Mistress to the Crown

I thought it might be fun to imagine how a modern day reporter might handle the rumours about the gorgeous Mistress Shore in the 1470s before she met the king.

London citizen’s wife sues for a divorce

The Mercers’ Guild was shocked today by the news that the wife of guild member, William Shore, is asking for a separation on the grounds that he is impotent, frigid and unable to give her children.

‘I am prepared to take this case to Rome,’ she told our reporter this morning. ‘I have been married to him since my early teens but it was not my choice and I should like our marriage to be annulled.’

‘Utterly disgraceful,’ ‘It will create unwelcome precedents’, and ‘Unless she has friends in high places, how is she going to pay for it?’ are some of the comments from concerned guildsmen.

A spokesman for the Court of Arches, where matrimonial cases are heard with the consent of his Holiness in Rome, told our reporter that such cases are rarely allowed to proceed. ‘If the wife has been beaten by a drunken husband for eight years or more then there is a chance that His Holiness will appoint a tribunal for the hearing. Mistress Shore, however, has suffered no such abuse. She has vexatiously tried to bring a case several times already and her chances of succeeding this time are futile.’

When we raised this with Mistress Shore, she was undeterred. ‘I shall find the funds somehow.’

If Rome does give permission for proceedings against William Shore, he will need to undergo tests to disprove his impotence in the presence of several scantily-clad ‘cherrylips’ from Southwark.

Master Shore has refused to be interviewed but one of his fellow liverymen told us, ‘William is a God-fearing, hardworking guild member. He shouldn’t have married such an educated girl.’

Shore’s wife is the daughter of former London Sheriff, mercer John Lambard, Alderman of Farringdon ward and former member of the Council of Aldermen. Lambard has declined to give comment.

Does Mistress Shore have friends in ‘high places’? Read tomorrow’s London Chronicle

Click here for reviews, a blurb and to read an extract. For more about the real historical Mistress Shore, go to Inspiration for a New Novel.

Margery’s court apparel

The illustrations show what was worn by The Maiden and the Unicorn heroine, Margery Huddlestone.



Late Regency clothing

Some years ago one of my husband’s family in England inherited an escritoire, which is a writing desk with a sloping lift up lid, rather like the old school desks. It originally came from the family home in Teignmouth, Devon.

However, for anyone who loves the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, it was the contents of the escritoire that were so exciting.

So here with the kind permission of their owner are the photographs of three bodices, which I believe date from the 1820s, around the time the Prince Regent became King George IV.

Sadly, I don’t think any of these garments were ever worn and I wonder if something tragic happened.

Ivory silk bodice with fine lace decorating the neckline and capping the shoulders. This was clearly made for a lady to wear at a ball or a formal gathering, and it is the largest of the three bodices.  It was fastened at the back by ribbons.


This is a far smaller bodice, made for a girl just out the schoolroom or else a young woman who did not have much of a bosom.  Just like the white silk bodice, it is in high-waisted, Empire style and very ‘Regency’ with its pink stripes. It fastened with a simple hook, I’m pretty sure the bow would have been at the back but I could be wrong.


I thought you might be interested to see the stitching and fabric close up.



I don’t think this bodice was made to be worn on the outside. It looks like underwear and the stitching is not so good. I’m not sure whether the running stitch is the tacking left in. I guess it’s possible it might be here to make some gathers.


A bride’s mementoes: two little silver shoes that may have adorned a wedding cake; a little spray of artificial lily-of-the valley; and some braiding with pendant flowers woven with metallic threads through them. I do not know who this lady was but I hope her married life was very happy.

Among these things were some lace samples sent from Pennsylvania, probably in the 1840s, and made at a girls’ boarding school.

There was also a piece of paper with Miss Keat written on it. Members of the family have tried to follow this up and speculated as to whether the poet Keats’s sister could have been a friend of the lady who owned the escritoire.

The sad aspect of this story is that the escritoire was stolen when the owner was on holiday overseas. Fortunately she gave the contents to a relative for safe-keeping and so the family still has them safe and sound.

Interview with Dorothy Dunnett

‘Ian Fleming was a friend of ours and he told me he was going to write a novel about “a spy to end all spies” and he went ahead and created James Bond, and I decided, ‘Right, then, if he can do it, so can I! I am going to create the hero to end all heroes’.

Dorothy Dunnett, Sydney, 13 March 2000, telling me about how the character of Lymond came into being.

And that was how Dorothy Dunnett (1923–2001) described to me the beginning of her journey to become a best-selling diva – and a historical novelist to end all historical novelists!

Back in 2000, she was visiting Australia for the first time – a guest of the Adelaide Writers’ Festival – but there was little publicity about her visit in the Australian press and only a fraction of her fans found out that she was visiting.

‘I have waited decades for a chance to meet her,’ exclaimed one of her ardent admirers, Bantam historical novelist Cheryl Sawyer, as she joined the book signing queue.

I’d waited decades, too, and I was delighted that Dorothy was willing for me to interview her. I did not know what to expect, a formidable Lady Dunnett, encrusted with British reserve? Or a Judi Dench MI5 chief-type? I was wrong on both counts. The woman who arrived to be interviewed proved to be a friendly Scot, astute but gentle, stylish yet understated in her appearance, grandmotherly, cheerful and unrushed. A sprightly, seventy-six year old who looked much younger than her age.

Over her writing career, she had completed a series of six mammoth novels, set in the sixteenth century, following the adventures of Francis Crawford of Lymond, a young, golden-haired, Scottish nobleman. She had also written six contemporary spy novels, and when I met her, the seventh and final novel of her House of Niccolò series (the adventures of Nicholas de Fleury, a Flemish merchant of the mid-late fifteenth century) was in press.

Her ideal hero – charismatic Lymond (pronounced Lie-mond) came to birth on an Olivette typewriter in the 1950s. She told me he had proved to be ‘a difficult creature, articulate, mercurial, charismatic’ but she had planned to follow his ‘star-crossed career – disturbing, hilarious, dangerous’ through ten years of his life.

She explained it was not just Ian Fleming who had provoked her to become an author.

‘I never had the desire to write particularly, but I married the right man. You see, I started complaining to my husband that I could not find the sort of books I wanted to read. I’d enjoyed authors like Dumas, Sabatini and Orczy. I’d read the Hornblower series and all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. I just ran out of authors. ‘Why not write your own?’ said my husband. ‘But make it a series. Publishers prefer that.’

Dorothy started doing the research for the Lymond series at the National Library, Edinburgh, and she was later to become a member of its Board of Trustees. She made notes painstakingly by hand. There were no photocopiers, no faxes, no emails to distant libraries and no world wide web with on-line copies of historical records that could be easily downloaded.

Halfway through the first draft of her first book, she stuck a hesitant toe in the literary water and posted the mss to Hutchinson. Impressed, they sent the already bulky parcel out to their reader. ‘Whatever happens, you must publish this book,’ came the reply. Offers arrived from several publishers, but always with the proviso: ‘only if the book is shortened.’

Dorothy, already a success as a portrait painter with exhibitions in the Royal Scottish Academy, was not sure if she could be bothered to continue writing. It was then that Lois Cole (the editor who had persuaded Margaret Mitchell of GONE WITH THE WIND to change her heroine’s name from Pansy to Scarlett), rode in. Cole masterminded the cuts and steered the manuscript to the right publisher. Dunnett’s first book THE GAME OF KINGS was published in America then England. That was in 1961.

