History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

22 September 2014

Anne Boleyn, Donizetti, and Fact & Fiction

Most historical fiction takes some liberties with the historical record, from the minor to the sweeping. I try to be accurate but inevitably in developing plots that feature real and fictional characters and combine real and historical fictional events, one is putting real historical figures in situations that are not part of the historical record and filling in the blanks that aren’t known. In Vienna Waltz, I imagined what might have happened behind closed doors between Tsarina Elisabeth and her former lover Adam Czartoryski. They may well have actually resumed their affair, as they do in my novel. They certainly weren’t embroiled in the investigation into the murder of my fictional Princess Tatiana Kirsanova, as they also are in the book.

I recently wrote a blog for the Merola Opera Program about the historical reality (and unreality) behind Gaetano Donizetti’s opera Anna Bolena. It’s a history post as much as an opera post, so I thought it would be fun to rework it here, with a bit more emphasis on m perspective as an historical novelist. Anna Bolena, which premiered in 1830 tells the story of Anne Boleyn. Every historical novelist has to decide at what point in the historical tapestry of events to begin the story. The opera’s libretto by Felice Romani, based on Ippolito Pindemonte’s Enrico VIII ossia Anna Bolena and Alessandro Pepoli’s Anna Bolena, begins with Enrico (Henry) and Anna already married and glosses over Henry’s desperation for a male heir which led to him divorcing his first wife Catherine of Aragon (not to mention breaking away from the Catholic Church) and the political machinations of Anne’s family which also played a role in throwing the two of them together.

When the opera opens, Enrico’s interest has already turned to Giovanna (Jane) Seymour, one of Anna’s ladies-in-waiting in the opera, as she was in real life. Anne’s former betrothed was named Henry (Harry) Percy, not Ricardo (Richard) Percy as in the opera. The change was perhaps to avoid confusion with King Henry. The tendency of a name to be used over and over in an historical era can cause all sorts of problems for the historical novelist. I’ve never actually changed a name, but I have used nicknames to help differentiate.

In real life, Percy and Anne wanted to marry and may have had a pre-contract. In the opera Percy claims they did, saying he and Anna were married in the sight of God. In the opera, Enrico pushes Anna and Percy together and Anna’s downfall comes about when she and Percy are caught in a seemingly compromising situation. In reality, though Henry or at least his agents may well have manipulated the accusations of infidelity against Anne to bring about her downfall, Percy was actually not one of the men with whom she was accused of adultery.

Musician Mark Smeaton was accused of adultery with Anne, as in the opera, and falsely confessed to the crime. In the opera he does so in the mistaken belief it will save Anna’s life. In reality, Smeaton probably confessed under torture. He was executed in real life, as he is in the opera. Anne was also accused of infidelity with her brother George, Lord Rochefort, as she is in the opera. In the opera. Rochefort and Percy are pardoned but choose to die with Anna. In reality, Rochefort was executed. Percy in fact, served on the jury at Anne’s trial, though he is said to have collapsed at the guilty verdict or perhaps before the vote was taken.

The opera ends with Anna going mad and going to her execution as Henry VIII and Giovanna Seymour are married. Henry and Jane Seymour’s marriage actually took place 11 days after Anne was beheaded, and the historical Anne was in fact remarkably stoic through out her trial and execution. Of all the changes, this one probably bothers me the most, because to me it weakens the strength the historical Anne displayed through crisis and tragedy. As an historical novelist, I will change a date here and here and put historical figures in fictional situations, but I try to stay true to the spirit of the actual person. I embroiled Talleyrand in fictional intrigues in Vienna Waltz, but I thought carefully about how far I thought it might go given his many real life intrigues.

How much does historical accuracy matter to you? What are some changes in historical fiction that you find particularly memorable for good or ill? Writers, how do you approach fictionalizing historical events?

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15 September 2014

Online Workshop: HOW ClOTHES WORKED

I've taught this twice before online and once as a live workshop. It starts next week (Sept 22nd).

