Award-winning author of Farewell My Life writes a saga about the Yorks, Lancasters & Nevilles, whose family feud inspired Game of Thrones.
Thwarted Queen recently won an IPPY Gold Medal for the audiobook version!
Where to buy the Audio version of “Thwarted Queen”
Thwarted Queen is set in the hundred years that led up to the Reformation in England. During Cecylee’s lifetime from 1415 to 1495, the church in England was ruled by the Pope in Rome, as it had been for nearly one thousand years. The Wars of the Roses were therefore not about religion, for everyone worshipped in the same way.
Thwarted Queen naturally divides into four books. Book One: Rose of Raby is about Cecylee’s girlhood. Book Two: One Seed Sown is about her love-affair with Blaybourne. Book Three: Thwarted Queen is about Richard of York’s political career from 1445 to his death in 1460, and covers the opening of the Wars of the Roses. Book Four: Two Murders Reaped is about Cecylee’s actions in old age, and how she may have had a hand in the murder of the two little princes in the Tower. I used different points of view to convey mood and setting. Rose of Raby is written in first-person present to capture the freshness of a young girl’s voice. One Seed Sown is written in first-person past to make Cecylee seem older and more mature. Thwarted Queen had to be written in third-person to capture all of the different voices and the complexity of Richard’s political life. Two Murders Reaped is written in first person past, to capture the voice of the old woman that Cecylee became.
In thinking about Cecylee and what kind of person she must have been to have led the kind of life you have just read about, I decided I needed a heroine. I needed someone that Cecylee could emulate both as an impressionable young girl and as an older woman. I chose Queen Alainor of Aquitaine, known as Eleanor of Aquitaine to modern readers. She was a real person who lived between 1124 and 1204. Like Cecylee, she lived to a great age and was the mother of two Kings of England; Richard I Coeur de Lion (the Lionheart), who reigned from 1189 to 1199, and King John, who reigned from 1199 to 1216. She repeatedly broke the rules of what was considered seemly behavior for ladies. Her first act of independence came when she divorced her first husband – Louis VII of France – and married Henry Plantagenet, who became Henry II of England. Later on, after she inspired her sons to rebel against her husband, he locked her up for sixteen years. However, she outlived him, and was let out of prison by her son Richard I. She ruled England for King Richard during his many absences, and won a reputation for fair dealing and wise judgement at the many assizes she held throughout the country. I saw in her the perfect role model for the young and subversive Cecylee.
Why didn’t I choose Joan of Arc to be Cecylee’s heroine? Because she didn’t make her appearance until 1429, and the story of Cecylee’s girlhood in Thwarted Queen covers the years 1424-1425.
The most controversial part of Cecylee’s early life is her betrothal in October 1424. Most historians think she married Richard at that point, and the young couple went to live at the court of King Henry VI. Though this is certainly possible, I made the ceremony a betrothal because I found it hard to believe that Cecylee didn’t produce any children for fourteen years. Cecylee was fecund, her children were born in 1438, 1439, 1441, 1442, 1443, 1444, 1446, 1447, 1448, 1449, 1450, 1452 and 1455. Although she was only nine years old in 1424, she could have started producing children by 1430, when she was fourteen turning fifteen. I reasoned that she was notliving with Richard until 1437 at the earliest, and that the reason she wasn’t living with Richard was because she wasn’t married to him.
In thinking about who might have stopped the marriage, I noticed that her father died in 1425 when she was ten years old, and that Richard’s wardship passed into her mother’s hands. The person most likely to have prevented this marriage was Cecylee’s mother Countess Joan. The reason for doing so probably stemmed from the fact that Cecylee was the youngest daughter and all of Countess Joan’s other daughters had already been married off and left the family. It is also possible that Countess Joan did not like Richard. I used a fictional episode toward the end of Book One: Rose of Raby to motivate her dislike.
It seems that Countess Joan was interested in literature. She may have leant two books to King Henry V (her half-grand-nephew) when he went to fight the French at the Battle of Agincourt. And Hoccleve may have dedicated one of his books to her. It is true that Geoffrey Chaucer was Countess Joan’s uncle-by-marriage and so she probably owned some of the original manuscripts, which have since disappeared. I do not know if Countess Joan held a reading circle, but it would have been typical of the time period for her to do so. I understand that Abbesses would ride from one great house to another with provocative manuscripts tucked away in their saddle-bags, using the reading circles as a forum for subversive activity, rather like the women writers of Afghanistan who carried on under the guise of sewing circles, as described in The Sewing Circles of Herat. (Anyone who has read the Wife of Bath’s Tale knows how subversive it is.) Apart from the Wife of Bath, I have also included some lines from Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls and the opening of The Owl and the Nightingale – which was written anonymously in around 1272 – to give a flavor of the times and some idea of the kind of literature they were reading. Of course I could not quote Shakespeare, as he was not born until 1564.