As Lymond’s adventures moved from Scotland to Catherine de Medici’s France and on to the Mediterranean and the intrigues of the Knights of St John, Dorothy travelled as well, covering a great canvas. Her fourth novel PAWN IN FRANKINCENSE took her main characters to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent. By then she had truly found her author’s voice and her hero had met his match in two people: his enemy, Graham Malett (Gabriel) and the feisty and clever young English girl, Phillippa Somerville. For me, the scene at the Turkish court where the enmity between the two men culminates in a deadly game of chess with living pieces was stunning, the tension extraordinary.

With 22 books between 1961 and 1998, how did she manage such an output?

‘It takes me about fourteen month to complete one of the Niccolò books. In the morning I usually deal with correspondence and any business to do with all the committees I’m on. I read up all my history notes relevant to the chapter that I’m working on and then I sit down at the keyboard, usually doing 2500 words at a sitting, and I’ll often work until five in the morning.’

CAPRICE & RONDO, her most recent publication when I met her, was a hefty 559 pages with a cast of 188 named characters, let alone the rest. That was typical.

Setting her own rules

Dorothy’s historical novels broke the by-laws doled out to wannabe writers – there were no simple concepts, no economy of description, no talking down to the reader. Instead, she demanded cerebral dexterity from her fans as she whizzed them through intrigue within intrigue. I told her I reckoned that like King Henry VII, she had ‘a corkscrew mind’ and she laughed, fully agreeing.

As for character viewpoints, again she had her own rules and that is what made her heroes so special. Often you witness Lymond or Nicholas in action but you do not always know what they are thinking unless they tell you. It is more often through the eyes of the friends and associates who cluster round them, like worker bees around the sovereign of the hive, that you see what is happening.

There are some rules that Dorothy did follow. She knew a good hook works: ‘Not to every young girl is it given to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin.’

So begins THE RINGED CASTLE, the fifth Lymond novel.

The fresh, apt phrases, the wonderful narrative poured forth in the early hours. Dorothy was not an author who spiced in the details in a later draft, she always got it right first time.

‘How do you remember if you have used a particular metaphor already?’ I asked her.

‘Ah,’ she answered, ‘that is where I rely on my copy editor to tell me if I have repeated an adjective or used a similar description before.’ She also admitted she always sent half the latest manuscript to the editor before she had finished the total draft. A practice that would terrify some authors.

Her style was underlined with humour. No question, either, that her portrait painter’s skill carried to her novels. It was the quirky details that could lift the whole – the body language, the aspects of personality that needed to be noticed and the importance of the background – the fine brush strokes that make her descriptions and characters so memorable.

Her gasp of history was phenomenal, the details trustworthy, and the renaissance world she recreated with its merchants, mercenaries and potentates showed an understanding of international trade and politics that many a modern diplomat might envy.

Did you ever employ researchers?

She told me she did most of it herself.

‘My notes for my early novels are in ledgers. My studio is lined with bookcases. I buy a huge number of reference books and I subscribe to about twenty periodicals so I can keep myself informed about what is available. I realize now why few writers have tackled sixteenth century history. It requires a huge amount of effort.’


She wrote one stand-alone historical which stepped outside the familiar 1460-1558 territory – her novel on Macbeth, KING HEREAFTER, published in 1976 before she began the Niccolò series. She never returned to this earlier period.

‘Had changing eras taken too much time? Was this a mandatory book?’ I asked her.

‘The publishers suggested that I tackle a famous Scots historical figure: Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie or Macbeth. Well, no one had dared to challenge Shakespeare, so I decided on Macbeth. The research took five years and there were very few sources, so I used a lot of recent archaeological information and I came up with some radical conclusions on Macbeth’s identity that changed the history books.’

Had she ever thought of turning herself into a historian like Dorothy Tuchman, author of A DISTANT MIRROR and THE MARCH OF FOLLY?

‘Yes,’ she answered, maybe one day she would write up her findings on Macbeth in a non-fiction format. ‘Don’t forget I have my Johnson Johnson books as well,’ she reminded me.

Yes, she also had six novels with a modern hero, an intelligence agent and well-known painter of portraits who wore bifocals, owned a Mayfair apartment and a yacht called Dolly. ‘I have difficulty keeping up to date with the research. As soon as I get used to the layout and equipment of my hero’s latest yacht, a new model comes onto the market and I have to research that.’

I could imagine her enjoying that, the silver cap of curls tousled by the sea wind. Not bad for a seventy-six year old. ‘The publishers were worried I might die before the final Niccolò novel was finished. I had to give them a summary in case something happened to me.’

And her fans needed satisfaction. She told me that her American devotees produced a quarterly correspondence magazine that was euphemistically called M and K (it began as ‘Marzipan and Kisses’, her description of Catherine de Medici’s court in QUEENS’ PLAY.) The English letterzine preferred to call itself Whispering Gallery. Then she told me there was Elspeth Morrison’s THE DOROTHY DUNNETT COMPANION (published by Michael Joseph) which translates the poetry quoted by Lymond and offers raunchy enlightenment on the hero’s Latin swear words.

The fate of Nicholas de Fleury

‘Do your fans try to influence the plots?’ I asked.

‘Indeed,’ she told me, ‘they try. Sometimes the pressure is punishing.’ At that point, she smiled. ‘If I ever let on where the action is going to be, some of my readers look up the political events of that country and start pre-guessing.’

Many fans had written in to her, pre-guessing the denouement of GEMINI and Dorothy was anxious to surprise them as she had done so wonderfully in CHECKMATE, her final book on Lymond.

‘Yes,’ she said, sparkling when I mentioned how much I’d been blown away by CHECKMATE’S final chapter. ‘The ending caught you all out. One of my devoted readers hurled the novel across the room in disgusted fury a few pages before the end and wrote me a vitriolic anonymous letter, but then she cooled off, eventually finished the book and realized she had been wrong. I had this very ashamed fan come up to me and more or less confess it had been her.’

Breathtaking feats

The New South Wales fans who turned up for the book signing at Dymocks’ Book Store in Sydney were delighted when Dorothy read a much-requested scene from QUEENS’ PLAY: the drunken, dangerous race across the thatched roofs of Blois with Lymond masquerading as a bawdy, silver-tongued Irishman; an episode that ends with a final leap from the church of St Lomer to the château and, typically Dunnett, a donkey. (For Nicholas, a there was an ostrich race in Bruges).

‘Have you ever tried any of the feats you expected of your heroes?’ I asked her later, thinking of Macbeth’s run across the oar blades in KING HEREAFTER.

‘No,’ Dorothy answered. ‘I am totally hopeless but my husband and sons have tried their best to introduce me to a lot of sports. I needed to understand sailing when I started writing my modern thrillers and I know what it is like to control a horse. Alastair [her husband] and I rode ponies up in the north of Scotland.’

A twentieth century knight

Glaswegian Alistair Dunnett had been frequently mentioned during the interview and there was the sense of his constant encouragement of his gifted wife. The grasp of banking that features in Dorothy’s historicals is probably drawn from his early career. He was also editor of The Scotsman for 16 years, and a Doctor of Literature, a published author and playwright. In1995, Dorothy found herself, romantically, married to a twentieth century knight when he was honoured for his services to journalism and public life. Nor was the new Lady Dunnett short of honours. In 1986 she had been made a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and in 1992 she received an OBE for her services to literature.


Dorothy in trying to outwit her readers did not manage to give the Niccolò series a breathtaking ending that would resonate with readers afterwards. She had perhaps set herself too high an achievement first time round in CHECKMATE. Anyhow, that’s how I feel about it.

Every so often I get Dorothy’s Lymond series from the shelf and work my way yet again through her hero’s adventures. It is the last three books of that series, which I love the best, as Philippa grows into the heroine worthy of the man she loves. I revel in the humour that flavours the dialogue and narrative, the witty imagery, the lack of dumbing down. There is always something new I discover and the more I work at my writing craft, the more I am in awe of Dorothy’s skill.