Do you ever find yourself staring blankly at your computer screen while trying to picture exactly how your hero gets your heroine out of her dress and skivvies (is she even wearing skivvies; is skivvies a period word?). Does he undo a row of tiny pearl buttons (and did they have pearl buttons then?) or does he untie or unhook something (or does it unlace?)? Do her stays unhook in the front, or unlace in the back?


For answers to these questions, and many more (like, “Just what is the ‘fall’ on a pair of pantaloons, anyway?”) join author, re-enactor, and costume historian Isobel Carr to explore how the clothing of the extended Regency period (1800-1830) worked. Each day will begin with a message pertaining to a particular type of garment (or garments). There will be links within the messages that will show you extant garments, fashion plates, or reconstructed garments made from period patterns by experienced re-enactors and costume historians.


Isobel will also be available for discussions and questions about the item/s of the day, or any clothing bug-a-boo that’s been bothering you. Isobel has more than thirty years of living history experience (she grew up playing dress-up). She’s made and worn clothes from the Georgian/Regency era, including the stays, day dresses, ball gowns, and habits (ok, she was eight the last time she wore the habit, and her mom made it, but she still remembers wearing it!).


Don’t miss this month-long focus on the clothing of everyone’s favorite era!


The Schedule

Week One
Monday 22nd  Women’s Shifts and Stays
Tuesday 23rd  Other Women’s Undergarments
Wednesday 24th Round Gowns
Thursday 25th Apron-front Gowns
Friday 26th Dresses of the teens and twenties
Week Two
Monday 29th Habits
Tueday 30th Women’s Outerwear
Wednesday 1st Shoes and Gloves
Thursday 2nd Court Gowns / Maternity Wear
Friday 3rd Romantic Era Gowns
Week Three
Monday 6th Men’s Undergarments
Tuesday 7th Men’s Coats
Wednesday 8th Breeches, Pantaloons, and Trousers
Thursday 9th Waistcoats, Neckcloths
Friday 10th Men’s Court Wear
Week Four
Monday 13th Banyans
Tuesday 14th Buttons, etc.
Wednesday 15th Putting it all together and taking it off
Thursday 16th Q&A and Discussion
Friday 17th Q&A and Discussion

01 September 2014

INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES: A Demi-millennium of Unholy Mismatrimony

Why does it seem that the marriages of so many monarchs are often made in hell? And yet we can’t stop reading about them!

On September 2, INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES: A Demi-millennium of Unholy Mismatrimony, will inaugurate the release of my 5th nonfiction "royal" title for NAL and my 20th published book in total. The time has just whizzed by since my first book was published in March 2002!

Royals endlessly fascinate me because it’s part and parcel of their official persona to seem so distant and remote, so unlike us at all—and yet of course they have foibles and flaws and failures as well as triumphs. Perhaps we are most intrigued by their missteps, because it does bring them down a bit to our level, even as we aspire to breathe their rarified air.

We’re also fascinated with royals as being larger than life, and we all know that the bigger one is, the harder one falls. And when a king or queen or prince endures an insufferable marriage, whether it includes flying crockery or adultery, even if we ourselves have trouble in the connubial bliss department, perhaps there’s something about the human psyche—call it schadenfreude—that makes us sit back and think something along the lines of, “Wow, at least I don’t have it as bad as they do, for all their wealth and titles.”

When it comes to royal relationships, I have profiled the good, the bad, and the ugly. And in every book I wrote, the dozens of sovereigns and princesses and dukes and princes—and their lovers and spouses—were selected for inclusion because I empathized with at least one, if not both, of the people in the relationship. Because in the end, it’s not about how many castles one owns. Or thrones. Or gowns or crowns. It’s about the choices one makes. Who one loves. How one copes in times of adversity. It’s the common thread of humanity that shapes my themes as a nonfiction author writing about royal lives.

Do you enjoy reading about real-life royalty? If so,why? And, if you're also an author, have any of their lives been featured in your own novels? 

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