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Inspiration for Writing the She-Wolf Queen Trilogy – Carol McGrath

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During the English High Middle Ages of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries there was a succession of foreign queen consorts.  Some were honoured as the mothers of kings; others were also mothers of kings, but their reputations were tarnished in popular opinion for having too much influence on the politics of their day. These particular queen consorts earned the label ‘she-wolves’, a title  popularised by later historians such as the Victorian writer, Agnes Strickland.

 

Strickland used the term for Ailenor of Provence, married to Henry III at thirteen years old, and accused in her own lifetime of nepotism: of overinfluencing the religious Henry (who nonetheless also adored parties and a peaceful life) by placing her uncles from Savoy in high positions within the Church and government.

 

‘She-wolf’ was also used to describe  Eleanor of Castile, wed at only thirteen years to Edward I , a husband whom she adored and followed all over the land – even into war-torn Wales. Eleanor was accused by noblemen of greed and property acquisition by ‘determined’ – and sometimes unpopular – methods.

 

The final ‘she-wolf’ was Isabella of France, married at just twelve years old, who usurped her husband, Edward II, almost two decades later. She and her ally Mortimer ruled as regent for her son for five years. This is the stuff of Game of Thrones for real; who could resist such thrilling material to work with?

 

I was especially drawn to these three queen consorts because, with the exception of Isabella, their stories are rarely told in fiction. I also liked the synchronicity of mother-in-law, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law as concepts within the novels. These were characters worth bringing to life. Women, even medieval queens, tend to be only touched upon in primary source material. I felt my mission was to excavate the stories hidden within the source material, discover everything I could about their world, and animate their lives fully as possible in fiction, using the white spaces in-between that are not explored by historians.

 

My aim overall is to create an engaging story with characters whose fictional lives a reader wants to follow, to show a reader what these lives may have been and, importantly, to illustrate how these women used their queenly power to create impact on their world.  Where an historical record exists, I have respected it, but as a writer of historical fiction, the joy for me has been creating heroines and thrilling tales that, while keeping to the facts, are all written to appeal to the modern reader. This was an edgy period with its own fascinating moral compass and, as such, gripping.

 

The popularity of Arthurian legend during these centuries intrigued me. The era was famously the Age of Chivalry’, and I weave legend into the fabric of the narratives. The twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were famous for aspirational castle- and cathedral-building. Manor houses with beautiful, symbolic gardens existed all over the land. The medieval people adored gardens and orchards; not just for food production, herbs and fruits, but also for their flowers, such as roses and lilies. Also famous was the magnificent Opus Anglicanum embroidery: English embroidery worked with gold and silver threads and decorated with jewels for the creation of garments, hangings and church embroidery of fabulous value and beauty. It was for good reason that the thirteenth century is known as ‘the Magnificent Thirteenth Century’. This era saw stonecarving of exceptional quality and beauty gracing fortresses, place of worship and landscapes.

 

Each novel has a counterpoint heroine to provide further depth to the novels. For example, in The Silken Rose, a story of dangerous high politics, Rosalind, an embroideress is introduced. Her romantic story intersects with Queen Ailenor’s narrative. An herbalist, Olwen, is important in Eleanor of Castile’s story, The Damask Rose. Finally, in The Stone Rose, a female stonemason designs Queen Isabella’s tomb. Amazingly, this last is historical fact. Introducing the secondary stories enriches both my own  and a reader’s experience, drawing readers further into an ‘othered’ world, within which, I hope they lose themselves.

 

The Silken Rose, The Damask Rose and The Stone Rose are true stories, if a little embellished; of real queens who made a mark on English medieval history. As queens and as women they showed intelligence, independence and great determination during an age entirely dominated by male power. That, above all, is my inspiration for writing this trilogy.

 

 

 

 

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