I had hoped she would live to be a hundred. The market needed her, her readers needed her. Sadly she died in November 2001, but I feel so privileged to have talked with her. It was a delight and a honour to meet the writer whom I admired most of all – and she was so nice, too.

Tea with a stranger

Port Jackson, Australia, 1796

Robert hitched himself over the fence before the soldiers turned the corner, and landed clumsily on all fours in someone’s shrubbery. He froze, crouching within the shadow of a stocky, low-spreading banksia, head down, his lungs protesting mightily and heard the shouts as His Britannic Majesty’s human hounds came baying.

The small cough did not alert him at first. Rather, he noticed small feet within a kicking distance of his face. Inside one of the silken slippers, a tiny toe wriggled as if in thought. So all was lost!

Beyond words, Robert despairingly raised his face to know the little magistrate’s verdict and watched, incredulous, as the child lifted a finger to her lips and pointed. Shifting, he glimpsed a rope ladder and above it a treehouse set amiably some twelve feet up, across two sturdy branches of a paperbark. Without another thought, he hurled himself across the space, grabbed the ladder and sprung up it.

The playhouse’s door was narrow, the roof low. He crawled in and then cursed his impulsive nature. D—n it, he was caught now, like a brainless leg of mutton in a meat safe. The child only had to shriek for her nursemaid and he would be snared, flogged and sent in irons to the hell of Norfolk Island.

Crammed Gulliver-like between a doll’s high chair and a gingham-covered table set with tiny porcelain cups, he trembled in the intense heat but there was no wail from below. The cicadas resumed their chorus and, humming, his little hostess reached the platform and gravely anchored in the ladder.

‘Do you entertain often?’ he asked absurdly as she joined him.

The child couldn’t be more than seven. Ringlets bunched with blue velvet bows shook in silent laughter as she knelt opposite and lifted a Lilliputian teapot with the grace of a governor’s lady. The buttonhole mouth unravelled into a glorious smile.

‘Will you take tea, sir?’

The girl’s kindness almost devastated Robert. His thumb and finger rattled the tiny cup so much as he lifted the saucer that he set it down again abruptly, nudging it across the cloth instead, close to unmanly tears as he watched the water from the neat spout fill the cup.

Out in the lane, the sergeant bellowed, ‘D—n his eyes! The scoundrel can’t be far.’

Robert accepted the tepid mouthful gratefully. God’s Truth, he could have drunk the Tank Stream dry, for the merciless February sun was nowhere near the yardarm and he had just run a quarter mile from the farm.

Young eyes, grey as Scottish weather, smiled across at him. The teapot waited, poised to pour him a second cup.

‘They’ll search the garden,’ she stated softly, glancing out through the treehouse’s only window. It faced her home. To close the hooked back shutters in this heat would rouse suspicion. ‘I suppose I should introduce myself since I have invited you for tea. Caroline Kent.’

Captain Kent’s daughter? he wondered. Amused, he took the solemnly proffered hand and gallantly raised it to his lips. ‘Your humble servant, Miss Kent. Robert Berwick at your service.’

‘Caro,’ she corrected. ‘You are not wearing irons, Mr Berwick? Why are they after you?’ She ignored the voices coming from the house.

‘I’m a political prisoner not a thief or a murderer.’ He edged back as far as he could from the window.

‘Of course not! One can always tell,’ she whispered. ‘Mama says that ‘Manners maketh man’.’

‘Caroline! Caroline!’

‘Hush, they’re coming. Now you must be quiet.’ Grabbing her doll, the child blocked the window space with her body and brandished the teapot. ‘Isabella and I are having tea, Mama.’

‘Oh, Caroline.’ Relief laced a lady’s voice. ‘Darling, this is Sergeant Russell. He’s looking for an escaped prisoner? Have you seen any strangers?’

‘Isabella is very hungry, aren’t you, Isabella?’ The doll waggled.

‘A young man, Miss Caroline.’ The sergeant’s tone sweetened hopefully. ‘Dark hair, brown breeches, tallish.’

Behind Caro, Robert, his limbs growing more cramped by the instant, held his breath. A bushfly crawled upon his lower lip, lured by the moisture.

‘Did you seen any stranger, Isabella?’ Caro asked and then her childish voice pitched higher. ‘No, I haven’t seen anyone.’ The doll jiggled from side to side. Don’t overdo it, little one!

‘Are you certain no one came over the fence, miss?’ persisted the sergeant.

‘Dearest, you must tell the sergeant the truth if you did see anyone.’

‘I heard some feet and then lots. They all went that way.’

‘House is clear, sir,’ shouted another voice.

‘Search the grounds,’ bawled the sergeant, and stated as a courtesy: ‘With your permission, ma’am? Over there, lads! Check the bushes.’

Had he broken any stems? God in Heaven, Robert almost wished his fellow convict, Thomas Muir, had not held out the lure of freedom to him. Governor Hunter would slap another two years on his fourteen year sentence for this.

‘I wish you would come down, sweetheart, and into the house. The convict may still be lurking.’

‘We are quite safe, Mama. I shall keep the ladder up.’

‘But it is so hot out here, dearest.’

‘Oh, but we can watch the soldiers better from here. Isn’t it exciting, Isabella?’

Caro’s mother must have wearied of craning her neck for no more was said and the child stayed in her watchtower. Robert’s heart pounded, if Russell demanded the ladder to be dropped. The child’s small hand slunk back in, forefinger gesturing to the floor. The bastard must be standing beneath them listening.

Blinding sweat trickled from Robert’s brow, and time crawled on its hands and knees as more heavy feet bruised the grass below them and stamped off irritably down the gravel path. It would be just like Russell to set a redcoat to watch from the shadows but in this temperature might the alehouse beckon? Tom Muir should be at the Otter’s longboat by now. God willing, he would tell the Americans to pull off. One of them had to make it to freedom and Tom, clever, eloquent, deserved that chance.

‘They have all gone back to the house,’ whispered Caro at last, wriggling backwards and studying Robert’s demeanour as if estimating his chance of staying uncaught.

‘I owe you a great debt, Caro. You’re a canny lass.’

‘‘Canny’? I don’t know what that means or ‘poli-whatever’.’

‘I’m a Scot. Canny means clever. ‘Political’, well, that’s a harder one. Have you heard of parliament and elections?’ The heart-shaped face looked doubtful. What were the Rights of Man or Trees of Liberty to her? ‘I believe in everyone having the right to vote, lass.’ Sedition, the judge had called it. Fourteen years for sedition!

‘Me as well?’ But it was definitely beyond her precocious understanding.

‘You, lass?’ Robert swallowed. ‘If I was God, I’d make you the Queen of England.’

Weymouth, Dorset, England, 1815

CARO drew rein on the ridgetop where the ancient wood halted and the ploughed fields began. Always she stopped here, loving the wild unembellished hills to east and west and the sea rolled out before her before her like a vast canvas of light and colour. A merchant vessel, snowy sails full-breasted, was swanning coastward, bound for the river mouth and a harbourage at Weymouth or maybe it would join the flock of ships already clustered in the lee of Portland.

Sadly, Caro turned her horse’s head back towards the town. She could no longer afford this pleasure. Now her horse must be sold too to meet her husband’s debtors. Already she had given Phoebe, her maidservant, notice, and within a week she would relinquish the house on the esplanade for some shabby backstreet rooms.

It was hard to keep her head high above despair. Even the wind hurling a nuisance of withered leaves at her heels as she stepped through her front door reminded her of the misery of winter stretching ahead. Then she saw the small card with one corner turned down waiting on the hall tray.

‘Oh, ma’am. I never saw such polish on a gentleman’s boots,’ Phoebe told her breathlessly.

