Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Join author, Jacqueline Beard, as she explores the inspiration behind her fabulous books #amwriting #HistoricalFiction @jacquibwriter

An Author's Inspiration
By Jacqueline Beard

My first foray into adult fiction came about through the murky pasts of my ancestor's. Other people have illustrious forebears. Mine are mad, bad and often dangerous to know. And there are plenty of them, given that my family tree has more than 55,000 individuals and climbing.

My first book, Vote for Murder, was inspired by the execution of Mary Emily Cage in 1851. Mary was hanged after poisoning her husband James with arsenic, and she may have killed several of her children. An admitted sinner and adulteress, Mary denied murdering her husband and went to her death without confessing. She was vilified by the press who reported every detail of her misconduct without any consideration for her circumstances. But Mary was a victim of domestic abuse. James had already been imprisoned for his ill-treatment of her while under the influence of alcohol. The family were destitute and in desperate need. In another century, there would have been far more sympathy for her situation. 

Around the same time that I discovered my relationship (through marriage) to Mary Cage, I also found several suffragists in my family tree. They were peaceful activists, and their absence from the 1911 census suggests that they were at the census evasion night in The Old Museum, Ipswich organised by the prominent Suffolk suffragette Constance Andrews. I was fascinated by both stories, and they inspired my first adult fiction novel. Naturally, my protagonist in Vote for Murder is a suffragist, and her story weaves together with that of Mary's to produce a murder mystery set in Victorian and Edwardian Suffolk.

After finishing Vote for Murder, I gave myself a year off without thinking too hard about writing, but my family tree kept growing, and skeleton's continued to appear. I had long been fascinated by the genealogy of my East Anglian Corben family including the name variants Corbin and Corbyn. Having made a tenuous link back to Corbyn's in the late 1400s, I found a more recent connection (again by marriage) to Mary Corbyn of Fressingfield. Mary was rumoured to be a witch. Now, an accusation of witchcraft was not unusual in the 1600s, but a rarity in the 1890s. The basis of the allegation was the death of Mary's grandchild, which was reported in the press as follows:

Alleged Witchcraft in Suffolk. At an inquest held at Fressingfield on Thursday by Mr C W Chaston on the body of a child named Hammond aged 11, weeks, daughter of a labourer, the father and mother stated that they believed the death of the Child was due to the witchcraft of Mrs Corbyn, the Child's step-grandmother. This woman died a few hours before the Child and stated that the Child would not live long after her. The Child was taken out, and the father stated that he saw smoke issue from its perambulator and that the Child died upon being taken home, the mother stating that it was hot and dry, and smelt of brimstone. The medical evidence went to show that death was due to shock caused by the external application of some irritant, and the jury, in returning a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence said there was not sufficient evidence to show the nature of the irritant. George Corbyn said he was of the opinion that his late wife had the powers of a witch, and he always tried to do what she wanted in consequence.

I couldn't resist using this story as the starting point for the first of my Lawrence Harpham mystery novels, The Fressingfield Witch. A crime had occurred, but without evidence, there was no one to bring to justice. My book would have been very short, but for one thing. Fressingfield already had a witch.

Faith Mills was a victim of witchcraft accusations from the Suffolk Witch Trials of the 1640s. She was one of the unfortunate women executed on the strength of allegations made by Matthew Hopkins and his Suffolk born colleague, John Stearne. The two men arrived in Fressingfield during the Witch Hunts and stoked up fear of the supernatural in the hope of personal gain. This genuine terror of witchcraft escalated in an atmosphere influenced by religion, politics and the civil war. The victims were mostly, though not always, women and they were exploited by Hopkins and Stearne who deliberately targeted the poor, vulnerable, marginalised or different.
Once again, my book combined stories set in two different eras, this time involving Private Investigator Lawrence Harpham and his business partner Violet Smith.

By the time I began writing the sequel, I was running out of interesting relatives and had started using historical newspapers as the basis for my stories. There is nothing quite as strange as real life, and I have found crimes covered in newspaper articles to be excellent sources of inspiration. The Ripper Deception, Book two in my series, was created from three separate newspaper stories. One featured a miser's death; one involved a haunted rectory and the final report described the inquest of Frances Coles who may or may not have been a victim of Jack the Ripper. Together, these three true stories created an unusual twist on a common theme. 

I have recently published a Christmas short story, The Montpellier Mystery, and the next full-length book in the Lawrence Harpham series, The Scole Confession, is due out early next year. Both books rely heavily on newspaper coverage of actual events. Both are set in recognisable English towns and those readers so inclined, can identify the real people who were involved in the accounts. If they look closely, they may even find them in their family trees! 