The songs were also chosen to be representative of the period. Blaybourne’s chanson Plus Bele que Flor (More Lovely Than A Flower), and Cecylee’s songs I Cannot Help It If I Rarely Sing and This Lovely Star Of The Sea come from the Montpellier Codex of the 13th century. It is quite possible that people continued to sing these songs well into the 15th century, making changes as they went along.
You may wonder why I chose to believe the tale of Cecylee’s affair with an archer on the Rouen garrison. After all, Anne Easter Smith, who has written her own novel about Cecylee, dismisses it out of hand. I believed it both because it had a ring of truth to it, and because it explains so many things. It explains, for example, why Cecylee helped to nullify Edward IV’s will shortly after his death, and why Richard III repeatedly sought his mother’s counsel and seemed to have had a much closer relationship with her than Edward IV ever did. It also explains Richard of York’s actions, why he had a sumptuous christening ceremony for his second surviving son Rutland, but not for Edward. And why he chose to exile himself to Ireland with Rutland, but not Edward. During that moment of crisis in 1459 when everything seemed lost, it is interesting that Edward sat it out in Calais with his mother’s relatives, rather than being by Richard of York’s side.
Of course, Cecylee’s lover Blaybourne presented his own set of problems. Scarcely anything is known about him, except that he was an archer on the Rouen garrison during the summer of 1441 when Cecylee’s husband Richard was away campaigning against the French in Pontoise. I was forced to make up everything about his life and circumstances and I tried to draw a character who was plausible for the fifteenth century, making him someone who would have gotten his opportunities in life from his education in a monastery.
To give a cultural read on the risks that Cecylee was taking, I included two stories about jealous husbands and the ways in which they punished their wives. Black Fulk, more commonly known in Anjou as Foulques Nerra, was Count of Anjou from 987, when he was around fifteen years old, until his death in 1040. He had a violent temperament, so the story that he burned his first wife Helizabeth in the market square at Angers after discovering her in bed with a lover, may well be true.
When twenty-year-old Parisina (or Laura) Malatesta was discovered in bed with her twenty-year-old stepson Ugo d’Este, her husband (and his father) Niccolo III d’Este ordered their executions. They were beheaded on May 21, 1425, when Cecylee had just turned ten.
Beginning with Book Three: Thwarted Queen, the novel becomes much more factually-based as Cecylee emerges from the shadows. I followed the opinions of historians Alison Weir and Michael K. Jones in trying to reconstruct this period, especially Alison Weir’s The Wars of the Roses and The Princes in the Tower, and Michael K. Jones’ Bosworth 1485: The Psychology of Battle.
It is true that Cecylee’s six-year-old daughter was married off in 1446. I do not know if this was Richard’s way of punishing his wife for taking a lover, but Nan was forced to marry someone who was notorious for his cruelty. If you are one of those readers wondering why a six-year-old bride would be more useful than an older girl – given that she would not be able to bear children for several years – you have to remember that these girls were used as pawns in huge land transfers. The reason for marrying a young child now rather than later was because the family she was marrying into was impatient to acquire the wealth of the land that she brought as a dowry.
Obviously, there must have been a huge problem of child abuse, for these young girls were taken from their families, and sent to live with their in-laws at the time of marriage. Legally, the husband became the child-bride’s liege lord, which meant that he had total control over her. The child-bride was thrust upon the mercy of her husband and in-laws, in a situation that is not unlike the one that occurs in India today. This practice was not uncommon six hundred years ago. In Thwarted Queen there are at least two other examples; Cecylee’s sister Alainor, who was forced into a marriage when she was five years old. When her 18-year-old bridegroom died, she was married to the Earl of Northumberland’s heir when she was seven. The other example is Richard’s sister Isabel who was married when she was about four years old to Sir Thomas Grey. That marriage was annulled for reasons that are not clear; but it is possible that Isabel was badly treated. By contrast, if the young girl was betrothed, she continued to be under the jurisdiction of her parents and lived with her family of origin until the marriage took place.