Such news would need to last a year. No one else called on Caro now. Word of her husband’s suicide had eddied down from London through the tributaries of gossip and there were no more invitations. ‘Poor Mrs Lancaster’ had become the common term of reference over the genteel card tables.

The name on the card was unfamiliar. French-sounding. Laurence Charlon.

‘The gentleman is putting up at the Black Dog in St Mary’s Street and will call again at three tomorrow.’

And call he did. She was expecting a younger man, someone her late husband’s age, not the stylish man with silvering hair who followed Phoebe in.

‘Mrs Caroline Lancaster?’

She inclined her head graciously. The stranger waited for her to be seated and tossing his coat tails back sat down upon the chair opposite. ‘I have come from London, Mrs Lancaster. You are a difficult lady to find.’

‘I suppose you are a friend of my late husband’s,’ she remarked dryly. It was amazing the circling round that her husband’s debtors had performed in London before they swooped.

‘Indeed, no, ma’am, although I did learn of his unfortunate demise.’ Definitely a debt collector!

‘Forgive me for asking, sir, but I cannot place your accent.’

‘My drawl, you mean, ma’am? Guess you would call it Philidalphian though my home is in Columbia now. And I spent some years in Paris before that.’

‘And now you find yourself in Weymouth.’ The irony in her voice was not lost upon him.

‘Indeed, ma’am.’ The blue eyes missed nothing–the lack of ornaments on the mantleshelf, the worn hem of her mourning gown. ‘I am not here for payment.’

Absurdly, she wanted to believe that his perceptive smile was honest.

‘In that case, may I offer you some tea, sir?’
‘I was hoping you would, ma’am.’ He was observing her with a Robinson Crusoe fascination as she rose and tugged the bellrope.

‘The truth is that I am here for a friend who cannot perform the errand for himself. Mr Robert Berwick. Does the name mean anything to you, ma’am?’

‘Yes,’ she answered carefully. ‘We once took tea together. I was seven.’

‘My friend did not tell me that.’ He recovered his astonishment. ‘That you were as young as that. I understand you rendered him some assistance at Botany Bay?’

Caro shook her head modestly. ‘It was a very brief acquaintance.’
‘Unhappily, Mr Berwick passed away last year but before he died he begged me that if ever I came to England I would seek you out, ma’am. It has not been an easy commission I might tell you.’

‘He escaped?’ An hour earlier she would have sworn she had no tears left, but they rose now to choke her. Tears for the past. For Mama and Papa, and for the joy to discover after all these years that Mr Berwick had reached America and freedom. And for what might have been, a happy correspondence had she known he was alive.

‘My dear lady, I am sorry to have upset you.’

‘No, no,’ she whispered. ‘My-my nurse told me that he had been hanged and I was to think no more on him. All these years. And now it is too late. I cannot write to him. Did he prosper? Oh, I hope he found much happiness in America.’

‘Yes, ma’am, and he left you a bequest. Two thousand pounds! You do not answer, Mrs Lancaster. I understand that your husband left huge debts.’ So he had already heard the tittle-tattle. ‘I trust this will see an end to your difficulties.’

‘No,’ she said slowly. ‘I cannot accept. That would not be right, sir. My husband was a fool, led into gambling by unkind friends. I should not want Mr Berwick’s hard-earned money to end in their pockets. Please tell Mr Berwick’s solicitors to distribute the money among his wife and children or some charity—orphans of gamblers perhaps.’

‘Your feelings do you credit, ma’am. Then we shall say no more on the matter.’

‘AND what happened to Muir, the man Mr Berwick escaped with?’ Caro asked two days later as she strolled eastward with the American along the curve of beach.

‘He was accorded a hero’s welcome in Paris but they soon forgot about him and he died in penury.’ Laurence Chalon’s eyes narrowed at the distant image of old King George that the local people had created on the chalk hillside.

‘Oh, how tragic,’ murmured Caro, ‘and after all those misadventures. And was Mr Berwick with him then?’

‘He was still in France at the time but in the south. It’s my understanding that he left for America in 1802 during the peace of Amiens and never returned to Europe.’

She nodded. ‘I suppose it would have been too dangerous for him to return to England?’

‘I fear so.’

They walked on in companionable silence to where the town dwindled beyond the shingle to a few scattered cottages skirting the brackish moor, and then they turned about to face the rain clouds louring from the west.

Caro had begun to enjoy Laurence Chalon’s company too much, to appreciate the hand beneath her elbow on the steps, the conversation of a man who had glimpsed Red Indian encampments, and who could comment on Emperor Bonaparte’s antics with humour rather than partisan loathing.

‘We shall be most dull when you are gone, sir,’ she lamented as the wet weather drove in, and they returned to her house.

‘That is something we must discuss, Mrs Lancaster. You cannot fail to observe that in the few days since I arrived, we have struck up a most excellent friendship.’ He carried her hand to his lips. ‘You exchanged one shire for another. Have you ever considered leaving these shores?’

‘For somewhere like America or Australia? Had I the means, maybe.’

‘Two thousand pounds.’

She swept before him into the drawing room and turned laughing. ‘No, I pray you, stop rattling Mr Berwick’s money at me. I will not change my mind on that.’

‘What would change your mind, ma’am?’

‘If—I had the chance to see Mr Berwick again.’

The air was quiet between them and then he said: ‘When did you guess, Caro?’

‘Oh,’ she paced away and swung round. ‘Only a second ago. The way you kissed my hand. Why, you unkind creature, you let me sit and weep tears over you and you were still alive and—what happened to the Scots accent?’

‘Carefully erased. You remembered that?’

‘I’m a canny lass, remember. And I even have Isabella still.’ She lifted her hand, wanting to touch his face. ‘So sad and worse for wear.’

‘I think not,’ he answered, knowing it was of herself she spoke, and taking her hand, lifted it to his cheek. ‘My dear Caro, would you settle for Mrs Berwick instead of Queen of England, do you think?’

And in answer, she wound her arms about his neck and kissed him soundly.

‘You shall not escape a second time, ‘ she vowed.

Copyright Isolde Martyn

Checklist for manuscripts

If you are a new writer, you might find it worthwhile to browse through some of these lists before you send off a manuscript. The checklists are based on some of the handouts that I’ve given out over the years at historical novel workshops but they include points that are hopefully useful to writers in any genre. Some points may be repeated under more than one heading. These lists are just scratching the surface of things you need to think about, but I hope they are helpful to you and don’t be dispirited, you can do it!

1. A toe in the water

Perfecting the first chapter is your main chance to hook the editor’s interest but ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this the absolutely perfect point to start your story? Often, books begin with a sudden change in the main character’s fortunes or something that interests the editor/reader straight away. Have a look at books by some of your favourite authors and see how they’ve tackled this.
  • Does your story need a prologue? If there is an early incident years before that vitally impinges on your story but is inappropriate for an opening chapter, you might try putting it in a prologue.
  • Do you have too much detail in the early pages? Sometimes it’s tempting to put in too much ‘backstory’ in the first chapter – in other words, too much about your character’s past. Are you making that mistake? Could some of it be gradually woven in later?
  • Does the first sentence snare the attention?
  • Is it clear what is happening and when this story is taking place?
  • Has the setting been clearly established?
  • By the end of the first sentence, do you want to read on?
  • By the end of the first para, do you want to read on?
  • By the end of the first page, do you want to read on?
  • Is it easy for the reader to recognise the main character?
  • By page three, have you established enough empathy so that your reader will care deeply what happens to your main character?
  • Have you ended the first chapter (and/or prologue) with a hook?

