When I was growing up, I loved Early Modern history so much, that I knew I wanted to be a historian very early on. As a romantic, shy girl, I loved the tragic story of Henrietta Maria and Charles I, and I swooned when I read about the dashing Cavaliers during the English Civil War. I daydreamed about Stuart men such as Rupert of the Rhine, the Duke of Monmouth, James II, and William III. I would blush at the bawdy poetry of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, and laugh with Molière's comedies. I adored The Three Musketeers, novels written by 19th-Century writer Alexandre Dumas. I was thirteen when the Leonardo DiCaprio version of The Man in the Iron Mask came out in theatres, and I was mesmerised by the dichotomy between Louis XIV’s opulent French Baroque court and the hard toil of the peasants.
As Louis XIV was enjoying his autocratic powers in France, across the Channel there was an equally fascinating royal line in England - the Stuarts. This tragic dynasty has fascinated me for years, but I never thought that my passion for their history would lead to my writing historical fiction. At first, writing evolved out sheer frustration. I had been working at a palace in London, and visitors would come up to me and ask questions about the history of the palace and the people who had once inhabited it. They were constantly getting Mary, Queen of Scots completely confused with Mary II, or trying to relate a room’s history to a Tudor, so that is what spurred me to write. I figured that more people want to read a fictionalised depiction rather than an academic study. That being said, I try to keep my work as historically accurate as possible, without bashing people on the head with historic details. But then I ran into the hurdle of the market…
I still find it really sad to get rejections from publishers with the line, “though your story seems very interesting, we cannot be sure we can successfully market a book set in the 17th-century or about the Stuarts” (!) What is it about the 17th-century that makes both readers and publishers go cold? I have asked, and it’s usually the following:
“The 17th-century is boring. Nothing cool ever happened in it.”
“I’m happy with the Tudors, nothing else can come close to them.”
Elizabeth I died in 1603, ending the Tudor dynasty and causing the Stuart dynasty in England to begin. No fewer than seventeen of Shakespeare’s plays debuted during the Seventeenth Century, and throughout the period there were massively important political changes. Some of the biggest consequences of the English Civil War were the beheading of King Charles I, the abolition of the monarchy and the Interregnum and Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell. Indeed, it is lamentable that the joy in life seems to have been sucked out of England during Cromwell’s time, and this decade of Puritanism has tainted the public’s perception of the whole century. For after Cromwell’s death, everything changed again during the Restoration of the monarchy: this period is full of colour, seduction, the arts flourished once again, and it’s just amazing to learn and write about. Boring? Nothing could be further from the truth!
The Tudors were indeed a fascinating lot, but their stories have been told – repeatedly. There are so many other interesting royal dynasties to read about, and the Stuarts are definitely one of them. The Stuarts – or Stewarts – were a Scottish dynasty, but my favourite part of their line is from James I-Anne I, and these people ruled during the Seventeenth Century. In these Stuarts, we see a great deal of family in-fighting: daughter against father, uncle against nephew, and they circled each other warily, and cruelly, at times. The ebullient Charles II is probably the most well-known of the Stuarts, and with good reason. His lust for life was rather endearing, and he is most famous for the many mistresses he had and the debauched court he presided over.
|James Scott, Duke of Monmouth|
Image credit: Philip Mould and Company
I recently gave a speech about the Duke of Monmouth at the site of his execution on Tower Hill, London. It was the 328th anniversary of his horrifically botched execution, and those who joined me were fascinated by this man’s colourful yet woeful story. I lay flowers upon the site of his execution and also upon his tomb inside the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, where he rests beside the remains of Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn. As I waited to go inside the chapel, some tourists asked why I had flowers. “For the Duke of Monmouth,” said I. “Who’s that?” they replied. Again it hit me how few people have even heard of Monmouth, of the Stuarts, of the people who helped shape the world we live in today.
|Lady Henrietta Wentworth|
Image Credit: National Portrait Gallery London
I will be releasing a historical horror novel for this Halloween, entitled, The Stuart Vampire, and hopefully in December or in 2014, my novel, William & Mary. Once those are completed, I will write about Rupert of the Rhine, and get back to dear Monmouth in a full-length novel prequel of His Last Mistress, which I hope to name, Jemmy.
If you’d like to learn more about this time and discover its rich music, history, literature, art, and more, please visit my website, The Seventeenth Century Lady.
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About the book
Set in the tumultuous late 17th Century, His Last Mistress tells the true story of the final years of James Scott, the handsome Duke of Monmouth, and his lover Lady Henrietta Wentworth.
As the illegitimate eldest son of King Charles II, the Duke is a spoiled, lecherous man with both a wife and a mistress. However, this rakish libertine is soon captivated by the innocence of young Lady Henrietta Wentworth, who has been raised to covet her virtue. She is determined to spurn his advances, yet she cannot deny the chemistry between them. Will she succumb? At the same time, the Duke begins to harbour risky political ambitions that may threaten not only his life but also that of those around him.
His Last Mistress is a passionate, sometimes explicit, carefully researched and ultimately moving story of love and loss, set against a backdrop of dangerous political unrest, brutal religious tensions, and the looming question of who will be the next King.