Jacqueline Beard

Jacqueline Beard is a writer and genealogist living in Gloucestershire with an East Anglian ancestry going back to the 1500s. She writes Victorian murder mysteries and is currently working on the third book in the Lawrence Harpham series. Jacqueline's books are a mixture of true crime and fiction inspired by local newspaper reports. When Jacqueline is not writing or researching "dead people" as her husband so charmingly puts it, she is usually walking in the glorious Cotswolds with her Cockapoo, Teddy. Jacqueline loves technology and spends far too much time on her computer. She dislikes flying, dentists and balloons - especially red ones.

Connect with Jacqueline: WebsiteFacebookTwitterInstagram.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Join #HistoricalFiction author, Mercedes Rochelle as she takes a look at life in the time of Richard II and Edward II @authorrochelle

Life in the time of
Richard II and Edward II
by Mercedes Rochelle

Capture of Edward II, from Froissart Chronicles, BN MS Fr. 2675 Source, Wikipedia. -->

It doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to connect the two English usurpations of the fourteenth century—both Plantagenets, both accused of letting their favorites unduly influence them, both probably murdered while in prison. (And both of whose murders are debated to this day.) We can be sure the association was very much on Richard II's mind, especially during the latter half of his reign. But Edward's fate was most forcibly shoved in his face during the standoff between him and the "Wonderful" Parliament in 1386. This was when the Commons decided to impeach the chancellor, Michael de la Pole—the first official in English history to be removed by impeachment.
Richard was highly indignant that the Commons dare pass judgment on his great officers. He was quoted as saying, “I will not dismiss so much as a scullion from my kitchen at your request!” And he meant it. Taking his friends and household to Eltham, he removed himself from Parliament, making it impossible for them to get any business done without his presence. But this state of affairs could not last long, and the Lords and Commons sent the Duke of Gloucester and Thomas Arundel, Bishop of Ely to persuade the king to return. Richard hated Gloucester, his youngest uncle, who was overbearing, arrogant, and brutal with his criticism. This day proved no exception. Unbeknownst to Richard, before he left Parliament, Gloucester had sent for the archives to see if he could find a precedent from Edward II’s deposition which he might use against his nephew. He found none, but proceeded to fabricate one anyway, to frighten Richard into cooperating. He told Richard, “If ever the king, through evil counsel or wanton ill will, alienates himself from the people—if he does not wish to be ruled by the laws of the land, then it is lawful for them by common consent to remove that king from the royal throne, and substitute another close relative of the royal line in his place." It worked. Shocked and intimidated, Richard meekly returned to London and permitted Parliament to impeach Michael. 

Medieval Parliament, Royal Collection, RCIN 1047414: Source, Wikipedia.

However, Richard was no milksop. He soon learned about Gloucester’s deception and used it against him, precipitating the whole Lords Appellant episode that nearly cost him his throne. Time and again, Gloucester threatened Richard with usurpation like his great-grandfather. The menace never lost its effectiveness. However, the boy king grew up. After he achieved his majority and began reigning in his own name, one of his primary concerns was redeeming Edward II’s reputation and restoring dignity to the crown; it had been badly tarnished by the usurpation and Edward III’s dotage. What would be the best method to redeem Edward II? Why, nothing less than declaring him a saint. Then nobody could cast aspersions on him again.
Richard sent agents to Pope Urban VI, petitioning him to start the canonization process. Needless to say, the pontiff was lukewarm, but he needed the king’s support so his answer was for Richard to gather evidence of miracles. Edward’s tomb was erected in Gloucester Abbey Church, and soon after his death pilgrims visited the site in great numbers, leaving so many offerings that the church was able to complete St. Andrew’s aisle with their contributions. Richard commissioned a book of miracles performed at Edward II’s tomb and it took five years to complete; by then, there was a new pope and the supposed proof was presented to Boniface IX, who was unimpressed. A second embassy in 1397, headed by Richard Scrope, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, fared no better than the first. 

Execution of Thomas of Lancaster: Source, Wikipedia.