Try reading the first chapter out loud to yourself. It’s amazing how much you can pick up – repetition, flat and boring bits, sentences where the meaning isn’t quite clear.

And, OK, assuming now you are satisfied with the first chapter, can you sustain the plot for the mss length the publisher requires?

2. The bigger picture

Whether you have finished a manuscript or are just getting started, you need to think about whether there’s a market for your manuscript.

  • What sort of story are you planning to write? Does it fit into a genre/subgenre?
  • What sort of reader are you aiming at?
  • Have you any publisher in mind and, if so, do they publish the sort of book you are writing?
  • Is your manuscript going to be the correct length for this publishing house?
  • Can you sum up the concept in an exciting phrase?
  • Can you create an exciting blurb for your story in about three lines?
  • Have you requested a style sheet before completing your manuscript? Some publishers prefer you do this, and it will help you polish up your manuscript before submission.
  • Does this publisher use double or single quote marks? Look at the books they publish if they don’t have a style sheet to send you.
  • What size paragraph indent does this publisher require? Ah, and don’t leave line spaces between paragraphs. Remember it’s a book not a report.
  • If you are submitting to the US market, have you set your spelling checker to American spelling?
  • Is your story ‘your voice’ or are you subconsciously copying an author you like?
  • If you are writing a historical or creating another world, is there enough detail to make this ‘other world’ intriguing for the reader?
  • Have you a subplot/minor characters to help provide depth?
  • Have you consider using a theme and imagery to enrich your story? (You may have subconsciously done this already.)
  • Does each scene move the story on?
  • Does your story have peaks and valleys?
  • Is the ending satisfactory? US readers, for instance, tend to like to have the loose ends tied up.

3. Character checklist

  • If you are writing a historical novel, have you named your characters correctly for the era?
  • Is it easy to work out who is who in your narrative, especially when the action is fast and furious?
  • Are there any characters whose names can be confused?
  • Are they wearing clothing appropriate to status, personality, colouring?
  • Have you thought about their faults as well as their virtues?
  • Think about how you can increase the pressure on your hero and heroine. As he/she makes a decision, does it lead to different problems for him/her?
  • Do the decisions the main characters take show how they are changing?
  • Are you sure the reader can empathise with the main character and approve of his/her behaviour?
  • Are characters well-rounded and consistent in their behaviour?
  • Are their motives for acting as they do credible and acceptable?
  • Are minor characters drawn/described sufficiently, according to their importance in story?
  • Is the villain (romance/thriller) a sufficient challenge for the hero?

4. Romance checklist

  • Do you have a main character with whom the reader can empathise?
  • Do you have motional tension? When and will they finally get together?
  • Do you have sparky dialogue?
  • Are you writing single title or category romance? If you want to include more subplot, background and develop minor characters, you might be more comfortable with the former.
  • If you are writing category romance, are your hero and heroine centre stage nearly all the time?
  • Can your reader, if female, identify with heroine and approve of her actions?
  • Is the hero acceptable to the reader even if he may not be at first to the heroine?
  • What internal or external obstacles cause your lovers to resist each other?
  • Is the conflict between hero and heroine credible and sustained? In other words, if the conflict is based on a flimsy misunderstanding, please think again.
  • Have you shown why they are increasingly attracted to each other?
  • What do lovers see in each other that they need or lack in themselves?

5. Viewpoint (POV) checklist

  • Do you prefer to write in the first person, as though you are in a character’s shoes (remember this will limit your viewpoint) or would you rather write in the third person (i.e. he or she)? The latter too has different depths. This is simplifying things but imagine you are in a theatre foyer waiting to go into a performance. Do you want to describe what is happening as though you are on an upstairs balcony watching everyone congregate, or are you down below, rubbing shoulders, getting into what your hero or heroine is thinking? Those of you who have seen the film Russian Ark will understand what I mean. The camera is right in the ballroom moving through the dancers and the people standing talking.
  • If using more than one viewpoint, is it always clear to reader whose viewpoint is being described?
  • If your main interest is a historical character like Joan of Arc but you write about events from a fictional character’s viewpoint, make sure you let that character live their own life. Remember that the fictional character is actually the main character in the readers’ eyes and they will want to know what is happening to him/her.
  • Have you avoided going into the viewpoint of people who are insignificant in the story (e.g. the butler or the upstairs maid)? This is a very common mistake.
  • Have you checked there are no POV changes in mid-paragraph?
  • Have you remembered that men and women think differently?
  • Don’t forget that you can’t say something like ‘his expression was enigmatic’, if you are entering into his thoughts. He can’t see what his face looks like unless he catches sight of himself in the mirror. You could say ‘he tried for an enigmatic expression’.

6. Use of language checklist (especially historicals)

  • Have you used any words whose meaning is not clear within your text?
  • Have you checked all spellings of unusual words? Why not keep a list of the correct spelling or key it into your spelling checker and that saves a lot of time for the copy editor.
  • Have you made sure you are not using any anachronisms?
  • Make sure you are not using words that have acquired a different meaning?
  • Have you checked that all forms of address and rank are accurate? Please don’t describe Sir Arthur Sadler as Sir Sadler.
  • Is the imagery appropriate for era and tone of novel?
  • Have you read page aloud to see if text flows?

7. Synopsis checklist

  • Is your synopsis the appropriate length? Check with the publisher’s requirements if you are not sure.
  • Is there a strong opening and a hook to keep the editor reading on?
  • Does text flow?
  • Have you remembered to write it in the present tense?
  • Have you checked for typos, repetition, poor spacing etc?
  • Does it reflect your style and skills? eg if you use humour, does it show here?
  • Are you demonstrating not just plot but what motivates your main character and how he/she changes and grows?
  • Have you made era and setting clear?
  • Have you created empathy for your main character?
  • Have you shown their motivations/objectives/strengths/weaknesses?
  • Are conflict(s) clear and satisfactorily resolved?
  • Are all crises or watersheds covered?
  • Are there any characters whose names can be confused?
  • Are minor characters/loose ends, essential to plot, dealt with?
  • Have you wasted any valuable space on irrelevant info?
  • Do you need all those adjectives?
  • Have you read the synopsis aloud?
  • Finally, if you were the editor reading this, would you want to read the entire manuscript? In other words, be honest, would ultra-busy you ask to see the full mss if you were in her/his shoes?

8. Query letter checklist

  • Is your query letter lively and enticing without being too cute or over the top?
  • Can you fit all you want to say into a one-page letter?
  • Can you give your story a high concept (a phrase that sums up the plot in an exciting way)?
  • Alternatively, can you write a mouth-watering description of your book in three lines?
  • What can you tell the editor that might help him/her fight for your story’s acceptance through all the publishing meetings? For instance:
    • Have you a special area of knowledge relevant to story?
    • Have you had anything published in a different or related field?
    • Have you been interviewed on the radio? Even if it’s about nothing to do with writing!
    • Have you done any public speaking? You might have been chairperson on a school committee or given presentations to colleagues as part of your work.
    • Would you be happy to give talks and help promote your book?
    • Do you belong to any writers’ societies/groups or to any organisation that might be willing to publicise your book through their newsletters?

You can’t fit all that onto one page? No, but you could attach a bullet point single sheet to the query letter so that the editor can take all that information on board in a glance.

9. Final Draft Checklist


  • Have you eliminated those boring early chapters that helped you get your characters right but lacked pace and thrill?
  • Is your book lively, believable and a page-turner?
  • Is the story satisfying, especially the ending?
  • Have you created likable, well drawn characters that will keep reader with them?
  • Are you meeting your reader’s expectations for this type of genre?


