to introduce you to Adam de Guirande, protagonist of my upcoming series set in 14th century England. As an aside, it is interesting to note that M.J.Logue’s Hollie Babbitt lives through times of uncertainty and fear (his story is set during the English Civil War) very much because of an inept king. My Adam has the same problem – a kingdom with a weak leader is a kingdom that quickly sinks into the quagmires of rebellion and unrest.

Adam de Guirande is very much a creation of my fertile mind, but the historical events he lives through are anything but, a mere decade in which England was rocked by a power struggle of gigantic proportions between Edward II and his disgruntled barons.

Adam was unfortunate in his parents, but was luckier in his lord. A young Baron Mortimer discovers a badly beaten Adam one night at Ludlow Castle, and decides to take the lad into his household, first as a rather scruffy page, then as a somewhat more useful squire, and, finally, as a belted knight – Mortimer’s man through and through.

Being Mortimer’s man in the early 1320s come with its drawbacks – like being honour-bound to participate in a rebellion against the king that eventually fails. In consequence, things very quickly spiral out of control for Adam and his wife, Kit.

Very briefly, Edward II had problems with his barons for most of his reign, to a large extent due to his tendency to fall under the sway of one male favourite after the other. In many ways a tragic figure, Edward II was a man whose many talents did not include kingship, and he made quite the mess out of things – further exacerbated by his Plantagenet temper and his disregard for promises made to his barons.

When my story opens, Edward II has a close relationship with the Despensers – father and son, plus the wife of the son, who also happens to be Edward’s niece. The Despensers and the Mortimers are implacable enemies, out to feather their nest at each other’s expense. Hugh Despenser and Roger Mortimer are both extremely capable, both intelligent and ambitious. In many ways, they’re both ideal royal servants, but instead of harnessing them to his cause, Edward II offers preferment to Despenser – now and then at the expense of Mortimer.

Mortimer doesn’t trust Hugh Despenser further than he can throw him – a sentiment returned in full. After a year of provocation, Mortimer has had enough, and at the head of an army of disgruntled barons, he mows through Despenser land, creating havoc as he goes. He rides all the way to London, where his camped army is a sufficient deterrent for Edward II to agree to Mortimer’s terms which are, simply put, to pardon Mortimer for his rebellion and exile the Despensers.

At the time, Edward has no choice to comply, but as we all know, revenge is a dish best served cold, and Edward has no intention of letting Mortimer win. Ever. And so the stage is set, dear people, for a bloody conflict that will ravage England for years.

As I think you’ve gathered by now, Adam’s story involves a number of historical figures, first and foremost among them Baron Mortimer, Prince Edward, Queen Isabella and Hugh Despenser. But centre stage is taken by Adam himself, accompanied by his wife. Not that Adam particularly wants to take centre stage. In fact, Adam has no hunger for fame, no desire for more land – all he wants is to be left alone to live out his life in peace. Not about to happen when a kingdom is collapsing around you – even less so, if you’re as capable as Adam is, a natural leader of men.

In the Shadow of the Storm is the first of a planned trilogy about Adam and Kit. It is planned for publication late autumn 2015.

Well, that was a bit about my WIP. I would now like to pass the baton to Prue Batten (nice rhyme, hey?), Irina Shapiro, Linda Root, Paula Lofting and Barbara Gaskell Denvil.

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