The Silken Rose
By Carol McGrath
The first novel in my new Trilogy, The Rose Trilogy, will be published on 19th September 2019. It introduces the first of three High-Medieval she-wolf queens, Ailenor of Provence, who married Henry III in 1236 at only thirteen years of age. He was already old at thirty-two. She is followed by her daughter in law, Leonora of Castile and in turn her infamous daughter in law Isabella of France. They are fascinating to write as are the intrigues that envelop them.
Why is Ailenor of Provence, the protagonist of The Silken Rose, considered a she-wolf? Why was she scorned during her life-time? After all, in many ways beautiful Ailenor was the perfect good queen who generously gave alms to the poor, was devoted to her husband and endowed abbeys. She was a good mother, protective to her children. Exemplary you might think.
|La Belle Dame Sans Merci.|
However, she was foreign at a time when the great Angevin Empire had been reduced to Gascony (Aquitaine). She never brought Henry a dowry and was not from the top-drawer of European nobility. Worse, because after her marriage, she brought a collection of penniless relatives to England. The English barons who had become inward looking, after the loss of estates in Normandy during the previous reign, disliked top positions going to the Queen’s relatives, particularly to her uncles from Savoy.
It probably seemed natural to Ailenor to advance her relatives. Her Uncle William of Savoy who had accompanied Ailenor to England became one of King Henry’s chief counsellors. Henry even attempted to make Uncle William Bishop of Winchester. Then there was Uncle Peter, reportedly charming and clever. He became an advisor too and Henry gave him The Honour of Richmond, in Yorkshire. Uncle Peter built The Savoy Palace in London. He was here to stay.
Uncle Thomas of Savoy was another relative who acted as an envoy when Ailenor attempted to buy the Sicilian crown for her second son, Edmund. She was behind this scheme though Henry must have agreed it. It was costly and fell apart when Uncle Thomas was captured and imprisoned in Turin. Ailenor had to raise a ransom. Another uncle, the handsome, reforming Boniface became Archbishop of Canterbury. In addition, many talented clerks came to England from Provence and Savoy and they took over running the treasury as well as other areas of government. This did not please the English barons who felt such jobs were theirs to distribute and control, especially regarding the King’s spending. Henry loved pageants and parties and magnificent, expensive building works such as his new Westminster Abbey. In time, this extravagant spending and nepotism would lead to conflict between King and Barons. Ailenor’s Savoyards were not popular. Over one hundred and seventy of them came to England and seventy of them settled.
English marriages were arranged for the Provencal relations, including that of Ailenor’s younger sister, Sanchia, to Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall. This caused further discontent amongst the already displeased barons as it limited heirs and heiresses available for their sons and daughters, unless they married foreigners, of course.
At first, Ailenor came under pressure to provide an heir. This may have caused her to look to her relations for support. In 1239, at the age of sixteen her first child, Edward was born. She gave birth to Margaret the following year. Two healthy children followed, Beatrice and Edmund. Henry and Ailenor were hands on, loving parents. She had known a happy family life in Provence. She was one of four beautiful girls, all of whom married kings and princes. They were all highly educated and she was especially talented, known for her ability to write poetry and her enjoyment of Arthurian romances. She even composed a poem, aged twelve, about a Cornish hero and gave it to Richard of Cornwall who had passed through Provence on his way from the Crusades. Impressed by the poem, Richard suggested Henry marry her. He did and all was happy until Henry’s Lusignan half-brothers came to England seeking patronage. Ailenor was involved in their defamation and this caused her reputation further damage. She collided with Henry. Yet, her opposition to the Lusignans did give Ailenor a political position at court. For a time it was all about King’s Men opposing Queen’s Men. She and Henry made up and when he went to Gascony to sort out troubles she was co-regent with Richard of Cornwall. She levied new taxes, always an unpopular move but equally she helped broker an excellent marriage for her son with eleven year old Eleanor (Leanora) of Castile.
My story ends as Ailenor achieves an important objective and need to preserve Gascony for Edward. It will be picked up ten years later by Leonora of Castile, the second ‘she-wolf’ of this Trilogy. The barons have had enough of nepotism and extravagant royalty. A vicious Baron’s War follows. Henry’s brother-in –law, Earl Simon de Montfort takes control of the kingdom.
|opus work book cover from 13th Century.|
Ailenor has been a wonderful protagonist but she is not the only heroine in The Silken Rose. The book is called The Silken Rose because an embroideress with her own thrilling story enters its pages. Her narrative intersects with Ailenor’s tale. After all, this was The Magnificent Thirteenth Century, a period when valuable English embroidery with gold, silver and jewels was prized throughout Europe. I simply could not resist introducing Rosalind into my novel’s pages to create, in the best Shakespearian manner, a subplot to hopefully keep you turning pages.
Following a first degree in English and History, Carol McGrath completed an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in English from University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAS in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this acclaimed trilogy. The Woman in the Shadows, a best-selling historical novel about Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII’s statesman Thomas Cromwell, was published by Accent Press in 2017. The Silken Rose set during the High Middle Ages and featuring Ailenor of Provence will be published October 2019. She frequently speaks at events and conferences and she was the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels’ Society Conference, Oxford in September 2016. She regularly reviews for the HNS.