  • Have you requested and observed publisher’s guidelines?
  • Have you analysed the layout in desired publisher’s existing books, e.g. paragraph indents, quote marks?
  • Do you have appropriate headers, footers and page numbering?
  • Do you understand the correct use of apostrophe?
  • Are you satisfied you understand how to punctuate dialogue? Check a novel by a well-known author, if you don’t.
  • Have you run text through a spelling and spacing check?
  • Have you checked things that slip through spelling check like ‘there’ and ‘their’?
  • Does your manuscript presentation show that you have an eye for accuracy?
  • Have you demonstrated you are capable of self-editing? In other words, that you have read your typescript through and corrected the errors?
  • Is your presentation perfect?

Medieval names

If you read a lot of history, it’s very jarring to find a fictional character in a historical novel given a name that is utterly inappropriate for the time and place, for instance, a German name for a medieval English peasant, or an English nobleman’s title derived from an occupation instead of a place name. John, Duke of Marlbourough is correct, but a fictional name like Thomas, Duke of Cooper is wrong. Cooper is a surname derived from barrel-making. Mind, even the placename rule can have pitfalls. Thomas, Duke of Stow-in-the-Wold doesn’t have the right ring to it either so just be careful.

There are many wonderful, authentic given names, both common and unusual, to choose from when you are naming your characters. Norman names like William, Simon, Stephen, Richard, Robert, John and Henry have stayed with us down the ages, especially as they were the names of kings and noblemen. Naming your child after a strong and powerful ruler was very popular. Elizabeth, Isabelle, Anne and Margaret were extremely common in the fifteenth century and sixteenth century – all names of queens.

Biblical names like Simon and Peter have rarely gone out of fashion but you still have to be careful. I have only found one example of David being used in England in the Middle Ages. It was considered either a Jewish or a Welsh name – Dafydd. James is not often met with in England before King James I’s reign although there was a Sir James Tyrell in the time of King Richard III and plenty, of course, in Scotland. The name Biblical name Phillip probably came into its own in Tudor England when Mary Tudor married Phillip of Spain but it was very popular across in France all through the Middle Ages.

When you do your research, why not make a list of the names you come across in your reading? A swift way of doing this might be to look through the indexes. The biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir and Marion Meade will give you an excellent list of noble and ecclesiastical names for Twelth Century characters. For fourteenth century men, a good source is the index to A Distant Mirror by Dorothy Tuchmann.

Books such as P.J.P. Goldberg’s Women in England c.1275-1525, Margaret Wade Labarge’s Women in Medieval Life and Henrietta Leyser’s Medieval Women: A Social History of Women in England 450–1500 contain some fascinating names. Not that I’d want to use Eormengota or Bugga (both abbesses) but Nelle or Letice (1301) might be useful for a maidservant. Perrete (15thC) , Perrin (1425), Aleyse (14thC), Sabine (13thC Londoner) or Laurette (13thC) might be interesting for a heroine.

A loving matter

Georgiana Roe swiftly put up a gloved hand to check that her bonnet plume had not been blown askew by the brisk breeze from Sydney Cove and stepped into the offices of Blackthorne & Paris.

‘I’m Miss Euphegenia Arbuthnott here to see Mr Richard Paris.’

With a sniff, a bald-headed clerk left his ledger to rap upon the inner door and escort her through.

She caught her breath as Richard Paris rose from behind his desk to greet her. There surely could be no man in Sydney who could best him for style. The London coat spoke of Bond Street tailoring, not a wrinkle or speck marred the cream pantaloons, and his cravat created the right impression. Neither too loose for a braggart nor too high for a dandy.

For a brief instant, surprise seemed to hinder Mr Paris’ manners. So, he had been anticipating a spinster of less tender years not two and twenty. His gaze lingered upon his client’s face and swept over appreciatively her before he seemed to remember the courtesy due and gestured her to be seated.

‘Miss …’ he frowned and tapped the diary askew to check her name afresh. ‘Arbuthnott?’ Tossing his blue coat tails back, he seated himself, leaning back in his chair with the utter confidence of a man who knew his profession. His silver-grey eyes smiled across at her and a swift grin showed her that he felt himself in full control again. ‘How may I serve you, Miss Arbuthnott? Is it some worthy mission? Perhaps you wish Blackthorne & Paris to donate ….’

‘I wish to engage a lawyer, Mr Paris.’

Mr Paris frowned. ‘For what purpose, Miss Arbuthnott?’

‘I wish to serve a summons for breach of promise.’

He sat forward in astonishment, his cuff knocking a quill to the floor. By the time he had retrieved it, she was not sure whether he was amused or irritated.

‘Excuse me.’ He laid it carefully beside the blotter and rested his chin upon intermeshed fingers thoughtfully. ‘You realise that this is a very serious charge if it is not settled out of court. One that is likely to be expensive and arouse a great deal of scandal. Indeed, I am puzzled, Miss Arbuthnot, as to why did you not seek out Mr William Wentworth as your attorney? He has more experience in cases of this nature.’

‘Oh, such squinty looks and he is… oh … no, indeed, I could never speak with him on so delicate a matter.’ Her cheeks flamed. ‘Mr Paris, believe me, it has taken a great deal of courage to come here today.’ Her glance fell to her gloved hands upon her lap.’ No doubt you think me frivolous but it is no light matter, I assure you.’

‘Indeed, I begin to appreciate that. Then let us get down to details. Has this gentleman toyed with your affections?’

Her blue eyes met his gravely. ‘I believe him to be sincere.’

‘He is not an adventurer, a fortune-hunter?’

‘Indeed not, Mr Paris, he is of good parentage and earns his living honestly.’

‘Do you suspect he is already married or that his heart is given to another?’

Georgiana frowned. ‘No, I do not believe so. I think he merely lacks courage and …’

‘Courage!’ he exclaimed. ‘You astound me, Miss Arbuthnott.’ Male indignation laced his tone.

‘Hush, Mr Paris, I pray you let me finish. My Papa is most wealthy and, well, ambitious, I daresay, and I believe my fiancé may feel he must live up to Papa’s expectations. To be honest, I would be happy to live with him on far less income.’

‘Have you actually discussed the date of your marriage with this gentleman?’

‘He skirts around the issue every time I raise it.’ She lifted her chin defiantly.

‘But do you love the gentleman?’

Georgiana met his gaze. ‘Yes,’ she answered truthfully. ‘With all my heart.’

The bell in the outer office sounded, and she rose, smoothing her skirts. ‘Your next appointment, I believe.’ She held out her hand to him with a businesslike smile. ‘Good day to you, Mr Paris. Pray write and tell me if you will take the case.’

Richard Paris came round the desk to her. His eyes were serious as he took the little gloved hand and kept it within his.

‘It seems, Miss Arbuthnott, we shall need another appointment.’ Not letting go her hand, he pulled the diary round. ‘The 6th June at 3 pm?’

She peeped up at him mischievously from beneath the creamy brim. ‘Where, Mr Paris?’

‘St John’s.’ He went down on one knee. ‘Marry me then and there, dearest Georgie.’

Her laughing eyes above him sparkled and forgave.

‘Indeed, yes!’ murmured Miss Georgiana Roe. ‘I thought you’d never ask.’

First published in Woman’s Day, Australia

Copyright Isolde Martyn

Heart of gold

A damsel in distress meets a chivalrous knight in this medieval tale, originally commissioned for St Valentine’s Day by The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Demoiselle Madeleine de Bellegarde-sur-Cher took a deep breath and stepped up onto the cart that the villagers had overturned to block the bridge.

‘My lady, the English!’ exclaimed one of her doughtier fellows, as the enemy troop rode into sight. ‘God have mercy on us!’

‘Be brave, all of you,’ she said with a calm she did not feel.