It was certainly not unusual to attempt to confer saintly attributes on high-profile medieval “martyrs”. Thomas of Lancaster, Edward II’s arch enemy—whose decapitated body at Pontefract attracted thousands of pilgrims—was serious competition for Edward II. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham even stated in 1390 that he had been canonized (he had not). They couldn’t both be saints! It seemed that popular candidates for sainthood were usually those who rebelled against the crown, and Lancaster fell squarely into that category. After much consideration, Richard concluded that his best chance to beat Thomas Lancaster’s cult was to reverse the judgments of 1326-27 that had vindicated Thomas (and morally condemned Edward II). This reversal would serve two simultaneous purposes: rehabilitate his great-grandfather, and uphold the forfeiture of the Lancastrian inheritance—thereby returning all the estates to the crown. Naturally, this would disinherit all Lancastrian heirs down to Bolingbroke.
Easier said than done! Ultimately, Richards’s grand schemes blew up in his face and his greatest fear came to pass: Bolingbroke came back from exile to reclaim his inheritance and Richard ended up a dethroned prisoner. Apparently, no one aside from the king was interested in Edward II. As historian Chris Given-Wilson said, “With the King's downfall in 1399, his great-grandfather's canonization process stopped dead in its tracks, never to be revived.”* 

*C.Given-Wilson’s “Richard II, Edward II, and the Lancastrian Inheritance”, The English Historical Review, Vol. 109, No. 432 (Jun., 1994), pp. 553-571

A King Under Siege
Book 1 of The Plantagenet Legacy
by Mercedes Rochelle

Richard II found himself under siege not once, but twice in his minority. Crowned king at age ten, he was only fourteen when the Peasants' Revolt terrorized London. But he proved himself every bit the Plantagenet successor, facing Wat Tyler and the rebels when all seemed lost. Alas, his triumph was short-lived, and for the next ten years he struggled to assert himself against his uncles and increasingly hostile nobles. Just like in the days of his great-grandfather Edward II, vengeful magnates strove to separate him from his friends and advisors, and even threatened to depose him if he refused to do their bidding. The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, purged the royal household with the help of the Merciless Parliament. They murdered his closest allies, leaving the King alone and defenseless; he would never forget his humiliation at the hands of his subjects. Richard's inability to protect his adherents would haunt him for the rest of his life, and he vowed that next time, retribution would be his.


(when Gloucester is told about Richard’s questions to the Judges)

"They declared that anyone guilty of these trespasses against the king's royalty should be punished as traitors."
"What!" Gloucester sprung to his feet, throwing his goblet into the fireplace. "That little bastard has gone too far!" He started pacing while the other quietly sat, watching him. "Damn, his father would have knocked some sense into him if he had been alive. What have we come to when a spoiled, ungovernable child can wield such power?"
"I would dare remind you that Richard is twenty years old."
"And acts like a fool!" He paced some more before sitting back down. "All right, let us consider exactly what happened. Where did this take place?"
"The first conference was at Shrewsbury. Then a week later, he repeated the questions at Nottingham."
"Hmm. Why did he do it twice?"
"I believe the king wanted to demonstrate that the judges were not acting under duress."
"They were the same judges both times?"
"All but one." 
"And they used the word 'traitor'?"
"Ah, the distinction was purposeful. They said the guilty should be punished as traitors, not that they were traitors," said Wickford, priding himself on his legal knowledge.
"Small comfort."
"It is a fine difference, but a difference, nonetheless. By speaking so, they skirted the precise definition of the Treason Act of 1351... 
"Which defined traitors as those who attacked the king directly, aided the king's enemies or levied war against the king in his realm. Since our recent acts of Parliament were directed against the king's friends—"
"They were therefore not treasonous, as per the Statute."
"However, my nephew seeks to redefine treason—"
"Which brings us back to the terrible days of Edward II—"
"God forbid!" Thomas stood again and started his pacing. King Edward's rein was infamous; he encouraged his favorites—the Despenser father and son—to run rampant throughout England. They illegally seized lands, tortured and imprisoned their enemies, and murdered their victims—among other atrocities. The potential parallels between Edward II's favorites and Richard's favorites rose before him like a specter.
Wickford sighed. "There is one more thing..."
Gloucester stopped, his back to the archbishop.
"One of the questions referred to 'the person who sent for the Statute concerning the deposition of Edward II'."
The wind pounded the windows as Gloucester gasped, appalled. He turned, staring at Wickford as if seeing him for the first time. Both men knew this was a direct attack on Thomas. "Is this person to be punished as a traitor, then?"
The archbishop nodded, reluctantly.
"Then there is no turning back is there? We must retaliate before it is too late."

The Coffee Pot Book Club


Highly Recommended

Read the full review HERE!

Pick up your copy of
A King Under Siege

Now available on

Mercedes Rochelle

Born in St. Louis MO with a degree from University of Missouri, Mercedes Rochelle learned about living history as a re-enactor and has been enamored with historical fiction ever since. A move to New York to do research and two careers ensued, but writing fiction remains her primary vocation. She lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

Connect with Mercedes: Website • Blog • Facebook • Twitter