Friday, March 11, 2011
Why I Love Bess Blount by Diane Haeger
Delving into the lives of fabulous, powerful and complicated women from history— learning about what made them magnificent, and in some cases what brought about their downfall, then being able to bring those stories to life again... what’s not to love about a job like that? At the moment, what I love the most is the story of Bess Blount. Bringing her story to a new audience in my novel, The Queen’s Rival has been as fun and challenging as it has been inspiring to me personally.
The mother of Henry VIII’s only acknowledged natural son, I found Bess to be so much more than the simple footnote in the history books where she is most often found. And after all, she must have had something pretty extraordinary to have made Henry VIII honor her, and their son, as he did— even for a brief time, contemplate choosing her over Anne Boleyn.
Looking beyond that usually small historical footnote, her story might still seem only a simple coming-of-age tale— one of an idealistic young woman who is won over, and forever changed, by a handsome and very powerful married man who she knows will break her heart, yet one whom she is powerless to resist. But on a deeper level, as I began to write The Queen’s Mistake, and get to know Bess, I found I was dealing with far more complex themes– ones that I think are relevant even by today’s standards: a woman processing the heartbreak of her own lost innocence, and then actually surviving the greatest sacrifice, that of a mother for her child. What could change a woman’s perspective and her heart more than having to surrender her child? As a mother myself, that was the most complicated and emotional part of her life to tell– and trying to do it without getting mired in the tragedy but to fully show her triumphs as well, was a challenge. To me, Bess is the embodiment of an historical author’s dream character: beautiful, complicated, a bit naive in the beginning then— emboldened by heartbreak– ultimately triumphant.
I love Bess Blount also because I believe there is a little of her in all of us.
As Bess was, we women are sometimes faced with monumental choices. Like Bess, we can be wounded by them. Also like Bess Blount, we sometimes cannot help who we love, consequences be damned. But even through the worst chapters of our lives, with determination, we survive, and sometimes even thrive the low points— a little scarred perhaps, battle-weary certainly, but hopefully ultimately, triumphantly, as Bess did. In her story, her attraction to a young, handsome and charming Henry VIII put her on a path that might well have changed the course of English history. It was certainly my goal, and my passion, to show all of that to readers in The Queen’s Rival. No small task.
While Bess is my current love, she was certainly not my first.
My absolute passion for writing about these wonderfully rich characters, began many years (and twelve novels) ago with a very different woman, one who changed the direction of my own life. Quite by accident, I discovered the story of the bold and captivating French mistress of Henri II, Diane de Poitiers hidden in a magazine article about several famous mistresses. I remember thinking to myself, “She is being portrayed in very simple terms as a vixen, but that’s not how she strikes me at all. She certainly had to be far more complex than that.” Two weeks later, literally, I was off to France to learn about her, and I never looked back.
Four years after that, the wonderful adventure I had with Diane and Henri became my first novel, Courtesan. Prior to a few moments with that random magazine article, I was on an entirely different career path, half way through a doctoral program in clinical psychology. I had no idea at all back then that sharing those sorts of stories would one day become not only a vocation but my true passion, and that I would be able to use my clinical experience to flesh out what really made these women tick beneath all of that velvet and silk. I still wonder sometimes if I had not pondered over the way that article had portrayed a woman from history of whom I had never heard, how different my life might be today. Now Bess Blount has done for me what Diane de Poitiers did long ago. This legendary woman swept me up, took me off on an incredible journey to learn about her, and has yet to let go of my heart. Those are all the reasons I love Bess Blount, and I hope readers will agree.
Book Description of The Queen's Rival:
From the author of The Queen's Mistake comes the untold story of King Henry VIII's first well-known mistress.
As the beautiful daughter of courtiers, Elizabeth "Bessie" Blount is overjoyed when she secures a position as maid of honor to Katherine of Aragon. But when she captures the attention of the king himself, there are whispers that the queen ought to be worried for her throne.
When Bess gives birth to a healthy son the whispers become a roar. But soon the infamous Boleyn girls come to court and Henry's love for her begins to fade. Now, Bess must turn to her trusted friend, the illegitimate son of Cardinal Wolsey, to help her move beyond life as the queen's rival...