Ever since their victory over France at Poitiers, the English had been laying waste to the lands of the neighbouring lords; now it was her turn. She shivered, trying not to imagine the horror that might engulf them. God grant that the English brigands would be sober enough to listen to her.

‘BY Jesu, sir, look at that!’

The English company of knights slewed to a halt behind their leader, Sir Robert Knollys, as the road sloped down to a river. The young man on Knollys’ right, Sir Raoul de Whitacre, had never seen anything so defiantly wonderful in his entire life; beneath a fluttering pennon, a slender noblewoman stood like a warrior princess on the narrow bridge.

In her right hand glinted a longsword, its tip resting upon the upturned cart. In the curve of her left arm she supported the pole of the banner. The icy February wind batted at her silken skirts and she was keeping her footing with difficulty. Did the small turreted castle in the distance belong to her?

‘Some ruse to delay us while they hide their valuables,’ muttered Knollys.

‘At least hear what she has to say,’ warned Raoul. He was sick of the devastation. The English had vanquished the French, but did they have to ravage northern France daily in the name of a king who had gone back across the Channel and did not give a damn what lawlessness raged behind his back?

Knollys fumbled for his leather flask and took a swig. ‘You go and parley then. Tell her to get down and grovel or we will raze her paltry little castle to the ground.’

‘Willingly,’ Raoul’s smile was tight, the leash of obedience at straining point as he kneed his stallion forward.

The noblewoman was beautiful and young, scarce twenty, he guessed.

‘You are the leader?’ she asked. Presumptuous of her to speak first!

‘No, I answer for him. Step down and let us pass, lady! We claim your goods and livestock in the name of England. Defy us and you and your people will wish you had never been born.

‘The lovely lips trembled. Raoul felt pity and admiration for her. Dear God, she must be frozen, tricked out in her finery to awe them. He observed the jewels glittering on the beauteous skin and the tempting cleavage below. She must be insane to flaunt herself so.


Reluctantly his gaze rose to the glossy dark braids that framed her delicate, face, and he tried to listen to what she was saying, wondering how he could prevent this courageous girl being stripped and violated.

‘I do not wish my peasants slain and my goods stolen. I will not have it so!

‘The sword rose, so long, so weighty that she had trouble raising it with but a single hand. Such courage!

‘Lady, tell that to your fine French overlord. You are fortunate that your valley has been forgotten until now. Now stand aside!’

‘I will strike a bargain with you.’

Raoul was hard put not to give a shout of bitter laughter. She thought she could bargain with Knollys!

‘Well, tell me!’ he ordered, his voice grim. He could sense the impatience mustering behind him.

MADELEINE understood his edginess. She could see better than him the horses of the English fidgeting impatiently.

‘Sir, I am a widow,’ she told him swiftly. ‘I am willing to marry one of your company to save my land.’ Interest grew in the blue eyes studying her, and she continued, ‘I will feast your company here and set up a contest and wed the winner. In return. I will have your oaths under the law of arms that no one will be harmed nor anything stolen and the rest of you will ride away afterwards.’

‘Save for your new husband.’

‘Yes.’ Madeleine dreaded placing her castle and her person in the hands of an enemy stranger, but she loved this valley and, as her father’s heir it was her duty to protect her people.

The young man was smiling. Desire curled his lip. He was imagining himself already her bedfellow. Madeleine felt the hot blood rise unbidden to stain her chill skin, but she haughtily held his gaze and was surprised to find compassion not mockery in the blue eyes.

‘Madame, I salute your courage. I hope this works.’

‘SHE suggests what!’ Knollys, astonishingly, roared with laughter as Raoul repeated the girl’s terms.

‘Heroes’ sport. Bid her feast us then!’

‘You will honour your word?’

Getting Knollys to keep an oath was like expecting the Devil to forswear soul-collecting.

‘Aye, for the next hour maybe.’

It was better than could be hoped for, thought Raoul. In other circumstances, his companions would have tumbled the cart into the river by now and set fire to the hovels. He rode back across the bridge and dismounted. ‘Our company agrees, madame. But I warn you that there will be no mercy for you if you are lying to us.’

In a bound, he sprang up onto the cart. The lady thrust away the banner and clutched the sword with both hands.

‘Your husband’s sword?’

‘Yes,’ she lied, facing him suspiciously, her cheeks sucked in with concentration, but laughing he sprang down among her peasants, scattering them like sheep, and held out a hand to her to descend.

‘Move the cart!’ he ordered …

‘MORE!’ The English knights seated in the great hall at Bellegarde were like ugly, monstrous fledglings forever calling for liquor to be tipped down their gullets. Insatiable and dangerous, thought Madeleine, anxious for this nightmare to be over. More of this and these drunkards would forget the bargain altogether. At least the young man she had parleyed with and a couple of others drank more cautiously.

‘So, pretty putain …’ Their leader slammed down the leather jack upon the wooden board. ‘What is this contest?’

Suggestions bombarded her, English words with meaning she dared not guess.

‘This way, Sir Robert,’ she invited them.

They lurched from the hall behind her while her servants looked on helplessly. There was no-one able-bodied enough to help her if her plan went awry. The men-at-arms had never returned from the battlefield; only the horseboy had survived to bring her father’s body home.

In the courtyard an archery target had been set up against the far wall. One of her elderly retainers was waiting with a primed crossbow.

‘We fight with swords not bows,’ snarled Knollys with knightly disdain. Madeleine ignored him, hoping that she could trick him into compliance by distracting him. She took the crossbow, being careful not to point it in Knollys’ direction although she longed to send a bolt into that black fiend’s heart, then she gracefully raised it at the target.

The English, bloated with goat meat and high as kites, looked on open-mouthed in fascination as she checked the distance and wind direction. The little rabbit tails on the bow stirred, and she adjusted her aim accordingly. Holding her breath, she tried to keep a steady hand. The bolt hurtled from the bow and slammed into the centre of the innermost whitewashed circle.

Lowering the crossbow to her skirts, she declared: ‘Whoever can shoot a bolt closest to mine, I shall marry.’

THE girl had done it again, applauded Raoul silently. With that grasp of spectacle and timing, with that beauty and allure, she had these bullies captivated,

‘Well, I’m free to enter,’ guffawed Knollys’ cousin, belching. ‘Shall I be first?’

Eight of the knights stepped forward as eligible. Raoul saw how Lady Madeleine’s gaze slid along the queue of faces, estimating their sobriety and moving in dread past those that showed grossness of manners; she must be praying whoever won her would be just. God forbid she should fall to the foulest amongst them!

Folding his arms, Raoul grimly watched his opponents almost as tensely as Lady Madeleine did. He wanted her land and he wanted her like he had never wanted a woman in his life. His gaze locked with hers, telling her plainly of his appreciation and intent to win. For an instant, defiance flashed at him. The winner would not have so easy a task at the bedchamber sport. To win would not be a victory – yet.

He watched the girl’s shoulders shake and the relief in her face as she saw the first contestant’s bolt strike the target’s edge.

Out of the next five knights, three shot badly, eyes glazed, fingers fumbling. But two sent shafts into the second circle. Lady Madeleine’s bolt with its scarlet leather feathering alone held the centre. But it was whoever shot closest who would win, no matter how blundering or accidental the shot.

Sir John de Boroughbridge was next, rocking on his feet like a ship at anchor, not fit to shoot a crossbow, but curse his luck, the bolt landed a thumb’s breadth from the lady’s. Sir Gregory, last but one, gave the girl a leer before he primed the bow. His shot fell best so far, a grain seed’s width from Madeleine’s. She looked in panic to Raoul.