It is not known what happened to the little princes in the Tower (the sons and heirs of Edward IV). In trying to reconstruct what happened I have followed the ideas of Alison Weir in her The Princes in the Tower. However, not all historians agree that Richard III murdered his nephews, so I have given an alternative explanation at the end of the novel, in which I suggest that the younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, was smuggled out of the country and lived in Burgundy. If you are wondering why everyone is so certain that the elder brother, Edward V died in the Tower, it is because there are records showing that the poor young man was suffering from a severe ear infection in the summer of 1483. Without modern medicine, it is almost certain that his condition would have killed him within the year.
A couple of incidents in Thwarted Queen are based on the testimony of people alive at the time. Cecylee’s tirade against Edward IV – in which she publicly announces he is illegitimate – is based on what Dominic Mancini, an Italian diplomat of the time, wrote. I have followed the historian Michael K. Jones’ opinion that Cecylee was exiled to Berkhamsted Castle in March of 1469, and thus Cecylee’s explosion occurred shortly beforehand. Echoes of this can be seen in Shakespeare’s Richard III, except that in the play Cecylee’s tirade is directed against Richard III. Shakespeare’s play can be treated as propaganda on behalf of the Tudors. He did everything he could to blacken the character of Richard III, and so one can almost treat the play as a mirror-image of what actually occurred.
The other incident is Edward’s marriage to Lady Eleanor Butler. This is based upon the testimony of Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells. It is not known when the marriage actually took place, but I have set it in April 1462, because it gave a plausible time-frame for Lady Eleanor to have had a child before Edward met Elisabeth Woodville, whom he married two years later in May 1464. As in the novel, these facts did not come to light until after Edward’s death. People at the time had difficulty believing this story because it was so obviously in Richard of Gloucester’s interests to claim that Edward’s marriage to Elisabeth Woodville was bigamous. However, the story had the ring of plausibility for me, because Edward was a notorious womanizer who may have been attracted to older widows. (Both Elisabeth Woodville and Eleanor Butler were Lancastrian widows. Elisabeth Woodville was five years older than Edward, and Eleanor Butler would have been about seven years older.)
As far as I know, there is no evidence that Cecylee ever referred to her daughter-in-law as The Serpent, though it is true that she was dismayed by Edward’s marriage and the two ladies seemed not to have liked each other. I picked that particular nickname because I felt it conveyed volumes about how Cecylee felt about Edward’s Queen. Élisabeth’s name for Cecylee, good mother, is meant to sound disrespectful. It is meant to sound like Goodwife, which although it was a polite form of address for women, only applied to those of the lowest social classes. By calling Cecylee good mother, rather than Madam, Élisabeth conveyed her animosity towards her mother-in-law. The encounters between Cecylee and Queen Élisabeth are fictional, but are based on fact, such as the Queen’s rapacious relatives wiping the aristocratic marriage market clean and Cecylee’s resulting problems in trying to find suitable marriage partners for her children. Cecylee did style herself Queen By Right and she did move into the Queen’s apartments, forcing her son Edward to build a separate wing for his new wife. The speech in which she tells Edward off about his marriage is based upon Sir Thomas More’s account as reported by Michael K. Jones.
Writing about the past forces historical novelists to confront the fraught issue of dates of birth. It is often difficult to pin an age on a person, especially minor female characters, because dates of birth were not systematically recorded. The reader should therefore take the ages of most of the characters as approximations.
Documents from the time provided a fascinating glimpse of Cecylee’s life in her later years. Orders and Rules of the Princess Cecill and The Rules of the House show a strong-minded yet kind woman running a tight ship at Berkhamsted Castle. I hope you enjoyed the quotations from these sources.
In her will of 1495, Cecylee makes reference to two nearby convents:
Also I geve to the house of Assherugge a chesibule and 2 tunicles of crymsyn damaske embrawdered with thre albes. Also I geve to the house of Saint Margaretes twoo auter clothes with a crucifix and a vestiment of grene vellet…~ Cecylee, Duchess of York, Will of 1495
I haven’t been able to trace a convent of Saint Margaret, but there was a convent at Ashridge, about four miles from Berkhamsted castle, and so I chose to place Cecylee’s friends from her later years there. (In the fifteenth century, most people didn’t think twice about walking four miles).
Such documents also give us clues to how things were pronounced. In Cecylee’s will of 1495, for example, she refers to Fotheringhay as “Fodringhey,” so I used that pronunciation in the scene where Richard talks about his favorite residence to Queen Marguerite d’Anjou.