Last of the contestants, Raoul stripped off his gauntlets, and strode forward with a prayer upon his lips. The yard grew silent. He primed the bow, but before he took aim, he reverently touched the small leather drawstring bag that hung upon a chain around his neck. Within it was the charm he always carried. Then, closing his mind to all else, he steadied the bow, determined to win. This was his hunt.

He let fly the bolt.

For an instant he thought the shout of those closest to the target meant a second round with Sir Gregory, and then an awed hush settled on the crowd.

‘Let me see !’ They stood back to let him through. His bolt had sheared straight up the centre of the lady’s arrow.

Knollys’ buffet upon the shoulder nearly sent him sprawling across the target, ‘Behold the new Sieur de Bellegarde!

‘His companions hoisted him shoulder high and set him before his frozen bride, then they all traipsed across the snowy grass to the church, where the frightened priest stammered his way through the Latin as Raoul and his prize knelt.

‘I want you to leave now,’ Raoul told his companions as they returned to the castle.

‘Nay, we need to see the task is truly done,’ Sir Gregory wrapped an arm about his shoulders.

‘You want proof of consummation, Gregory? She is a widow, remember. Leave me with my destiny.’

‘But, lad, we can amuse ourselves with the serving wenches while you …’

‘You gave your word, sir,’ Raoul swung round to confront his leader and watched Knollys’ moustache twitch sulkily. ‘The law of arms, remember. If there is any man here that would gainsay me, I will fight.’

He was the best swordsman. save for their leader, and they knew it. ‘Enough! Mount up!’ Knollys jerked his head, dismissing them. ‘You mount up too, de Whitacre,’ he muttered, glancing in Lady Madeleine’s direction. ‘That is too clever a bitch you have on the leash. Be careful!’

MADELEINE let out a breath of relief as the last of the company galloped beneath the gatehouse, and sank down exhausted onto the cushions in the window recess. She had done it. Knollys and his men had gone. Then she heard the footsteps.

‘My lady.’ The hand holding the wine cup out to her was authoritative, the nails clean, the fingers well-formed, graceful, strong. She accepted, hugging the vessel within the bowl of her fingers, realising that she had eaten and drunk little. Nor she suspected had he. She had watched Sir Raoul de Whitacre appear to drink with his comrades and stay sober. Too clever by half.


She rose, not obediently but warily, shyly. What choice had she?

‘Your maidservant tells me you are a liar, my lady.’ She lifted her chin at his words. ‘You told me you were a widow.’

‘Does it matter, sir? I thought it would give me more authority.’

‘And so it did, but tonight is different.’

The new master of Bellegarde-sur-Cher led her into her father’s bedchamber, lifted the door bar and slid it with ease across the rungs, closing out her tiring women.

‘How so?’ She moistened her lips nervously.

‘I thought to give us time to be better acquainted, but it seems that I have to take measures to protect my prize against insult and theft, and certainly human vermin. In short, the winner must take all.

‘Her new lord’s blue eyes, warm and caressing, implied the rest. His fingertips slid sensually down her cheek and he held her face up to him, rubbing his thumb across her lips. ‘No more lies, Madeleine. There shall be no war between us. Besides, I have a peace offering.’

‘Stolen?’ Instantly she regretted having spoken so.

‘No!’ he said sharply. It was the token that he wore about his neck.

‘For you. It was my mother’s and I have carried it with me as a charm.’ He lifted her hand and shook out onto her palm a golden heart-shaped brooch set with river pearls and amethysts. A golden arrow winged with tiny seed pearls lay across it. This inexplicable trust offered so generously moved her more than the whisper of words.

‘My father gave it to my mother on the Feast of St Valentine in the first year of their marriage.’ he was saying.

‘But today,’ she danced away and spun back, ‘today is St Valentine’s Day.

‘So it is, thought Raoul, glimpsing the joyful girl within her, his heart lifting, and who would have believed this day would end with such a blessing?

‘Then today it is a fitting gift for a lady of great courage. Stand still!’ He solemnly pinned the heart onto her surcote and kissed her on each cheek in the fashion of her country.

Her voice was husky. ‘I rejoice your arrow found the mark. If it had not … ‘ Her lovely, dark eyes filled with tears, but a slight smile touched her lips, like a rainbow promise.

Some targets were invisible. One day soon, very soon, Raoul vowed, he would tell her that her arrow had found a second mark as well.

Copyright Isolde Martyn

Test your research skills

Whether you are writing a historical novel or historical romance (or, like me, something between the two), getting the background and atmosphere right makes it more interesting for your readers and adds to your integrity as an author. However, some aspiring novelists find the prospect of research extremely daunting.

With the internet these days, there is a vast field of information you can harvest and it’s a matter of sifting out the bits that will be useful, and in the process you may find extra inspiration, either for the book you are working on or a future novel.

Here’s something you can practise with. It’s a short extract from the diary of Samuel Pepys. Try reading it through with the following in mind:

  • ideas for the beginning of a story
  • ideas for characters

And what can you glean about:

  • class differences in England in the mid-seventeenth century
  • attitudes towards women
  • London
  • social life
  • use of language

Taken from the The Illustrated Pepys (Penguin Classic History) ed. Robert Latham

3 February 1664
This night late, coming in my coach coming up at Ludgate Hill, I saw two gallants and their footmen taking a pretty wench which I have eyed much lately, set up shop upon the hill, a seller of ribband and gloves. They seem to drag her by some force, but the wench went and I believe had her turn served; but God forgive me, what thoughts and wishes I had of being in their place. In Convent Garden tonight, going to fetch home my wife, I stopped at the great coffee-house there, where I never was before – where Draydon the poet (I knew at Cambridge) and all the wits of the town, and Harris the player …; and had I time then or could at other times, it will be good coming thither, for there I perceive is very witty and pleasant discourse.

If you enjoyed having a go at that, but you are wanting to write a Regency novel, perhaps you may get something useful from the following.

Extract from Thomas Creevey’s Papers (Penguin Books) ed. John Gore

1837 Lady Louisa Molyneux writes to Creevey

We have not much profited by our friends at Court … but we have one great feature in Lady Foley. She called here yesterday, and finding Maria at home alone, she took her out driving. She was dressed in the finest white muslin gown, with a blue satin spencer, a man’s shirt, full-collar and neck, cloth, over which a white domino, a man’s hat, and a double thick green veil which she never raised even in the room. She desired her coachman to drive wherever the fashion was, and in this attire Maria accompanied her up and down the Parade. She was in the highest spirits, and with all her finery she drove to a stableman’s to look for ponies to drive, declaring she was the best whip in England; … when Maria suggested the possibility of her being asked to dine at the Pavilion, she flourished her smelling bottle and said, ‘I suppose one need not go if one is dangerously ill.’

Lord Melbourne has just called … He complains very much of having a ‘washy’ set of ladies, and says they are always ill.

We had a splendid arrival of Germans at Byam House last night. The Princess Augusta of Saxony, who required so many beds no hotel could take her in. She refused to marry the Emperor of Austria twice, and Napoleon once; has a hundred thousand a year, and finer pearls and diamonds than any lady in the world.

The John Russells are at the Bedford, and dine every day at the Pavilion. He has such a bad cold that there is not even his voice left of him.

First, we have a cameo of a lively and wealthy woman who is either eccentric, outrageous or perhaps a lesbian, plus details of her clothing. Then we have a mention of a woman who turned down two emperors!

The slang ‘washy’ is a great word and could be used easily in dialogue in your novel.

The ‘Pavilion’ is maybe the Brighton Pavilion, beloved of the Prince Regent.

The writer’s use of language, name-dropping and mention of social activities provides the sort of material that Georgette Heyer delved into when she was researching the background for her wonderful novels. Thomas Creevey’s Papers were one of her sources.

Isn’t it amazing how many details you can pick up from just a small extract!