Lastly, readers may wonder how I came to choose the name Cecylee. Not wanting to get caught up in the Cecily/Cicely controversy, I thought it would be interesting to see how Cecylee herself spelt her name. Her will is in the public domain, and it seems that she signed it Cecylee. However, her handwriting is extremely difficult to read – it looks like the signature of someone who does not write much – so it is possible that she actually spelled her name Cecylle. In the fifteenth century spelling varied widely and great ladies like Cecylee usually dictated their letters and papers to scribes who came from different regions of the country and spelled things differently. According to the Richard III society, Cecylee in her lifetime was addressed as Cecill, Cecille, and Cecyll, but the most usual form of the name was Cecylee. And so I went with that version of the name, knowing that it would be easy for English-speaking readers to figure out how to pronounce it. (It is pronounced in the exact same way as the more modern spelling of the name, Cecily.) If I had been writing for French readers, I probably would have called her Cecylle, because that is closer to the French version of the name Cécile.
It was an honor as well as great fun to have Cecylee materialize from the fifteenth century and talk to me about her life. I hope you enjoyed reading this novel as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Cynthia Sally Haggard
This book took me seven years to write. I could not have done it without the help of many people. The first person who deserves thanks is my friend Beth Franks, a talented writer in her own right, who patiently went through several drafts of Thwarted Queen, and made innumerable suggestions for improvement.
Next, I want to thank my wonderful editor Catherine Adams, formerly of the Iowa Book Doctors now of Inkslinger Editing, for her structural editing of the manuscript early on, and the many helpful suggestions she made then that brought the novel to a new level. This summer, Catherine did a magnificent job in the line-by-line content and copyediting, gently pruning the manuscript to give it what I hope is a polished, professional feel. Any mistakes are my own!
I also wish to thank Lord Barnard of Raby Castle in County Durham for his interest in my novel, and for allowing Clifton Sutcliffe, the docent, to take me on a personal tour of Cecily’s childhood home in July 2007. Mr. Sutcliffe showed me the Keep where Cecylee was locked up by her father, and explained to me about the wooden walkways that criss-crossed Castle Raby to make passage from one tower to another easy in the event of a raid. I am also indebted to him for bringing to my attention John Wolstenholme Cobb’s History and Antiquities of Berkhamsted, in which he quotes The Orders and Rules of the Princess Cecill.
I wish to thank the United States Military Academy Department of History for allowing me to use the map of England and France circa 1422, and for Emerson Kent in helping me to find it.
I was privileged to take classes with many wonderful teachers during my long journey with TQ. I wish to thank Mark Spencer, professor of English and Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Arkansas at Monticello for his class Successful Self-Publishing, given during the spring of 2011; Curtis Sittenfeld, author of American Wife, for her sensitive reading of the novel during the 2010 Napa Valley Writer’s Workshop; Amy Rennert of the Amy Rennert Agency for her class Secrets of Publishing Success given at Book Passage in Corte Madera CA, during the fall of 2006; Janis Cooke-Newman, author of Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln, for her invaluable help on the end of the novel; Michael Neff, creator of Web del Sol, for his wonderful classes on craft at the 2005 Harper’s Ferry Workshop; Junse Kim, who taught Introduction to Fiction: You Can’t Build a House without Foundations and Otis Haschemeyer, who taught Introduction to the Novel at the Writing Salon in Bernal Heights San Francisco during the fall of 2004. I could not have written and published my novel without the help of these professionals.
My friend Beth Robertson deserves thanks for sharing her expertise on Chaucer, and her knowledge of subversive activity amongst medieval ladies, who would often read material that would not have pleased their husbands. Such inflammatory scrolls were secreted in the saddle bags of Abbesses and other ladies, who were ostensibly just making a social call.
I wish to thank the following writers for reading the manuscript and making useful suggestions: Kristin Abkemeyer, Myrna Loy Ashby, Sharyn Bowman, Peter Brown, Julie Corwin, Eric Goldman, Joy Jones, Phil Kurata, Nadine Leavitt-Siak, Michelle McGurk, Amanda Miller, Rose Murphy, Nicole Nelson, Dan Newman, Desirée Parker, Walter Simson, Kevin Singer, Judy Wertheimer, Jun Yan.
Last but not least, I wish to thank my husband Georges Rey for prodding me to continue with Cecylee, and my sister Melanie, for giving me the idea in the first place.